Until recently, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program was the best way to book Emirates First Class and experience the “shower in the sky” for yourself.
As a result, there’s only one practical way to book Emirates First Class and the shower in the sky going forward: redeeming miles through Emirates’s own program, starting at 85,000 Emirates Skywards miles.
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).
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.
Redeem Emirates Skywards Miles for Emirates First Class
Emirates Skywards does not offer a published fixed award chart; instead, you 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. However, through repeated searches on the Miles Calculator, we can price out some popular redemptions departing from Toronto (Emirates’s only Canadian gateway airport):
- Economy class: 62,500 miles one-way; 72,500 miles round-trip
- Business class: 100,000 miles one-way; 145,000 miles round-trip
- First Class: 136,250 miles one-way
Economy class: 82,500 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
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
(Economy class and business class are priced such that one-ways are more than half the round-trip price, which means that round-trip flights will always be a better deal. However, for First Class, there’s only one fixed price based on the one-way rate – you won’t save miles by booking round-trip.)
You’ll notice that a direct flight to Dubai is fairly expensive, clocking in at 136,250 Skywards miles in First Class. The pricing only increases from there if you were to fly onwards to another region.
The Best Sweet Spot: Fifth Freedom Flights to Europe
Here’s where things get more interesting. Let’s look at Emirates’s two fifth-freedom flights between North America and Europe: New York JFK–Milan and Newark–Athens.
These are priced extremely 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
Indeed, I’d say that the single-best deal for redeeming Emirates Skywards miles on Emirates First Class is by flying one of the fifth-freedom routes from New York to Europe for only 85,000 Skywards miles.
You’ll get 9+ hours of flying time on the Athens route, which is plenty of time to maximize the in-flight dining, showering, bar-hopping experience on the Airbus A380 (if not the sleeping experience, since you’ll probably want to remain awake the whole time).
One thing you’ll miss out on? The ground experience in Dubai. But considering the mileage savings and the fact that the First Class flight itself is naturally the showpiece event, I’d say it’s a fair trade-off.
Fuel Surcharges and Award Availability
Previously, Emirates First Class awards through Emirates Skywards were subject to fuel surcharges of US$500+ in either direction, but those surcharges have decreased significantly as of mid-2020.
(To be more precise, the Skywards program continues to pass along underlying fuel surcharges. It’s simply that the surcharges on Emirates’s paid fares have decreased across the board; this has been offset by higher base fares on the paid fares, but represents significant savings for award travellers.)
You’ll pay around US$60 in total taxes and fees on the outbound flight to Europe…
…and €80–90 on the return, depending on the route you’ve chosen.
Paying 85,000 Emirates Skywards miles plus minimal taxes and fees for First Class to Europe is an awesome deal.
I’d say that this redemption represents both the best way to fly transatlantic First Class on points, and the best way to experience the famous Emirates First Class using your points.
After all, transatlantic First Class awards to Europe can be rather difficult to optimize. 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, is 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; you’d need to tack on some extra positioning flights if you’re originating in Canada or if you’re headed elsewhere in Europe.
Other Ways to Book Emirates First Class
With Alaska and Emirates phasing out their partnership, there really aren’t many other ways to book Emirates First Class on points these days.
The distance-based Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program can still be used to book Emirates First Class awards until September 1, 2021. JAL offers a few interesting redemptions on Emirates First Class: the price points aren’t cheap, but aren’t unreasonably high either.
Similarly, Qantas Frequent Flyer can also be used to book awards in Emirates First Class, albeit at a lower value proposition than JAL.
However, the problem with JAL 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.
Meanwhile, you can transfer Amex US and Citi points to Qantas Frequent Flyer, but the pricing is largely more expensive than Emirates Skywards – so you may as well book through Emirates Skywards.
The glitz and glam of Emirates First Class is something that every aspirational traveller should experience at least once.
With the Alaska Mileage Plan partnership sadly being phased out, Emirates’s own Skywards loyalty program is going to be the best way to book this incredible product going forward.
85,000 Skywards miles and minimal fees between North America and Europe makes for 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.
Meanwhile, 136,250 Skywards miles for a longer flight to Dubai isn’t a bad deal either, though you’ll need to put some extra work into building up your Emirates Skywards balance.