I’m in Dubai at the moment, looking forward to a return journey back to Toronto by way of Emirates First Class.
Back when I first wrote about this trip, I had mentioned that I redeemed 150,000 Alaska miles for this one-way journey on Emirates First Class. Now, let’s be honest: that’s an obscene number of Alaska miles to spend on a single flight!
Alaska Mileage Plan is a particularly valuable program thanks to its wide range of airline partners with outstanding premium cabins. With other First Class products, like Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, starting at only 70,000 miles for a one-way, dropping 150,000 miles per person on a single flight in Emirates First Class was certainly a tough pill to swallow.
But what if I told you that those 150,000 miles were getting me not one, not two, but three flights in Emirates First Class, for a combined flight time of 27 hours and 20 minutes?
And what if those three flights would encompass not only the Airbus A380, on which I’ll get to experience the shower in the sky and the onboard bar, but also the Boeing 777 with Emirates New First Class, widely considered to be the world’s absolute best and featuring a fully-enclosed private suite designed by Mercedes-Benz?
I had promised you an update to my Emirates First Class booking process back when I first wrote about this trip. Here’s the story.
Alaska’s Quirky Routing Rules on Emirates
I’ve written in the past about the quirky stopover policies and routing rules that lie within the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program. While the program is valuable enough if you simply stick to one-way and round-trip journeys (after all, it’s one of the few programs to allow a stopover on a one-way redemption), the fun really begins when you start experimenting with stopovers and open-jaws using the multi-city search engine on the Alaska website.
Alaska Mileage Plan negotiates independent agreements with each of their airline partners, so the stopover and routing policies vary from partner to partner. On Emirates, the basic rules are as follows:
You can only redeem Alaska miles for a trip originating from, or terminating in, a North American city
The other end of your trip may be in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, or the Middle East
You may have a stopover in Dubai on a one-way routing
Your trip must take place on flights operated by Emirates or Alaska Airlines only (as Alaska awards cannot combine more than one partner airline)
And that’s about it!
Note that there aren’t really any rules on whether or not you can route through the same city twice on a single ticket, or even any kind of maximum permitted mileage (MPM) restriction either. A program like Aeroplan uses these rules to limit how convoluted your routing may be, but Alaska, for the most part, does not.
So what does this mean? Well, the multi-city search engine allows you to input two separate searches to be combined into a single one-way redemption. And if you play around with it enough, you can get it to spit out some very intriguing routings…
…such as a Middle East to North America redemption, via Europe and the Middle East!
Yes, you read that right. This routing takes you from Dubai to Europe, then back to Dubai, then over to North America, all for the price of a single Middle East–North America one-way redemption. In First Class, that’s 150,000 Alaska miles – which works out to an average cost of 50,000 miles per First Class segment. That’s starting to look like a pretty sweet deal, isn’t it?
And here’s what’s crazy about this. Imagine if I had only booked a flight from Europe to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Toronto (so without the first flight at the start). That would count as a Europe to North America redemption, which costs a whopping 180,000 Alaska miles!
I’m therefore basically saving 30,000 miles per person by starting in Dubai and adding an additional seven-hour First Class flight into the mix. Funny how that works, eh?
Now, for practical purposes, this routing option likely won’t be of much use if you actually need to travel to Europe. That’s because it doesn’t seem possible to actually have a stopover in Europe – the time between your flights from/to Dubai must be shorter than 24 hours, or else the search engine won’t return anything.
So really, this quirky routing is only useful for those of you who want to maximize your Emirates First Class experience to the fullest possible, because you must complete all three flights in quick succession of each other. But hey, I know there’s many of you like me out there!
If you’re travelling between North America and the Middle East with a flexible schedule, and you’re happy to simply indulge in Emirates First Class for as long as possible, then this is a fantastic opportunity to ease away the pain of splurging 150,000 Alaska miles on Emirates First Class by transforming that into three flights instead.
Emirates New First Class on the Boeing 777
That’s not the end of the story, though. Far from it.
You see, Emirates tends to make First Class award space readily available on their Airbus A380s, which is the plane that features the famous shower in the sky, outlandishly blinged-out cabin interiors, and the onboard bar between First and business class for passengers to socialize.
