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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 book awards on this airline using points transferred from one of several programs. So let’s take a look at your options for doing this.

Top Awards to Book

The new first-class suite available on some Emirates 777-300ERs.

Before diving in to how you can redeem points for Emirates awards, let’s review the top options. 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 to Dubai and between New York and Milan, as TPG did. There are 14 suite-style seats in the first-class cabin, and each includes a mini-bar, a huge screen for enjoying the (very comprehensive) IFE and even a pop-up makeup mirror.
  • Emirates 777-300ER first class: The first-class cabin that you’ll find on most of Emirates’ 777-300ERs is slightly smaller than the A380’s, with just eight closed suites. Apart from the different configurations, the seats themselves are very similar, and you can expect comparable service on board (though Emirates’ famous in-flight shower isn’t available on this aircraft). You can fly the 777-300ER on a variety of international routes, including Boston to Dubai and 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 Dubai-Brussels and Dubai-Geneva routes.

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:

Using American Express Membership Rewards Points

First up is American Express and its Membership Rewards program, which lets you transfer points to a variety of airlines, including Emirates.

Here are some of the top card options for earning Membership Rewards points:

  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express — Currently offering a welcome bonus of 25,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points on airfare purchased directly from the airlines; 2x points at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include an annual $100 airline fee credit. This card has a $195 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees. Note that you may be targeted for a higher offer via the CardMatch Tool.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express — Currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 5x points for flights booked directly through airlines or the American Express Travel website and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include Centurion Lounge access, elite status with Hilton and Starwood, 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), but it could be worth it if you maximize its extensive perks. Like with the card above, you may be targeted for a higher offer via the CardMatch Tool.
  • Amex EveryDay Preferred Card: Currently offering a welcome bonus of 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchases per year), 2x at US gas stations and 1x everywhere else. Plus, get a 50% points bonus when you make at least 30 purchases in a billing period. This card has an annual fee of $95, and it does charge foreign transaction fees.

Emirates Skywards

Membership Rewards points transfer to Emirates 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 entail 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!

emiratessurcharges
More than $1,000 in fees is less than ideal.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Chase Ultimate Rewards is often regarded as one of the top transferable point programs, and it does include one transfer partner through which you can book Emirates awards, along with two less valuable options.

Here are some of the top cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Currently offering a bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You can earn an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months. Earn 2x points on all travel and dining at restaurants and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve — Currently offering a bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. Earn 3x points on all travel and dining and 1x on everything else. Other benefits include a $300 annual travel credit, a 1.5-cent-per-point redemption rate through the Chase travel portal, Priority Pass lounge access and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit. There’s a $450 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fess.

Korean Air SkyPass

Korean Air is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can move over points earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred to its SkyPass program to book an Emirates flight.

The carrier has a zone-based award chart for Emirates redemptions — it’s a bit lengthy to post but you can see it here. You have to book round-trip travel (one-ways are only allowed on Korean metal). The airline’s award-booking process is a bit convoluted, but on the upside you can hold a partner award for a few days if you don’t have the requisite number of miles in your account when you call in.

Marriott Rewards

You could also transfer points to Marriott and book a Hotel + Air package and redeem the miles with Emirates. A seven-night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel plus 85,000 Emirates miles will cost you a total of 270,000 points, with prices going up for higher-tier properties. However, 85,000 miles won’t get you very far, so this likely isn’t a great option.

You can also transfer Marriott points to miles with a variety of programs — though not at a great rate. For instance, 140,000 points gets you just 35,000 Emirates miles, so it’s pretty much never worth using this option.

Using Citi ThankYou Rewards

Citi’s ThankYou Rewards has traditionally been seen as the weakest link among 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. Some standout options include:

  • Citi ThankYou Premier Card — Earn 3x points on travel, 2x on dining out and entertainment and 1x on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Citi Prestige — 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 (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 Citi ThankYou points to the airline at a 1:1 ratio and then redeem for an Emirates flight using Malaysia’s distance-based award chart (seen 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.

Malaysia Airlines award chart for travel on Emirates and other partners.

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 Citi 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:

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.36.22 AM

Here are some sample redemption rates for booking Emirates awards using the Qantas award chart:

  • 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 SPG Starpoints

The final program, Starwood Preferred Guest, boasts more than 30 airline transfer partners, including some of the same ones mentioned above. Like Amex Membership Rewards, it partners with Emirates, letting you transfer points to miles at a 1:1 ratio, and it also offers two additional airline options through which you can book Emirates award flights.

