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Emirates is consistently ranked among the best airlines in the sky, and with good reason. Between the glitzy cabin decor, the onboard showers, and fantastic in-flight service, its premium cabin product has long been the poster-child of first-class travel.
Unfortunately, this first-class experience comes at a significant price, even for award redemptions. As I previously wrote in my guide for the best uses of Emirates Skywards Miles, Emirates has been known to charge astronomical carrier-imposed surcharges on premium-class redemptions, regularly exceeding $1,000 per round-trip. However, that may have just changed.
As shared by One Mile At A Time, recent searches on Emirates' site are displaying a massive drop in carrier surcharges across the board—with some cuts as great as 90%!
Unfortunately, these changes come with a catch. Along with the massive reduction in surcharges, Emirates has seemingly cut Business “Saver” awards, now only displaying the more expensive Business “Flex” availability.
In the past, Emirates Skywards has been a quirky program to deal with. While it offered spectacular award pricing for travel with certain partners, it's consistently paired with inflated award pricing and surcharges for travel on Emirates' aircraft.
For example, a one-way first-class redemption on Emirates' fifth-freedom route between New York (EWR) and Athens (ATH) previously cost 85,000 Skywards Miles and $520 in surcharges. However, if you search now, the same itinerary only costs 85,000 and $40!
We've previously noted that round-trip redemptions typically have access to less expensive “saver” or “flex” award types. So a round-trip on the same itinerary in first-class previously cost as little as 135,000 Skywards Miles—as opposed to double the one-way cost of 170,000 miles—plus a brutal $1,135 in taxes and surcharges. Now you can book the same itinerary for 135,000 miles and only $122!
The massive cut in surcharges increases the value of business-class redemptions as well. Emirates has a fine business class product on its Airbus A380's (less so on its B777's), including access to Emirates' iconic onboard lounge.
Business-class availability has historically been excellent, but the surcharges made it a poor value compared to other airlines. Not anymore! For example, a round-trip business class “Flex Plus” award between New York (JFK) and Milan (MXP) previously cost 125,000 miles + $1,135. Now it only costs $116.45 out-of-pocket. That's a savings of almost 90% of the out-of-pocket expense.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, this change is paired with a negative change. A few weeks ago, we were seeing weeks of Saver business class award availability on Emirates' routes. Award travelers could book Emirates round-trip awards between New York City and Europe for just 90,000 Skywards miles round-trip with over $1,000 in fees.
We were optimistic that this award availability would still be available, but with lower fees. Right now, I'm seeing zero availability showing for Business Class “Saver” awards. This could be an unfortunate change if it turns out Emirates is permanently doing away with this award level. Thankfully economy “Saver” and first-class “Flex” appear still intact—at least for now.
If you want to price out how much awards should cost for an itinerary, Emirates offers a Miles Calculator for its Skywards members. This calculator demonstrates the two different award types available for each class of travel:
- Economy Class: Saver (round-trip) & Flex Plus (one-way and round-trip)
- Business Class: Saver (round-trip) & Flex Plus (one-way and round-trip)
- First Class: Flex (round-trip) & Flex Plus (one-way and round-trip)
Earning Emirates Skywards Miles
Emirates Skywards Miles are among the easiest to collect. With the addition of Citi ThankYou points last month, you can now transfer miles from every major point currency:
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio)
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio)
- Citi ThankYou Points (1:1 transfer ratio)
- Capital One Miles (2:1 transfer ratio)
- Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 transfer ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points)
There are a few things to note. First, even though we've focused on redemptions to and from Europe in this post, the lowered surcharges appear to affect redemptions from any region. Second, Emirates has made no official announcement about this change yet, so this could be reversed at any time. Third, Emirates' on-board service has been drastically cut-back in response to COVID-19. It's possible that the onboard product will return to its former glory once restrictions begin to lift, there's no guarantee.
While the loss of “Saver” business-class awards hurts (if it turns out to be permanent), this is an exciting development from Emirates, overall. The ability to book its renowned premium products without paying an arm and a leg in surcharges dramatically increases the value of the Skywards program.
I'm mainly excited about the new ability to book a first-class award to Europe at a reasonable price—something that is typically impossible to do without booking last minute.
Is Emirates first-class in your future now that the surcharges are more reasonable?
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