Update: Emirates first class awards now only available through some partners

Apr 21, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. 

Emirates offers one of the best first-class products in the sky. Select Boeing 777s feature fully enclosed suites, while the A380s offer unique amenities like onboard showers and bars. Either way, flying in Emirates first class is a bucket-list experience.

While some people might spend north of $10,000 on a round-trip ticket, we at TPG recommend using your points and miles instead.

There used to be many ways to book a suite. You were able to book with either Emirates’ own loyalty program, Skywards, or through a host of partners like Alaska Airlines. However, there are now a lot fewer partners you could book these coveted awards through.

Luckily, this news might not be as bad as it sounds.

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Emirates limiting first-class awards to some partners

As we reported in November, Emirates was going to limit first-class redemptions beginning April 1, 2021.

There was an update on Alaska’s award chart stating,

Beginning April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer allow partner access to First Class award bookings. Mileage Plan members can continue to redeem on the Emirates’ award-winning Economy Class and Business Class. Business Class redemptions include complimentary lounge access and regionally inspired gourmet dishes. 

Alaska confirmed that this isn’t just limited to Mileage Plan awards. The Seattle-based carrier told TPG that Emirates is cutting off first-class award space to all partners, not just to Alaska.

The Dubai-based carrier has parked many of its aircraft equipped with larger first-class cabins, putting pressure on capacity. This, combined with the displacement cost of a redemption booking during a time of depressed revenue, led to the decision.

Fortunately, this announcement didn’t end up being as bad as it seemed.

When April came around, we noticed that certain partners continued to have access to Emirates first class award space. In a statement to TPG, an Emirates spokesperson explained,

After a careful review of operational considerations, Emirates can confirm that starting from 1 April 2021, First Class Rewards will be exclusively available to Emirates Skywards members as well as members of select strategic airline partners that offer mutual benefits to our customers. We remain committed to providing our members with excellent service and unmatched rewards in the air and on-ground.

While Emirates didn’t share a list of the “select strategic airline partners,” our searches confirmed that JAL Mileage Bank and Qantas continued to offer Emirates first-class awards. So the only major loss, at the time, was for Alaska Mileage Plan members.

Emirates’ first-class suite on the Boeing 777 (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Unfortunately, this bit of relief will be short-lived. As TPG reader Jesse G. pointed out, JAL has published an update on its website explaining that Emirates first-class awards will no longer be available starting Sep. 1, 2021. Any awards booked before then for travel at a later date will continue to be honored.

As of now, Qantas members should continue to have access to these awards. Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising if this changes down the line as well.

Booking Emirates first-class awards

It’s pretty easy to search for Emirates award space on the Qantas website. The program offers a calendar view that shows an entire month of availability in one place. Plus, you can filter your search by cabin.

Related: Ultimate guide to searching award availability for the major airlines

Emirates availability Qantas
(Screenshot courtesy of Qantas.com)

Redemption rates vary by distance, but to give you an idea, a round-trip first-class award between New York-JFK and Dubai costs 165,000 miles with JAL and 284,600 with Qantas. You could also book Emirates’ fifth freedom route between New York-JFK and Milan (resuming June 1) for 135,000 miles with JAL and 205,200 with Qantas. Taxes and fees should be roughly comparable between programs.

Related: The best programs for booking Emirates awards

Luckily, the Emirates Skywards program is still a solid option for booking Emirates first class. It was overlooked because the airline tacked massive fuel surcharges to premium cabin awards, but those have since been significantly reduced. The program now charges 170,000 miles for a round-trip first-class award from New York-JFK to Milan or 272,500 miles to Dubai and around $150 in taxes and fees.

Another perk of Skywards is that you can currently transfer points from all the major credit card currencies at the following rates:

Related: Best ways to redeem Emirates Skywards miles for maximum value

Bottom line

Emirates is limiting the number of partners you could book first-class awards even further than it already has. However, it’s not all bad news since members are being given plenty of notice and some major programs like Qantas should continue to have access. Also, Emirates’ own Skywards program remains easily accessible and a solid value for booking first-class awards.

Additional reporting by Zach Griff.

Featured photo by  Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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