The Best Programs for Booking Emirates Awards
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When it comes to award flights — and specifically premium-cabin redemptions — Emirates is among the most sought-after carriers. Thanks to products like the great first-class suite on the A380 and the updated first-class cabin available on some 777-300ERs, many points and miles enthusiasts make it a priority to redeem their hard-earned points and miles with the carrier. Fortunately, you have several options for transferring points and locking in these redemptions, especially now that Capital One has added Emirates Skywards as a transfer partner, allowing you to transfer miles earned from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card in order to book these flights.
Let’s take a closer look at the best ways to do this.
Top Awards to Book
While Emirates has a reputation for gold-studded opulence, not every seat in their fleet is created equal. It might even surprise you to learn that Emirates really drops the ball with a few of their business class configurations. Many 777s feature either angle-flat seats or a 2-3-2 layout with middle seats in international business class. The horror! This post will include information on awards in every class of travel, but due to Emirates’ renowned premium-cabin service, I’ll focus on first-class redemptions.
- Emirates A380 first class: You can fly this product on more than 30 routes, including New York-JFK to Dubai and between New York-JFK and Milan, as has TPG done before. There are 14 suite-style seats in the first class cabin, and each one includes a mini bar, a huge screen for enjoying the (very comprehensive) in-flight entertainment, and even a pop-up makeup mirror. One of the main highlights of the A380 is Emirates’ world famous in-flight shower.
- Emirates 777-300ER first class: The first-class cabin that you’ll find on most of Emirates’ 777-300ERs is slightly smaller than that of the A380, with just eight closed suites. While the configuration is different, the seats themselves are very similar, and you can expect comparable service on board. You can fly the 777-300ER on a variety of international routes, including Boston to Dubai and even shorter fifth freedom flights like Sydney to Christchurch. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a ride on a 777 with the carrier’s newer first class cabin, which features just six suites in a 1-1-1 configuration and extras like virtual windows for the seats in the middle of the cabin. It’s currently available on flights from Dubai to Brussels, Geneva and London-Stansted, though the carrier is currently blocking award space on these already-announced routes, earning this product the top spot on my list of the hardest first class products to book using points and miles.
That’s not to say you couldn’t use miles (and the strategies discussed below) to book business or economy awards on Emirates, but first class awards will often get you the most value for your points — and obviously the best onboard experience.
For more information, see the following flight reviews and posts:
- Review: Emirates’ New 777 First-Class Suite From Dubai to Brussels
- Check Out Emirates’ Fancy New Airbus A380 In-Flight Bar
- Emirates A380 First Class Review: Milan to JFK
- Flight Review: Emirates Business Class – Bangkok to Dubai
Best Programs To Book Emirates Awards
JAL Mileage Bank
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank used to be a relatively well kept secret until a surprise devaluation of Alaska’s Emirates award chart thrust it into the spotlight. Over the last couple of years, it has lost some of that star status by adding fuel surcharges of up to $1,700 on Emirates award tickets and announcing a devaluation of its own (which kicks in November 20th, 2018). However, in most cases, it’s still the most economical program for booking Emirates awards.
JAL is a 3:1 transfer partner of the new Marriott rewards program and still features the 25% bonus on transfers over 60,000 points (20,000 miles) that SPG used to offer. This means that 60,000 Marriott Rewards points will convert into 25,000 JAL miles. The carrier uses a distance-based award chart (shown below) and charges you based on the total distance of all your segments. Note the column on the far-right that indicates post-devaluation first class award prices.
Speaking of segments, JAL allows a maximum of six on award bookings, as well as two stopovers. So you could book Emirates business class from New York-JFK – Dubai (stopover) – Bangkok (destination) – Dubai – Milan (stopover) – New York-JFK. That’s a lot of premium cabin flying time for 100,000 JAL miles, although the price will be increased by 30% to 130,000 miles for bookings on or after November 20th.
