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When you think about luxury flying experiences, there’s a good chance Emirates first class comes to mind. As a first-class passenger on one of its Airbus A380s, you’ll get to enjoy the famous in-flight bar and shower. And if you find yourself on one of the new Boeing 777s between Dubai (DXB) and Brussels (BRU) or Geneva (GVA), you’ll get to experience the newest first-class cabin with completely private suites.
It’s no surprise that many in the points and miles world dream of flying Emirates first class. In contrast to Lufthansa first class, award space isn’t too hard to find with partner airlines. On the other hand, we don’t have the benefit of a large airline alliance as we do with Lufthansa and Star Alliance, which leaves us with only a few options for booking with miles.
The landscape has also changed recently, with a devaluation of Alaska Airlines’ Emirates award chart in March 2016 and the addition of carrier-imposed surcharges to Emirates awards booked with Japan Airlines (JAL) in late November 2017.
With these changes in mind, let’s take a look at the best ways to book Emirates first class with points and miles.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Until the March 2016 award chart devaluation, the single most popular way to redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles might have been to book Emirates first-class award flights. However, the change to redemption rates left people looking for other options.
Even with the change, Alaska Mileage Plan shouldn’t be overlooked as a possible way to book, as it doesn’t pass on carrier-imposed surcharges, keeping your cash cost to a minimum. Here are the current redemption rates for booking Emirates first class with Alaska Mileage Plan miles:
|Route||Miles Required (One-Way)||Taxes and Fees|
|US – Asia||180,000||~$30|
|US – Australia||225,000||~$50|
|US – Europe||180,000||~$20|
|US – Middle East||150,000||~$20|
To make your miles go even further, you can book a stopover in Dubai on your way to your final destination whether, it’s Hong Kong (HKG) or even Sydney (SYD). This is an easy way to turn one amazing first-class trip into two.
If you need more Alaska Mileage Plan miles, you can transfer SPG Starpoints at a 1:1 ratio. You can also earn more miles directly with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card from Bank of America.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
For the last year and a half, JAL Mileage Bank miles have been a go-to points currency for booking Emirates first class thanks to the reasonable redemption rates. Additionally, they didn’t tack carrier-imposed surcharges on award bookings with Emirates.
Unfortunately, the recent addition of these surcharges to Emirates award tickets added a layer of complexity when deciding how to book.
With that said, you can still create some fun award bookings with JAL Mileage Bank’s distance-based award chart. The surcharges on Emirates first-class awards originating in the US can be up to $1,716.09, but that’s a fraction of what a cash ticket would cost.
If you want to avoid these surcharges, you can begin your first-class journey on Emirates from a select number of countries. Here are a few of those options:
|Route||Miles Required (One-Way)|
|Colombo (CMB) – Los Angeles (LAX)||115,000|
|Hong Kong (HKG) – New York (JFK)||115,000|
|Sydney (SYD) – Dallas (DFW)||155,000|
|Tokyo (NRT) – Chicago (ORD)||135,000|
While some of these aren’t necessarily the quickest routes back to the US, JAL Mileage Bank will allow you to book a stopover on your way so you can visit the Middle East before heading home.
JAL is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), so you can transfer Starpoints when you are ready to book. Keep in mind that transfers can take several days to process, and JAL doesn’t hold award tickets.
While Alaska Mileage Plan miles or JAL Mileage Bank miles are generally your best bets for flying Emirates first class, those programs only partner with SPG, which means your American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou Points can’t help you.
If you’re okay with some higher surcharges and you have big balances with any of these transferable points programs, the following options might be just what you need to try out the luxury of Emirates first class.
Korean Air SkyPass
If you earn plenty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and want to try Emirates first class, Korean Air SkyPass is going to be your best option. You can top off your account with a transfer of SPG Starpoints.
If you want to book a simple JFK-DXB trip, you can use 210,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles to fly Emirates first class round-trip. There are two caveats to booking with SkyPass that you need to know, though.
First, Korean Air requires you to book round-trip award tickets when you book partner award. Second, you’ll be responsible for the roughly $1,600+ of carrier-imposed surcharges.
Besides being able to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book Emirates awards, the other big advantage of using Korean Air SkyPass miles is that you can put award tickets on hold, so you don’t have to worry that award space will disappear while the transfer processes.
For those with tons of American Express Membership Rewards points, Emirates’ own Skywards program is the logical option for booking Emirates awards. Like with most other options, you’ll be on the hook for surcharges. On top of that, Emirates Skywards requires a ton of miles to book first class award tickets.
You can book one-way awards, but be aware that they will require more than half of the round-trip mileage cost. Booking a round-trip does allow you to include a stopover, so you can squeeze out the most value for your miles when booking with Emirates Skywards.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
It’s not talked about much because of its sub-par redemption rates, but Qantas Frequent Flyer is an option to book Emirates first class if you have tons of Citi ThankYou Points.
Qantas Frequent Flyer will also pass on significant surcharges to you when you book a first-class award on Emirates. Here are a few sample redemption options to give you an idea of what to expect from Qantas’ distance-based award chart:
|Route||Miles Required (Round-Trip)|
|New York (JFK) – Milan (MXP)||180,000|
|New York (JFK) – Dubai (MXP)||252,000|
|New York (JFK) – Singapore (SIN)||384,000|
While 180,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points for a round-trip first class booking between JFK and MXP is decent, you have to consider whether paying just over $1,000 in taxes and fees is worth it to you.
Booking Emirates first-class award tickets definitely isn’t as easy as it used to be, but there are still several ways to do so. If you want to avoid carrier-imposed surcharges no matter what, booking with Alaska Mileage Plan miles is the way to go. If you’re able to return to the US from select countries, using JAL Mileage Bank miles is a great way to use the fewest miles possible and avoid surcharges.
If you don’t have Starpoints to transfer for either of those options, that leaves you with a few other choices that will each carry high taxes and fees so be aware of that from the start so you aren’t caught off guard. With a little planning, you can try one of the most luxurious experiences in the sky.
Feature photo of Emirates first-class private suite by Zach Honig.
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