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6 Alternatives to Emirates First Class

Jan. 02, 2018
9 min read
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Emirates has experienced incredible growth in the past decade thanks to a strong business model: Use high-capacity wide-body planes to provide a seamless connection between the east and west. Consistently cheap economy fares and high-quality service have endeared the airline to budget travelers, while at the same time its innovative and over-the-top premium cabins have made points and miles enthusiasts fall in love.

That all makes the past year of devaluations even more painful. First, Alaska Airlines increased the cost of Emirates first-class award tickets by as much as 100% overnight. Then earlier this month, Japan Airlines added fuel surcharges of up to over $1,700 to many Emirates awards, again with no warning. While we found a number of routes that aren't affected by these surcharges, flights out of the US seemed to get hit the hardest.

Flying is ultimately about getting from point A to point B safely and quickly, and while few carriers can match the bling of an Emirates first class cabin/shower/bar, there are plenty of airlines that can still get you to your destination in style and comfort. If you're traveling to some of Emirate's most far-flung and high-profile destinations, here are your best alternative options for avoiding those sky-high fuel surcharges.

1. The Maldives

You can use Starpoints to stay at the all-new St. Regis Maldives. Image courtesy of Starwood.
The St. Regis Maldives. Image courtesy of Starwood.

Much in the same way that Emirates' gold-studded cabins are a bucket-list item for many, the Maldives is a popular dream destination, with its isolated, tranquil resorts and overwater bungalows.

Flyers with plenty of AAdvantage miles, including those who've taken advantage of one of the recent elevated offers on American Airlines credit cards — either the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard or the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard — have two good options. The Maldives, and the entire "Indian Subcontinent" region is a notable exception in the AAdvantage award chart, as you're allowed to route either west (via Hong Kong) or east.

Eastbound travelers will have the best in-flight experience on Etihad, as the carrier's flights out of JFK feature the flagship A380 Apartments and the only onboard shower not operated by Emirates. Those choosing to travel west are required to fly Cathay Pacific. You can find the four-cabin 777-300ER at most major international airports, including BOS, JFK, LAX, ORD and SFO. While Cathay's seats don't offer the same level of privacy as Emirate's fully enclosed suites, they're a whopping 36 inches wide, compared to 23 inches on Emirates' A380s. The cost will be the same on either airline: 70,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in business class, or 115,000 one-way in first.

While not as blinged out as Emirates first class, Cathay Pacific's massive first class seats are an incredible redemption. Image courtesy of Zach Honig
While not as blinged-out as Emirates first class, Cathay Pacific's massive first-class seats are an incredible redemption. Image by Zach Honig

2. New Delhi

Emirates' four daily flights between Dubai (DXB) and New Delhi (DEL) sure look awfully convenient, and given how disappointing Air India's in-flight product can be, it makes sense that travelers would be wary of trying something new on this journey. One often overlooked option (that holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first time flying in a premium cabin) is Lufthansa first class.

You can connect from most major US airports to Germany, and then fly Lufthansa's flagship A380 first class product from Frankfurt to Delhi for either 140,000 United MileagePlus Miles or 105,000 Aeroplan miles each way. First-class flights departing Frankfurt offer one amenity that even Emirate's massive first-class lounge in Dubai can't compete with: chauffeur service. Passengers are driven from the First Class Terminal right up alongside the beautiful whale jet before being whisked up an elevator straight to the second deck jet bridge.

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Photo by author
After a stop at Lufthansa's First Class Terminal in FRA, get a ride right up to the A380. Photo by author.

Alternatively, you could connect in Munich and fly in business class on the newest member of Lufthansa's fleet, the Airbus A350, for only 85,000 United Miles or 75,000 Aeroplan miles one-way.

Lufthansa's A350 business class cabin. While the 2-2-2 configuration is hardly industry leading, the next generation plane still makes for a comfy ride. Image by Zach Honig

3. Bali

EVA Air's stylish Royal Laurel cabin. Photo courtesy of EVA Air.
EVA Air's stylish Royal Laurel cabin. Photo courtesy of EVA Air.

The volcanic eruption of Mt. Agung may have slowed down travel to Bali, but most of the island is once again safe for tourists. A flight on EVA Air will help you get an early start on the relaxation. This Taiwan-based carrier offers a refined and luxurious business-class experience complete with fine dining, surprisingly high-end champagne and the famous Hello Kitty-themed planes to spice things up. EVA Air flies its 777-300ERs to a handful of US airports, including IAH, JFK, LAX, ORD, SEA and SFO, and offers connections through its hub in Taipei (TPE) to most Asian destinations. The best part? You can book it for just 90,000 United miles each way.

4. Sydney

Emirates' codeshare agreement with Qantas made Dubai the ideal connection point for passengers traveling between Europe and Australia. Qantas has announced plans to end service to Dubai as of March 25, 2018, and to instead use Singapore as a refueling stop on its Sydney-London route. If you're traveling between Europe and Australia, there are a handful of good options: If you can find award space on Qantas, you can fly the carrier's flagship A380 first-class product from Sydney to London for 115,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

Around the same time that Qantas ditches Dubai in favor of Singapore, it'll also be launching the world's longest flight and the first nonstop between Europe and Australia. You can fly the carrier's brand-new 787 business class, shown below, from Perth to London for 85,000 AAdvantage miles.

Image courtesy of Qantas Airways.
Image courtesy of Qantas Airways.

If you're traveling to a different European city, consider flying Etihad. It deploys A380s on the Sydney to Abu Dhabi route, and another to Paris (CDG), meaning that you can fly this incredible first-class product the whole way to Europe for 115,000 AAdvantage miles. Other European cities are served by a mixture of 787 and older A330 aircraft.

Etihad's A380 first class. Photo courtesy of Eric Rosen
Etihad's A380 first class. Image by Eric Rosen

5. Mauritius

Visit Mauritius from Europe for 30,000 Flying Blue miles. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo byShutterstock.

Mauritius is a gorgeous island paradise and home to several incredible Starwood properties, but getting there can be difficult. There are very few nonstop flights to the island, and the most convenient routings usually require a stop in — you guessed it — Dubai. If you want to avoid these Emirates fuel surcharges then consider routing through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines instead. The carrier is known for its incredible onboard catering, and you can book this route in business class from the US for 80,000 United miles or 75,000 Aeroplan miles one-way.

6. Bangkok

The backpacker capital of the world is high on many travelers' lists, and it's incredibly easy to get to on points and miles. Although there are no nonstop flights from the US, there's an endless amount of one-stop connections through Asia and even Europe. You'll get the best value by redeeming Alaska miles and booking either Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines first class for 70,000 miles each way. If you choose to fly through Hong Kong, try and connect on Cathay Pacific's new Airbus A350, which occasionally flies one of the daily trips to Bangkok.

Japan Airlines 777-300ER first class. Photo by Eric Rosen
Japan Airlines 777-300ER first class. Photo by Eric Rosen

Bottom Line

Emirates doesn't have a monopoly on onboard luxury, and with its premium cabin award tickets costing more than ever before, it's important to consider all your options when booking award travel. Every destination that Emirates serves can also be reached with number of airlines that offer comfy seats, fine dining and refined service to get your trip started the right way.

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