While it’s up to an individual loyalty program to decide whether they’ll pass on fuel surcharges on award tickets, these “ancillary fees” vary heavily by departure city, and a small change in routing could save you several hundred dollars. Hong Kong (HKG) is a budget traveler’s paradise along these lines, as they explicitly forbid airlines from tacking on fuel surcharges when you redeem your miles. If you were to fly Hong Kong (HKG) to Dubai (DXB) to New York (JFK), it would cost you the exact same number of miles as if you flew in the other direction, JFK to Hong Kong with a stop in Dubai. But the taxes and fees departing Hong Kong would be $812 cheaper! This is one of the many reasons that Hong Kong to Dubai is the best route to redeem for Emirates first class awards.
Even if you decide to book through another rewards program, you can still be strategic about your departure city to reduce the taxes and make your “free” ticket just a little bit cheaper.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
In 2016, Alaska increased Emirates award prices by up to 100%. One of the biggest examples of sticker shock was the new rate for first class Emirates awards from the US to Europe: 360,000 miles round-trip, up from the previous rate of 200,000 miles! Due to negative changes like these, transferring Marriott points to Alaska or using an existing stash of Mileage Plan miles is now much less attractive. Still, it could be an option if you have a hefty balance with this program — and it does charge lower taxes and fees than JAL.
Take this one way first class award between Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Dubai. While 150,000 miles is a lot to pay for a one way ticket, $19.20 in taxes is about as low as it gets.
TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each, so this large stash of miles is thus worth $2,700. But with Emirates charging over $16,000 for a one way ticket, you’ll end up getting a stellar redemption value of 11 cents per mile.
There are a few other reasons to consider Alaska in spite of the devaluation. First of all, they allow a free stopover on international partner award tickets. Second, for simple trips from the US to Dubai, you can book online without having to waste time on the phone. Finally, the program regularly runs promotions for purchasing miles, allowing you to top off your account or straight-up “purchase” a premium class seat by buying the required number of miles.
That being said, there are a couple of added drawbacks to redeeming Mileage Plan miles. First, Alaska doesn’t allow you to combine partners on award tickets. You can add Alaska-operated connecting flights within the US to an Emirates award, but you can’t include another partner. In addition, Alaska only publishes Emirates award charts for flights that either start or end in North America (including Canada and Mexico). All other Emirates flights are not bookable using Alaska miles. Keep these two restrictions in mind as you’re planning out the best program through which to book!
Using American Express Membership Rewards Points
While the programs mentioned above generally offer the best value for Emirates redemptions, your point balances and ultimate goals may open up other programs that are worth considering. One such program is American Express Membership Rewards, which lets you transfer points to a variety of airlines, including Emirates’ own Skywards program.
Here are some of the top card options for earning Membership Rewards points:
- American Express® Gold Card — This card currently offers a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first three months.The refreshed version of the card allows you to earn 4x points on dining and 4x points on up to $25,000 of yearly spending at US supermarkets (then 1x). You’ll also earn 3x points on airfare purchased directly from the airlines or through Amex Travel and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include an annual $120 dining credit, up to a $100 airline fee credit and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees). The card does carry a $250 annual fee that is not waived the first year (See Rates & Fees).
- The Platinum Card® from American Express — This card currently offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months. You’ll earn 5x points for flights booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include Centurion Lounge access, elite status with Hilton and Marriott, a $200 airline fee credit and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. This card has an annual fee of $550 (no foreign transaction fees) (See Rates & Fees), but it could be worth it if you maximize its extensive perks. You also may be targeted for an Amex Patinum 100k points bonus offer via the CardMatch Tool.
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card: This final card currently offers a welcome bonus of 15,000 points after you use your new card to make $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. You’ll earn 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year; then 1x), 2x at US gas stations and 1x everywhere else. If you make at least 30 purchases in a billing period, you’ll get a 50% bonus on all points earned during that period. This card has an annual fee of $95, and it unfortunately does charge a 2.7% fee on foreign transactions.
Membership Rewards points transfer to Emirates’ own Skywards program at a rate of 1:1, and you can search flights and book awards through the carrier’s website.
