The US American Express Membership Rewards program has added Emirates Skywards as a points transfer partner. Points transfer 1:1.
Here’s the upshot on the Emirates award chart: Awards are fairly expensive, although there are a handful of values. First class awards are exceptionally expensive. Upgrades can be a decent value.
- New York JFK – Dubai roundtrip in business class runs 145,000 Skywards Miles (or 100,000 miles one-way).
- New York JFK – Milan roundtrip in business class runs 90,000 Skywards Miles (62,500 one-way)
That’s a non-crazy price if you just want to go to Dubai (West Coast departures are more, and flights beyond Dubai are more). New York – Milan, though, represents a pretty good value.
Here’s the price of JFK-Dubai roundtrip in first class, though:
Upgrades on the other hand? Compared to the pricing US carriers extract they’re a pretty good deal. No cash co-pay on top of miles, and all fares are upgradable. Upgrades come out of the same inventory as award tickets.
- New York JFK – Dubai one-way upgrade: 45,000 Skywards Miles from a Flex ticket, and 57,500 Skywards Miles from a saver ticket
- New York JFK – Milan one-way upgrade 30,000 Skywards Miles from a Flex ticket, and 37,500 Skywards Miles from a saver ticket
Here’s the basics on Emirates awards.
- Emirates miles are valid three years from the date of earning. The expiration date can’t be extended. This isn’t like US programs where your miles don’t expire but your account can become inactive, and you just need some account activity every 18 months to keep things alive. This is like Singapore Airlines where each mile has a date attached, it’s first in-first out and any mile not used after three years will expire.
- Saver awards are roundtrip only, with one stopover permitted. Stays cannot last more than 3 months. Date changes are $25 and cancel/redeposit is $75.
- Flew awards have greater availability, can be booked as one-ways, allow a stopover in each direction, and allow free date changes. Cancel/redeposit is $50, and stays are valid up to a year. Unfortunately though at the beginning of the year Emirates stopped making greater first class award availability possible at the FLEX level. If you want a one-way award in first class it has to be at FLEX pricing, but you don’t get extra inventory to choose from.
- You can book a roundtrip ticket in a combination of Saver and Flex, if saver seats aren’t available in both directions, but saver rules apply to the whole ticket.
- Emirates is really flexible with infant fares… for coach passengers. Unlike US airlines that charge 10% of a paid ticket (sometimes 10% of full fare) to bring an infant along on an international trip, Emirates charges 10% of the miles for a lap child. They only offer this discounted infant redemption for economy however. Infant upgrade rewards are available for other cabins.
- All fares are upgradable, without a cash co-pay on top of miles (although some fares are only upgradable at check-in).
Finding Award Space on Emirates
Expertflyer is a good tool for searching Emirates award space (and with the pay service Expertflyer you can set up ‘alerts’ to get emails when the space you want opens up).
Here are the classes of service for awards and upgrades:
If you don’t want to open an Emirates account and don’t use pay service Expertflyer then consider using the Alaska Airlines website, though it doesn’t show availability for all routes (since you can’t use Alaska miles to fly Bangkok – Hong Kong on Emirates, for instance).
Other, Better Strategies to Redeem for Travel on Emirates
Having Emirates as a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards is a good addition. All new options that don’t take something away are good additions. But if you have points in certain other programs (or points like Starwood Starpoints that transfer to those programs) you may be able to do better.
Alaska Airlines generally has a more favorable award chart for travel on Emirates, they allow one-way awards, and you can book online. Japan Airlines has a frequently even more favorable award chart still, though theirs is roundtrip only.
Here’s the Japan Airlines award chart. It’s distance based, they charge you based on the roundtrip distance flown.
New York JFK – Dubai – Bangkok and back would be 19,798 miles roundtrip. Since that’s just under 20,000 flown miles, the cost of a first class award is 155,0000 JAL Mileage Bank miles.
Alaska Airlines would charge 200,000 miles for that award. Emirates Skywards would get 285,000 miles for a roundtrip first class saver award.
Given the pricey mileage costs of Emirates Skywards awards, you won’t usually be transferring there in order to redeem on their partners, but they do have an eclectic mix.