Emirates Eliminating Partner First Class Awards

Filed Under: Awards, Emirates

Emirates is known for having one of the world’s best first class products, whether you want to shower in first class on the A380, or enjoy the fully enclosed suite on the 777.

Well, it appears that there will soon be fewer ways to redeem miles for this product, as Emirates will allegedly stop making first class awards available to members of most partner airline frequent flyer programs. How big of a deal is this?

Emirates cutting partner first class awards

Alaska Mileage Plan miles can be redeemed for travel on Emirates, including in first class. Well, it’s now being claimed that as of April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer give partner airlines access to first class awards. Per Alaska Airlines’ website:

Book your First Class award travel with Emirates by March 31, 2021. Beginning April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer allow partner access to First Class award bookings. Mileage Plan members can continue to redeem on the Emirates’ award-winning Economy Class and Business Class.

In other words, starting next spring, if you want to redeem miles for Emirates first class, you’ll have to book directly through the Emirates Skywards program. Or at least that’s the claim.

Emirates’ A380 first class

Is this specific to Alaska Airlines, or all partners?

As you can see, Alaska Airlines claims that Emirates will no longer allow partner access to first class awards. That makes it sound like this change applies to all of Emirates partners, though is that actually the case? I’m working on clarifying, though have some initial thoughts.

First of all, the timing is interesting. First class awards through Alaska Mileage Plan are being cut off as of April 1, which is a day after Alaska is expected to join the oneworld alliance.

Personally I’m inclined to believe that’s a coincidence:

  • Emirates has other airline partners that belong to major alliances, and they have access to first class awards — this includes Japan Airlines (oneworld) and Korean Air (SkyTeam)
  • It seems like in general Emirates has been moving in the direction of restricting awards to partners, as the airline has increasingly been blocking award seats to some partners
  • There are other airlines that only make award seats available to members of their own program, and when that’s the case it typically applies to all partner airlines (though there are some limited exceptions)
  • It has been confirmed that Qantas’ frequent flyer program will continue to have access to Emirates first class award space, which isn’t surprising since the two airlines have a special relationship

So while I can’t be 100% sure yet, it does seem to me like this change applies to most of Emirates’ partners, and that’s wholly consistent with the policies we’ve seen at other airlines.

Is Alaska the only partner impacted by this?

Is this a big deal?

If you asked me this one or five years ago, I would have said this is a huge deal. However, some major things have changed:

The truth is that at this point I don’t consider there to be that many situations where booking through Alaska Mileage Plan is a better deal than booking through Emirates Skywards. That’s especially true when you consider that:

  • Emirates Skywards is a partner of all major transferable points currencies, and there are sometimes even transfer bonuses
  • Alaska Mileage Plan always couldn’t access at least some Emirates award space, while booking through Skywards gets you all that space

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank does have excellent redemption rates on Emirates, but the issue is that Japan Airlines miles are so hard to come by, as the only easy way to acquire them is through Marriott Bonvoy (and those points aren’t particularly easy to earn anymore either).

Just to compare a few first class redemption rates between Alaska Mileage Plan and Emirates Skywards:

  • Alaska Mileage Plan charges 180,000 miles one-way between the US and Europe, while Emirates Skywards charges 85,000 miles one-way or 135,000 miles roundtrip (Emirates flies from New York to Milan and Newark to Athens, though in fairness Emirates lets you route via Dubai, if you prefer)
  • Alaska Mileage Plan charges 150,000 miles one-way between New York and Dubai, while Emirates Skywards charges 136,250 miles one-way or 217,500 miles roundtrip
  • Alaska Mileage Plan charges 200,000 miles one-way between New York and Johannesburg (via Dubai), while Emirates Skywards charges 178,750 miles one-way or 285,000 miles roundtrip

The one advantage of booking through Alaska is that the program allows stopovers on one-way awards, while Emirates only allows stopovers on roundtrips.

Emirates’ 777 first class

Bottom line

Emirates will start restricting first class awards to members of its own frequent flyer program as of April 1, 2021. At least that’s what Alaska Airlines is claiming, though it seems that at least Qantas is excluded from this change.

