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Between its A380 and 777-300ER, Emirates offers some of the most coveted premium-cabin seats in the sky. And thankfully, there are plenty of ways to book them for “free” using points earned through your transferable point program of choice. Below, TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert walks you through the details.
When it comes to award flights — and specifically premium-cabin redemptions — Emirates is among the most sought-after carriers. Thanks to products like the great first-class suite on the A380, many points and miles enthusiasts make it a priority to book awards on this airline using points transferred from one of several programs. In this post, I’ll walk you through the various options for booking Emirates awards with each transferable point program, from Amex Membership Rewards to Starwood Preferred Guest.
TOP AWARDS TO BOOK
Before diving in to how you can redeem points for Emirates awards, it’s worth taking a minute to review the top options. This post will include information on awards in every class of travel (see the charts later on), but due to Emirates’ renowned premium-cabin service I’ll focus on first-class redemptions.
- Emirates A380 first class: You can fly this product on more than 30 routes, including New York to Dubai and between New York and Milan, as TPG did late last year. There are 14 suite-style seats in the first-class cabin, and each includes a mini-bar, a huge screen for enjoying the (very comprehensive) IFE and even a pop-up makeup mirror. This is by far the most in-demand redemption option.
- Emirates 777-300ER first class: The first-class cabin on Emirates’ 777-300ER is slightly smaller than the A380’s, with just eight closed suites. Apart from the different configurations, the seats themselves are very similar, and you can expect comparable service on board (though Emirates’ famous in-flight shower isn’t available on this aircraft). You can fly the 777-300ER on a variety of international routes, including Boston to Dubai and Sydney to Christchurch.
That’s not to say you couldn’t use miles (and the strategies discussed below) to book business or economy awards on Emirates, but first-class awards will often get you the most value for your points — and the best onboard experience.
For more information, see the following flight reviews:
- Emirates A380 First Class Review: Milan to JFK
- Flight Review: Emirates Business Class – Bangkok to Dubai
- Emirates SFO-DXB – 16 Hours with a Toddler!
USING AMERICAN EXPRESS MEMBERSHIP REWARDS POINTS
First up is American Express and its Membership Rewards program, which lets you transfer points to a variety of airlines, including Emirates.
Here are some of the top card options for earning Membership Rewards points:
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points on airfare purchased directly from the airlines; 2x points at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include an annual $100 airline fee credit. This card has a $195 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Note that you may be targeted for a higher offer via the CardMatch Tool.
- The Platinum Card from American Express — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 5x points for flights booked directly through airlines or the American Express Travel website and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include Centurion Lounge access, elite status with Hilton and Starwood, a $200 airline fee credit and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. This card has an annual fee of $450 (no foreign transaction fees), but it could be worth it if you maximize its extensive perks. Like with the card above, you may be targeted for a higher offer via the CardMatch Tool.
- Amex EveryDay Preferred Card: Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year), 2x at US gas stations and 1x everywhere else. Plus, get a 50% points bonus when you make at least 30 purchases in a billing period. This card has an annual fee of $95, and it does charge foreign transaction fees.
Membership Rewards points transfer to Emirates at a rate of 1:1, and you can search flights and book awards through the carrier’s website.
Before you make any transfers, you’ll want to note that award flights book through Emirates can entail some pretty high taxes and fees. For example, in this sample booking for a round-trip award between New York and Dubai in first class, you’d have to pay a whopping $1,536!
Still, as Richard Kerr explains, it could be worth it to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Emirates if you want to upgrade an existing flight.
Virgin America Elevate
Virgin America and its Elevate frequent flyer program provide yet another option for booking Emirates flights using Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and Starwood Preferred Guest, and it offers relatively cheap redemption rates — though there are a few caveats. First, it’s important to note that you can’t book first-class awards through this program, and taxes and fees can be quite expensive. Plus, if you’re moving points over from Amex or Citi, the transfer rate is just 2:1, so 115,000 Elevate points for a business-class award in the example below requires 230,000 Membership Rewards or ThankYou points. SPG transfers may make sense, however, since you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio plus receive the standard 5,000-point bonus when you transfer in blocks of 20,000.
USING CHASE ULTIMATE REWARDS POINTS
Chase Ultimate Rewards is often regarded as one of the top transferable point programs, and it does include one transfer partner through which you can book Emirates awards, along with two less valuable options.
Here are some of the top cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You can earn an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months. Earn 2x points on all travel and dining at restaurants and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
- Chase Ink Plus Business Card — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. Earn 5x points on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline and internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year; earn 2x on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year; and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.
