New United-Emirates Partnership Fails To Live Up To The Hype

United Airlines is launching a Newark – Dubai flight, returning to a destination they haven’t flown to since 2016, as part of a partnership with Emirates that doesn’t do much for MileagePlus members.

This new Emirates-United pact lets customers check in for United and Emirates segments on the same ticket and through-check bags – bare minimum levels of integration – but not a whole lot more. There’s been tremendous hype, but the truth is they didn’t do the rest of the work that would have been hype-worthy.

There’s nothing game-changing here. There’s two airlines that will modestly direct each other’s customers to each other in Dubai and the Mideast. This helps United sell flights to Pakistan, and Emirates sell flights to connecting cities beyond its U.S. gateways. But it doesn’t live up to the hype.

  • The partnership doesn’t do much. They’re going to codeshare and interline (for checking in onto each other’s flights and checking baggage). But most travelers aren’t going to experience this partnership in any meaningful way. United’s MileagePlus members aren’t even going to be able to earn and redeem miles on Emirates whenever they wish – just in conjunction with connections to and from United’s new Newark – Dubai flight they announced. And Emirates members won’t be able to redeem on United at all.

  • Codeshares almost always frustrate customers. United and Emirates are going to codeshare but it’s almost always simpler to book an airline’s own flight rather than a flight with a different airline’s code on it – for things like seat assignments, or making changes when schedules go astray or operations melt down.

  • This could have been actually good for customers. There were rumors that Emirates would join Star Alliance, and that would have meant recognition of elite status across airlines, as well as mileage earning and redemption.

  • Underscores the hypocrisy of big U.S. airlines. It’s a final burying of the hatchet over all of the unpleasantness where Delta, United and American tried to get first the Obama and then Trump administrations to limit flying to the U.S. by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. They wanted fewer choices and higher prices, despite actual treaties guaranteeing these airlines the right to fly. American has a closer relationship now with Qatar Airways (and still has its partnership with Etihad), and United with Emirates. Delta, of course, has long partnered with Saudia. (Remember when Delta’s then-CEO argued Gulf carriers shouldn’t be able to access the U.S. market because 9/11, yet was silent on Saudi Arabia’s state-owned airline?)

  • If you want to redeem miles on Emirates, you’ll still use credit card points. The partnersip doesn’t change how you’re going to wind up redeeming miles for Emirates. The Emirates Skywards program partners with every major credit card transferable points program. So you can transfer points from American Express, Chase, Citi, Capital One and more into Emirates to redeem for travel. You’re not likely to be doing this with United miles any time soon, based on the current structure of the partnership.

Hopefully this partnership improves over time! But until there’s reciprocal recognition of elite status and real mileage earning and redemption we really just need to shrug our shoulders a bit.

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. What an absolute dud! Based upon these terms, I would imagine that AA and DL are not shaking in their boots. Hopefully it will morph into a consumer friendly agreement.

  2. The real hype is that American and United, arm in arm, have gone running to the Middle East airlines they once harshly criticized.
    We’ll see what Delta does but I suspect they will do as they often do by not running down the aisle – even if it is minimal cohabitation – just because AA and UA do something.

    Let’s also keep in mind that all of the US big 3 have joint venture relationships with one or more European airlines that fly to many of the same markets in the Eastern Hemisphere that can be served over the Middle East.

    The real issue that Lufthansa Group has to be asking of United is “why do you see a need to run to Emirates which we have had to fight off for years?”

    so, yeah, it is a dud but it also raises the question of why UA can’t work within the joint venture it created or did it really just want to add another dot back to its route system but knew it had to be some level of friend in order to keep EK from squashing it.

  3. The best a United flier can hope for is (embarrassing) side by side comparisons of the food served on codeshare EK UA flights.

  4. Don’t be jealous Gary, this is just the beginning. We’ll talk a year from today. I know this is still the View from the American Airlines Wing, but hey, keep it on the down low!

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