An Amazing New Emirates First Class Sweet Spot! Ricky May 27, 2020

An Amazing New Emirates First Class Sweet Spot!

Perhaps rather surprisingly, we’ve seen a fair share of positive changes from airlines and loyalty programs over the past few months, resulting in a handful of new redemption sweet spots for us to pore over as we plan out our future travels.

This week, we’ve just seen arguably the most positive change so far: Emirates Skywards has drastically reduced the carrier-imposed surcharges when redeeming on Emirates flights, resulting in a fantastic way to book Emirates First Class between North America and Europe. 

How to Earn Emirates Skywards Miles

Before we delve into the sweet spot, it’s worth going over the different ways that Canadian travellers can earn miles in the program.

One could, of course, credit paid flights on Emirates and their partner airlines to Skywards, but that would be a painfully slow way of racking up enough miles for a First Class award.

Instead, the easiest way to earn Emirates miles is through getting US credit cards. Emirates is a transfer partner of all four major transferrable currencies in the US: American Express US Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1), Citi ThankYou (1:1), and Capital One (2:1). And remember that as long as you have one Amex US MR card open, you can also convert Canadian MR points into US MR points at the prevailing exchange rate

Furthermore, we’ve seen some very strong conversion bonuses before: a 25% bonus from Amex US, as well as a 100% bonus from Capital One, thus sweetening the deal even more.

And finally, if you need to top-up your Skywards balance, one easy way to do so would be via Marriott Bonvoy, where you can also convert points at an optimal ratio of 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 Skywards miles. 

Emirates A380 First Class suite

Emirates A380 First Class suite

The Emirates Skywards Sweet Spot

Emirates Skywards has never been too compelling of a program among North American points collectors, mostly due to a lack of truly outstanding award rates and the prohibitively high fuel surcharges that have historically accompanied their award tickets.

Skywards does not offer a published fixed award chart; instead, one can only figure out how many points are required for each redemption by looking up the origin, destination, and class of service via the Emirates Miles Calculator.

This makes it hard to deduce how exactly every award is priced. Through repeated searches on the Miles Calculator, though, we can see that Emirates’s two fifth-freedom flights between North America and Europe (New York JFK–Milan and Newark–Athens) are priced very competitively compared to other loyalty programs out there:

  • New York JFK–Milan or Newark–Athens:

    • Economy class: 38,750 miles one-way; 45,000 miles round-trip

    • Business class: 62,500 miles one-way; 90,000 miles round-trip

    • First Class: 85,000 miles one-way; 135,000 miles round-trip

You’ll notice that one-way flights are priced at more than half the round-trip price, which means that round-trip flights will always be a better deal.

This is because round-trip flights can be booked at the cheaper Flex rate, whereas one-way flights are not eligible for the Flex rate and are therefore forced into the higher Flex Plus rate (you can think of these as the “Saver” and “Standard” pricing that’s common across many loyalty programs). 

Emirates A380 First Class suite

Emirates A380 First Class suite

For Canadian travellers, Aeroplan would be the most logical point of comparison, and we can see that Emirates Skywards’s award rates compare favourably in every class of service. As per the Aeroplan Reward Chart, Aeroplan would charge 60,000–75,000, 110,000–115,000, or 140,000–160,000 miles for these round-trips in economy, business, and First Class respectively – all of which are higher than the Skywards amount.

Meanwhile, if we use the Miles Calculator to price out awards for other regions of the world, we see that they tend to be significantly more expensive and therefore less attractive of a sweet spot:

  • New York–Dubai–Tokyo:

    • Economy class: 87,500 miles one-way; 100,000 miles round-trip

    • Business class: 137,500 miles one-way; 200,000 miles round-trip

    • First Class: 187,500 miles one-way; 300,000 miles round-trip

  • Toronto–Dubai–Mauritius:

    • Economy class: 82,5000 miles one-way; 95,000 miles round-trip

    • Business class: 131,250 miles one-way; 190,000 miles round-trip

    • First Class: 178,750 miles one-way; 285,000 miles round-trip

However, the fifth-freedom flights from Singapore to Australia are priced the same as the North America–Europe ones, and seem like they would be very good sweet spots for those living in South East Asia or Australia.

  • Singapore–Melbourne or Singapore–Sydney:

    • Economy class: 38,750 miles one-way; 45,000 miles round-trip

    • Business class: 62,500 miles one-way; 90,000 miles round-trip

    • First Class: 85,000 miles one-way; 135,000 miles round-trip

The New Best Way to Book Emirates First Class

Anyway, these award chart prices have existed for a long time now, so why are they only emerging as a new sweet spot right now?

