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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
On the tail end of a thrilling/exhausting two-week-long European trip, I traveled from Milan (MXP) to JFK in Emirates’ first class on the A380. I’d flown this same product about a year and a half earlier — from Dubai to JFK — and I’ve also flown Emirates business from Milan to JFK on the 777. This was my first time flying this particular route in Emirates’ A380 first class, though, and I was looking forward to relaxing and indulging a bit on the nine-hour or so journey back to New York.
I booked this flight using Alaska Mileage Plan miles, which couldn’t be an easier process since Emirates award space loads on Alaskaair.com and the Alaska app. A one-way first-class award ticket between the US and Europe on Emirates costs 100,000 miles, and I only paid $48.50 out of pocket in taxes and fees. Oddly, it’s actually slightly cheaper (90,000 miles) to go from New York to Dubai on Emirates using Alaska miles — and you can actually fly through Milan! It’s just one of those wonky spots in airline award charts, but if you’re planning on traveling between New York and Dubai, you might want to think about building in a stopover in Milan, which you can do with a one-way award booked through Alaska. That way you get two long-haul segments (read: two showers and amenity kits!) versus one. Alaska is currently selling miles at ~2.1 cents a piece through October 6, so buying 100,000 miles would cost you $2,100, which is about 50% off the normal price of a one-way first-class paid ticket.
If your JAL Mileage Bank account is brimming with miles, you can also redeem 100,000 of those for a round-trip first-class ticket to Europe. JAL is also a 1:1 transfer partner with Starwood, so if you sign up for the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express and spend $3,000 in the first three months, you’ll receive 30,000 Starpoints — almost a third of the way toward a round-trip first-class ticket.
Emirates Skywards is a transfer partner of American Express, but the airline levies over $1,000 in taxes and fees on awards! The only case where transferring Amex to Skywards might make sense is upgrading a reasonable business-class fare to first class.
Check-in and Lounge
I went to the Milan Expo earlier in the day, which is only about half an hour from the airport. From there, I went straight to the airport to the lounge.
At MXP, it’s a bit of a walk to get to the Emirates lounge, but once you actually get there, the space is pretty decent — though it’s one big area, with no separate space or special treatment for first-class passengers. It was hot at the Expo, so I decided to freshen up with a shower before boarding and I avoided food since the onboard first-class food and drink is much, much better than what’s on offer in the lounge.
For my flight, I boarded from the lounge — a common practice for departures from Dubai. I can’t say I missed queuing up at the gate.
Seat and First-class Cabin
I was one of the first people to board the plane and get settled into the first-class cabin. There are 14 Emirates suites on the plane, making it a pretty cramped first-class cabin — at least when you compare that to first class on the Qatar A380, with just eight suites.
There isn’t a ton of storage space — the storage locker actually goes into your footwell, so if you hang up a shirt your feet will bump it, which isn’t great if you’re trying to keep a nice white shirt clean and unwrinkled during your flight.
When you board, you’ll find a snack basket with candy bars and other treats. They don’t serve Dom on the ground — only Veuve; I thought it was funny that the flight attendants apologized for this “inconvenience.”
While I don’t think it’s on par with Etihad’s new Apartment or Qatar’s A380, Emirates first class on the A380 is still a nice product, and it certainly brings the bling factor. You’ve got your grandmother’s makeup mirror with the lights along the side, and there’s gold and burled wood everywhere.
There’s a mini-bar built into the seat, but more accurately it’s a mini dry-bar, as it’s only stocked with sparkling water and soda. Still, it’s nice to have some beverages at arm’s length should you need to rehydrate.
I love the IFE system, with a huge (27-inch) screen and tons of movies, both old and new. I usually don’t even watch movies on the plane; as a pure AV geek, the air show is more my style. Emirates provides several camera views, including the tail view, which is great to watch during takeoff. I also love checking out the 3D view throughout the flight — I love geography and seeing where cities are in relation to each other, so this is perfect for me.
The suites close off with the doors, but it’s definitely not as nice (or as roomy) as the Singapore Suites. In fact, at just 23 inches wide, the Emirates first-class seat is narrower than those in comparable first-class suites on several airlines — including Cathay Pacific (36 inches), China Southern (26 inches), Etihad (29.5 inches) JAL (33 inches) and Singapore (35 inches). Qatar’s suites on the A380 are also 23 inches, though.