Korean Air SkyPass
The carrier has a zone-based award chart for Emirates redemptions — it’s a bit lengthy to post but you can see it here. Note that you must book round-trip travel (one-ways are only allowed on Korean metal), and you’ll need to call in (1-800-438-5000) to book a partner award ticket. The airline’s award-booking process is a bit convoluted, but on the upside you can hold a partner award for a few days if you don’t have the requisite number of miles in your account when you call in.
You could also transfer points to Marriott and book a Hotel + Air package and redeem the miles with Emirates. A seven-night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel plus 85,000 Emirates miles will cost you a total of 270,000 miles, with prices going up for higher-tier properties. However, 85,000 miles won’t get you very far, so this likely isn’t a great option.
You can also transfer Marriott points to miles with a variety of programs — though not at a great rate. For instance, 140,000 points gets you just 35,000 Emirates miles, so it’s pretty much never worth using this option.
USING CITI THANKYOU POINTS
Citi’s ThankYou Rewards has traditionally been seen as the weakest link among transferable points programs, but it continues to improve, recently adding Virgin America, its first US-based carrier. The program happens to have three partners through which you can book Emirates awards: Virgin America Elevate (outlined above), Malaysia Airlines Enrich and Qantas Frequent Flyer.
You have a variety of options when it comes to products that earn you ThankYou points. Some standout options include:
- Citi ThankYou Premier Card — Earn 3x points on travel, 2x on dining out and entertainment and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
- Citi Prestige — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points on air travel and hotels, 2x on dining out and entertainment and 1x on everything else. This card also offers some outstanding benefits such as a 4th night free on all paid hotel bookings made through Citi’s travel service and an annual $250 air travel fee credit. This card does have an annual fee of $450 (no foreign transaction fees), but if you can maximize the perks you’ll more than make up for it.
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
A lesser-known option for booking Emirates awards is Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program. Award flights on the carrier’s own metal may not be your top priority, but you could transfer Citi ThankYou points to the airline at a 1:1 ratio and then redeem for an Emirates flight using Malaysia’s distance-based award chart (seen below). However, note that you cannot redeem for Emirates first-class awards; only for economy and business.
Here are some sample redemption rates for booking Emirates awards through Malaysia Airlines:
- One-way business-class ticket between New York and Milan: 48,000 miles
- One-way business-class ticket between New York and Dubai: 66,000 miles
You’ll need to call Malaysia Airlines (+6 03 7843 3000 from outside of Malaysia) to book these flights, as Emirates redemptions can’t be completed online.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
The second Citi ThankYou Rewards partner that can be used to book Emirates awards is Australia-based Qantas. As with Malaysia Airlines, points transfer at a 1:1 rate.
Qantas also has a distance-based award chart. Here’s the chart for one-way partner redemptions:
Here are some sample redemption rates for booking Emirates awards using the Qantas award chart:
- One-way business-class ticket from New York to Milan: 60,000 miles
- One-way first-class ticket from Washington, D.C. to Dubai: 144,000 miles
- Round-trip business-class ticket from Dubai to Bangkok: 100,000 miles
Putting those redemption rates in perspective, though, it’s often cheaper to book awards directly through Emirates, and though Alaska Airlines recently raised it rates significantly, the carrier tends to charge much lower taxes and fees than Qantas. See Richard Kerr’s post, 5 Reasons Not to Transfer ThankYou Rewards to Qantas, for more info.
On the other hand, Qantas could be a good option for booking Emirates itineraries that don’t originate or terminate in North America (such as Dubai to Rome or Dubai to Bangkok), since these aren’t bookable through Alaska. For more information, see Eric Rosen’s post, When to Redeem Qantas Miles for Emirates Flights.
USING STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST POINTS
The final program, Starwood Preferred Guest, boasts more than 30 airline transfer partners, including some of the same ones mentioned above, including Virgin America. Like Amex Membership Rewards, it partners with Emirates, letting you transfer points to miles at a 1:1 ratio, and it also offers two additional airline options through which you can book Emirates award flights.
Perhaps the best reason to consider transferring Starpoints to book an Emirates award is that the SPG program will give you an extra 5,000 miles for every 20,000 points you transfer to an airline. Especially for more expensive first-class awards, this can save you a significant number of miles/points.
You can earn Starpoints when you stay at Starwood properties (points per dollar depends on your status level) and through various partnerships with Uber and other brands. There are also two credit card options, though it’s not clear if these will stick around for the long haul given the upcoming Marriott-Starwood merger:
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x points on eligible Starwood purchases and 1x on everything else, plus get 5 night and 2 stay credits toward elite status. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express — Currently offering a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. As with the personal version of this card, you’ll earn 2x points on eligible Starwood purchases and 1x on everything else, and you’ll get the same 5 night and 2 stay credits toward elite status. Unlike the personal card, this product offers free Sheraton Club lounge access when you book an eligible stay. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Recently, Alaska increased Emirates award prices by up to 100%. One of the biggest shockers was the new rate for first-class Emirates awards from the US to Europe: 360,000 miles round-trip, up from the previous rate of 200,000 miles! Due to negative changes like these, transferring Starpoints to Alaska or using an existing stash of Mileage Plan miles is now much less attractive. Still, it could be an option if you have plenty of rewards banked with this program — and it does charge lower taxes and fees than Qantas.
