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Emirates holds a lot of prestige in the aviation world. When travelers think of Emirates, they think of luxury. 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 a strong point for Skywards Miles. There’s a lot of ways to accumulate Skywards miles, and this makes it easier to reach the number of miles necessary for that great redemption.
Earn Miles By Flying 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'll earn miles based on the distance flown and the fare class booked. You can calculate your exact earnings by using Emirates' Miles Calculator.
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 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022
- 5X points on travel purchased through Chase
- 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide
- 3X points on eligible streaming services
- 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs)
- 2X points on all other travel
- 1X point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Amex Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers are instant.
- Rose Gold is here to stay. Card Members can choose between a Gold or Rose Gold Card.
- 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 at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and 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 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
- $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 at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
- 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.
Citi ThankYou Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers are instant.
- 60,000 point signup bonus worth $800 towards airfare through the ThankYou Travel Center, or potentially much more when transferred to airline partners
- 3X points per $1 on airfare and hotels and at gas stations, restaurants, and supermarkets
- Annual Hotel Benefit: Save $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) when you book through ThankYou.com
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
- 3X points per $1 spent on airfare, hotels, and at gas stations
- 3X points per $1 spent on dining at restaurants, including cafes, bars and lounges
- 3X points per $1 spent at supermarkets
- 1X points per $1 spent on all other purchases
Capital One miles transfer at a 2:1 ratio, and transfers are instant.
- Earn 60,000 Miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel; 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
- Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options. Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a ratio of 3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. It typically takes up to 3 days for points to transfer from Marriott to Skywards.
- Earn 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases.
- New Benefit! Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
- New Benefit! Earn 1 Elite Night Credit towards Elite Status for every $5,000 you spend.
- 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
- Earn up to 17X total Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card.
- 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year, and path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each calendar year.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- 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 additions of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points to Emirates' partner roster, Emirates has become one of the few airlines to partner with every major transferrable award currency. 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 accumulate Emirates miles can more than account for the difference in award price.
Before transferring your points, it pays to consider three things:
- 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?
- 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, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points as your go-to transfer currencies.
Capital One miles transfer to Emirates Skywards at a ratio of 2:1. Since popular Capital One cards like the Capital One Venture earn 2X on every purchase, you can effectively earn 1X Emirates miles on every dollar spent. While this is certainly not a terrible option, it pales in comparison to the 4X and 5X earning potential of Chase, Amex, and Citi cards with 1:1 transfers.
Marriott Bonvoy transfers to Emirates can be lucrative if you leverage the 5k bonus for every 60k transferred. However, 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 can't guarantee that the award availability will still be there by the time your transfer is complete.
Redeeming on Emirates Flights
When I first wrote this post, Emirates famously charged incredibly steep fees for premium-class awards on its own aircraft. It wasn't uncommon to see fuel surcharges well over $1,000 round-trip.
Thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly), that's no longer an issue. In mid-2020, Emirates spontaneously cut surcharges by up to 90%. Now, Emirates award redemptions incur far more reasonable out-of-pocket expense than before. As a result, using Skywards miles for Emirates-operated flights has become a much better value.
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.
With Emirates, a perfect example is its flight between New York and Milan. Neither of these cities is located in the United Arab Emirates. Instead, this route is part of a longer route between New York and Dubai.
These routes are noteworthy because they operate in highly competitive markets—typically resulting in lower prices and increased award availability. They present some of the best value for redeeming Skywards Miles.
As of this writing, Emirates operates the following fifth freedom routes at various times throughout the year:
- New York City (JFK) <—> Milan (MXP)
- Newark (EWR) <—> Athens (ATH)
- Mexico City (MEX) <—> Barcelona (BCN)
- Hong Kong (HKG) <—> Bangkok (BKK)
- Harare (HRE) <—> Lusaka (LUN)
- Conakry (CKY) <—> Dakar (DSS)
- Accra (ACC) <—> Abidjan (ABJ)
- Sydney (SYD) <—> Christchurch (CHC)
I've graphed the award pricing of the most notable routes here:
Right away, you'll notice a couple of things:
- The mileage difference between “Saver,” “Flex,” and “Flex Plus” fares is significant. 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 a round-trip.
