Late last year we learned that Emirates Skywards would increasingly restrict first class awards to members of its own Skywards frequent flyer program. As of April 1, 2021, Emirates pulled first class awards from Alaska Mileage Plan. Now there’s a further update — as of September 1, 2021, Emirates will pull first class awards from Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.
Let’s go over what we know about these changes.
In this post:
Emirates first class awards pulled from Alaska Mileage Plan
In November 2020, Alaska Mileage Plan announced that Emirates first class awards would no longer be bookable as of April 1, 2021 (while seemingly unrelated, this coincided with when Alaska Airlines joined oneworld).
Here’s how Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan described the change on its 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.
Interestingly Alaska suggested that “Emirates will no longer allow partner awards access to first class,” though initially these awards were only pulled for Mileage Plan, and not other partner frequent flyer programs.
Personally I didn’t consider this to be a huge deal — while redeeming Alaska Mileage Plan miles for Emirates first class used to be a great deal, there was a massive devaluation in early 2016, which made the value of this much worse.
Emirates’ A380 first class
Emirates first class awards will be pulled from Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
Probably the best partner program through which to book Emirates first class awards has been Japan Airlines Mileage Bank. Unfortunately it has been announced that as of September 1, 2021, Emirates first class awards will no longer be bookable through Mileage Bank:
Effective from September 1, 2021, new bookings for First Award Tickets with Emirates (EK) will not be accepted. First Class Award tickets that are already booked or ticketed could continue to be used for travel on Emirates on/after September 1, 2021.
For context, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank has a distance based award chart for travel on Emirates, based on the cumulative distance flown. You can find the pricing below.
This award chart is really lucrative, and offers among the best pricing for travel on Emirates. The major catch is that Japan Airlines Mileage Bank miles aren’t easy to come by — Marriott Bonvoy is the only major partner that Mileage Bank has, so unless you’re a Japan Airlines frequent flyer, most of us don’t have a practical way to generate a large balance of Mileage Bank miles.
Emirates’ old 777 first class
Is Emirates restricting partner awards a big deal?
If you asked me in the past, I would have probably said that this is a huge deal. However, nowadays I don’t think this is that bad, as booking through Emirates Skywards represents an increasingly good value:
- Emirates Skywards miles are easy to come by, given all the transferable points currencies that can be converted into Skywards miles
- As of May 2020, fuel surcharges when booking awards through Emirates Skywards were decreased drastically, significantly improving the value proposition of these redemptions
The way I view it:
- For most people, booking through Emirates Skywards has represented a better value than booking through Alaska Mileage Plan
- While Japan Airlines Mileage Bank offered better value than Emirates Skywards, Mileage Bank miles are so tough to come by, so there weren’t many practical situations where that redemption option was valuable
- Qantas Frequent Flyer still has access to Emirates first class awards, though redemption rates aren’t very good, so booking through Emirates Skywards is a better value
Just to give some examples of Emirates Skywards first class award redemption rates:
- Emirates Skywards charges 85,000 miles one-way or 135,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Europe (Emirates flies from New York to Milan and Newark to Athens)
- Emirates Skywards charges 136,250 miles one-way or 217,500 miles roundtrip between the US and Dubai
- Emirates Skywards charges 178,750 miles one-way or 285,000 miles roundtrip between the US and Johannesburg (via Dubai)
Emirates’ new 777 first class
As of April 2021, Emirates pulled first class award availability from Alaska Mileage Plan, and now as of September 2021, Emirates will pull first class award availability from Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.
Personally I don’t view this as being a huge deal, given the extent to which Emirates Skywards has improved as a program, thanks to the great reduction in carrier imposed surcharges. Add in how easy Emirates Skywards miles are to come by, and that’s a useful option for many people to travel in one of my favorite first class products in the world.
What do you make of these changes to accessing Emirates first class awards?