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While The Points Guy wines and dines his way through first and business class on practically every carrier in the world, even the exclusive Etihad Residence, my points and miles strategy is a little different. As someone who usually snags economy flight deals to travel the world, I prefer to use my hard-earned miles on more flights in coach so I can visit more destinations.
I only have a few US credit cards since I’m based in Europe, so my spending habits differ slightly from the average American’s. I’ll typically stockpile Amex or Chase Ultimate Reward points, which I will transfer to airline partners and redeem for several economy tickets so my partner and I can travel for free together.
My strategy is based on quantity, not quality, and let’s face it: It has taken me to some great places such as Cuba, Senegal, Peru, Myanmar, Morocco and Indonesia, but it also means that my back is in near-permanent disarray after being smashed into tiny plane seats. And every economy traveler deserves to have a little fun at the front of the plane once in a while.
So, on a recent trip from Madrid to Dubai, I decided to fork over a chunk of points for a one-way ticket in the Gulf carrier’s famed first class, because have you really lived if you haven’t showered at 38,000 feet?
My return trip would be decidedly less fancy, in the usual economy class — but at least checking out the Bombardier CS300, on Air Baltic from Abu Dhabi to Paris via Riga, Latvia. So I was ready to live my one-and-only first class experience to the maximum, though of course now that I’ve had a taste of the high life, it will certainly be hard to go back to all my fellow peasants in economy. It’s to those coach flyers that I am glad to present below five reasons why every economy traveler should try out Emirates first class at least once in their lives.
1) The average traveler could fly Emirates first class using points
I used 85,000 American Express Membership Rewards points plus 337 euros in taxes and fees ($389) for my one-way ticket from Madrid (MAD) to Dubai (DXB). These points transfer directly from Amex to Emirates’ Skywards program with a 1:1 ratio.
If you get the The Platinum Card® from American Express, the bonus is currently 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. So if you get the welcome bonus, right off the bat you’ll almost be able to purchase your ticket using points. You’ll be even closer to having enough points if you meet your $5,000 minimum spending requirement by earning 5x points on airline or hotel purchases.
Considering one-way tickets in first class were around $4,000, I got a value of almost 4.7 cents per point. Since TPG values American Express Membership Rewards points at 2.0 cents per point, I’d say I got a fabulous deal. While this is a solid chunk of points, it beats cash: I certainly won’t be forking over $4,000 for a one-way plane ticket anytime soon, but 85,000 points was feasible.
It’s worth noting, though, that you may want to use the points to upgrade an existing flight, because sometimes Emirates tacks on hefty taxes and fees to awards purchases, especially on pricier routes from the US to Dubai. Of course, using 85,000 Skywards points would have gotten me a roundtrip ticket in economy with some left over, but then would I have had this view just after boarding? On the upper deck of an Airbus A380?
2) The suites are out of this world
Coming from someone who is typically crunched shoulder-to-shoulder in economy, any first, business or even premium economy opportunity is amazing, but Emirates is above and beyond. I’ve been upgraded in the past on US-based carriers internationally, and while I won’t name names, it was nothing compared to Emirates first class.
Emirates seats turn into fully flat beds, and yes, that’s pretty much standard these days even in business class, but put yourself in my shoes here. This is not the view I usually get on airplanes.
Also you can operate the seats as massage chairs! My back isn’t used to this.
The suites feature giant IFE screens with a zillion options for movies, music and shows, a sassy lighted makeup mirror with chic little amenities inside and plenty of storage space.
I got a Bulgari amenity kit, moisturizing pajamas (yes, you read that right, moisturizing pajamas), an eyemask and slippers lined with faux fur. The amenity kit was amazing, and I basically slathered my face and body with every possible thing given to me, just because I could. It even came with a pocket makeup mirror and a travel-size Bulgari perfume.
The pajamas were ‘hydra active,’ meaning they (allegedly) gently release moisturizing sea kelp as you sleep. Haven’t you always wanted a pair of sea kelp-releasing jammies? I didn’t realize that was missing from my life.
I made a significant dent in the snacks and mini bar options offered, which seemed to be magically refilled every time I got up from my seat.
I also got to use some noise canceling headphones, though those weren’t to keep, just to use during the flight.
There were even little tiny pillboxes you open and sniff — one to induce sleep and one to focus. The lights and air vents are made of gold (unsure if it’s 24k or just gold paint, but who cares because they look cool and they aren’t the crusty grey air vents you have to share with your neighbor in coach.)
The best part of all is you can close the doors to your very own suite. Even though I was actually the only one in first class and the 14 suites already feel private, there was something extremely satisfying about closing the doors to your own little world. Byeeeeee!
3) You can shower at 38,000 feet
Having two enormous bathrooms in the first class cabin was already a luxury in itself, but being able to shower and freshen up on a long flight made it even better. The bathrooms look at least three times the size of a typical bathroom in economy.
