Last night, Alaska Mileage Plan sent out an email to members advising them of an impending change to the ability to redeem Alaska miles for awards on Emirates flights. The same message was also added as a footnote to the Mileage Plan award charts:
This means that if you’re interested in redeeming Alaska miles on Emirates First Class, one of the most luxurious experiences in commercial aviation, you’ll have until March 31 of next year to do so.
Is This Alaska or Emirates’s Doing?
My first impression to this announcement was that it may be related to Alaska’s impending entry into the Oneworld airline alliance, which will also set for March 31, 2021.
After all, Emirates was always one of Alaska’s many unique partners that many observers felt was most likely to be on the chopping block with Alaska joining Oneworld, primarily due to the conflict versus fellow Oneworld member Qatar Airways.
Upon closer reading, however, it’s clear that Emirates economy class and business class redemptions are still going to be bookable using your Alaska miles after April 2021 – it’s only Emirates First Class awards that are being cut.
Furthermore, Alaska’s wording suggests that this isn’t their decision, but rather Emirates’s decision to remove “partner access” from First Class award bookings – implying that not only will Alaska miles be blocked off from Emirates First Class awards, but so too will other partner programs like Japan Airlines Mileage Bank or Qantas Club.
Are Alaska Awards on Emirates First Class a Good Deal?
Alongside Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, Emirates First Class is one of the most widely highlighted examples of the aspirational luxury experiences that you can book using your Alaska miles.
Indeed, even during the COVID-19 pandemic when airlines are cutting First Class services left and right, Emirates is one of the few airlines to have not only maintained a high level of service throughout the pandemic, but have recently moved to restore near-full service by bringing back the onboard showers and bar on the Airbus A380.
However, I wouldn’t really go so far as to call Emirates First Class a “sweet spot” of Alaska miles, and that’s because of how disproportionately expensive their awards are priced.
One-way awards in First Class begin at 150,000 Alaska miles between North America and the Middle East, and can cost up to 200,000 Alaska miles if you’re headed to Australia. That’s a ton of miles to drop on a single award!
When many folks first begin collecting points, there often comes a choice between “one trip in business or two trips in economy”. Well, when you get to the advanced levels of racking up Alaska miles, the choice becomes “one trip in Emirates First Class or two trips in Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines First Class”… and most people opt for the latter, since they only cost 70,000–75,000 Alaska miles one-way in comparison.
Having said that, even though Emirates First Class awards were never the best sweet spot for Alaska miles in the first place, it was always a very attractive “dream reward” that I’m sure many Mileage Plan members will have been saving up their miles for.
Losing the ability to book Emirates First Class inevitably devalues the program a little bit, even if this restriction is imposed on the partner airline’s side.
Last Chance to Book the Emirates First Class Extravaganza
In my view, the best bang for your buck when it comes to Alaska awards on Emirates First Class it to book the “extravaganza” routing that I had taken last year: three flights for the price of one, allowing you to fly on both the Emirates Airbus A380 with the shower and bar, as well as the Emirates 777 with the “Game Changer” fully-enclosed suite.
To book this, your routing essentially needs to take the following format, with connections of less than 24 hours at each stop:
- North America–Dubai
- Dubai–Somewhere in IATA Zone 2 (i.e., Europe, Africa, or the Middle East)
- Somewhere in IATA Zone 2–Dubai
(Or vice-versa. Starting in Dubai and ending in North America also works.)
Alaska’s multi-city search engine only allows you to input two lines… so you’ll have to figure out which two of the above three segments need to be combined into a single search item. There are only two possibilities here, so it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
Since your connections are less than 24 hours at each stop, the routing wouldn’t actually be very useful if you wanted to visit Europe for longer than a day, nor would it be useful if you wanted to stop in Dubai for an extended period before heading to Europe.
Instead, you’d simply be flying for the love of flying – and for the love of indulging in some of the most outrageous levels of luxury that Miles & Points can bring to your life.
150,000 Alaska miles for a single flight is a lot, but 150,000 Alaska miles for three flights? That’s… still a lot, but if you’ve racked up a stash of Alaska miles that you’d just like to blow on a crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience, then it might be the right fit for you.
(Or in my case, a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. A while back, I decided to blow my entire remaining Alaska balance on another “extravaganza” for later this month, and this announcement only strengthens my resolve to make it happen and use my Alaska miles for one last hurrah.)
Nevertheless, if you’re still in the process of building up your Alaska balance with an Emirates First Class award in mind, then this announcement means you’ll have to make a quick decision: either buying additional miles to top-up before March 31, or “settling” for a Cathay or JAL First Class award instead.
How to Book Emirates First Class Going Forward
Based on Alaska’s announcement, it seems like Emirates wants to block its partners from accessing its First Class award space and reserve it for its own Emirates Skywards members, similar to what airlines like Swiss, Air France, or Korean Air do with their respective First Class cabins.
If that’s the case, then Emirates Skywards will become the go-to currency for booking Emirates First Class. Fortunately, the program recently slashed fuel surcharges, meaning that a First Class redemption on the Newark–Athens or New York JFK–Milan fifth-freedom routes are actually quite reasonable at 85,000 or 135,000 Emirates Skywards miles one-way or round-trip, respectively.
Emirates Skywards miles can be transferred from all three major transferrable currencies in the US: Amex US Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points. If you don’t dabble with US credit cards, then you may also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to the program, too.
I’ve written about this sweet spot in detail when it first materialized, so you’ll want to brush up on it if you’re eyeing an Emirates First Class redemption for sometime in the more distant future.
What About Emirates Business Class and Economy Class?
Alaska is keen to remind us that we’ll still be able to book Emirates’s “award-winning” business and economy products after April 1, 2021, but how do these redemptions compare?
42,500 Alaska miles for a one-way flight in economy class from North America to the Middle East is a decent enough deal (as long as you aren’t planning to use those miles for higher-value bookings otherwise), and Emirates is often considered one of the leading airlines in terms of the economy experience.
In terms of business class, though, Emirates actually doesn’t quite live up to its star-studded reputation: some of its planes are still equipped with angled-flat business class seats, while others have a 2-3-2 configuration in which it’s actually possible to find yourself stuck in the middle seat in business class!
The 82,500 Alaska miles required to book a one-way flight in business class is competitive against other programs out there, but not an amazing sweet spot or anything – remember, only 70,000 miles would be enough to unlock a Cathay Pacific First Class flight to Hong Kong, followed by a business class flight all the way to South Africa!
The only exception would be if you place a very high value on the convenience of, say, a Toronto–Dubai direct flight; otherwise, I think your Alaska miles can be put to far better use.
It’s sad to see Emirates First Class on Alaska miles – one of the all-time great redemptions back in the day, and still an attractive target for many collectors of Alaska miles in recent years – going away as of April 1, 2021. I can’t help but wonder what’s next in terms of what Alaska has in store for us, and I hope there’s plenty of good news to go along with the bad.
Once its First Class awards are removed in April, I’d say that Emirates actually becomes a pretty forgettable Alaska partner – so here’s hoping that its spot can be replaced among Alaska’s lineup of illustrious partner redemptions by, say, Qatar Airways Qsuites once the Oneworld transition takes place.