Perhaps the best reason to consider transferring Starpoints to book an Emirates award is that the SPG program will give you an extra 5,000 miles for every 20,000 points you transfer to an airline. Especially for more expensive first-class awards, this can save you a significant number of miles/points.

You can earn Starpoints when you stay at Starwood properties (points per dollar depends on your status level) and through various partnerships with other brands. There are also two credit card options:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express — Currently offering a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months. Earn 2x points on eligible Starwood purchases and 1x on everything else, plus get 5 night and 2 stay credits toward elite status. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express — Currently offering the same bonus as the personal card. As with the personal version of this card, you’ll earn 2x points on eligible Starwood purchases and 1x on everything else, and you’ll get the same 5 night and 2 stay credits toward elite status. Unlike the personal card, this product offers free Sheraton Club lounge access when you book an eligible stay. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

In 2016, Alaska increased Emirates award prices by up to 100%. One of the biggest shockers 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 Starpoints 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 plenty of rewards banked with this program — and it does charge lower taxes and fees than Qantas.

JAL Mileage Bank

Japan Airlines (JAL) is another 1:1 Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner. It used to be an especially good option for Emirates flights departing from the US because taxes and fees were capped at $78.20 for a round-trip ticket, but unfortunately they’re now capped at a much-higher $1,716.09. That said, award flights departing countries other than the US could still be worth booking, as they’ll incur much lower fees.

The carrier uses a distance-based award chart, and the number of miles you need will depend on the total distance of all your segments added together.

Speaking of segments, JAL allows a maximum of six on award bookings, as well as two stopovers. So you could book Emirates business from JFK – Dubai (stopover) – Bangkok (destination) – Dubai – Milan (stopover) – JFK. That’s a lot of premium-cabin flying time for 100,000 JAL miles!

Comparing the Options

These various programs and transfer options are a lot to keep track of — to make things easier, here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates across all carriers for flights between New York and Milan (Emirates’ “5th Freedom” route):

Program Economy (miles) Business (miles) First (miles) Transfer Partners
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 95,000 (80,000 Starpoints) 210,000 (170,000 Starpoints) 360,000 (290,000 Starpoints) Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
Emirates Skywards 45,000 (40,000 Starpoints) 90,000 (75,000 Starpoints) 135,000 (110,000 Starpoints) American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
Korean Air SkyPass 70,000 125,000 170,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
JAL Mileage Bank 40,000 (35,000 Starpoints) 65,000 (55,000 Starpoints) 105,000 (80,000 Starpoints) Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
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 and Dubai:

Program Economy (miles) Business (miles) First (miles) Transfer Partners
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 85,000 (70,000 Starpoints) 165,000 (135,000 Starpoints) 300,000 (240,000 Startpoints) Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
Emirates Skywards 72,500 (60,000 Starpoints) 145,000 (120,000 Starpoints) 217,500 (177,500 Starpoints) American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
Korean Air SkyPass 70,000 140,000 210,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
JAL Mileage Bank 55,000 (45,000 Starpoints) 85,000 (70,000 Starpoints) 135,000 (110,000 Starpoints) Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1)
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)

As you can see, JAL tends to require fewer miles than the other carriers, and the 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer sweetens the deal. But you’ll have to weigh whether all this makes it worth it considering the extremely high taxes and fees you’ll likely need to fork over. The same SPG perk applies when you transfer Starpoints to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which helps counteract the increased award rates (but not by much). Of course, it’s important to note that we value Starpoints higher than these other currencies, so SPG transfers may not always be the obvious choice.

Malaysia Airlines and Qantas don’t offer the best redemption rates, but they could be worth considering if you have plenty of Citi ThankYou points. Just remember that you can’t book first-class awards through Malaysia’s program — given that these are some of the most worthwhile redemptions, you may need to rule out this option entirely. Korean Air’s SkyPass program could also be a good option if you have plenty of Ultimate Rewards points, though you can’t book one-way awards.

Finally, Emirates’ own program is among the more expensive options, but the 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 points from SPG makes rates a bit more reasonable. But, like Qantas, Emirates applies some pretty steep taxes and fees, especially on long-haul premium-cabin itineraries, so it might not be the best first choice.

Bottom Line

There are a variety of ways to redeem Emirates award flights, and the best option for you depends on which transferable points program you’re most invested in, plus other factors that vary from program to program. Those who want to minimize out-of-pocket expenses should try to avoid booking through JAL, for example, while those gunning for a first-class award (aka most of us) won’t be able to redeem one through Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program.

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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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