Before you make any transfers, you’ll want to note that award flights book through Emirates can incur some pretty high taxes and fees. For example, in this sample booking for a round-trip award between New York and Dubai in first class, you’d have to pay a whopping $1,536! That’s on top of the 217,500 Emirates Skywards miles required for the ticket. If you transfer Membership Rewards points, which TPG values at 1.9 cents apiece, you’re using up $4,132.50 worth of points in addition to the taxes and fees. Emirates’ first class is solid, but that’s a lot of points and money to spend on one redemption.
Using Capital One Miles
While Emirates Skywards program has long been a Membership Rewards transfer partners, it was recently added to the list of transfer partners for Capital One. If you currently hold miles from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One Spark Miles for Business, you can now transfer these miles directly to Emirates to unlock the above rewards.
Unfortunately, the current transfer ratio is a less-than-spectacular 2:1, so given the fact that you’re earning 2x Capital One miles per dollar spent on any purchase using either the Venture or Spark Miles card, that essentially translates to 1 Skywards mile per dollar. Not spectacular by any means, but still an option for Capital One cardholders!
Using Citi ThankYou Rewards
Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program has traditionally been seen as the weakest link among the major transferable points programs, but it continues to improve. The program has two partners through which you can book Emirates awards: Malaysia Airlines Enrich and Qantas Frequent Flyer.
You have a variety of options when it comes to products that earn you ThankYou points. Two popular cards include:
- Citi Premier Card — This card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. You’ll earn 3x points on travel, 2x on dining out and entertainment and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee and waives foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad.
- Citi Prestige Card — Though the card is not currently open to new applicants, existing cardholders will earn 3x points on air travel and hotels, 2x on dining out and entertainment and 1x on everything else. This card also offers some outstanding benefits such as a 4th night free on all paid hotel bookings made through Citi’s travel service and an annual $250 air travel fee credit. This card does have an annual fee of $450 (with no foreign transaction fees), but if you can maximize the perks you’ll more than make up for it.
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
A lesser-known option for booking Emirates awards is Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program. Award flights on the carrier’s own metal may not be your top priority, but you could transfer ThankYou points to the airline at a 1:1 ratio and then redeem for an Emirates flight using Malaysia’s distance-based award chart (see below). However, you can’t redeem for Emirates first-class awards; only for economy and business. Plus, the Enrich program’s chart was devalued in mid-2017, making long-haul premium cabin awards extremely expensive.
Here are some sample redemption rates for booking Emirates awards through Malaysia Airlines:
- One-way business-class ticket between New York and Milan: 82,000 miles
- One-way business-class ticket between New York and Dubai: 131,000 miles
This should never be your first option, both because you can’t book first-class awards and because the mileage rates are sky-high.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
The second ThankYou Rewards partner that can be used to book Emirates awards is Australia-based Qantas. As with Malaysia Airlines, points transfer at a 1:1 rate.
Qantas also has a distance-based award chart. Here’s the chart for one-way partner redemptions:
- One-way business-class ticket from New York to Milan: 60,000 miles
- One-way first-class ticket from Washington, D.C. to Dubai: 144,000 miles
- Round-trip business-class ticket from Dubai to Bangkok: 100,000 miles
Putting those redemption rates in perspective, though, it’s often cheaper to book awards directly through Emirates, and though Alaska Airlines raised it rates significantly, the carrier tends to charge much lower taxes and fees than Qantas. See Richard Kerr’s post 5 Reasons Not to Transfer ThankYou Rewards to Qantas, for more info.
On the other hand, Qantas could be a good option for booking Emirates itineraries that don’t originate or terminate in North America (such as Dubai to Rome or Dubai to Bangkok), since these aren’t bookable through Alaska.
Using Marriott Rewards Points
The new Marriott Rewards loyalty program includes all of the old SPG airline transfer partners and even some new ones. As described above, points transfer at a 3:1 ratio. In addition, you’ll receive a 25% bonus for every 60,000 points you convert. This means that 60,000 Marriott points will get you 25,000 airline miles in most programs.