JAL Mileage Bank
Japan Airlines (JAL) is another 1:1 Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, and it could be an especially good option for Emirates flights departing from the US since it doesn’t apply fuel surcharges on these routes, and taxes and fees are capped at $78.20 for a round-trip ticket.
The carrier uses a distance-based award chart (seen below), and the number of miles you need will depend on the total distance of all your segments added together.
Speaking of segments, JAL allows a maximum of six on award bookings, as well as two stopovers. So you could book Emirates business from JFK – Dubai (stopover) – Bangkok (destination) – Dubai – Milan (stopover) – JFK. That’s a lot of premium-cabin flying time for 100,000 JAL miles!
COMPARING THE OPTIONS
These various programs and transfer options are a lot to keep track of — to make things easier, here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates across all carriers for flights between New York and Milan (Emirates’ “5th Freedom” route):
|Program||Economy (miles)||Business (miles)||First (miles)||Transfer Partners|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||95,000 (80,000 Starpoints)||210,000 (170,000 Starpoints)||360,000 (290,000 Starpoints)||Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)|
|Emirates Skywards||45,000 (40,000 Starpoints)||90,000 (75,000 Starpoints)||135,000 (110,000 Starpoints)||American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
|Korean Air SkyPass||70,000||125,000||170,000||Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)|
|JAL Mileage Bank||40,000 (35,000 Starpoints)||65,000 (55,000 Starpoints)||100,000 (80,000 Starpoints)||Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||54,000||96,000||—||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||56,000||120,000||180,000||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Virgin America Elevate||25,000 (20,000 Starpoints)||55,000 (45,000 Starpoints)||—||American Express Membership Rewards (2:1)
Citi ThankYou Rewards (2:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
And here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates for flights between New York and Dubai:
|Program||Economy (miles)||Business (miles)||First (miles)||Transfer Partners|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||85,000 (70,000 Starpoints)||165,000 (135,000 Starpoints)||300,000 (240,000 Startpoints)||Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)|
|Emirates Skywards||72,500 (60,000 Starpoints)||145,000 (120,000 Starpoints)||217,500 (177,500 Starpoints)||American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
|Korean Air SkyPass||70,000||140,000||210,000||Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)|
|JAL Mileage Bank||55,000 (45,000 Starpoints)||85,000 (70,000 Starpoints)||135,000 (110,000 Starpoints)||Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||72,000||132,000||—||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||80,000||168,000||252,000||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Virgin America Elevate||45,000 (40,000 Starpoints)||100,000 (80,000 Starpoints)||—||American Express Membership Rewards (2:1)
Citi ThankYou Rewards (2:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
As you can see, JAL tends to require fewer miles than the other carriers, and the 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer sweetens the deal. This same perk applies when you transfer Starpoints to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which helps counteract the recently increased award rates (but not by much). Of course, it’s important to note that TPG values Starpoints higher than these other currencies, so SPG transfers may not always be the obvious choice.
Virgin America Elevate requires even fewer miles than JAL, but it’s not necessarily a better option due to the unfavorable 2:1 rate for ThankYou point transfers (and the fact that you can’t book first-class awards). Plus, award flights booked through this carrier incur steep taxes and fees, which also cancels out some of the value.
Malaysia Airlines and Qantas don’t offer the best redemption rates, but they could be worth considering if you have plenty of Citi ThankYou points. Just remember that you can’t book first-class awards through Malaysia’s program — given that these are some of the most worthwhile redemptions, you may need to rule out this option entirely. Korean Air’s SkyPass program could also be a good option if you have plenty of Ultimate Rewards points, though you can’t book one-way awards.
Finally, Emirates’ own program is among the more expensive options, but the 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 points from SPG makes rates a bit more reasonable. But, like Qantas, Emirates applies some pretty steep taxes and fees, especially on long-haul premium-cabin itineraries, so it might not be the best first choice.
There are a variety of ways to redeem Emirates award flights, and the best option for you depends on which transferable points program you’re most invested in, plus other factors that vary from program to program. Those who want to minimize out-of-pocket expenses should try to avoid booking through Emirates Skywards or Qantas Frequent Flyer, for example, while those gunning for a first-class award won’t be able to redeem one through Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program.
What’s your favorite way to redeem credit card points for Emirates awards?
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.