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Update: March 31, 2021 was the last date to book Emirates First Class awards with Alaska Mileage Plan miles. However, you can still book Emirates First Class awards through Emirates Skywards, Japan Mileage Bank, and Qantas Frequent Flyer miles.
Update: As of July 31, 2021, Alaska Mileage Plan members won't be able to redeem miles for any Emirates awards — not just first-class awards.
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.
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.
No Partner First Class Awards
- As pointed out on FrequentMiler, the notice pictured below has appeared on Alaska's partner page for Emirates:
- Starting April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer allow partners to access/book first class seats.
- 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.
- 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. However, the two partners announced in June 2021 that the partnership would end entirely on July 31, 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.
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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