Emirates Cuts Their Most Valuable Unpublished Elite Perk

Filed Under: Emirates

I’ve long felt that the Gulf carriers have been leaving a lot of opportunities on the table when it comes to their loyalty programs. Gulf carriers have the capacity to provide compelling loyalty programs, but largely choose not to. As a general rule you’ll find a lot more empty premium cabin seats on an Emirates or Etihad flight, than on an American or British Airways flight.

Of course there are exceptions, like Abu Dhabi or Dubai to London, but as a general rule I consistently see the most empty premium cabin seats on Gulf carriers.

A lot of people choose to fly the Gulf carriers for their great service and fares. The Gulf carriers have among the cheapest fares out there in all cabins, and I frequently book discounted business class tickets on them.

However, they’ve failed to create a compelling reason to stay loyal to one Gulf carrier. Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, all don’t have very compelling loyalty programs, and the benefits are basically limited to priority services (premium check-in, security, boarding, and lounge access), as well as bonus miles.

None offer any sort of upgrade instruments for being an elite member. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should be like US carriers and offer unlimited free upgrades. However, I think they could drive quite a bit of additional loyalty by offering some sort of upgrade instruments.

The one consistent benefit they’ve offered is priority operational upgrades for elite members. Gulf carriers are consistently oversold in economy in many markets, especially on flights to India, many destinations in Africa, secondary cities in Europe, etc.

So as a Platinum member you’ll find yourself operationally upgraded with some regularity. It has never been a published benefit, but has still been known by many members as a perk.


Well, within the past couple of weeks, Emirates has changed how they prioritize operational upgrades in a very major way. Emirates now prioritizes operational upgrades by the fare you pay, rather than your status. That’s to say that a non-Skywards member on a full fare ticket will get upgraded ahead of a Platinum member on a discounted ticket.

This is being discussed extensively on FlyerTalk, though I’ve heard it from other sources as well.

I see both sides to this change:

  • On one hand airlines want to attract full fare passengers, so treating them well is viewed as a way of trying to win over their business in the future and showing them how good Emirates’ product is (or isn’t, in some cases)
  • Loyal Skywards members, especially those not based in the Middle East, go out of their way to be loyal to Emirates, and it makes sense to reward them; are the published rewards enough, or are prioritized operational upgrades part of the overall status offerings?


So can I see the merit of upgrading a full fare non-Skywards member over a discounted Skywards Silver member? Sure. Can I see the merit of upgrading a non-Skywards member on a mid-range fare ahead of a Platinum member on a slightly lower mid-range fare? Not so much.

What do you make of airlines prioritizing operational upgrades by fare paid rather than status?

  1. I think it is a mistake.

    Simply, they should avoid upsetting the customers who are more likely to know they are missing out on a benefit. That would be their regular, elite flyers as opposed to their occasional high revenue flyers who (1) may not know what their fare is or that it is a high fare and (2) may be so occasional on Emirates that they do not know they are missing out.

  2. I understood that Emirates honored Qantas elites with the same benefit, so this should impact them as well.

  3. Lufthansa did the same thing before but it lasted no more than a few moths..It’s just not a good idea.When it comes to op-ups, status customers should have the priority..

  4. This is basically insane, why would one than build and accrue loyalty to a carrier based far away from home, when I actually comes out to zero in perks?
    For us starting in Scandinavia, we do not have the opportunity to visit the lounges, as they are contracted, and on the return from ie. DXB, the flight leaves at O´my God it is early schedules.
    I sincerely hope that they change this service at once,

  5. I applaud their decision. In the service sector, weaker service brands (we can all name them) create loyal customers with upgrades, baggage allowances, waived fees, etc. Strong brands, e.g. Four Seasons, Singapore, etc retain their best customers with consistently superior service for the room or cabin you paid for. Rightly or wrongly, Emirates believe that travelers will purchase from them because of ongoing service experience. Time will tell if they are correct.

  6. @Jacob
    Do you have to work hard at being a dickhead or does it come naturally to you?
    Just don’t read the blogs.

  7. This is not right. I get the fact that money talks, but if an elite status member spends $10000 annually on an airliner, and another passenger who will only fly once or twice annually who paid for a full fair ticket gets the upgrade, this is very poor business practice to not award the elite member.

  8. A courtesy upgrade should indeed be afforded to those with the highest spend.

    Its unfortunate that the whole industry got off on a bad footing where airline programs were based on frequency of use rather than revenue.

    As a business owner I assign much higher value and will jump through hoops for the occasional client that spends big amount versus someone with frequent yet trivial transactions.

