How to Avoid Fuel Surcharges When Booking Emirates First-Class Awards
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Capital One is really stepping up its game when it comes to the value of your points. In December, it launched points transfers to a dozen airline partners, following up shortly thereafter with two more. This week, it announced a 100% transfer bonus to the Emirates Skywards program. That’s great news for people who want to use Emirates Skywards for luxury travel. However, in certain situations fuel surcharges can get in the way of an affordable redemption. Travelers should be armed with some history as well as some tips on how to minimize or avoid the fuel surcharges.
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 Airlines’ Mileage Bank program as the best way to book Emirates awards, and even after a recent devaluation 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 were some of the hardest hit, as all North American departures now include about $1,000 in fuel surcharges.
While JAL is the best option for booking Emirates awards with points and miles, you’ll find similarly egregious fuel surcharges on a number of other programs as well, including if you book directly through Emirates Skywards.
Fuel surcharges vary heavily by route and departure city — 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 may be the pinnacle of luxury in aviation, and its gold-studded cabins and onboard showers are instantly recognizable for many travelers. 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 Marriott points 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 145,000 miles and ~$100
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. If you find yourself stuck in this traveler’s paradise with no way home, you’re in luck as 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 145,000 JAL miles and about $100 in taxes.
Emirates has two daily departures from Hong Kong 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. You could also fly to other east coast cities like Washington DC (IAD) or Boston (BOS). DC is served daily by an A380, while Boston is getting upgraded from a 777 to the double decker whale jet this summer.
Sydney to Dubai for 120,000 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 120,000 miles and ~$70 in taxes, this represents a phenomenal way to travel from Australia. Given how hard it can be to get to Australia using points and miles, this can also be a great way to break up your trip with a stop in the Middle East instead of Asia.
Auckland to Dubai for 135,000 miles and ~$25
Emirates’ nonstop A380 flight from Auckland to Dubai is just a few hundred 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 135,000 Milage Bank miles and around $25 in taxes. You could also take advantage of one of Emirates’ fifth-freedom routes from Auckland (AKL) to Bali (DPS) and then on to Dubai to get two flights for the price of one. While distance based award charts normally punish you for taking longer and more circuitous routings, the stop in Bali only adds about ~20 miles to your total flight distance and wouldn’t actually increase your award cost.
Sao Paulo to Dubai for 120,000 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 120,000 JAL miles and ~$275 in taxes.
Maldives to JFK for 135,000 miles and ~$500
Even if your flights and hotels are all booked on points, the Maldives is one of the most expensive destinations in the world. You can expect to pay anywhere from $150 on the low end to almost $1,000 per person to get from the capital island of Male (MLE) to your hotel via speedboat or seaplane. The taxes on Emirates awards from the Maldives are also pretty egregious, but this might be one of the cases where it’s worth paying them. There are only so many airlines that fly to the Maldives, and if you want to make your vacation luxurious from start to finish and have less competition for award space, then consider paying up for an Emirates first-class award. Emirates has two daily flights between Male and Dubai, and another two between Dubai and JFK, giving you plenty of flexibility to hunt for award space.
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 begin booking 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. You should also set the currency to USD to make sure the search results are displayed in a useful way.
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 or another fifth freedom route, 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.
The Bottom Line
The Capital One 100% transfer bonus is a lucrative opportunity for people who dream of an Emirates trip in premium cabins. It’s a great way to get excellent value for your Capital One miles, and you only have a few more days to take advantage of it. Avoiding fuel surcharges really changes the value of your Capital One miles, if only briefly.