As the world’s largest operator of the Airbus A380, Emirates uses the plane on most of their long-haul flights, including the Dubai–Toronto route. I had secured two award seats on this flight without too much trouble on my intended date of travel.
But there’s also Emirates New First Class on the Boeing 777, which is a product that the Dubai-based airline dubbed the “Game Changer” when they unveiled it in late 2017. This extremely intimate First Class cabin features only six suites, which are fully enclosed with walls on all four sides and a floor-to-ceiling sliding door, thus providing a level of privacy and exclusiveness that no other airline product can match.
The swanky cabin interiors are inspired by a luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicle, and the product also treats the passenger to all sorts of over-the-top technological features, like virtual windows in the middle seats and a video-chat link to the galley that allows you to speak to the crew face-to-face from the privacy of your suite.
The problem with Emirates New First Class is that it’s only available on the new Boeing 777s that Emirates has taken delivery of recently, and the airline hasn’t been very diligent about reconfiguring their old planes with these new First Class suites.
Indeed, there are only nine 777 aircraft within Emirates’s entire fleet that feature the New First Class, serving only a few select destinations like Brussels, Geneva, London Stansted, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Tokyo Haneda, so if you do want to get on one of these flights, you’ll most likely have to go out of your way to do so.
But that’s not the only difficulty with booking Emirates New First Class. Emirates guards the First Class award space very tightly on the Boeing 777s with New First Class, and typically does not release award seats until only two days before the flight.
Based on my research, at the T–2 mark, Emirates will release either one or two First Class award seats on these flights depending on how many seats remain unsold:
If five or six First Class seats remain unsold, Emirates will release two award seats
If four First Class seats remain unsold, Emirates will release one award seats
If three or fewer First Class seats remain unsold, Emirates will not release any award seats
After figuring out this pattern, I knew what I needed to do in order to try both the 777 New First Class and the A380 First Class on my way back from Dubai to Toronto.
I needed to book a convoluted routing that goes Dubai–Europe–Dubai–Toronto for 150,000 Alaska miles in First Class. The European destination would ideally be one that features the 777 New First Class, but I’d have to book it in either economy or business and then upgrade to First Class within two days of the flight. Rather arbitrarily, I chose Geneva.
Then I needed to wait until two days in advance of my travel date, when award space would open up for the 777 New First Class on my chosen flight, and I could pay Alaska the change fee of US$125 per person to upgrade those segments. Simple, right?
But wait, there was one complicating factor: What if the First Class seats on my chosen flight had already been booked up by cash-paying customers, and therefore no award seats were released?
Well, Geneva is only one of a handful of European destinations that are served with the new Boeing 777s, so if my chosen flight did indeed get booked up, I could then change to a series of available flights to Frankfurt or Brussels, and the routing would remain legal.
(Of course, I also had to ask my girlfriend Jessica the question of whether she’d be willing to spend an entire day flying around in Emirates New First Class for fun. She responded, “Do I have a choice?”)
Thankfully, in the end, my Plan A worked out well.
No one booked any additional First Class seats on the flights I had chosen, so two days beforehand, Emirates indeed released two First Class seats on the Dubai–Geneva route (and back!), and I was able to change my itinerary on the Alaska website to upgrade those two segments into First Class.
And just like that, what will surely be my most outlandish First Class adventure yet was set in motion.
Unparalleled privacy, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, virtual windows, the shower in the sky, and the onboard bar – all with free-flowing caviar and Dom Perignon throughout, accompanied with world-class gourmet cuisine. Emirates First Class on the Boeing 777 and Airbus A380: I’m ready for you.
You know, I’m usually hesitant to call any travel experience a “once-in-a-lifetime” endeavour, but I’m pretty sure that THIS is something I’ll be perfectly fine with doing just once, and never again.
Flying around on a 27-hour-long journey, including a full round-trip between the Middle East and Europe for no real reason other than trying out an opulent Emirates First Class cabin, is taking the sheer excess and extravagance a little too far, even for myself. But hey, the opportunity is there, so I might as well give it a go at least once!