How To Redeem Miles For Emirates First Class

How To Redeem Miles For Emirates First Class

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Emirates offers one of my favorite first class products in the world. I consider Emirates’ new 777 first class to be the world’s best first class product, while I love Emirates’ A380 first class for the shower suite and onboard bar.

Fortunately you don’t have to spend $10,000+ per ticket to fly Emirates first class, as it’s possible to redeem rewards points for travel in these luxurious cabins. In this post I wanted to cover the basics of redeeming miles for Emirates first class, and how to actually secure award space.

Redeeming Skywards miles for Emirates first class

The best way to redeem miles for Emirates first class is through the Emirates Skywards program. Savvy points collectors know to take advantage of loyalty program arbitrage opportunities, so that the airline they want to fly and the airline program they redeem through often aren’t the same.

However, over the years Emirates has greatly restricted partner first class award space. Therefore nowadays Emirates Skywards is the best program for redeeming for Emirates first class in terms of availability, pricing, and ease of earning miles.

Redeem Skywards miles for travel in Emirates first class

How many miles do you need for an Emirates first class award?

Emirates doesn’t have an award chart, but rather has an award mileage calculator. Just follow the link and select your origin and destination, and whether you want to travel one-way or roundtrip, and you’ll be shown the award cost. The cost is consistent in a given market, and you can expect that the pricing is broadly distance based.

Emirates Skywards consistently charges half as much for one-way first class awards as for roundtrips, so there’s not really an advantage to booking a roundtrip. To give you a general sense of first class award pricing:

  • A one-way award from New York to Milan or Newark to Athens will cost you 85,000 Skywards miles
  • A one-way award from Washington to Dubai will cost you 136,250 miles
  • A one-way award from Los Angeles to Dubai to Male will cost you 168,750 miles

As you can see, the value here differs quite a bit. In general redeeming for first class on fifth freedom flights between the United States and Europe is a real sweet spot of the program.

Enjoy Emirates’ signature caviar service

Are there fuel surcharges on Emirates awards?

When redeeming miles, Emirates Skywards does pass on whatever carrier imposed surcharges (often referred to as fuel surcharges) would be charged on a revenue ticket. These do change over time, but have been increased significantly recently due to higher fuel costs.

Between the United States and Dubai (and beyond) in first class, you can expect to pay $500+ per person one-way. Meanwhile between the United States and Europe in first class, they’re much lower, at closer to $100 per person one-way. Hopefully these go down again over time as oil prices decrease.

Emirates has fuel surcharges on award tickets

Does Emirates allow stopovers on award tickets?

Emirates Skywards does allow stopovers on one-way first class awards without requiring any additional miles. However, if you want a stopover on a one-way award, you do need to book by phone. Fortunately Skywards agents are pretty well trained in booking these kinds of itineraries.

Note that you can even modify a booking after initial ticketing to add a stopover. In other words, if you book a New York to Dubai award, you could later (before departure) add a Dubai to Male segment and just pay the difference in miles and fees.

Have a stopover in Dubai on an Emirates award ticket

How do you earn Emirates Skywards miles?

One of the awesome things about Emirates Skywards is how easy it is to earn the miles. Skywards is transfer partners with all major transferable points currencies, including Amex Membership Rewards, Capital OneChase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou, and all points transfer at a 1:1 ratio.

While Emirates award rates might not always be so low, it’s fantastic that there are so many ways to accrue these miles.

There is one quirk to be aware of if booking an award through Emirates’ website. In order to redeem miles through emirates.com, you’ll need more than enough miles for your award ticket, or else you’ll get an error message about having insufficient miles. If you encounter this issue, simply use the Emirates app, and then having exactly the right number of miles will work. This is worth being aware of for those transferring points from a partner.

How do you search Emirates first class award availability?

You can search Emirates first class award availability directly on emirates.com. Just select the “Classic rewards” box, and then you can search by route and date. There’s even a flexible date option, so that you can search one week at a time (three days before and three days after your desired travel date).

Emirates’ award search tool

How many Emirates first class award seats are there?

