Emirates Will Block First Class Awards From Partners Starting in April 2021

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Emirates First Class is one of the most aspirational award bookings you can make. It's fancy. Beyond the glitz and glamour of the gold-laden cabin and the endless Dom Perignon champagne, Emirates first-class passengers can even take showers in-flight onboard Emirates Airbus A380s.

To book this luxurious experience, you've recently been able to use either Emirates' Skywards miles, or currencies from partners—like Alaska Airlines, Qantas, or JAL.

But unfortunately, it looks like we'll have fewer options starting spring 2021. That's because Emirates plans to remove the ability to book first class with partner award currencies after March 31, 2021.

Emirates first class

No Partner First Class Awards

  • Starting April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer allow partners to access/book first class seats.
  • The wording of the notice makes it clear that this isn't the end of the Alaska/Emirates partnership, but rather an end to Emirates releasing first class availability to partners in general.
  • You can book Emirates first class with Alaska miles (or any other eligible partner currency) for travel through the end of the availability calendar, provided you book before April 1, 2021.

I haven't seen anything about this on the website of any other Emirates partner. That makes it tricky to confirm if this affects more than Alaska Mileage Plan. However, if the wording on the notice is accurate, then this change came directly from Emirates, and will likely affect other partner programs similarly.

Is this a big loss?

Overall, it's always bad news to lose flexibility with any award currency. With that said, I don't think this change will affect too many award travelers.

Several years ago, Alaska Mileage Plan was the favorite program for booking Emirates First Class awards. That's because it (previously) utilized a uniquely reasonable award chart for Emirates redemptions.

Unfortunately, that ended in 2016, when the airline spontaneously raised award rates to sky-high levels. Now, a first class award from the U.S. to Dubai costs 150K Alaska miles. Considering the relative difficulty of earning Alaska miles, this price put it out of reach for most people.

The next best option is to book via Japan Airlines. JAL Mileage Bank charges just 165k miles roundtrip from the U.S. to Dubai. However, JAL's only transfer partner is Marriott Bonvoy, and its co-branded credit card provides poor value. That means JAL miles are even harder to get than Alaska miles.

There is one program that is a transfer partner of multiple transferrable currencies: Emirates Skywards. With the recent addition of Citi ThankYou points, Emirates now partners with all five major transferrable currencies. Moreover, Emirates recently cut award fees by up to 90%. While the redemption rate may be high for many routes, booking through Emirates itself is often the most accessible way to book Emirates first-class awards.

Bottom Line

Emirates plans to take away the ability to book first-class awards with partner currencies on April 1, 2021. From then on, the only way to book Emirates first class with points is via Emirates' Skywards Program.

Limiting first-class bookings to your own loyalty members isn't a new concept. Singapore Airlines, Korean Airlines, and Lufthansa (to an extent) all do something similar. Hopefully, Emirates emulated these other airlines by also offering better first-class award availability for Skywards members.

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Comments

  • Avatar

    I always booked my EK F by transferring in UR.

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    Jan Seewald says:

    So many airlines currently advertise for their customers and ask for very good promotions in terms of points and miles. So it is quite astonishing why Emirates is going the other way. A big incomprehension from my side!

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    How nice of emirates- really coming through with the customers of other loyalty programs haha

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    Very disappointing news. 2020 would have been the year to experience their F.C. product. However, Covid got in the way. When I am able to take that dream trip with Alaska miles, it will still be a great trip, just not quite what I had planned.

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    I have heard great things about the Emirates First Class suite.

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    Sad to see this go but it actually makes sense that they limit it to their own program. I probably never would have booked it anyway. I’ll bet their business class is also really nice and the extras like high end champagne and a shower in flight wouldn’t be worth the extra points for me.

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    And they had to do it in the middle of a pandemic when a lot of us cannot making speculative bookings before the change.
    Thanks EK…

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    As you mentioned, Alaska already devalued emirates redemptions. There is some value in JAL redemptions that will be lost though.

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    With Alaska coming into OW, this means that Alaska miles will be redeemable on Qatar, which could make up for this loss. QSuites is far superior to Emirates J.

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    I am sure that the B777 first class compartments have to do with the restricted award access.

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    Wow. At first glance this will have no effect on me but who knows if things like this will start catching on. 🙁

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    Juan Ignacio says:

    It is a big loss…EK has an awesome F profuct. Hope they don’t block first to basic and silver levels as Flying Blue does with AF

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    That is so unfortunate. I flew emirates regular class one time and it was super nice. I can’t even imagine how much better first class would have been.

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    More options are better than fewer, but first class redemptions are never worth the cost above business to me. I sleep most of the time and I don’t drink on flights, so there’s little to no extra value to me.

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    It seems a shame that we learned about this upcoming change from other than Emirates themselves.