Discussing award availability, airline partnerships and more: The latest from Emirates Skywards
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2021 has been a big year for Emirates, particularly on the loyalty side. In addition to debuting its premium economy product, it introduced a unique subscription service for frequent flyers, made big changes to first-class award availability and lost a major airline partner.
Emirates also continues to stand out for being one of just three airlines to partner with all of the major transferable points programs. Even if you’ve never flown on the Dubai-based carrier, you can transfer points into the Emirates Skywards loyalty program from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles, Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Nejib Ben-Khedher, the divisional senior vice president of Emirates Skywards. Here’s what we learned.
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Skywards+ is here to stay
Back in August, Emirates launched a new subscription program called Skywards+. It lets Emirates Skywards members purchase elite-like benefits and discounts for a $399 to $999 annual fee.
While not cheap, in some cases, a Skywards+ membership could be worth it, even for infrequent Emirates flyers.
For instance, the entry-level Classic plan comes with a 20% discount on a Classic Reward flight, which could be huge if you’re booking in a premium cabin. However, with perks like business class lounge passes and additional checked bag allowances, it could potentially discourage people from chasing elite status “the hard way.”
“We’ve seen very positive feedback since launching Skywards+ and we’re confident the product will continue to be popular,” Ben-Khedher told us. “During the first month alone, around 1,500 members subscribed to the platform and enjoyed benefits such as discounted flight rewards, upgrades and airport lounge access.”
Ben-Kheder cited more personalization as the driving force behind the program. “Personalization is key at Emirates Skywards and [meant] to ensure we cater to each individual member.”
An update on airline partnerships and first-class awards
At the height of the pandemic, Emirates brought some cheer to the points and miles world by significantly reducing fuel surcharges on award tickets. However, in April of this year, it began cutting off first-class award space to partners (except for Qantas). Then, in June, it announced that it would be cutting partner ties with Alaska Airlines. Given these developments, we were curious to know if Emirates plans on introducing a new U.S. partner and whether it expects the restriction on first-class awards to be permanent.
For now, Emirates is focusing on expanding its existing partnership with JetBlue. “In the U.S., we’ve shared a strong relationship with JetBlue since 2012, feeding hundreds of passengers daily onto their domestic networks,” Ben-Khedher explained. “Our partnership continues to grow and we recently introduced the option for members to redeem Skywards Miles not only for Economy Class tickets but also Mint Class tickets on JetBlue.”
Outside of the U.S., Emirates will continue to have a close relationship with Qantas. “Earlier this month, we announced the extension of our partnership with Qantas for another five years – which means frequent flyer members from both airlines will continue to have access to an expansive joint network – and millions of reward seats – to travel across Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the U.K.”
Unfortunately, it seems like the restriction on first-class awards is here to stay. Luckily, it’s very easy to book awards through Skywards directly.
“While we have discontinued First Class Rewards with a few of our partner airlines, Emirates Skywards members traveling on a redemption ticket can still enjoy great benefits such as airport lounge access, generous free baggage allowance and more,” Ben-Khedher said.
JetBlue Mint redemptions to the UK are coming
Speaking of JetBlue, we wanted to know if and when JetBlue Mint redemptions to the U.K. will finally become available. In July, Emirates added the ability to book JetBlue Mint awards with Skywards miles, but the new flights between to London were excluded.
Although he didn’t have a timeline to share, Ben-Khedher confirmed that they are coming, “and we’re excited to be taking our partnership with JetBlue to even greater heights.”
Once these redemptions become available, you can expect to pay 64,000 Skywards miles for a one-way Mint award between New York-JFK and London Heathrow (LHR), which will be a pretty solid deal. For now, you’ll have to stick to redemptions within the U.S. and to the Caribbean and Latin America.
Don’t expect premium economy redemptions anytime soon
In January, Emirates began flying premium economy-equipped planes. However, as of now, only a handful of newly-delivered A380s offer the new product.
There’s currently no way to book these seats using cash or miles and that will continue to be the case until more aircraft feature the premium economy cabin. Unfortunately, Ben-Khedher didn’t have an updated timeline to share with us on when that might be.
“We’re currently working on the full range of service offerings for our Premium Economy product and will be making all related announcements once we’re ready to roll it out,” Ben-Khedher said.
Until then, it will continue surprising and delighting its frequent flyers and full-fare economy passengers with complimentary upgrades.
Emirates may add a surcharge for paying with a credit card
Over the summer, Emirates began rolling out a new payment option, Emirates Pay. It’s designed to cut down on hefty credit card processing fees, allowing travelers to pay for flights by having their bank accounts debited in real-time. Emirates has even teased adding incentives for customers who use this option, such as a bigger baggage allowance, upgrades to preferred seats and even special fares.
Emirates Pay is currently only available in Germany and the U.K. but the plan is to expand this to other countries. Naturally, we wanted to know whether Emirates will roll this out in the U.S. as well, since it could be a huge blow for those who currently earn valuable points with their travel credit cards. (Not to mention Emirates just launched a new lineup of cobranded U.S. credit cards last year.)
“Emirates Pay is currently not available in the U.S., however, the platform is an account-to-account settlement method which differs from a credit card-based payment method,” Ben-Khedher told us. “The launch of Emirates Pay not only provides our customers with choice, convenience and the best possible experiences at every touchpoint, but it’s also a catalyst for innovation at the transactional level, as we’ll be able to offer our customers in different markets the most secure and convenient options.”
If there’s one big takeaway on Emirates’ latest developments, it is that the airline wants to offer customers more flexibility, whether it be through offering elite-like benefits a la carte, adding more redemption opportunities or introducing new payment methods. At the same time, the airline is trying to push customers to do more business directly, cutting down on third parties and ultimately improving its bottom line.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.
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