The above covers the basics of the logistic of redeeming miles for Emirates first class, but how do you actually find award availability? Unfortunately finding availability is the hardest part of this whole exercise, so let me share some tips and observations:

  • Emirates is inconsistent about making award seats available; Emirates doesn’t open a certain number of first class award seats per flight, so there’s a lot of variability
  • On some routes Emirates may open one or two first class award seats when the schedule opens, while on other routes Emirates may not; and that also varies over time, as Emirates sometimes opens award seats in spurts
  • Availability varies based on how many first class seats are in the cabin, and that depends on which plane you’re flying — Emirates’ A380s have 14 first class seats, so are much more likely to have first awards in advance, while Emirates’ 777s have either six or eight first class seats, so it can be harder to find award availability in advance

For example, looking almost a year in advance, there are many dates with Emirates first class award seats available from San Francisco to Dubai. Meanwhile from Los Angeles or New York I see virtually no seats available this far out.

Emirates first class awards in advance

In general your best odds for snagging an Emirates first class award is to book closer to departure. While I realize that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone’s schedule, that’s what I usually do. How do you book an Emirates first class award closer to the departure date?

  • You’ll want to find a flight with a lot of unsold first class seats; depending on the market or time of year, that’s not necessarily that tough, since many Emirates first class cabins go out pretty empty
  • You can get a sense of how full a flight is in first class by looking at the seatmap (which isn’t always an accurate indicator) and by seeing how many seats are still for sale (though you can often only search four seats at a time)
  • Unfortunately there’s not much consistency beyond that — sometimes Emirates opens first class award seats a couple of months before departure, while other times it’s a couple of days before departure; the emptier the cabin and closer to departure, the better the odds of finding award seats
  • Unlike with redeeming miles for Lufthansa first class, Emirates doesn’t release nearly all first class seats as awards as the departure date approaches; with Emirates half the cabin could be empty, and the airline still may not choose to release award seats

Generally speaking my expectation is that award space will only open up when the cabin is largely empty. The good news is that this happens more often than you might assume. Just to give an example of my last three Emirates first class redemptions (in each case I found two first class award seats within a week of departure):

  • I got two award seats in Emirates’ new 777 first class (which features just six seats) from Washington to Dubai, as the cabin was completely empty
  • I got two award seats in Emirates’ old 777 first class (which features eight seats) from Dubai to Male, as the cabin was completely empty
  • I got two award seats in Emirates’ A380 first class (which features 14 seats) from New York to Milan, as only three of the 14 seats were occupied

Like I said, it might sound unlikely to see cabins this empty, but you might be surprised, especially for midweek travel, etc. If I feel fairly confident that award space will open up on a particular route, I just keep checking back once or twice a day, in hopes of getting lucky.

Shower in Emirates’ A380 first class

Tip: Upgrade to Emirates first class instead

There is one other trick to snagging a seat in Emirates first class using miles, which gets you access to much better availability. Long story short, Emirates lets you upgrade business class tickets to first class using miles on the day of departure with last seat availability:

  • Even award tickets qualify, meaning you could book a business class award (business class awards are usually much easier to find), and then use miles to upgrade to first class, in the same way you’d upgrade a revenue business class ticket
  • While you can absolutely waitlist this upgrade in advance, expect that it generally won’t clear in advance
  • What’s different is that on the day of departure you get last seat availability with no real capacity controls for these upgrades, letting you secure seats that you couldn’t otherwise get with miles

This can be done either at the airport or even onboard, though there are two major catches:

  • While this is the policy, not all airport agents are well trained in how this works, and that’s especially true at outstations with contract agents
  • While there are no official capacity controls, the one limitation is that if limited meals have been catered for passengers, an upgrade may be rejected on those grounds

So this isn’t perfect, but in general this is the best way to snag an Emirates first class seat on a flight that doesn’t have first class award availability.

The bigger the cabin, the better your award and upgrade odds

Bottom line

On balance, Emirates offers an incredible first class product, and the airline also has the largest international first class footprint of any airline in the world. The best way to redeem for Emirates first class is directly through the Skywards program, which is transfer partners with major transferable points currencies.