In addition to JAL, Alaska, and Emirates, Marriott also transfers to Korean Air SkyPass. The carrier has a zone-based award chart for Emirates redemptions — it’s a bit too lengthy to post, but you can see it here. This is another option to consider, but be aware of two key restrictions. First, you have to book round-trip travel (one-ways are only allowed on Korean metal). Second, the airline’s award-booking process is a bit convoluted.
If you want to go this route but are short on Marriott points, there are plenty of credit cards that can boost your balance:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — This card is currently offering 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. You’ll earn 6x points at participating Marriott hotels and 2x points everywhere else. The card also comes with automatic Silver Elite status (15 elite night credits starting in 2019) and a free night award every year (valid at hotels up to 35,000 points). It does incur a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card — This card is offering 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. You’ll earn 6x points at participating Marriott hotels, 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x points everywhere else. You’ll also enjoy an array of perks like an annual $300 Marriott credit and Priority Pass membership, though the card does carry a $450 annual fee.
- Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card — This card is currently offering 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You’ll earn 6x points at participating Marriott hotels and 2x points everywhere else. The card also comes with automatic Silver Elite status (15 elite night credits starting in 2019) and a free night award every year (valid at hotels up to 35,000 points). It does incur a $95 annual fee that is not waived for the first year.
(NOT) Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
With Chase losing Korean Air SkyPass as a transfer partner, we find ourselves in an awkward predicament: one of the most versatile (and valuable) transferable points currencies doesn’t have a viable way to book Emirates awards. You could technically transfer to Marriott and from there to JAL, Alaska, or several of the other programs mentioned here, but you’d end up losing almost 2/3 of your points value in the process (since Ultimate Rewards transfers 1:1 to Marriott, which in turn transfer 3:1 to individual airlines). I strongly recommend against this. If you want to use your Ultimate Rewards points to fly first class, you should consider transferring to United to book Lufthansa awards or Singapore to book their incredible new suites class.
Comparing the Options
These various programs and transfer options are a lot to decipher. To make things easier, here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates across all programs for flights between New York-JFK and Milan, one of Emirates’ fifth freedom routes (including taxes and fees):
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||95,000 + $80||210,000 + $80||360,000 + $80||Marriott Rewards (3:1)|
|Emirates Skywards||45,000 + $403||90,000 + $1,137||135,000 + $1,137||American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Marriott Rewards (3:1)
|Korean Air SkyPass||70,000 + $403||125,000 + $1,137||170,000 + $1,137||Marriott Rewards (3:1)|
|JAL Mileage Bank||
40,000 (47,000 as of 11/20) + $397
65,000 (85,000 as of 11/20) + $1,131
105,000 (135,000 as of 11/20) + $1,131
|Marriott Rewards (3:1)|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||65,000||125,000||—||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||56,000||120,000||180,000||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
And here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates for flights between New York-JFK and Dubai:
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||85,000 + $81||165,000 + $81||300,000 + $81||Marriott Rewards (3:1)|
|Emirates Skywards||72,500 + $608||145,000 + $1,722||217,500 + $1,722||American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Marriott Rewards (3:1)
|Korean Air SkyPass||70,000 + $608||140,000 + $1,722||210,000 + $1,722||Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)|
|JAL Mileage Bank||
55,000 + $602
85,000 (110,000 as of 11/20) + $1,716
135,000 (165,000 post-devaluation) + $1,716
|Marriott Rewards (3:1)|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||92,000||202,000||—||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||80,000||168,000||252,000||Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)|
There are a variety of ways to redeem your points and miles for Emirates award flights, and the best option for you depends on your situation. Those who want to minimize out-of-pocket expenses should try to avoid booking through JAL or Emirates, for example, while those gunning for a first-class award (like most of us) won’t be able to redeem one through Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program. Alaska’s high award rates are partially off-set by the low taxes and fees, but you may find better uses for Mileage Plan miles with other partners.
One things’s for sure: if you really have your heart set on a once-in-a-lifetime trip in the Jennifer Aniston cabin, you might just have to pay up to make it happen.