Well, that’s because these awards were previously subject to fuel surcharges of US$500+ in either direction, but now those surcharges have decreased significantly. 

(To be more precise, the Skywards program has always passed on the underlying fuel surcharges of any award ticket, and continues to do so today. It’s simply that the fuel surcharges on Emirates’s paid fares have been reduced across the board; this has been offset by higher base fares on the paid fares, but represents significant savings for award travellers.)  

You’ll now only pay around US$120 in total taxes and fees on the round-trip flights to Europe…

The Newark–Athens flight is probably a slightly better deal than New York JFK–Milan, giving you an additional two hours of flight time to enjoy in the swanky Emirates First Class cabin:

Screen Shot 2020-05-27 at 12.16.34 PM.png

Either way, paying 135,000 Emirates Skywards miles plus minimal taxes and fees for First Class to Europe is an awesome deal, and I think this redemption now represents both the new best way to fly transatlantic First Class on points, and the new best way to try out the famous Emirates First Class cabin for yourself using your points.

Prior to this, transatlantic First Class awards were quite difficult to book. Many airlines like Air France and Swiss simply do not make their First Class awards available to partner programs, and even the most accessible transatlantic First Class airline, Lufthansa, was only bookable at most 15 days prior to departure.

Emirates, on the other hand, releases a fair bit of award space well in advance. Booking two seats on the same flight might be tougher to find, and may require a fair bit of flexibility on your part, but should still very much be attainable. 

The downside is that the flights are limited to Newark–Athens and New York JFK–Milan; anything that goes via Dubai will cost more than 135,000 Skywards miles. This means that you may need to tack on some extra positioning flights if you’re originating in Canada or if you’re headed elsewhere in Europe.

The next question is: how does this redemption compare to other ways to book Emirates First Class? 

There were two popular ways to book Emirates First Class before this change: Alaska Mileage Plan and Japan Airlines Mileage Bank. Alaska redemptions began at 150,000 miles for a one-way ticket between North America and the Middle East, so it’s indisputable that 135,000 Skywards miles for a round-trip to Europe represents better value.

(Of course, there’s also the Alaska routing trick that lets you book three flights for the price of one, but I suspect that only the most hardcore aspirational travellers would consider pursuing that option.)

Meanwhile, the distance-based Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program offered a few interesting redemptions on Emirates First Class as well. The price points were not cheap, but not unreasonably high either, while the fuel surcharges should’ve also been reduced as a result of Emirates reducing fuel surcharges across the board on their paid fares.

The problem with the JAL program is that it’s very tough to earn a meaningful number of miles: the only transfer partner is Marriott Bonvoy, so you’d have to transfer over a ton of points at the ratio of 60,000 points = 25,000 miles to earn enough JAL miles for a redemption. 

In comparison, Emirates Skywards is a lot more accessible via US credit card points, and this new sweet spot gives you yet another reason to dip your toes into the US credit card market if you haven’t already. 

If you’re interested in taking advantage of this opportunity to try Emirates First Class, I’d recommend booking for as far into the future as possible.

That’s because, as reported by One Mile at a Time, Emirates has announced that their First Class showers and onboard bar & lounge on the Airbus A380 will be closed until further notice due to social distancing measures – and I mean, it’s really not the same experience without the shower in the sky!

I myself very much intend to use Emirates Skywards to secure my next Emirates First Class experience, with my preliminary plans fixed on the Euro 2020 football tournament (which will now take place in the summer of 2021, but is still being named Euro 2020). 

Conclusion

The glitz and glam of Emirates First Class is something that every aspirational traveller should experience at least once, and a massive reduction in Emirates Skywards’s fuel surcharges now makes the airline’s First Class awards much more accessible to award travellers.

135,000 Skywards miles and minimal fees between North America and Europe (or between Singapore and Australia, for any folks down under) is now one of the finest ways to fly to Europe in the fancy seats, especially as the program is a transfer partner of all four major US points currencies. I hope some of you can take advantage of this along your future travels!

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3 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Sam

    Any idea if booking for Feb 2021 is safe in terms of the shower and on board bar?

  2. Avatar
    MK

    Just one point here that specifically target’s Canadian users who plan to convert CA MR to US MR. The prevailing exchange of 1.4 really needs to be factored into the comparison with AP pricing. Strictly speaking, its not a good deal if someone were looking to transfer CA MR to the US as they’d effectively be trading 189K CA MR to secure the flight (excluding any bonus promo’s).

    Just a passing thought!

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      A very good point MK. It’s a much better deal to use US MR points earned through the signups and referrals in the US, certainly until the exchange rate moves in our favour.

Ricky

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