Emirates would be far from the only airline to restrict some award seats to members of its own program, so this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

While more options are always good, personally I don’t view this as being that huge of a deal. Ever since Emirates drastically reduced fuel surcharges, the value proposition of booking through the Skywards program has improved significantly.

What do you make of this change to Emirates first class awards?

(Tip of the hat to Frequent Miler)

  1. I agree with you that AS losing access to EK F awards is not that big of a deal nowadays. In addition, I’m not sure if that many people would be willing to fly an ultra-longhaul flight between now and Mar 31, 2021.

  2. *shrug*

    It’s become a highly overrated (and outdated) product, and not worth the cost at those mileage prices.

    To think the April 1 cut off is just a coincidence is naive, and more to do with the parity of redemption rates across (more) partners.

  3. Had EK F booked via QF for my first time March 2020. Qantas devalued Emirates awards before my trip, ok no biggie, I’ve already got it booked. COVID happened and then Emirates awards got devalued again – transferred more points in to fill the gap and rebooked for March 2021. Fast forward and my Emirates flight no longer has F and now this so now I’m sitting on a bunch of worthless QF points. Ugh.

  4. Although totally unnecessary, I’m glad to have flown it once about five years ago after reading Lucky’s review. Back then it was only 100K Alaska miles from Dallas to Colombo with a stopover in Dubai. I flew from SAN to SEA to DFW to fly the 380, even though there was award availability out of SEA on the 777. I think it was the last Emirates 380 flight from DFW at the end of January 2016. It was fun to enjoy the caviar, the single malts, and the shower in the sky. Thanks for the idea, Lucky.

  5. I may very well be wrong, but I can’t imagine they will restrict access to F for QFF members. There might be a small revolt as the “seamless” partnership with EK was largely how QF justified nixing a lot of its international service.

  6. I will miss the fun combos that Alaska allowed on single routings. I think I’ve routed SFO to HKG via DXB (with stopover) at least 3 times – as a single award. Was even able to secure this routing for two people in F all the way. Already had another redemption booked for the end of this month booked in January, but EK has cancelled flights – and now there is not much point in going. Yes, the awards were expensive, but EK F was pretty easy to book with Alaska. Being West Coast based, hoarding Alaksa Miles was never too much of an opportunity cost – because I always had a use for them. Dreading if I transfer miles to EK and then have to cancel – will wind up with a pile of miles that I cannot really use.

  7. First class expert here (paid ticket only). Having flown Emirates First class dozens of times, the service has gone downhill over the past 3-5 years. Much better service on Cathay or Japan Airlines

  8. Ahhh AS and EK… DAR-DXB-LGW/LHR-DXB-DFW with 3 showers back in 2015 for 100K (if not mistaken)… the good old days…

  9. Sounds like a bit of Alaska chicanery to me. There was a time when EK F redemptions using Alaska MP miles was a (welcome) big deal, but after the shock unilateral devaluation by MP that redemption didn’t make sense, and still doesn’t.
    If this new restriction will apply to all other partner airlines, then yes, it’s a big deal. EK Skywards miles are simply inaccessible to many players, so EK can look forward to many empty, or near empty, F cabins going forward.
    A step down to Business on Emirates would not be a palatable option as their J product is firmly in the ‘meh’ category, at best.

  10. @sjs, I thing QF would prefer you to forget all that!
    Despite the relatively high cost using QFF points and cash co-payment, it provides an acceptable way to fly EK F.
    Just this one time I would agree with Endre (Mr First Class *Cash Only*) that the EK F experience is not what it used to be.
    A real bummer if you’d forked out cash I imagine. (wink, wink!)

  11. For Ben or Tiffany or anyone that cares, the Gmail newsletter is * STILL * showing up with message clipped….and its annoying….and tiffany said a while ago yall would figure it out…but it’s still there.

    just thought i’d remind u *nicely* to hopefully fix that.


  12. For some reason, my comment from 10 hours ago has not been published. As mentioned at that time, I spoke with Qantas this morning, and they have confirmed that QFF will not be impacted.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *