Chase shook up the miles and points world this week when it announced Emirates Skywards as the newest Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Understandably, this had people excited as new transfer options are always fun. People then quickly realized (or remembered) that Emirates Skywards is a pretty underwhelming program as a whole.
That being said, you can still find some solid uses for Emirates miles so we’re going to take a look at how you can get some great value out of the program. Before we dive in, keep in mind that there are other ways to book the award flights discussed below.
Depending on how quickly you earn points and miles, you might find using other programs to be a better deal for you. However, it’s so easy to earn Skywards miles now that Emirates partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One and even Marriott Bonvoy. Before you miss a fun opportunity, let’s dig into some of the fun ways you can redeem Skywards miles.
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How to Earn Emirates Skywards Miles
If you want to earn Emirates miles, you’ll generally want to use cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards as these cards come with lucrative welcome bonuses and bonus categories for ongoing spend. Both of these programs transfer to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio.
American Express Gold Card
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Alternatively, you can also transfer miles earned with the Capital One Venture and Capital One Spark Miles cards at a 2:1 ratio. This isn’t our first choice as the transfer ratio isn’t great but it could come through for you in a pinch or when Capital One runs a transfer bonus promo.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 monthsLearn more
Capital One Spark Miles for Business
50,000 miles after spending $4,500 in the first 3 monthsLearn more
Finally, Marriott points can be transferred at a 3:1 ratio and transfers of 60,000 points will get you a 5,000-mile bonus bringing you to 25,000 miles.
Okay, before we get into some of the fun ways, just remember that Emirates passes on carrier-imposed surcharges on award tickets so the total taxes/fees can be steep. You’ll have to weigh that against some competitive award rates and decide what is best for you.
Upgrade to Emirates Business Class to Europe
When I get asked about upgrading an economy ticket to business class, it usually leads to a conversation about how booking a business class award ticket is almost always a better choice than upgrading to business class. Well, for those who love exceptions, here’s one of the few.
So, what makes this a special case? Well, unfortunately, Emirates tacks on some steep surcharges to award tickets on its fifth freedom routes to Europe. Let’s consider its flight from New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP). Total taxes/fees on a round-trip business class award can exceed $1,100.
Rather than using 90,000 Skywards miles + $1,100 to book a round-trip business class ticket, you could put that $1,100 (sometimes less) toward an economy flex ticket and use 78,000 miles to upgrade. Same flight, same experience but you’ll earn some miles on the economy flex ticket and use 12,000 fewer miles to book. Sounds like a win to me.
If $1,100 is out of your price range and you have points to burn, you could also use 115,000 miles to upgrade an economy saver ticket which can find for less than $500 on many dates. It’s 25,000 more miles than an award ticket would require but you could save over $600 in cash.
Don’t forget to check out the inflight bar if you fly to Milan. It just might be the best bar in the sky.
Japan Airlines Business Class to Japan
Japan Airlines business class is a great way to fly to Japan (and beyond) thanks to lie-flat seats with a bit of privacy and top-notch flight crews. While people often forget that it’s a partner of Emirates, you can actually get a solid deal. For 125,000 Skywards miles and about $360 in taxes/fees, you can book a round-trip business class award.
If you have a stash of American AAdvantage or Alaska Mileage Plan miles, you might prefer to book the same flights for 120,000 miles without the surcharges so you can keep the total taxes/fees lower.
Korean Air Business Class to South Korea
Previously, Korean Air SkyPass was a partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and was a great way to book flights to South Korea and other parts of Asia. Unfortunately, that partnership is no longer but you can use Emirates Skywards to book Korean Air flights.
In fact, you can use 105,000 Skywards miles to book a round-trip business class ticket to South Korea. While the taxes/fees will be close to $350, that’s still a solid way to book your trip. You could use Delta SkyMiles to reduce your out of pocket cost, but you’d need 170,000 miles for a round-trip ticket.
Qantas First Class from the West Coast to Australia
While I really like the option to book Qantas first class from the U.S. to Australia with 110,000 American miles or an even better 70,000 Alaska miles, these options only leave you with Marriott Bonvoy as a transfer partner. Sure, you can use co-branded cards to earn miles with either program, but the bonus categories don’t hold a candle to what Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards cards offer.