While Emirates isn’t terribly consistent with making award seats available, with some persistence, patience, and flexibility, this is an experience that’s very attainable.

If you’ve redeemed miles for Emirates first class, what was your experience like?

Conversations (27)
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  1. Yoodel Guest

    I just searched JFK-MXP and it shows 72,500 miles!
    was there a major price hike I missed??

  2. Mike Guest

    Hey Ben,

    I tried using your methodology to snag a EK F flight from NYC to ATH/MXP.

    The pricing shown is much higher, miles and fees, am I doing something wrong?

  3. Andrew Guest

    I'm booked into J flying JFK-DXB-MLE later this year. Right now the F cabins on both legs are empty, and I'm hoping to upgrade on the day. Two questions. First, do you know how early it's possible to do this at the airport? I know it's "day of", but does that mean 24 hours? Calendar day? Would be curious to know. Also, we have a stopover for a couple of days in Dubai, and I'm...

    I'm booked into J flying JFK-DXB-MLE later this year. Right now the F cabins on both legs are empty, and I'm hoping to upgrade on the day. Two questions. First, do you know how early it's possible to do this at the airport? I know it's "day of", but does that mean 24 hours? Calendar day? Would be curious to know. Also, we have a stopover for a couple of days in Dubai, and I'm wondering if I'd be able to upgrade my entire itinerary before departure, or only one leg at a time. Obviously costs far fewer miles to do the whole trip together.

    Thanks!

  4. EthaninSF Member

    I've sometimes found that using QF miles can be cheaper than using EK Skywards too. And they are a transfer partner with AMEX. Also, if flights cancel or tickets need to be changed, more useful to be stuck with Qantas points than Emirates.

  5. Andy Guest

    any idea when the last time amex or any of the other transferrable points program had a bonus on emirates points?

  6. Bill Guest

    Can I put award space on hold or do I have to pre transfer points from Chase/Amex? I wouldn't want to have 350k points sitting in EK if I can't find F space close to departure.

  7. IVO Sio Guest

    I know sometimes it is hard to find two available seats on first class. So my initial plan was on May 20 DXB to CDG on A380 old first class. Since there are 14 seats so it should be easy to find availability. Then I keep searching availability on 777 new first class. BINGO! Find 2 new first class seats on 777 on May 22 but DXB TO BRU. Ok no problem I changed my...

    I know sometimes it is hard to find two available seats on first class. So my initial plan was on May 20 DXB to CDG on A380 old first class. Since there are 14 seats so it should be easy to find availability. Then I keep searching availability on 777 new first class. BINGO! Find 2 new first class seats on 777 on May 22 but DXB TO BRU. Ok no problem I changed my plan because of the new first class. I was happy but at the end… I still got old new first class seat on a 777. Well it is just my bad luck days since EK change aircraft on that day on my flight.

  8. Kimberly Guest

    Excellent article with clear information. How do you access the seat map to identify number of first class seats available?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Kimberly -- You can access the seatmap by doing a "dummy" booking on emirates.com, meaning you just go through the process of pretending you're making a booking, until you get to the seatmap page. Otherwise, there are paid services, like expertflyer.com, that give you access to seatmaps.

  9. Brian Guest

    In Feb. 2022 I booked two two award biz class seats from JFK to Dubai for February 2023. My rez allowed to me to check the "standby to upgrade to first class" box. Will I be first in line for an upgrade?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Brian -- If award space does open up in advance, you'd be first in line for it (well, behind anyone with higher status who is also waitlisted). However, often award space isn't released in advance, so if it doesn't clear at least a few days out, the waitlist ends. At that point you'd have to try the airport trick.

    2. AdamH Gold

      So the upgrade request doesn't carry over to the airport control list which is just first come first serve if you can find an agent to process the upgrade?

