UPDATE 2021: Fuel surcharges on Emirates flights have significantly decreased since this post was written. This means that Emirates is now a much more useful transfer partner than when this was originally written! I am in the process of updating this and other Emirates posts and will republish soon! The takeaway is that booking the business class ticket may now be a better deal than upgrading a ticket as explained in this post.
Emirates Skywards is the loyalty program of Emirates. You can redeem Emirates miles for flights operated by Emirates or by their partner airlines. You can also use Emirates miles to upgrade paid Emirates tickets. If you want to save money and miles on an Emirates business class ticket, upgrading a paid economy ticket might be the best way to book.
Known for their premium cabins, such as their first class suites, showers, and even onboard bars, Emirates has one of the best reputations for luxury and service of all airlines in the world. A paid first class ticket on an Emirates flight is very expensive. For example, DFW to Dubai roundtrip is about $14,000. Considering the high price tag, it makes sense that the amount of miles required for a first class ticket is also high. The cents per point value is often 5-10 cents per point, which is excellent (I generally consider 2 and over a good value). While a great value on paper for your miles, Emirates first class is going to require more miles than you’re probably used to redeeming.
Though Emirates is known for its first class, business class is a great option if you want to stretch your money/miles further. In this post, I’ll show you the best way to book business class seats on Emirates flights with miles.
How to earn Emirates Skywards miles
The best way to earn Emirates miles is to use a credit card that earns a currency that transfers to Emirates. You can transfer points from the three transferable currencies I discuss most on this blog to Emirates:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
- American Express Membership Rewards (1:1)
- Capital One Venture Rewards (1:1)
Both of these currencies transfer to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio
The card_name credit card is the first card I suggest for almost anyone, no matter what your travel goals are. At the very least, the welcome bonus of 60,000 is worth $750 if redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners! You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Emirates or 10 other airlines. Earn 5 points per dollar on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 2 points per dollar on all other travel. 3 points per dollar on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout), 3 points per dollar on select streaming services, 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases (this excludes Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
If you want a premium travel card and you frequently book flights, consider the Platinum Card® from American Express. The welcome bonus is currently 80,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months.
You’ll earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines and at amextravel.com on up to $500,000 per calendar year. The annual fee on this card is $695 [rates and fees], but the benefits are great, especially if you travel often. Terms apply.
Emirates collects high fuel surcharges on award tickets. For example, premium cabin seats on US to Dubai routes are about $1700 roundtrip. While you can’t really get around Emirates fuel surcharges, you can save miles and money on business class award tickets.
Save money, miles, or both on business class
I can understand why some people don’t mind the high out of pocket fees for these tickets. If you want to book business class and you’re willing to pay the fees, I’ll show you why it may make more sense to upgrade with Emirates miles rather than booking with miles.
Redemption options for Emirates operated flights
I’ll give examples of 3 different routes to show your redemption options and why upgrading vs. redeeming may cost less money and miles.
While most nonstop Emirates routes from the US are to Dubai, there are two fifth freedom routes between the US and Europe. Of course, you can connect to other worldwide destinations via Dubai. You can also use Emirates miles to book flights between Dubai and other countries.
Emirates does not publish redemption prices for their own flights. Instead, you can use their miles calculator. I’ve used the miles calculator to determine the redemption cost from each of the 12 US cities served by Emirates, which are listed below for each route. Emirates redemption prices are somewhat region-based, but there is also a distance component. For example, US-Dubai has 2 tiers of pricing. The first is made up of eastern cities in the US. The second is middle and western US cities. Because Eastern US is a shorter distance to Dubai than the middle/western cities, it makes sense that award tickets from the Eastern cities are priced slightly lower.
US to Dubai
There are 12 nonstop Emirates routes between the US and Dubai. Here are the redemption amounts for a nonstop roundtrip saver ticket to Dubai:
Eastern North America to Dubai: Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, JFK, Newark, Orlando, and Washington (IAD)
- Economy: 72,500 Emirates miles
- Business: 145,000 Emirates miles
- First: 217,500 Emirates miles
Middle/Western US to Dubai: Dallas, Houston, LAX, San Francisco, Seattle
- Economy: 82,500 Emirates miles
- Business: 165,000 Emirates miles
- First: 247,500 Emirates miles
Emirates allows one ways, but it’s not half of the roundtrip price like most other programs that allow one ways. Instead, it’s more than half. For example, one-way DFW-Dubai is 71,250 miles which is only around 10,000 miles less than a roundtrip ticket. Roundtrip is a much better value.
So far, economy and business redemption prices don’t seem too crazy for a US-middle east award ticket. But if you do an award search, you can see just how much those fuel surcharges are going to add.
Roundtrip totals for DFW-Dubai:
- Economy: 82,500 plus ~$608
- Business: 165,000 plus ~$1722
- First: 247,500 plus ~$1722
Now compare that with the paid fares (these are roundtrip totals):
- Economy Saver: $1186
- Economy Flex: $1587
- Economy Flex Plus: $3205
- Business: The lowest roundtrip business class ticket is about $5,000 roundtrip
- First: almost $14,000 roundtrip
Even after factoring in the high fuel surcharges of over $1700, using 165,000 miles to book a ticket that’s normally $5,000 is actually not a terrible cents per point value. It’s about 2 cents per point. (Because of fuel surcharges, you have to think of it as 165,000 points for $3300, not $5,000) But since most people wouldn’t pay $5,000 for a ticket, cents per point values aren’t that exciting or meaningful when you’re having to pay such high fuel surcharges out of pocket. Click here to learn how to calculate cents per point value.
For first class, the cents per point value is about 5 cents per point even though you have to redeem 247,500 miles. If you’re set on first class, then redeeming 247,500 miles and paying the fuel surcharges is probably your best option. In other words, there aren’t really any good options for booking these flights with partner airlines*. For business class, you can save a little money and you’ll redeem less miles by upgrading rather than booking a business class award ticket!
*Sometimes you can get around fuel surcharges by using a partner airline program to book:
For example, you can use Alaska Airlines miles to book Emirates flights, but there are a few problems. First of all, Alaska Airlines requires more miles. Alaska Airlines does not make you pay the fuel surcharges, but you would have to redeem 150,000 Alaska Airlines miles for a US-Dubai first class Emirates seat each way. As you will see below, that’s more miles than what Emirates requires. Also, Alaska Airlines is not a transfer partner of Chase, Amex, or Capital One. The best currency that transfers to Alaska is Marriott (but at a 3:1 ratio, so not ideal). Otherwise you have to earn Alaska miles with their co-branded credit card or by flying, etc.
You can also use Japan Airlines miles to book Emirates award tickets, but there are two problems here. First of all, Japan Airlines also collects fuel surcharges. Second, as with Alaska Airlines, none of the bank currencies transfer to Japan Airlines.
For economy, Emirates miles are not a good value on this route. In fact, Emirates miles are almost never a good value for economy flights due to fuel surcharges.
Still want premium seats? There is a better way to redeem Emirates miles for business class
Instead of redeeming Emirates miles for award flights, using Emirates miles to upgrade may be a better way to book business class seats.
For the Dallas to Dubai example above, you can buy an Economy Flex ticket for less than the amount of fees handful surcharges you would pay on a business class award ticket. An economy flex ticket is $1587. Premium cabin fuel surcharges and fees on the award ticket total over $1700. If you redeem Emirates miles to upgrade that ticket to business class, you will not have to pay any fuel surcharges. So your out of pocket total is only the cost of the ticket.
Spend the money you would pay on fuel surcharges on an economy ticket. Then use miles to upgrade.
The amount of miles required to upgrade an economy ticket to a business class ticket depends on the type of ticket you buy.
Even saver seats are upgradeable (subject to availability) but the amount of miles required is higher than flex and flex plus tickets. You’ll have to do some math to see which economy ticket makes more sense. In most cases, economy flex probably makes the most sense.
If you use miles to upgrade, here are your totals for DFW-Dubai (the cash price is the roundtrip economy ticket as pictured in previous section and the other number is the amount of miles required to upgrade to business class on the roundtrip ticket):
- Economy Saver: $1186 plus 217,500 miles
- Economy Flex: $1587 plus 163,800 miles
- Economy Flex Plus: $3205 plus 126,000 miles
You can purchase an economy flex ticket for $1587 and upgrade to business class for 163,800 miles. Although not a huge difference, it’s better than redeeming 165,000 miles and paying $1700 in fees for the same business class ticket. While this isn’t a huge difference, other routes are more significant. Another benefit to booking the economy ticket and then upgrading with miles is that you will earn miles for the flight. You would earn 10,500 miles for this route.
To upgrade a business class ticket to first, you would have to buy the business class ticket for at least $5,000. Then redeem 163,800 miles to upgrade to first class. If you really want first class, you’re better off booking the award ticket and paying the $1700 in surcharges rather than buying business class and upgrading.
