Yesterday I wrote a post about how to book award tickets on Emirates’ two flights between the US and Europe, given how popular they are with New Yorkers. Specifically, I’m talking about Emirates’ flights from New York to Milan and Newark to Athens.
As I explained, while Emirates’ own Skywards program isn’t amazing, it’s not a horrible value, at least for those who are looking to fly nonstop from New York to Milan and Athens.
The single best way to book Emirates premium cabin awards is through Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, though the catch is that the program doesn’t have very many transfer partners. You can only transfer Starpoints to the program, meaning the only credit cards that will get you points towards that goal are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.
As I explained yesterday, if you’re redeeming Emirates Skywards miles for either of the above routes you’ll pay the following:
- A one-way ticket on either route will cost 62,500 miles in business class, or 85,000 miles in first class
- Regardless of whether you’re flying first or business class, taxes and carrier imposed surcharges total ~550USD for the flight from the US to Europe, and ~300USD for the flight from Europe to the US
What I didn’t look at is the ability to upgrade, which potentially represents a much better value. On Emirates, upgrade space is identical to award space, meaning that if there’s award space you can also immediately confirm an upgrade from economy to business class. The good news is that Emirates award availability on both of these routes is pretty good.
Here’s the cost to upgrade from economy to business class on both of these flights:
As you can see, the number of miles required to upgrade roundtrip varies based on whether you book a Saver, Flex, or Flex Plus ticket. To crunch the numbers on this, I started by pulling up some flights over off-peak dates. Here are some random dates I searched in November:
So if you wanted to upgrade to business class both ways, you have the following options:
- Booking a Saver ticket — $644.36 plus 115,000 miles
- Booking a Flex ticket — $1,041.36 plus 78,000 miles
- Booking a Flex Plus ticket — $1,692.36 plus 60,000 miles
In looking at the various options:
- If you book a Flex ticket instead of a Saver ticket, you save 37,000 miles, but you pay an extra $400
- If you book a Flex Plus ticket, you save 18,000 miles, but you pay an extra $650
Assuming you’re transferring points from Amex, I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents. So booking a Flex ticket over a Saver ticket is a no brainer, while the incremental cost of a Flex Plus ticket isn’t worth it. That’s to say that I’d pay $400 to save 37,000 points, but I wouldn’t pay $650 to save 18,000 points.
In the above situation, paying 78,000 miles plus $1,041 is the best value for booking business class here, at least compared to any other upgrade or award options through Emirates Skywards. Let’s keep in mind our starting point here — an award ticket would have cost 125,000 Skywards miles plus $850 in carrier imposed surcharges. So you’re saving 47,000 miles, and paying less than an additional $200.
The above is off-peak pricing, but what about peak season pricing? I looked at ticket costs for next July on weekends. I imagine fares will still drop significantly for then, so this is very much a “worst case scenario” situation. A roundtrip Flex ticket costs $1,367. So you could get business class for a total of $1,367 plus 78,000 miles, which I’d still rather book than paying 125,000 miles plus $850. In other words, I’d rather pay an extra $517 and save 47,000 miles.
Also keep in mind that when you’re booking a paid ticket, you earn miles. So you’d earn back about 6,000 miles on the roundtrip ticket, which you wouldn’t earn if you booked an award ticket.
None of these are amazing redemptions, though these are flights that people really want to take. When I was in Lake Como this summer, I overheard at least a handful of people at our hotel specifically talking about how they flew Emirates from New York. This is a flight a lot of people want to take.
If you’re not in a position where you have Starpoints and can transfer them to Japan Airlines, then the best way to book these flights in business class is by booking a Flex economy ticket and upgrading.