  9. Its rather comical how some get themselves all worked up about a courtesy operational upgrade.
    Remember these were not upgrades you were entitled to, simply ones given out as a courtesy.
    You want the premium seat, pay for it.
    In the mean time EK is free to come up with whatever methodology it sees fit in upgrading passengers, and revenue is certainly a good way to do it.

    Back in the day when I was a duty manager for a major European airline we almost always looked at fare code as primary drive of selecting passengers to upgrade.

  10. I agree with James. The customer with the highest value shall be upgraded. As check in agents cannot check the customer lifetime value, the easy way to use booking class to get a proximation.

    Note that Qatar has a “weird” system of upgrades: they give you 30 or 60 qcredits (based on your tier) that you can use for upgrades (beside lounge access, or extra baggage).

  11. Hi Ben,

    As an EK staff I can tell you the above is not correct. Plat/Gold/Silver members go ahead first and if no other status passenger, system will give us a list of high fares. So loyalty first, then come the high fares.



  12. This is exactly what Lufthansa did two years ago: the once in a lifetime granny flying on a short notice J fare was upgraded to F whereas the HON (600k miles in 2 years) in D class stayed in Business. They have meanwhile peddled back. Now it is a mix of status and fare. I guess EK will learn the hard way too…

  13. Bloody mad if you ask me, but it is EK, so nothing surprises. s a business, what would you rather: Th Joe Blow who comes along once or twice a year for a ride on full fare, or The Joe Blow who is a FF member, rides regularly 6, 7, 8 or maybe 10 times a year. It’s a no-brainer. But this would b a decision by decree from a Sheikh. They do that in Middle East. They treat women well too, have you heard!

  14. I have flew Emirates only once and that was a couple of years ago. That was from LAX to LHE. It was on a discounted ticket and all the connections to and from were pretty full. On the last leg back from Dubai to LAX they bumped me to business. I was very surprised but appreciated in greatly as its along flight to sit in economy. My first taste of business class.

  15. I think Emirates is way overrated. Sure, they get all the good press for their on-board shower in first-class but the business-class product sucks compared to American and Delta — and even United when the Polaris business-class is on planes. On the other hand, their loyalty program is just what Delta wants Sky Miles to become. Let’s hope the U.S. carriers maintain something — I’m at 98% upgrade as a diamond this year on Delta.

  16. Qatar has a qcredit system that you can use for upgrades. A platinum member will earn 60 qcredit annually and that can be used for one way upgrade on a sector between Doha and western europe AND a sector between Doha and the US. Emirates does not have a similar perk and if you ask them their platinum status is nothing to aspire to. I’m still a Slywards gold member so I can rack up miles that I use sometimes to upgrade. Other than that the benefits seem to be limited (well, I only fly them J/F).

  17. @Jacob

    Setup an appointment in local massage parlor and high end restaurant. Getting reservation is more difficult than finding seats on EK, I am sure EK is no match in service quality.

    Otherwise, your gym membership gives shower privileges and order DP online.

  18. Personally I’ve given up on Emirates and switched to Etihad.
    Abu Dhabi airport is quieter and more peaceful than Dubai.
    Emirates somehow has the feel of being on a luxury bus service. Etihad still feels like an airline.
    Perhaps the only plus point is Emirates fly the A380 on more routes, but Etihad are now starting to fly the 787 on new routes.
    I don’t know what Etihad’s policy for upgrades are yet, I’ve flown in both first and business but not been upgraded complimentary yet. In over fifteen years of loyalty I was only upgraded from business to first class twice for free. Not really very good if you ask me.
    Still Etihad apartment against Emirates first is a no brainier, Etihad is at least three times as big, and yes I love Caviar which EK have and EY do not, but I can buy myself a tin on the ground. The far superior seat if EY has more value to me.

  19. I am a platinum member and I don’t like the fact that a non frequent flyer gets more benefits than I do – despite me having used emirates 2 times a week for the last 2 years. I now focus on using other airlines, so i can become elite member with as many as i can. Emirates definitely made a mistake here.

  20. I am platinum and have seen this on my last several flights. It was great to be upgraded when I travel with my family, but since upgrades are no longer a perk, we are changing airlines for lower prices. I can’t justify the extra cost for Emirates just for lounge access….

  21. Thank you all for sharing , I am a gold card holders and also noticed this as well, for an upgrade you need to pay the highest economy ticket, and on the other side something new from emirates, if you buy a saver ticket which is the lowest
    Fare in economy they will send you a cheap pay upgrade which is a cheaper way to get an upgrade then to pay the full flex plus , actually you are getting a better deal if you buy the cheapest ticket ticket

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 *