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When to Redeem Qantas Miles for Emirates Flights

Feb. 05, 2016
13 min read
When to Redeem Qantas Miles for Emirates Flights
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When it comes to Emirates award flights, all the attention seems to go toward using Alaska miles to book trips on the largest of the three Middle Eastern carriers. Today, though, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at how you can use Qantas miles to fly Emirates, and why you might (or might not) want to do so.

Though it’s not in any airline alliance, Emirates is a global airline to be reckoned with, and it partners independently with several carriers, including Qantas. That partnership came into existence back in 2012, and since then, the two carriers have grown even closer, with reciprocal mileage earning and accrual benefits and more.

Before you get too excited, there are a few limitations to this partnership, including sometimes massive fuel surcharges on award tickets. But despite that, there are times where you might still want to consider using Qantas miles to book award tickets on Emirates.

Transfer Partners

Not long ago, that wasn’t such a feasible option for many US-based flyers. However, Qantas became one of the new airline transfer partners Citi ThankYou Rewards added to its program back in February 2015. So if you have a Citi card like the Citi Prestige or the Citi Premier® Card, you suddenly have many more options for flight redemptions, including some great ways to put your points to use for Emirates awards.

Among other transfer partners, Citi ThankYou Rewards added Qantas last February.
Among other transfer partners, Citi ThankYou Rewards added Qantas last February.

Not only that, but the Citi Premier® Card earns 3x points per dollar on travel purchases including gas, and 2x points per dollar on dining and entertainment; while the Citi Prestige earns 3x points on air travel and hotels, and 2x points on dining at restaurants and entertainment. That means you can rack up ThankYou points a lot faster than Alaska miles, because the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card only offers 3x miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases and just 1x mile per dollar on everything else.

As TPG Contributor Richard Kerr pointed out in his post, 5 Reasons Not To Transfer ThankYou Rewards to Qantas, there are definitely many drawbacks to the carrier's mileage program. First, although Qantas has lowered redemption requirements and fuel surcharges on some award tickets, many Qantas awards still require astronomical amounts of miles. So those ThankYou points might not go very far. Plus, you might still get stuck paying hundreds of dollars on award tickets. Still, there are a few reasons Qantas is still worth considering for Emirates awards.

Why Qantas Beats Emirates Skywards

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Both Qantas and Emirates have high award redemption rates, but Qantas tends to beat Emirates out in a direct head-to-head competition, especially since the fuel surcharges seem to be mostly the same on Emirates award tickets no matter which of the two mileage programs you use. Not only that, but award availability for both programs’ members on Emirates seems identical based on all the searches I’ve done, so you don’t lose out on award space by booking through Qantas instead of Emirates.

Redeeming Qantas miles for Emirates awards can be worth some cases.
Redeeming Qantas miles for Emirates awards can be worth it ... in some cases.

The one consideration is that Emirates is a 1:1 transfer partner of both Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like The Platinum Card from American Express or the Amex EveryDay Preferred, so it’s easy to top up your Skywards account … you’ll just need more points from either program to do so.

Why Qantas Beats Alaska

In general, Alaska’s Emirates mileage-redemption rates are lower than those for Qantas, since Qantas’ redemptions are distance-based and Emirates tends to operate long-haul flights.

However, Qantas does actually beat Alaska on some of these rates, notably from North America to Europe both in business and first class. Qantas also seems to have access to more Emirates award availability than Alaska, so awards that are bookable via Qantas might not even show up on Alaska's site. Both these factors make a huge difference since it’s much easier to rack up Qantas miles now thanks to the airline's partnership with ThankYou Rewards.

Finally, Alaska can only issue Emirates awards that originate or terminate in North America, meaning you can’t use Alaska miles to book an Emirates flight from Dubai just to Europe, Africa or Asia, whereas you can do so using Qantas miles. So while that limits the usefulness of Alaska miles, it highlights the versatility of those Qantas miles, specifically for Emirates awards to various parts of the world other than North America.

Award Charts

Before we get to specific examples, let’s take a look at Alaska’s Emirates award chart for the Middle East:

And for Europe:

Compared to Qantas’:

Qantas Emirates chart

As you can see, it’s hard to compare apples to apples here since Alaska’s is region/zone-based and Qantas’ is distance-based, but it’s easy to see that for flights more than 4,800 miles, you’re probably going to find much lower mileage rates using Alaska miles.

Comparison Table

As they say, the proof is in the pudding. So let’s take a look at a few award examples and see why Qantas comes out ahead in many cases. Here's a quick table with the results of award searches using each airline's miles for Emirates awards and what the taxes/surcharges would be. All of these are one-way, except the New York — Milan award, which is round-trip.

New York — Milan Business: 120,000 + $1,002
First: 180,000 + $1,096
Business: 90,000 + $1,042
First: 135,000 + $1,136
Business: 150,000 + $81
First: 200,000 + $81
Washington — Dubai Business: 96,000 + $732
First: 144,000 + $732
Business: 100,000 + $755
First: 136,250 + $755
Business: 75,000 + $19.50
First: 90,000 + $19.50
New York — JohannesburgBusiness: 128,000 + $700
First: 192,000 + $700
Business: 131,250 + $753
First: 178,750 + $753
Business: 77,500 + $19
First: 100,000 + $19
Dubai — RomeBusiness: 50,000 + $340
First: 75,000 + $340
Business: 62,500 + $395
First: 85,000 + $395
Business: N/A
First: N/A
Dubai — BangkokBusiness: 50,000 + $21
First: 75,000 + $21
Business: 72,500 + $400
First: 98,750 + $400
Business: N/A
First: N/A
London — JohannesburgBusiness: 96,000 + $640
First: 144,000 + $640
Business: 103,750 + $643
First: 141,250 + $643
Business: N/A
First: N/A

Award Flight Scenarios

If you haven’t used Qantas’ award search, you just need to log in using your Qantas mileage-program ID (you can create one in a couple minutes if you don’t have one yet).

