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United Airlines, Emirates announce once-unthinkable partnership

Sept. 14, 2022
4 min read
United Airlines, Emirates announce once-unthinkable partnership
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United Airlines and Emirates are joining forces for a partnership that was once unthinkable.

The limited partnership, announced Wednesday at a hangar at United's hub at Dulles International Airport (IAD), represents a remarkable thawing of relations between a U.S. carrier and a Middle Eastern carrier.

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Flanked by Boeing 777s from both carriers, United CEO Scott Kirby and Emirates president Sir Tim Clark heralded the partnership as a new era of cooperation in international aviation.

Kirby said that the partnership is a serious one — and one that could grow.

“Our partnerships are not partnerships of convenience, they’re not short-term deals,” he said.

United will launch a flight next March between its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Emirates’ massive hub at Dubai International Airport (DXB). Flight UA164 departs Newark at 10:15 p.m. and arrives in Dubai the next day at 7:40 p.m., all times local. The return flight, UA165, departs Dubai at 2:15 a.m. and arrives at Newark at 9:05 a.m. The flight will be operated by a Boeing 777-200ER.

United will sell onward connections to Emirates flights for passengers who book United’s flight to Dubai. For now, passengers will only earn United MileagePlus Premier qualifying flights and points for the United segments. However, in a conversation with TPG after the event, United executive Luc Bondar hinted that the loyalty integration would be expanded.

Emirates, for its part, will sell onward connections to United flights at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and O’Hare International Airport (ORD) hubs. An interline agreement between the two carriers will be in place at eight additional U.S. airports.

In addition, certain United customers will be able to access Emirates lounges in Dubai when connecting to or from United's new flight.

While the partnership is a notable improvement in relations for the carriers, it falls short of a full-fledged codeshare, and Emirates is not joining Star Alliance — at least not for now (if ever).

Wednesday’s announcement comes after a decade of frosty relations between U.S. carriers and their Middle Eastern counterparts. U.S. carriers have long complained about the unfair state subsidies that the so-called ME3 carriers — Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad — receive from their home countries. As a result of the subsidies, the ME3 carriers can often provide service that’s superior to the U.S. carriers and are able to offer it at a competitive price.

Even Clark couldn't believe it.

“Seven years ago, you would be throwing tomatoes at me,” he said of the past tensions.

Another big point of contention is the so-called fifth-freedom routes that the carriers — particularly Emirates — offer. Emirates’ flights between New York-area airports and Athens International Airport (ATH) and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) have become popular alternatives to offerings from United, Delta and American Airlines.

Fifth-freedom rights allow a carrier to fly passengers and cargo from its home country to a second country and then onward to a third country.

United Airlines and Emirates announced a new partnership at Dulles International Airport. DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY

While Delta Air Lines was long viewed as the leader of the anti-ME3 crusade, United also did its part to push back against what it believed was the unfairness of the subsidies.

In 2017, then-CEO Oscar Munoz insulted the ME3 by insisting they weren’t even airlines.

“Those airlines aren’t airlines,” Munoz said. “They’re international branding vehicles for their countries.”

The following month, United ended its interline agreement with five Middle Eastern carriers, including Emirates and its sister airline, Flydubai.

Earlier: Emirates, United to reportedly launch codeshare partnership

But industry turbulence during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some airlines to rethink their battles with the ME3 — looking toward the benefits of cooperation and increased connectivity over competition.

United’s move comes after American Airlines deepened its ties with Qatar Airways. American recently began service from its hub at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha, Qatar.

While United’s new partnership with Emirates is of a limited nature, it’s clear that there will be much more to come.

Featured image by DAVID SLOTNICK/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases