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Emirates holds a lot of prestige in the aviation world. When people think of Emirates, they think of luxury. They think of gold-clad cabins, onboard showers, Dom Perignon Champagne, Caviar, and VIP treatment. They also think of SKY-HIGH prices.
One thing people typically don’t think about, though, is Emirates' loyalty program, Skywards Miles. This is for a good reason, as Skywards’ redemptions don’t tend to offer overly-generous value. At least not on the surface.
We think this program may have more to offer than most people realize. In this article, we’re going to show you how your Skywards Miles can put you into some of the most luxurious suites in the sky, and also provide fantastic value.
- Earning Emirates Skywards Miles
- Redeeming on Emirates Flights
- Redeeming on Partner Airlines
- Searching and Booking Award Space
- Final Thoughts
Earning Emirates Skywards Miles
With any loyalty program, the first hurdle is always earning enough points or miles to do anything. Thankfully, this happens to be one of the significant strengths of Skywards Miles. There’s a lot of flexibility in your earning capability, and this makes it easier to reach the number of miles necessary for that great redemption.
Fly Emirates or Partner Airlines
The most obvious way to accumulate Emirates miles is to purchase and fly on Emirates' flights or Emirates' long list of partner airlines. You earn miles on a sliding scale based on the distance flown and the fare class booked. You can calculate your exact earnings by using Emirates' Miles Calculator. While this method of earning miles is relatively straightforward, Emirates has made it even easier by giving members the ability to pool miles with family members.
Transfer Flexible Rewards to Emirates Skywards Miles
The fastest and most flexible way to accumulate Skywards miles is to transfer them from any of Emirates' transfer partners. Points can be transferred from:
Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers are instant.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide
- 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Amex Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and transfers are instant.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
- 4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide.
- 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X)
- 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
- 1X on other purchases
- Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
Capital One miles transfer at a ratio of 2:1, and points typically transfer instantly.
- Earn 60,000 Miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening; worth $600 in travel if redeemed for a fixed-value, or potentially much more when transferred to airline partners
- 2 Miles on every purchase
- Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® (up to $100)
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
- 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a ratio of 3:1, with a bonus 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points transferred. It typically takes up to 3 days for points to transfer from Marriott to Skywards.
- Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
- Earn 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year. Path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year.
- 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.
- 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases
With the recent addition of Chase Ultimate Rewards to its transfer roster, Emirates has become one of the easiest airline currencies to collect! This is one of the main reasons why Skywards can be a great choice. Even if award prices are slightly higher on some routes, the ease with which you can earn Emirates miles can more than account for the difference in award price.
Before transferring your points, it pays to consider three things:
- Transfer Ratio — How many Skywards miles will you receive for every point transferred?
- Transfer Times — How long will it take for the points to arrive in your Skywards account?
- Transfer Bonuses — Are there any current transfer bonuses that can give you even more value?
With a favorable 1:1 ratio and immediate transfers, we recommend Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards as your go-to transfer currencies. You're not going to get the best value for Capital One miles by halving their value to 2:1, although that doesn't account for the fact that cards like the Capital One Venture earn 2X miles on every purchase, so you're effectively earning 1 Skywards mile per dollar on this card. Marriott Bonvoy points can be lucrative if you utilize the 5k bonus for every 60k transferred, but they have an average transfer time of 3 days to Emirates Skywards miles. This creates the potential for unnecessary stress in the booking process, as you won't be able to guarantee the award availability will still be there by the time your transfer is complete.
Redeeming on Emirates Flights
Before we get into Emirates Skywards sweet spots, we wanted first to address a drawback of the Skywards program. Unfortunately, Emirates is known for charging gnarly fuel surcharges for premium award redemptions to/from specific regions. For example, in business and first-class, it's not uncommon to see fuel surcharges over $1,000 for round-trips originating in the U.S. This can be a great use of “purchase eraser” cards like many Capital One cards or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®. These cards allow you to use points to “erase” travel purchases on your statement. We also expand on other ways to avoid these pesky fuel surcharges later in the post.
Upgrade Emirates Economy Tickets to Business-Class
One interesting way to extract value from the Skywards program is to use miles to upgrade from economy to business class. For example, a round-trip business class redemption in March from New York to Milan costs 90k miles and $1,135 in fuel surcharges! However, you could also pay $1,073.15 for an “Economy Flex” cash ticket, which can then immediately be upgraded to business class for 78,000 Skywards miles. Yes, you read that right. Booking economy in cash and upgrading is cheaper than directly redeeming for business-class in this case. This would also enable you to earn Skywards Miles for the flight!
If you have miles to spare and would like to save cash, you may have another option. In this case, you could also book “Economy Saver” round-trip for $508 and upgrade to business class at check-in for 115,000 miles.
Moral of the story: make sure you weigh all your options before deciding whether the price is worth it or not.
Take Advantage of Emirates Fifth Freedom Routes
Fifth freedom routes are passenger flights operated by an airline between two countries where neither country is the airline's home country. Since we're talking about Emirates, a perfect example would be the route discussed above between New York and Milan. Neither of these cities is located in the U.A.E., but the flight is part of a longer route between New York and Dubai. These routes are noteworthy because they operate in highly competitive markets, usually resulting in lower prices and increased award availability. They present some of the best value for redeeming Skywards Miles. I've graphed some of the most notable fifth freedom routes Emirates flies here:
Right away, you'll notice a couple of things:
- The mileage difference between the “Saver,” “Flex,” and “Flex Plus” fares. This is important to note as Emirates doesn't offer any of the cheaper fare categories for one-way trips on their North American fifth-freedom routes. Meaning you're likely going to get the best value (mileage wise) by booking round-trip.
- The absence of Fuel Surcharges on this chart. As we said before, Emirates is infamous for carrier-imposed charges, especially in premium cabins departing from North America. Another great way to avoid them is by booking the itinerary starting in Europe instead of North America. This will often lower your fuel surcharges by over half!
As a side note, when searching for award availability on fifth-freedom flights, you may stumble across some not-so-direct routings. These are interesting because they tend to price out cheaper than if you were to search those routes specifically. Here is a couple I stumbled on when researching this post:
While these itineraries are far from the quickest, they can present a great opportunity to enjoy the bucket-list experience of Emirates premium cabins for longer. Just remember that Emirates always has the ability to re-book you at any time to the direct route if the availability is there.
Use Routes Starting in Hong Kong to Lower Fuel Surcharges
Hong Kong is one of the few exceptions when it comes to Fuel Surcharges. Starting in January 2016, the government of Hong Kong made it illegal for airlines to charge fuel surcharges. This means that award redemptions originating in Hong Kong are some of the best for experiencing the most luxury for the least cash. Hong Kong to Washington D.C., for example, prices out to 178,750 Skywards miles and 158USD in taxes for First Class.
Redeeming on Partner Airlines
Emirates isn't part of any major airline alliance, but they do have individual airline partnerships. Each of these partners has its own unique award chart, and some of them have some fantastic sweet spots.
Japan Airlines (JAL)
The two high-value areas to focus on in JAL's award chart are for flights between North America and Asia, and between North America and Australia. This is JAL's reward chart with prices in Emirates Skywards miles for round-trip redemptions:
Round-trip from North America to most of Asia for 125k miles in business class is pretty great. However, round-trip to Australia from North America for 145k miles in business-class is phenomenal! This is especially true considering you're allowed a stopover, meaning you could potentially combine a trip to Japan with a trip to Australia to make two trips in one!
Unfortunately, Korean Airlines recently announced a significant devaluation of their SKYPASS loyalty program. Thankfully, Korean Air is also a partner of Emirates, and their award chart is excellent.
North America to Korea in Prestige (business) class for 52,500 miles per way is about as good as it gets. Granted, you'll be at the mercy of partner award availability for this. Spoiler alert: It's not nearly as abundant as what Korean makes available for their own SKYPASS redemptions. The redeeming factor is, again, that Skywards miles are MUCH easier to earn.
It's also worth noting that the award chart between Oceania (Auckland, Brisbane, Nadi, and Sydney) and North America is generous as well. A Prestige (business) class award is 165k Skyward miles round trip, or 82,500 per way.
South African Airways
While a very niche redemption, Emirates' partner award chart with South African Airways has one exciting sweet spot worth noting. A round trip award between Washington D.C. and Dakar, Senegal, is only 48,000 Skywards miles in economy, or 120,000 miles in business class. This makes it one of the cheapest and quickest redemptions available between the United States and Western Africa.
For the most part, Emirates' award chart for Alaska isn't anything special. The one exception is economy redemptions to and from Hawaii. Round-trips only cost 40,000 Skywards miles in economy from anywhere in the U.S. that Alaska serves. This is similar to the 35k – 50k that Alaska charges to their own frequent flyers. Once again, though, Alaska miles are much harder to collect. With Alaska's extensive network of Hawaiian routes, this can be a great way to get the exact flight to the ‘Aloha State' that you wanted.
Searching and Booking Award Space
Searching and booking some of these partner awards takes a little creativity. You won't be able to find all the availability on Emirates' own website. Unfortunately, their search engine doesn't have access to all the partner availability for every partner. You'll have to use other sites to search for them.
- For JAL partner award availability, search for JAL award flights on American Airlines' site.
- For Korean Air partner award availability, search for Korean award flights on Air France's site.
- For South African partner award availability, search for South African award flights on United's site.
You can currently search and book partner awards on Emirates' own website for Qantas, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines. For the other partners, once you've found availability, you can call Emirates (800-777-3999) to book it. Make sure you confirm the availability with the phone agent before you transfer any points to your Skywards account!
Emirates Skywards Miles have a reputation for mediocre value. However, after a little more study of their award chart(s), their lack of alliance has created several distinct bubbles of exceptional value. Is Emirates Skywards going to become your go-to hub to start any award redemption? Probably not. Should you consider it the next time you want to go to Asia or Australia? You probably should!
Flying Emirates’ First Class is a bucket-list endeavor, without a doubt. But even if your goals are simply to spend the least amount of miles to get from A to B, the Skywards program should have a place on your radar.
Have you ever redeemed Emirates Skywards miles? Have you found any exceptional sweet spots that we missed? Let us know in the comments.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: American Express® Gold Card (Rates & Fees)
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