The sleek wood-style decor makes the bathroom seem much fancier, and there were enough toiletries in there to freshen up everyone on the plane! Razor and dental kits, plush white towels, shower caps, body lotion and q-tips were available in addition to the typical soap, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in various scents. The floor is even heated so once you shower, your feet are warm.
Normally, you have to reserve your shower, and the last opportunity you have to shower is one hour before landing. You get 25 minutes in the bathroom and five minutes of water, which is timed on a small timer inside the shower so you can see how much time you have left and even pause the water. Since I was the only one in the cabin, though, the staff joked I could shower as many times as I wanted. While I’m sure I could have, I found one shower during my seven-hour flight to be enough…though looking back maybe I should have taken another to literally soak it all in.
Having this refresher before landing, especially since I had to hit the ground running and start work straight away, was wonderful. I don’t know how I’ll survive on my next red-eye flight without my shower and fancy amenities — oh, how the mighty will soon fall. At least I can now check off “shaving my legs with Bulgari amenities at 38,000 feet in the air” off my bucket list. *Drops mic.
4) You’ll be living your best life, just as Jennifer Aniston did in the Emirates commercial
In case you missed Jennifer Aniston’s commercials for Emirates economy and Emirates first class you should check them out for a good laugh. As for me, I’ll wake up in a few days in an economy nightmare once again, but at least I was able to enjoy some drinks at the bar and ask the bartender to fly this thing around a bit, like Jen did.
I even joked about recreating the Emirates commercial since I was the only one in first class — all the flight attendants were laughing about it. In any case, Jen was on the right track when she enjoyed a cocktail at the bar — yes, my first time in the famous Emirates A380 bar for first and business class passengers. If for some reason you can’t sleep in your insanely comfortable suites, just head to the bar for some cocktails and conversation.
5) The staff, amenities and food are off the charts
Paying people to treat you nicely is the greatest and should be done whenever possible. I was treated even better as I was the only one in the cabin — the FAs told me I was queen of the cabin! There were at least five people serving me and asking if I was okay and what I needed. I was overwhelmed at first, but then I remembered all those times I wanted a glass of water or a customs form in economy and was promptly ignored and then I felt much more deserving of any excessive attention.
The staff was just incredibly friendly and helpful, checking on me at every turn, bringing me extra chocolates, telling me spots not to be missed in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I even got some advice from the friendly FA bartender on how to care for your skin as a frequent flyer: tons of water, avoid alcohol (weird, since she was, you know, serving alcohol. Also, no way I’m following that one when Dom Perignon is served, I’ll save the dry flights for economy) and lather your skin with Nuxe oil, which is available at French pharmacies and many duty-free shops in Europe.
I began my elegant dining experience by munching on caviar and garlic bread (the world’s best highbrow/lowbrow combo) all while sipping Dom Perignon champagne.
I chose the beef short ribs as my entree, which was served with glazed carrots and truffle mashed potatoes.
The meat was tender and the truffle savory and delicious. I paired my main course with a full-bodied Italian wine from my favorite wine region, Nero D’ Avola, which was fruity and slightly dry. Dessert was unreal, a brownie with salted caramel — it melted in my mouth!
For breakfast, as this was an overnight flight, I had eggs and hash browns, fresh fruit, carrot juice and selected my Nespresso coffee directly from the fancy coffee and tea menu.
With the boarding pass, you’re given lounge access, though I was mildly disappointed that the lounge in the Madrid airport, the Neptuno Lounge, is the very same one I can access with Priority Pass, because Emirates doesn’t have its own first class lounge there. But beggars can’t be choosers, so I enjoyed my lounge access. I also got a fast pass through security in Madrid as well as a fast track to head through customs in Dubai.
If all this wasn’t enough, I was even given a chauffeur to the Madrid airport and from the Dubai airport. It was so convenient not to have to deal with public transport or organizing taxis/cars in either spot. Plus, my ride in Dubai was about an hour from the airport out to the Al Maha Desert Resort, so it was just nice to have it handled. Considering I usually take the metro to the airport in Madrid, it was pretty cool to have a sexy black BMW pick me up at my apartment, complete with my mother-in-law and husband hanging off the balcony snapping photos (embarrassing slash I loved it but really, had they never seen a black car before?). Sure, it could have been Uber but I knew it was a car coming to me from Emirates first class, and that’s all that mattered.
Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to Emirates first class, though it will likely ruin you for life. It did for me: now I have to go back to my fellow serfs in economy and it certainly won’t be easy. It’s a very special experience to have up in the air and it’s worth stockpiling some of those hard-earned points and miles to do so. Now, if I really want to be like Jen, I just have to figure out how to fly private…
Know before you go.
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