If you earn Chase and Amex points and want to book Qantas first class, skip over the British Airways option and check out Emirates Skywards. You can book a one-way non-stop first-class flight from Los Angeles to Sydney or Melbourne for 144,000 miles.
Again, I’d much prefer to book with Alaska miles but I also understand that it might take more effort to earn them for many people. So, think of this as a solid backup option.
Qantas Business Class Hawaii to Australia
For our friends based in Hawaii, you can book the 10+ hour flight from Honolulu to Sydney in business class for 72,000 Skywards miles. Qantas flies an Airbus A330 on this route with lie-flat seats in business class. Each seat has direct-aisle access thank to a 1-2-1 cabin configuration so you won’t have to climb over anyone when you want to stretch your legs nor will anyone have to climb over you.
Alternatively, you could book this same one-way flight for 55,000 Alaska miles or 65,000 American miles. In practice, the toughest part with this one will be finding business class award space.
GOL Economy Within Brazil
Stepping away from the fun of business and first class flights across the world, here’s a great one if you plan to visit Brazil. Since cash tickets within the country can be quite steep, Emirates Skywards can really come through for you thanks to its partnership with GOL.
This Brazilian carrier can help you hop around the country to see all kinds of amazing places. With Skywards, you can book economy flights for as few as 4,500 miles. Emirates provides a complete list of routes and rates for flights on GOL.
If you only have Chase Ultimate Rewards points, this will be your best option. However, if you have Amex Membership Rewards points, you’ll also want to check Etihad Guest before you book. On some GOL routes, Etihad will allow you to book for fewer miles.
Stop in Dubai on Your Way to Europe
If you’re not immediately repulsed by $1,700 in taxes/fees, stick around for this one.
You can book a round-trip ticket to Milan in business class on Emirates but instead of booking the non-stop you can connect in Dubai. In fact, you can include a stopover in Dubai and take a quick drive to Abu Dhabi or even a hop over to Muscat, Oman. Once you’ve landed in Milan, there are plenty of easily reachable Italian cities to visit and Switzerland is only a fun train ride away.
All in, you’re looking at 125,000 Skywards miles + ~$1,700 for the flights from New York to Dubai to Milan and back to New York. You could book this same trip with Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank miles but it’s much harder to acquire the 110,000 miles you’d need as JAL only partners with Marriott Bonvoy.
Alaska Mileage Plan can also book this trip but you’d be looking at 210,000 miles for the round-trip. Of course, the benefit of booking with Alaska miles is that you don’t have to pay the surcharges so your taxes/fees would be significantly reduced. You just have to find a way to earn a ton of miles.
How to Search for Award Space and Book
If you want to use Emirates Skywards to book award flights on Emirates itself, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue or Qantas, you can search and book online. The process is pretty simple, though. Once you’ve logged into your Skywards account, you can run a search from the home page if you want an Emirates flight. However, if you want to book a flight on Qantas, you’ll need to select “Advanced search” first then select “Book Classic Rewards” then “Search partner flights only.”
If you want to book any of Emirates’ other partners, you’ll need to call to book. Knowing where to search for award space on these other partners is the key though. Here’s a complete list of Emirates’ partners and where you can search for award space:
|Air Mauritius||Call Emirates|
|GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes||Delta|
|Japan Airlines||American Airlines|
|Malaysia Airlines||American Airlines|
|S7 Airlines||British Airways|
|South African Airways||United|
|TAP Air Portugal||United|
Once you have found award space, you can call Emirates (800-777-3999) and ask an agent to search for the flights you want. I haven’t spent a ton of time on the phone with them, but they seem to be pretty good at quickly searching for award space and quoting the Skywards miles and total taxes/fees required.
As I alluded to up top, Emirates Skywards isn’t exactly an industry-leading program but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it entirely. Hopefully, the comparison’s I provided will give you an idea of how Emirates stacks up against other programs on specific booking options.
To an extent, it will come down to what points and miles you can earn and how easily you acquire said points and miles. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points are the bread and butter of many people’s earning strategies, using Skywards might have an advantage over other options that take a bit longer for many people to acquire.
If nothing else, Chase’s partnership with Emirates gives beginners who want to experience the glitz and glamour of Emirates a way to book the experience earlier in their points journey.
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