Travel tip: how to book Emirates First Class using points & miles

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (December 21, 2018): How to book Emirates First Class using points & miles?

Emirates offers one of the best First Class products in the world, with complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers, impressive airport lounges, amazing onboard suites with sliding doors, gourmet dining in the sky, and world-class amenities & facilities (think moisturizing pajamas, virtual windows, and an onboard bar). You can read my trip reports here:

  • Review: Emirates A380 First Class from Dubai to Amsterdam
  • Review: Emirates B777 First Class from Dubai to Brussels

While the cost of a First Class ticket with Emirates is somewhere between $5000 and 10,000 USD, you can also use miles and points to book an award seat (almost for free) in the airline’s sought-after premium cabin. The good news is that Emirates makes a lot of award space available in its First Class cabin. On the other hand, Emirates isn’t part of an airline alliance, so it doesn’t have as many partners as other carriers. Taken together, your options for booking a First Class award seat in Emirates are limited to:

  • Using miles via the frequent flyer programs of Japan Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Qantas, Korean Air, and Emirates.
  • Converting Marriott Rewards hotel points into frequent flyer miles with one of the loyalty programs mentioned above.
  • Converting credit card points (American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards) into frequent flyer miles with one of the loyalty programs mentioned above.

I hereby give you an overview of the best strategies and the best loyalty programs to book a First Class award seat on Emirates. Share you own strategies & tips in the comments below.


JAPAN AIRLINES MILEAGE BANK

Japan Airlines’ frequent flyer program – called Mileage Bank – will likely cost you the fewest miles when you want to book an Emirates First Class award seat. Although JAL is a One World carrier, it also collaborates with non-One World airline partners for earning and redeem miles, such as Air France, Alaska Airlines, Korean Air and Emirates. The number of miles you need for an award ticket depends on the distance flown, and although that may sound complicated at first, it’s not so with the help of a mileage calculator.

Total trip distance (mile) Miles required
1 1,000 36,000
1,001 2,000 45,000
2,001 4,000 65,000
4,001 6,000 90,000
6,001 8,000 120,000
8,001 10,000 135,000
10,001 12,000 145,000
12,001 14,000 165,000
14,001 20,000 190,000
20,001 25,000 220,000
25,001 29,000 250,000
29,001 34,000 290,000
34,001 50,000 330,000
  • Pros: Mileage Bank’s award chart requires the least amount of miles to book a First Class award ticket on Emirates. For example, a First Class flight on Emirates between Europe and the Middle East will cost you only 65,000 miles, which is far less than what is charged by most other frequent flyer programs (in comparison, Emirates’ own frequent flyer program charges 85,000 miles for the same journey). Another example is a one-way First Class ticket on Emirates from the USA East Coast to Dubai, which costs 120,000 miles when booked via Mileage Bank compared to 136,250 miles via Emirates’ own frequent flyer program. Mileage Bank also allows you to book a stopover on your way so you can visit Dubai before heading home.
  • Cons: In 2017, Mileage Bank introduced high carrier-imposed surcharges on most Emirates First Class tickets. For trips departing from the USA in Emirates First Class, these can be more than $1,716 USD! However, when your travel originates in Japan, Sri Lanka or Australia, you can still avoid these extra costs.

ALASKA AIRLINES MILEAGE PLAN

Mileage Plan is the frequent-flyer program of Seattle based airline Alaska Airlines (which recently merged with Virgin America). It ranks among my favorite loyalty programs since you earn flight miles according to the distance flown, rather than according to the price of their tickets (which is now the new standard in the USA, Europe and Asia). For the average traveler, this means more free flights and faster elite status. Mileage Plan miles can be redeemed for award flights on Alaska Airlines and a dozen airlines, including Emirates. Here’s the number of miles you need for a First Class award redemption on Emirates.

Route One-Way Award Cost
U.S. to Middle East/India 150,000 Alaska miles
U.S. to Europe 180,000 Alaska miles
U.S. to Asia 180,000 Alaska miles
U.S. to Africa 200,000 Alaska miles
U.S. to Oceania 225,000 Alaska miles
  • Pros: The single best reason to book an Emirates First Class award ticket via Mileage Plan is that Mileage Plan does not charge carrier-imposed fuel surcharges (keeping extra costs to an absolute minimum). Mileage Plan also allows one stopover on one-way awards (and two on roundtrip awards), so you can visit two destinations for the price of one First Class redemption. For example, when flying from the USA to Asia with Emirates, you can make a stop-over in Dubai for a few days.
  • Cons: First Class award redemption on Emirates with a departure from Europe are only possible with the USA or Canada as end destination. For example, it’s not possible to book a First Class Emirates ticket from Europe to the Middle East or Asia via Mileage Plan, making the Mileage Plan value of Emirates redemptions less attractive for Europe- based travelers. Also, Mileage Plan drastically increased the number of miles required for an Emirates First Class flight in 2016.

Read my review of Alakasa Airlines Mileage Plan here.


QANTAS POINTS

Qantas is another one-world airline that partners with Emirates. Both airlines code-share on the Kangaroo route between Australia and Europe, and have extensive partnerships in their respective frequent flyer programs (called Qantas Points for Qantas). As such, you can redeem your Qantas Points miles for Emirates First Class tickets on any flight operated by Emirates when an award seat is available. That said, Qantas isn’t the most economical way to book Emirates redemptions for the reasons outlined below.

  • Pros: in case you don’t have enough miles in your account for an Emirates First Class ticket, Qantas Points allows you to book First Class awards seats using a combination of points and cash.
  • Cons: Qantas charges high fuel surcharges and also requires an above average amount of miles for First Class redemptions (e.g. 75,000 miles for a one-way ticket from Europe to Dubai; and 126,000 Skywards miles for a one-way trip from the east coast of the USA to Dubai).

KOREAN AIR SKYPASS

Korean Air, a SkyTeam airline, also partners with Emirates, allowing members of its frequent flyer program SkyPass to earn and redeem miles on Emirates. For example, a round trip journey from the East coast of the USA to Dubai will cost you 210,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles. However, booking these types of tickets via SkyPass isn’t the best way to spend your miles and here’s why:

  • Cons: First, SkyPass requires you to book round-trip award tickets for awards on partner airlines. Second, when you book via SkyPass, you will have to pay heavy carrier-imposed surcharges (in excess of $1700 USD). Third, booking a First Class redemption on Emirates via SkyPass is very complicated as award tickets can only be issued only at Korean Air ticketing office.

EMIRATES SKYWARDS

Emirates’ own frequent flyer program is called Skywards. It may seem the most logical option for booking Emirates First Class redemptions, although remarkably, Skywards is by far the worst option, because of the high fuel surcharges and the high number of miles required.

  • Pros: bookings can be made online and all Emirates flights can be booked when an award seat is available (regardless of origin and departure). In addition, Emirates allows a stop-over on round-trip tickets, so you can combine any trip with a few days of relaxation in Dubai. Also, only First Class award tickets booked via Skywards are eligible for chauffeur-driven transfers to/from the airport.
  • Cons: as mentioned above, Skywards charges high fuel surcharges for award seats in addition to an insane amount of miles on certain routes (e.g. 85,000 miles for a one-way ticket from Europe to Dubai; and 136,250 Skywards miles for a one-way trip from the east coast of the USA to Dubai). In addition, one-way awards require more than half of the round-trip mileage cost. Finally, although Skywards offers saver rewards during lower-demand periods (which require less miles compared to regular awards ), saver awards are not offered for First Class tickets.


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