American Express Adds Emirates as a New Points Transfer Partner

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] when Emirates Skywards became an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, I noted that one of the best features of that program is international upgrades from any fare without cash co-pay (although some fares are upgradable only at the airport). Unfortunately that is apparently […]


  1. Always good to add more redemption choices, but yowsers at that rate. Just hope the American carriers avoid the urge to copycat! Now to get Aeroflot added to MRs…that would be one I’d spend some points on LOL

  2. @aviators99, from my experience trying to do that back in 2011, sadly no. Though their T&C may have changed.

  3. Are they instantly transferable or does it take a few days? Can you do multiple transfers to the same emirates account on a single day or is it only per day like ANA?

  4. Can one book one way awards on Virgin America using
    Skywards points?
    One cannot redeem for one way flights on Virgin Americas flights in Virgin Atlantics program unless roundtrip

    And is there a ◾New York JFK – Milan in First class award?

  5. Surcharges?
    With expiring points in 3 years this greedy airline probably takes your newborn too while redeeming 🙂

  6. Not clear what you would recommend. I don’t have any Amex cards, just Chase SW and BA cards at the moment and have gotten my bonuses on all three. I have some 15k skyward points that will likely go to waste since I’m not planning any overseas trips for the next two years. Should I get an Amex card and just transfer the points over? My wife is in the same situation. Will she need an Amex card too?

  7. You need to factor in taxes/fuel surcharges that Emirates imposes. It significantly changes the evaluation (think BA).

  8. Taxes etc for JFK to Dubai on F or J run $1372 per another blogger. Its over $700 for Y seat.Not seeing a lot of value here.

  9. Note, if looking on the EK website, that the taxes number quoted on the enquiry page is just that – taxes.

    Only when you click through to book (and you cannot do this without having the miles in your account) do they add the fuel surcharge.

    Got stung with this myself recently. Did a transfer in from SPG, expecting c $120 of tax, and ended up nearer $ 500 for a one way to London.

  10. Did a sample search for JFK-BOM-JFK. Was able to find saver level seats in Business on most days. However, it priced out at 190000 Miles + USD 1392.17 (out of this, USD 1290 was ‘Carrier imposed charges’, i.e. YQ). Not worth it in my opinion.

    Alternate route probably worth exploring for someone (as Gary mentioned in the article): Revenue fare in economy was around USD 1200 for the same dates. Will make sense to buy and economy revenue ticket and then upgrade the trip with miles (125,000) – it would save miles as well as money.

  11. Is this post all there? The sections that are supposed to list the first class award redemptions, classes of service and Japan Airlines award chart seem to be missing for me in multiple browsers.

  12. @Andy – look again, the Emirates calculator shows one-way EARNING at 50% off in economy, and upgrades from economy to business at 50% off for one-way… but not one-way awards.

  13. Thanks for posting this.

    I have searched for some good value awards – not easy with Emirates!

    – Lisbon – Sao Tome, São Tomé and Príncipe (a destination I long
    wanted to see) for 50,000/100,000 (Business) Roundtrip, it’s on TAP
    Portugal and usually only Economy is being released

    – Sydney- Auckland on Emirates airplanes is available for
    25,000/50,000 (Business)/75,000 (First) RoundTrip, while tickets are
    cheap enough for this route usually it’s a good way to try the A380
    shower for 2x 3h flights

    – Tokyo (HND)- to Honolulu, Haiwaii using Japan Airlines for 40,000/ 85,000 (Business) – likely high fuel surcharges will apply

  14. I usually prefer REDEEMING Emirates Skywards Miles on JET AIRWAYS (India) Domestic routes.

    Economy return flights on 9W are redeemable with just 15000 Skywards miles , BUT ONLY ROUNDTRIP , although I feel this is the CHEAPEST redemption Option with NO FUEL SURCHARGES.

    I hope this Info helps frequent flyers visiting India

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