My Favorite Way to Hop the Pond
Singapore’s first-class Suites have long been one of my favorite options for transatlantic flights, but Emirates wins when it comes to timing. While Singapore’s flight from Frankfurt to JFK leaves just before 9am in the morning, Emirates’ A380 departs Milan for JFK at 4:10pm. It’s great to be able to maximize your day in Milan before heading to the airport, and the Emirates flight arrives in New York at 7pm, just after rush hour — and early enough to still enjoy a night out in the city. I can definitely imagine Emirates’ flight being more popular with the fashion set for this very reason. The Emirates lounge also beats the business-class Lufthansa lounge you get when flying Singapore Suites.
Food and Amenities
As we pushed back, the flight attendants came around with Arabic coffee and some dates. No US carrier would even think about serving food or beverage during taxi, but on these carriers it’s a completely different mindset, where the focus is on your comfort. (Of course, you’re still safe — they don’t take off with any dishes out.)
Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants came around with hot towels, asking when I would like to take my shower. I had just taken one in the lounge, so I chose an hour and a half before landing. What better way is there to arrive refreshed in New York than a hot shower and cold glass of Dom Perigean?
Speaking of Dom, the 2005 vintage is my jam — I love, love, love it, and they kept it flowing all throughout the flight.
On to the menu. In short, in was awesome! Emirates has caviar service, which is one area where Singapore first is lacking.
Not only does Emirates offer a caviar service, it has two choices of vodka — you can take your pick of Grey Goose or Russian Standard. So even before the Dom starting flowing freely, I was pretty much in heaven.
After that, I chose the vitello al tartufo (veal and truffle with mushrooms and a salad), which was just one of many a la carte options available on the flight. Others included spiced butternut squash soup, a traditional Arabic mezze, beef consommé and mackerel rillette.
When it came time for the main course, I opted for the chicken biryani, which was presented beautifully and tasted great. Overall, Emirates has a leg up on Singapore when it comes to onboard catering. Even the olives were good; with garlic, thyme and rosemary, they were by far the best I’ve had on a plane!
As for the flight attendants, service was impeccable throughout the flight (and on the ground). The diverse crew was extremely friendly — I give them five stars.
Emirates offers first-class passengers an amenity kit in a really nice leather bag. Products include Axe, a toothbrush and toothpaste and Bulgari lotions. Pretty much everything you need, though the Bulgari toiletries are too strongly scented for my taste.
I also received a pair of pajamas and a tote bag with slippers. Overall, I’d say this is one of the nicest first-class amenity kits in the sky.
There’s a bar on the upper deck of the A380 in business class (most of the upper deck is business, apart from the first cabin in the front). While business passengers are only served Veuve, if you show your first-class boarding pass they’ll get you Dom.
In front of the first-class cabin there’s also a snack bar with some sandwiches and fruit along with beverage options — including an unopened bottle of Dom.
After eating, exploring the cabin and watching some TV, I was at last ready to sleep. The flight attendants made up the bed with a mattress pad, a big pillow and comfortable blankets.
The seat felt a little cramped, but it’s still very comfortable and private once you close the doors. And with the starry-night lighting, the cabin is definitely conducive to sleeping.
Before I knew it, I was waking up to take a shower. The cabin has two such facilities in the front, along with a rear bathroom.
During the flight, you’re supposed to use the rear bathroom, which has a nice window with a view of the wings. You let people use the showers … for their showers.
First-class passengers get a shower pamphlet that walks them through the experience and the amenities.
Landing in New York at dusk was interesting … I was kind of disoriented and felt like I was landing in Europe in the morning. I was through Global Entry in a minute, and home soon after as there was no traffic.
Overall, my flight in Emirates’ first class on the A380 was super enjoyable, thanks to the great flight attendants, excellent food and beverage service and plentiful amenities. As much as I love Singapore Airlines first class for its comfort and roominess, the flight time, caviar, lounge, award availability and more led me to crown Emirates first as the top way to travel across the Atlantic. There’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications because of the Marriott takeover, so now might just be the perfect time to apply. Apart from hotel redemptions, you can transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline partners, and now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, opening up even more redemption options.
There’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications because of the Marriott takeover, so now might just be the perfect time to apply. Apart from hotel redemptions, you can transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline partners, and now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, opening up even more redemption options.