- Emirates currently operates all of these routes with a Boeing 777 of some variant. In general, the premium product offerings on these aircraft are far inferior to those offered on Emirates' Airbus A380. (One notable exception is the New York to Milan route, which occasionally features the airline's newest first-class product!) Emirates previously operated an A380 on several of these routes but switched to 777s at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are starting to see Emirates add the A380 back to more of these routes.
As an aside, 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 when searching those routes specifically.
Here is a couple of examples I stumbled on when originally researching this post in 2020. Note the older (higher) fuel-surcharges and the discontinued Bali to Auckland route.
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.
Business Awards Devaluation in February 2022
Although a bit niche, it's worth pointing out in an article about Emirates redemptions. Starting in February 2022, one-way business class redemptions jumped up around 15% on average. The amount of miles required for economy and first class redemptions were not affected. The same applies to round-trip business class redemptions. Thus, going forward, you should strive for round-trip redemptions if using your Skywards for business class awards on Emirates metal. The one-way award pricing is now more than half of what a round-trip will cost you.
Redeeming on Partner Airlines
Emirates isn't part of any major airline alliance, but they do have several individual airline partnerships. Each of these partners has a unique award chart, and some of them can provide decent value.
In previous iterations of this post, this section detailed numerous sweet spots with several of Emirates' partners. Unfortunately, Emirates has recently replaced all of these region-based award charts with distance-based charts. Now, most of those sweet spots aren't nearly as sweet.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Even with the new distance-based charts, there are still a few routes that can present a decent deal:
- JetBlue from New York or Boston to the Caribbean — from 40,000 Skywards miles in JetBlue Mint
- JetBlue between U.S. East Coast and U.S. West Coast — 52,000 Skywards miles in JetBlue Mint
- JetBlue between U.S. East Coast and London — 64,000 Skywards miles in JetBlue Mint
- Washington D.C. to Lisbon on TAP — 64,000 Skywards miles in business class
- U.S. West Coast to Seoul on Korean Airlines — 88,000 Skywards miles in business class
- Hong Kong to Mauritius on Air Mauritius — 76,000 Skywards miles in business class
- Kuala Lumpur to Sydney on Malaysia Airlines — 76,000 Skywards miles in business class
- Tokyo to Seattle on Japan Airlines — 38,000 Skywards miles in economy, 76,000 miles in business class
- Singapore to Sydney on Qantas — 64,000 Skywards miles in business class, 96,000 miles in first class
On the surface, these rates may not seem all that exciting. However, when you pair them with Emirates' nearly universal transferability (Amex, Chase, Citi, Capital One, Marriott), it makes these awards a lot more accessible.
Searching and Booking Award Space
Booking Emirates Flights
If you're looking for an Emirates-operated flight, you can use the Emirates award search tool. The Emirates website isn't the worst search experience out there, but you are limited to searching for awards in single cabin, and Emirates will only display seven days of award availability at a time.
If you prefer to see award space for all cabins of service and up to a month of award availability at a time, the Alaska MileagePlan award search is a great place to start. Any Emirates flight that is available to book with Alaska miles will also be bookable with Skywards. You can read more about using Alaska's award search here.
Booking Partner Flights
Unfortunately, Emirates' award-search engine doesn't display all partner award availability. So searching and booking partner awards takes a little creativity.
Besides calling, filling out a request form (must be logged into your account before clicking this link), or initiating a chat with Emirates customer service reps to search individual availability, you can instead search with partner airlines. Since most partners typically have access to the same partner award space, it's safe to assume Emirates' will match. For example:
- When searching for JAL partner award availability, use American Airlines' site.
- To find Korean Air or Air Mauritius partner award availability, search 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 with Qantas, JetBlue, and JAL on Emirates' own website. For the other partners, once you've found availability, 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!
The Skywards program has undergone many changes since I first wrote this post in early 2020:
- Emirates previously charged horrendous $1,000+ surcharges on round-trip, premium-cabin itineraries from the U.S. These are no-more (good riddance).
- Emirates previously utilized lucrative region-based award charts for partners like Korean Airlines, JAL, and South African Airways. Unfortunately, it has since updated these with far inferior distance-based award charts. (Hat-tip to reader Ian for pointing this out to us.)
Following these developments, Skywards miles have found renewed utility for premium redemptions on Emirates' aircraft — and respectively far less value for partner redemptions.
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 or found any exceptional sweet spots that I've missed? Let me 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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