Editor’s note: This post refers to routes that are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic but are expected to resume once travel picks up.
While Emirates and its gold-studded cabins have long topped the bucket lists of award travellers around the world, historically, the Emirates Skywards programme hasn’t received much attention. Travellers looking to book award tickets on Emirates were forced to pick between the lesser of two evils, namely partner airlines that charged exorbitant fuel surcharges and those with outrageously high award rates.
Two significant changes over the last few years have reversed that trend and turned Emirates Skywards into a very compelling programme. Earlier this year, Emirates reduced fuel surcharges by hundreds of dollars.
Given that Emirates Skywards miles are easier to earn than ever before and award tickets are cheaper (from a cash perspective at least), now is a great time to take a look at the best ways to redeem Emirates Skywards miles.
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Earning Emirates Skywards miles
You can also transfer points from all two major transferable points programmes in the U.K. to Emirates Skywards at the following ratios:
- Amex Membership Rewards – 1:1
- Marriott Bonvoy – 3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.
You can also earn miles by crediting flights to your Skywards accounts. For Emirates, you’ll need to use the Emirates’ miles calculator to estimate your earnings, which are based on a combination of your fare class and the distance of your flight. Emirates also publishes individual awards charts for each of its partner airlines, with earning rates based on your fare class and flight distance. For eligible tickets, you’ll earn anywhere from 1.25-2 Skywards miles per mile flown. The higher the fare class, the more miles you’ll earn.
It’s also possible to earn Emirates miles when renting a car, booking a hotel, or shopping with certain retail partners. For full details on these earning options, be sure to check out our complete guide to Emirates Skywards.
Redeeming miles for Emirates flights
While Emirates offers an above-average experience in all three cabins, many award travellers are looking to fly Emirates first class. If you’re flying on the carrier’s flagship A380, the onboard shower and bar (also accessible to business class passengers) are two of the most unique amenities in commercial aviation.
Emirates prices awards based on flight distance but doesn’t publish a formal award chart. Instead, you’ll need to use the carrier’s mileage calculator to figure out how much a ticket will cost.
Let’s start by looking at flights from New York (JFK) to Dubai (DXB). Not only are East Coast flights shorter (and therefore cheaper) than those departing from the West Coast, but before the coronavirus pandemic, New York was one of the only North American destinations with multiple Emirates A380 flights per day. Here are the one-way award rates for flights from JFK to Dubai:
- Economy: 62,500 miles
- Business: 100,000 miles
- First: 136,250 miles
Meanwhile, if you were flying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Dubai, you’d need the following amount for one-way awards:
- Economy: 71,250 miles
- Business: 113,750 miles
- First: 155,000 miles
These are the only two pricing tiers you’ll see for direct flights from the U.S. to Dubai. The cutoff point appears to be flights over 8,000 miles, which push into the higher tier. This means that flights from Dubai to the East Coast and Chicago (ORD) will price the same as JFK. Meanwhile, those to the West Coast or Texas (IAH and DFW) will be more expensive.
The biggest drawback of booking premium cabin awards with Emirates Skywards used to be the fuel surcharges. North American departures were hit especially hard, with awards costing $800 or more in taxes. As mentioned above, that’s now changed and a one-way first-class award from JFK to Dubai now comes with just $162 in taxes.
Emirates also operates two fifth-freedom routes from the New York area to Europe. These flights have stirred up a great deal of political controversy. Still, they’re great news for award travellers looking to experience a higher quality of service than what the competition offers on these routes.
Before the pandemic, Emirates operated a daily A380 flight from JFK to Milan (MXP), as well as a daily flight from Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) with a Boeing 777-300ER. While the A380 is the preferable plane (thanks to the shower and bar), award rates are the same for both of these routes. One-way awards cost the following amounts:
- Economy: 38,750 miles
- Business: 62,500 miles
- First: 85,000 miles
Emirates continues to innovate the onboard experience, despite already being an industry leader. A few years ago, the carrier debuted a stunning six-seat first-class cabin on a handful of 777-300ERs. This new product features fully-enclosed suites, advanced lighting and temperature controls, the ability to order by video chatting with flight attendants and even virtual windows for those passengers “stuck” in the middle.
Only a handful of Emirates’ 777s feature the new cabin and the planes have primarily been used on flights between Dubai and Europe. Because of the low seat count (compared to 14 first-class suites on the A380), Emirates has historically restricted awards on these planes, only opening up seats close to departure.
A few weeks ago, Emirates changed this policy, and there’s now wide open award space between Dubai and London Stansted (STN) on the new suites for next year:
You can book these flights for 135,000 miles round-trip in first class.
Redeeming miles for partner flights
Despite not being a member of a major alliance, Emirates partners with 15 airlines:
- Air Mauritius
- Alaska Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
- Copa Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Malaysia Airlines
- South African Airways
- TAP Portugal
Redeeming your hard-earned Skywards miles on a low-cost carrier like EasyJet might not be the best value. But there are some good deals to be had. Let’s start with JetBlue, which you could find useful if in North America.
Emirates takes a unique approach here, basing award prices by specific routes instead of distance or zone. Here’s a sampling of prices for flights departing Austin (AUS) and Boston (BOS):
TPG values Emirates miles at 0.9p each, so you’ll want to compare the cash price of these tickets to make sure you’re getting a good deal. This means that redeeming 7,500 Skywards miles for a flight from Boston to Newark would be the equivalent of £68. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, prices are well below that mark.
Once demand rebounds and prices stabilize, it will become easier to find good deals redeeming Emirates miles for JetBlue flights.
Emirates’ other North American partner is Alaska Airlines, which will be joining the Oneworld alliance next year. Prices are much more standardized here, with award flights between states costing the same 25,000 miles, whether you’re flying from Seattle to L.A. or across the U.S.
Round-trip flights to Hawaii for 40,000 miles are a solid deal but note that these rates are for direct flights only. Meaning if you were connecting from the East Coast, you’d need to book two awards, which would cost more. One-way awards are not allowed.
Japan Airlines awards
When it comes to international airlines, Emirates’ most exciting and valuable partner is Japan Airlines. Below is the pricing for round-trip awards originating in North America:
While 185,000 miles for a round-trip JAL first class award is a very solid deal, it’s not the absolute cheapest price out there. Yet, when you combine how easy it is to earn Emirates Skywards miles with the fact that you’re allowed a free stopover, this is not an option to overlook.
Business-class pricing to Australia is also very competitive. It’s hard to find award availability on the handful of direct flights from the U.S. to Australia. So stopping in Japan might make it easier to find the award space you need.
If you’re looking to fly to Asia, you should also consider Korean Air. While you can’t redeem Emirates miles for Korean Air first class, you can fly Prestige Class round-trip from the U.S. to Seoul (ICN) for just 105,000 miles. That is the same amount many airlines would charge for a one-way award.
While Emirates itself is no stranger to attention, the Emirates Skywards programme is just starting to come into its own. While it doesn’t offer the cheapest award rates out there, the combination of massively reduced fuel surcharges and a record number of transfer partners makes Skywards a more compelling choice for your next award redemption.
Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy