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Those trying to book award tickets in Emirates first class have come to face quite a few obstacles. First, Alaska Airlines increased the cost of Emirates first-class redemptions by as much as 100%, with absolutely no warning. That left Japan Airline’s (JAL’s) Mileage Bank program as the best way to book Emirates awards, and its distance-based award chart is surprisingly reasonable for long-haul flights.
Unfortunately, another blow was struck when JAL, without warning, increased the maximum fuel surcharge on Emirates awards from $78.20 to $1,716.09. US-based travelers are some of the hardest hit, as all North American departures now include about $1,000 in fuel surcharges.
Fuel surcharges vary heavily by route — and TPG contributor and founder of Straight to the Points Spencer Howard was quick to point out that trips departing Hong Kong are exempt from this tax hike, as Hong Kong doesn’t allow carrier-imposed fuel surcharges.
Emirates is the pinnacle of luxury in aviation, and its gold-studded cabins and onboard showers are instantly recognizable to almost every avgeek out there. Since Emirates first class is a bucket list item for so many of us, we did some digging and found that a handful of its longest and highest-profile routes can still be booked with no (or minimal) fuel surcharges.
NOTE: We reached out to JAL to confirm the prices shown here, but given that these are subject to change with no warning, we strongly suggest you double-check before transferring any of your hard-earned Starpoints to JAL (more info on how to do that below). Additionally, since surcharges are calculated based on departure airport, booking these itineraries in the opposite direction could end up costing you hundreds or even thousands more.
Hong Kong to JFK for 115,000 miles and $72
Hong Kong is one of TPG’s favorite cities, boasting exceptional views, fine dining and some of the nicest hotels in the world. It’s also one of the most frequent targets of airline fare sales, with round-trip flights from the US often available for $600 or less. That being said, if you find yourself stuck in this traveler’s paradise with no way home, Emirates first class is a surprisingly reasonable option. Flights spanning the ~10,500 miles between Hong Kong (HKG) and New York (JFK) with a stop in Dubai will only cost you 115,000 JAL miles and about $72 in taxes.
Emirates has two daily departures on its flagship A380 and one served by a 777-300ER. This means that you can book a whopping 24 hours of Emirates flight time for fewer miles than United would charge you for a partner award booking on the same route. Flying home the long way doesn’t sound so bad anymore
Sydney to Dubai for 100,000 miles and ~$70
Emirates’ twice-daily A380 flights from Sydney to Dubai offer a prime chance to experience one of the world’s best first-class products, without shelling out thousands of dollars in fees. At only 100,000 miles and ~$70 in taxes, this represents a phenomenal way to travel from Australia.
Auckland to Dubai for 105,000 miles and ~$25
Emirates’ daily nonstop A380 flight from Auckland to Dubai is just a few miles short of being the longest flight in the world. It’s blocked at over 17 hours flying westbound, so passengers will have plenty of time to experience all the perks of first-class travel. Even better, it can be booked for a very reasonable 105,000 Milage Bank miles and around $25 in taxes.
Sao Paulo to Dubai for 100,000 miles and ~$275
While this option is not especially helpful for American travelers, Sao Paulo (GRU) to Dubai is one of the cheapest ways left to fly Emirates first class. The daily A380 flight is a 14-hour journey, and can be booked for only 100,000 JAL miles and ~$275 in taxes.
Maldives to JFK for 105,000 miles and ~$500
While the taxes here are still pretty steep, it wouldn’t be the Maldives without all those pesky extra fees. Still, 105,000 and ~$500 is a reasonable price to get home from this secluded island paradise given that flying the other direction — JFK to the Maldives — would cost closer to $1,000 in extra taxes.
How to Check Prices
Given how much fuel surcharges can vary depending on your city of origin, it’s important to know how much you’ll be paying before you start to book your trip. There are two ways to figure this out. First, you can call JAL’s Mileage Bank customer service at 1-800-525-3663 and ask them to price out an itinerary for you, but I had to wait on hold for well over an hour before my call was answered.
If you’re looking for a quicker DIY answer, it’s time to turn to the most powerful flight search engine of all, the ITA Matrix. Head over to matrix.itasoftware.com and click on the “advanced controls” button.
For our Hong Kong to New York example, or any itinerary that passes through Dubai in route to another final destination, enter DXB in the routing codes box.
If Dubai is your final destination, change the routing code to EK so the matrix knows just how badly you
want need to fly on Emirates.
Make sure you select first class, and click the search button. It doesn’t matter what date you choose, because even though the underlying base fare will vary day to day, the taxes and surcharges won’t. ITA Matrix will then display all flights matching the criteria you’ve chosen. Note that many westbound flights from Asia or the South Pacific will include the option of a stop in Bangkok, so make sure you select the routing that most closely matches your desired itinerary.
Once you click on the price of the flight you want, you’ll be taken to a screen like this that shows a complete breakdown of every tax and fee that makes up the total fare you pay.
You can ignore most of the jargon; the only line we’re interested in is the “EK YQ surcharge (YQ).” As you can see, the eastbound trip from JFK to Hong Kong includes a whopping $812 in fuel surcharges (in addition to normal airport and security taxes), while the westbound return trip has none!
This tool is incredibly powerful, but unfortunately it’s not perfect. Take the following example of a flight from the Maldives (MLE) to JFK.
While the ITA Matrix doesn’t show a YQ fuel surcharge, the JAL agent I spoke to on the phone quoted me a hefty $500 in fees to book this award ticket.
Earning JAL Mileage Bank Miles
Ready to get started booking your dream Emirates trip? Considering applying for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express to start earning points you can transfer to JAL. Both cards are currently offering 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Each card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Starpoints transfer to JAL at a 1:1 rate, and you’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. For more on the Mileage Bank program, see Richard Kerr’s post.