Qantas logged in

Then search for “Classic Flight Rewards,” so you pull in award inventory from the airline’s partners.

Qantas classic

New York — Milan

First, let’s look at flights from New York (JFK) to Milan Malpensa (MXP) on Emirates. Unlike Emirates’ other flights from the US, this one doesn't transit through Dubai, but rather is a Fifth Freedom route directly from the US to Europe. As you can see, there's a ton of business- and first-class award availability this spring.

Qantas travel class calendar

Qantas would charge you 120,000 miles round-trip in business class and about $1,002 in fees for this round-trip (I had to call Qantas’ customer service number to verify the taxes/surcharges). First class would be 180,000 miles round-trip and about $1,096 in taxes/fees.

Alaska displays the same award availability in this case:

Alaska JFK MXP

But Alaska would charge you 150,000 miles round-trip in business class and 200,000 in first class, though the taxes/fees would be a mere $81.

Alaska JFK MXP roundtrip

Emirates, on the other hand, would charge you 90,000 miles and $1,042 in taxes/fees for business class.

Emirates JFK MXP business

And 135,000 miles and $1,136 in taxes/fees for first class.

Emirates JFK MXP first

So your best bet in this case would actually probably be Emirates’ own miles if you had some Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points to use, but between Qantas and Alaska, you might still opt for Alaska. For that first-class award, you’d be saving $1,015 in taxes/fees, but spending 50,000 more miles — a breakdown of about 2 cents per mile.

Washington, D.C. — Dubai

Now let’s take a look at Emirates’ newest A380 route, Washington Dulles to Dubai. Here’s where things get a little murkier.

One-way, Qantas would charge you either 96,000 miles for business class or 144,000 miles for first class, and about $732 in taxes/fees.

IAD DXB 96 144

By contrast, Alaska would charge you just 75,000 miles in business class or 90,000 miles in first class, and just $19.50 — a much better choice. But again, you have to have the Alaska miles or SPG points to transfer in the first place.

Alaska IAD DXB

For its part, Emirates would charge you 100,000 miles and $755 for a one-way business-class award.

Emirates IAD DXB business

Or 136,250 miles and $755 for first class.

Emirates IAD DXB first

New York — Johannesburg

One of the holy grails of mileage tickets is getting to South Africa, and having Emirates options in your back pocket makes it a lot easier.

Qantas would charge you 128,000 miles and about $700 for this business-class award. And a first-class award on the same route has the same taxes/fees, but costs 192,000 miles (again, I called into Qantas to price it out).

Emirates JFK JNB first 192k

Here's the shocker: Alaska would charge you 77,500 miles in business class and 100,000 in first class, and just $19 in taxes/fees.

Alaska Emirates JFK JNB

But, the second flight from Dubai to Johannesburg would be in coach! And try as I might, I couldn’t get business or first class to price out the whole way through, and neither could a phone agent at Alaska when I called, so Alaska’s award inventory does not seem to be the same as Qantas’.

Emirates JFK JNB first

For its part, Emirates would charge you 131,250 miles and $753 in business class, or 178,750 and $753 in first class.

Dubai — Rome

As I mentioned, Alaska cannot book award tickets for Emirates itineraries that do not originate or terminate in North America, so one of the reasons you might want to keep Qantas in mind is the ability to book flights from Emirates’ hub in Dubai to Europe, Asia and Africa.

First case in point: this itinerary from Dubai to Rome. Qantas would require 50,000 miles for business class or 75,000 for first class one-way and about $340 in taxes/fees.

Emirates DXB FCO 50 75

Emirates would require 62,500 miles and about $395 in taxes/fees for business class.

Emirates DXB FCO business

And 85,000 miles plus $395 for first class, so you’re better off with Qantas here.

Emirates DXB FCO first

Dubai — Bangkok

On this Asia route, where there are up to five daily flights — three on the A380 and two on 777-300ERs — there's plenty of award availability.

Emirates DXB BKK 3 A380 2 777

Qantas would require 50,000 miles for business class and 75,000 miles for first class, and about $21 in taxes/ fees.

Emirates, meanwhile, would charge you 72,500 miles for business class and 98,750 for first class plus about $400.

Emirates DXB BKK first

You’re much better off with Qantas here.

London — Johannesburg

Finally, let’s say you were already over in Europe and wanted to pop down to South Africa. You couldn’t use your Alaska miles to do so on Emirates. However, for a one-way ticket on Emirates, Qantas would charge you 96,000 miles in business class and 144,000 miles in first class, with about $640 in taxes/fees either way.

LGW JNB 96 144

Emirates would charge you roughly the same in fees, but 141,250 in first class.

Emirates LGW JNB first

And 103,750 in business class.

Emirates LGW JNB business

So it’s about even for first class, but Qantas wins in business-class redemptions here.

Bottom Line

In general, if you’re just flying to or from North America and want to use miles on Emirates, you're probably still better off using Alaska, despite seemingly more limited award availability and the infinitesimally lower fuel surcharges and taxes.

However, if you’re swimming in Citi ThankYou Rewards points, you might want to consider the program specifically for Emirates awards booked using Qantas miles. Not only is it easier to rack up ThankYou points faster thanks to higher credit-card sign-up bonuses and category spending bonuses, but Qantas also boasts a few sweet spots and generally better award availability that make its program worth considering a transfer partner specifically for Emirates awards you might not be able to book otherwise.

[card card-name='Citi Prestige® Card' card-id='221410589' type='javascript' bullet-id='1']

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.