The best programs for booking Emirates awards

Jun 15, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information

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 a handful of 777-300ERs, many points and miles enthusiasts make it a priority to redeem their hard-earned rewards with the Dubai-based 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. This allows 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.

In This Post

Top Awards to Book

The new first class suite available on some Emirates 777-300ERs. Photo courtesy of Zach Honig

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 o 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

Photo by TPG
Photo by TPG

You can fly this product on more than 30 routes, including New York-JFK to Dubai and a fifth-freedom route between New York-JFK and Milan, as TPG has done before. There are 14 fully enclosed suites in the first-class cabin. 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 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 suites themselves are very similar and you can expect comparable service on board. You can fly the 777-300ER on a variety of international routes 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 just a handful of destinations, including Brussels, Geneva, Tokyo Haneda, Frankfurt, Hamburg and London-Stansted.

Photo by TPG
Photo by The Points Guy

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:

Best Programs To Book Emirates Awards

Emirates Skywards

For a long time, Emirates Skywards was a bit of an afterthought for many award travelers, even as Emirates continued to partner with more and more transferable points currencies. In fact, Emirates now partners with all five major transferable points currencies, meaning you can transfer points to Emirates at the following rates:

The reason Emirates was historically overlooked was that the airline tacked on massive fuel surcharges to premium cabin awards, especially those departing from the U.S. A one-way Emirates first class award from JFK to Dubai (DXB) used to come with over $800 in taxes, but in a surprising move, Emirates massively reduced fuel surcharges on all of its award tickets.

That same ticket now only carries a $150 “YQ” (the industry notation for fuel surcharges), and just $162 in total taxes. That’s a reduction of over 80%, and given how easy it is to now earn Emirates miles, it makes Skywards a much more compelling booking option.

This change is incredibly significant because it means for the first time in recent memory, you can book Emirates first class with points earned on some of the most popular travel rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best awards you can book directly with Emirates. Emirates’ fifth-freedom flight from New York to Milan (MXP) is a popular option, as the Middle Eastern carrier offers a level of service miles above anything else you’ll find on that route. You can book a one-way first-class award for just 85,000 miles and $41 in taxes, a steal for a flight that normally sells for $7,500 or more.

Of course, the eight-hour overnight flight to Europe goes by all too fast, and it might not leave you enough time to eat, shower, and enjoy the onboard bar. If you’re looking for a longer flight, you can fly from JFK to Dubai for 136,250 miles and $162 in taxes. Emirates uses a distance-based award chart, meaning that flights from the central US or west coast will be slightly more expensive.

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. It lost a lot of luster when it began passing on fuel surcharges of up to $1,700 on Emirates award tickets and when it devalued its partner award chart in Nov. 2018. But if you’re able to earn JAL miles, the program can still offer a compelling value proposition. This is especially true now that Emirates has slashed fuel surcharges across the board.

Before we dive into specific redemptions, it’s necessary to mention that JAL miles are incredibly difficult to earn. Short of crediting paid Oneworld flights to your JAL Mileage Bank account, your only option is to transfer points from Marriott. JAL follows the same transfer ratio as most of Marriott’s other partners, where points transfer at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

Further Reading: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Marriott points are relatively easy to earn, either by staying at Marriott hotels or by signing up for one of Marriott’s many cobranded credit cards. Marriott has a number of different cards issued by both Chase and Amex, and with the exception of the no-annual-fee Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, all are offering an identical welcome bonus of 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. This means you can pick between the premium and highly valuable Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, among others.

JAL 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 current, 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 just 130,000 JAL miles.

Meanwhile, the flight from JFK to Dubai covers just under 7,000 miles, meaning you could book a first class award for only 120,000 JAL miles. This would require you to transfer about 300,000 Marriott points, making it less attractive. The shorter JFK-Milan route would only cost 65,000 JAL miles or 165,000 Marriott points when you account for the transfer bonus.

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 Emirates first class awards from the U.S. 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. Alaska’s biggest advantage over JAL and Emirates Skywards was that it didn’t pass on fuel surcharges, but now that Emirates has slashed those insidious taxes to manageable levels, there’s little saving grace for Alaska’s sky-high prices.

Take this one-way first class award between Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Dubai. Not only is 150,000 miles more than you’d pay with either Emirates or JAL, but Alaska miles are both incredibly valuable and very hard to earn. You’d be better off saving those miles to fly Cathay Pacific first class round-trip to Asia and still have miles left over.

TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each, so this large stash of miles is thus worth $2,700. With Emirates charging over $16,000 for a one-way ticket, you’ll still 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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!

Qantas Frequent Flyer

Australian flag carrier Qantas is an interesting option for booking Emirates awards. Now that Skywards partners with all the transferable points currencies it isn’t quite as compelling (not that it was ever a shining star), but if you already have miles with Qantas from flying with Oneworld airlines this may be worth considering.

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 AMHere 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, if you have any other transferable points in your wallet. 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.

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. Note that taxes and fees should be roughly comparable between programs, or at least close enough that they wouldn’t’ sway you to book with one airline over the other.

Program

Economy

Business

First

Transfer Partners
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 95,000 210,000 360,000 Marriott Rewards (3:1)
Emirates Skywards 77,500 125,000 170,000 American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)

Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)

Citi ThankYou Points (1:1)

Capital One Miles (2:1)
Marriott Rewards (3:1)

JAL Mileage Bank

47,000

85,000

135,000

Marriott Rewards (3:1)
Qantas Frequent Flyer 56,000 120,000 180,000 American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)

Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)

And here’s a chart comparing round-trip redemption rates for flights between New York-JFK and Dubai:

Program Economy Business First Transfer Partners
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 85,000 165,000 300,000 Marriott Rewards (3:1)
Emirates Skywards 125,000 200,000 272,500 American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)

Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)

Citi ThankYou Points (1:1)

Capital One Miles (2:1)
Marriott Rewards (3:1)

JAL Mileage Bank

55,000

110,000

165,000

Marriott Rewards (3:1)
Qantas Frequent Flyer 80,000 168,000 252,000 American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)

Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1)

Bottom Line

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. Normally when airlines make unannounced changes to their frequent flyer programs, it’s bad news. Emirates’ decision to massively reduce fuel surcharges on nearly all award tickets is one of the best things they could have possibly done. This move, combined with how easy it is to transfer points to Emirates, makes Skywards a much more compelling choice for those looking to book an elusive Emirates first class award.

One thing is 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.

Featured image by The Points Guy

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