Emirates announces plan to offer first-ever U.S. credit card

Feb 13, 2020

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Some of the nicest business- and first-class products are offered by the Big Three Middle East airlines — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Booking these premium cabins with miles is possible thanks airline partnerships and the ability to earn points that transfer to foreign airlines. While there are a few options when it comes to opening a credit card from an international airline, there hasn’t been a cobranded airline credit card option available to anyone based in the U.S. for a Middle Eastern airline — until now.

Barclays today announced a new partnership with Emirates for a new credit card. “We’ve just partnered with Emirates, the world’s largest international airline, to provide a new cobranded credit card to U.S. consumers this spring,” said Barclays Group CEO Jes Staley on a conference call. “This is a great growth opportunity for Barclays and adds to the strong and profitable partnerships we have with top brands in the U.S. like American Airlines and Uber.”

Details are scarce, but many of the current cobranded airline cards that Barclays issues come with minimum spending requirements that are very reasonable. Plus, any news that can get you closer to flying in an Emirates premium cabin is good news.

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Emirates A380 First Class. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)
An Emirates Airbus A380 first class seat. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

Earning Emirates Skywards miles

When it comes to earning Emirates Skywards miles, this new card has a tall task in front of it because currently, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1:1), Amex Membership Rewards points (1:1), Capital One miles (2:1) and Marriott points (3:1) to Emirates.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3x points on travel and dining and the The Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x points on flight booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). You can also earn 4x points by swiping your American Express® Gold Card at restaurants, and you’ll enjoy the same 4x rate at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in yearly spending per calendar year, then 1x).

It’s hard for a single cobranded airline credit card to beat those earning rates. There are a few cards that earn 3x points/miles for flights booked with their specific airline (via some of the Delta credit cards, for example), but you’re often better off earning transferrable points if you can. So I don’t expect the main attraction for this card to be the miles you can earn from your spending, though we could always be surprised.

Related reading: The top credit cards from international airlines

The welcome bonuses for other Barclays cobranded airline cards usually vary from between 40,000 and 75,000 miles. If this card has a similar offer, the bonus would be worth $480-$900 based on TPG’s valuation of Emirates miles. That’s a solid offer, but not necessarily in the realm of those that are worth $1,000 or more. What I’d like to see with the card are stand-out benefits that make it worth having and holding long term.

For example, the United Airlines credit cards all come with expanded award availability on United-operated flights, and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card both offer cardholders access to complimentary upgrades if you don’t have Delta Medallion status.

What would be great is for this card to something similar to the award fee credits that come with British Airways Visa Signature® Card. Each year, cardholders can earn up $600 in statement credits for the taxes and fees on British Airways award flights departing from the U.S. A perk like this would greatly increase the value of Emirates award flights because the taxes and fees can be high, especially if you’re booking a premium cabin. A companion certificate could also be a great built-in perk.

Redeeming Emirates Skywards miles

Unfortunately, redeeming Skywards miles for Emirates flights isn’t always the cheapest option — and that’s before you factor in what you’ll pay in taxes and fees. Economy awards have much more reasonable fees than business or first class. While you’re obviously spend more miles (and fees) for a first class flight than one in economy, the value you’ll get can easily make it worth the cost.

Emirates First Class A380 (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
Emirates First Class A380 (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Emirates isn’t part of any of the three big airline alliances; instead it partners with 15 airlines, including JetBlue, Qantas, Alaska Airlines, TAP Portugal, Japan Airlines and Korean Air. Emirates has different award chart for each partner, and there are some sweet spots.

For example, booking Japan Airlines awards departing from the U.S. can be a good deal with Emirates miles. For only 125,000 miles you can book a round-trip business-class award from the U.S. to places like Japan, Guam and South Korea. And you can book domestic flights with Alaska Airlines (from 12,500 miles one-way) and JetBlue (from 7,500 miles one-way).

You can read our guide to Emirates Skywards for more details on how to make the most of the program. And watch this space for any further details about the upcoming Emirates credit card.

Featured photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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