  10. Quinn Guest

    I have DXB to IAD booked in September in F but want to add MLE-DXB with a stopover in DXB for a few days. I've called twice and the call center won't let me add it. There isn't F availability but I am seeing it in J. They're saying my entire itinerary has to be in F in order to book it. Any advice? I remember seeing in an earlier post you could add on a J flight to your trip and they'll charge the difference in miles.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Quinn -- Great question, and hopefully someone else can chime in too. While you can combine first and business class on a regular award without a stopover, I do think there's a quirk where a stopover doesn't work when one segment is in first class and one is in business class. It doesn't make sense, obviously, but I do believe that's how it works in practice. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

  11. Andrew Diamond

    Buyer beware on SFO tickets - EK is happy to swap your aircraft for a 777, so don't book solely on the suite formation or the shower presence; you probably won't get those.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Andrew -- Totally fair, and during the pandemic we've seen lots of aircraft swaps. However, I think the instances of this are becoming rarer and rarer, and soon enough nearly all US destinations should once again be operated by A380s, as was the case pre-pandemic.

    2. Andrew Diamond

      I'm hoping so as well! I've struck out a lot in the last few months from the west coast (LAX ANA removing first, EK swapping planes), but hopefully the rest of 2022 and onward will be better.

  12. mrl New Member

    How common is it for EK flights to go out F4 A4 (according to ExpertFlyer) but for a single award seat to never have been released? I'm seeing this happen quite a bit on a route I'm looking at and am somewhat surprised by it tbh.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ mrl -- It's pretty common. In other words, an A380 could have 10/14 seats booked and be F4A4, and Emirates decides not to release award seats. So I'd look beyond just whether it's "F4" or not, and how full it appears to actually be.

    2. mrl New Member

      I'm a little surprised they'd sell the last four seats in A, but I see your point. Any advice on how to determine how full flights actually are? Seatmaps?

  13. Omar Guest

    It's not necessarily true that you need to book by phone for a stopover. The multi-city search can price it correctly from time to time.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Omar -- I believe only for roundtrips, and not for one-ways. And even then it's very hit-or-miss.

    2. Omar Guest

      I have gotten it on flexplus one-ways, but maybe I was lucky.

  14. Jef Guest

    This article might be a good place to mention that your Skywards account balance must exceed the costs of the award you're attempting to secure (if only by a single mile) to book online.

    This caught me recently when booking an Emirates first award using Skywards miles that I'd transferred in from a partner program. Despite having a balance of exactly 85k in my account, the site assured me I had an insufficient balance to...

    This article might be a good place to mention that your Skywards account balance must exceed the costs of the award you're attempting to secure (if only by a single mile) to book online.

    This caught me recently when booking an Emirates first award using Skywards miles that I'd transferred in from a partner program. Despite having a balance of exactly 85k in my account, the site assured me I had an insufficient balance to proceed with booking. Transferring in another 1k points corrected the issue and allowed me to book the ticket.

    Note that only 85k was deducted from my account (leaving an orphaned 1k Skywards balance), so I suspect there's just a logic error on the booking page rather than any bait-and-switch on the price of the award.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Jef -- Excellent point! I just updated the post to reflect that.

    2. ECR Guest

      I had the same issue but was able to make the reservation on the Emirates App (not the website) without transferring extra miles. Definitely some kind of glitch.

    3. Randy Guest

      Calling the booking center works as well.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Jef Guest

This article might be a good place to mention that your Skywards account balance must exceed the costs of the award you're attempting to secure (if only by a single mile) to book online. This caught me recently when booking an Emirates first award using Skywards miles that I'd transferred in from a partner program. Despite having a balance of exactly 85k in my account, the site assured me I had an insufficient balance to proceed with booking. Transferring in another 1k points corrected the issue and allowed me to book the ticket. Note that only 85k was deducted from my account (leaving an orphaned 1k Skywards balance), so I suspect there's just a logic error on the booking page rather than any bait-and-switch on the price of the award.

2
Brian Guest

In Feb. 2022 I booked two two award biz class seats from JFK to Dubai for February 2023. My rez allowed to me to check the "standby to upgrade to first class" box. Will I be first in line for an upgrade?

1
Omar Guest

I have gotten it on flexplus one-ways, but maybe I was lucky.

1
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