Emirates nonstop routes between the US and Europe
There are two fifth freedom routes between the US and Europe that are operated by Emirates:
- Newark to Athens (on a 777)
- JFK to Milan (on an A380)
For roundtrip nonstop flights, here are the amounts you’ll need to redeem for either route:
- Economy: 45,000
- Business: 90,000
- First: 135,000
Here are the one way redemption costs. Remember, one way is more than half of roundtrip:
- Economy: 38,750
- Business: 62,500
- First: 85,000
These fifth freedom routes are a great deal
90,000 miles for a roundtrip business class ticket or 135,000 for a roundtrip first class ticket to Europe is great compared to the prices of other programs for flights between the US and Europe. For example, United is 60k each way (120k roundtrip) for a saver business class flight between the US and Europe on flights operated by United. If you use United to book partner flights to Europe (such as Lufthansa) your redemption price would be 70k each way or 140k roundtrip. So you can get an Emirates first class ticket for less than a business class ticket on one of United’s partners. 45k is also a good redemption price for a roundtrip economy ticket between the US and Europe, but the fuel surcharges are probably going to be a deal breaker for economy.
- Economy: 45,000 plus ~$406
- Business: 90,000 plus ~$1140
- First: 135,000 plus ~$406*
*I’m not convinced this is correct, but if it is, this is a GREAT deal. I’d gladly pay $400 on top of 135,000 for a roundtrip first class Emirates seat. This may be a glitch as fuel surcharges on first class seats on other routes always price the same as business. I haven’t found any data points to confirm or debunk this, but I’ll update this if and when I do. Even if the fuel surcharges are $1140, I’d consider redeeming 135,000 for a roundtrip Emirates first class seat to Europe a pretty good redemption, especially if you look at the paid fares (these are roundtrip totals):
Paid tickets for roundtrip Newark to Athens:
- Economy Saver: $618
- Economy Flex: $1038
- Economy Flex Plus: $2157
- Business: The lowest roundtrip business class ticket is about $3,752 roundtrip
- First: a little over $7,000 roundtrip
If you want business class, upgrading from economy with Emirates miles is better than booking an award ticket in business class.
Upgrading Newark to Athens or JFK to Milan with Emirates miles
The amount of miles required to upgrade depends on which type of economy ticket you buy.
Here are your totals for Newark to Athens to buy an economy ticket and upgrade to business class. JFK to Milan would require the same amount of miles for an upgrade, but the cost of that economy ticket would probably be a little different:
- Economy Saver: $618 and 115,000 miles
- Economy Flex: $1038 and 78,000 miles
- Economy Flex Plus: $2157 and 60,000 miles
Economy saver results in lowest out of pocket cost, but you would be required to redeem more miles. The best value is an economy flex ticket. You can purchase an economy flex ticket for $1038 and upgrade to business class for 78,000 miles. This is better than redeeming 90,000 miles and paying $1140 in fees for the same business class ticket. Plus you earn the miles on the paid ticket. You also earn miles and points with whichever credit card you use to book. For example, the Amex Platinum card earns 5 points per dollar on flights. So a $1,000 flight would earn 5,000 Amex points!
To summarize, here are your options for booking a Newark to Athens business class ticket on Emirates:
- Pay $3712 for a business class ticket
- Redeem 90,000 Emirates miles plus pay $1140 in fuel surcharges and fees. Earn zero miles.
- Buy a saver economy ticket for $618 and upgrade for 115,000 miles. Earn miles for the flight.
- Buy a flex economy ticket for $1030 and upgrade for 78,000 miles. Earn miles for the flight.
US to Maldives on Emirates operated flights:
For the last example, I’ll use a flight from the US that will connect in Dubai. Here are the amounts you’ll need to redeem for roundtrip flights from the US to the Maldives (via Dubai) on Emirates flights:
Eastern US: Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, JFK, Newark, Orlando, and Washington
- Economy: 85,000
- Business: 170,000
- First: 255,000
Middle/Western US: Dallas, Houston, LAX, San Francisco, Seattle
- Economy: 90,000
- Business: 180,000
- First: 270,000
I’ll use JFK for this example. Here are the total miles and fuel surcharges for an award ticket from JFK to MLE (connecting in Dubai):
- Economy: 85,000 plus $786
- Business: 170,000 plus $1,760
- First: 255,000 plus $1,760
Now compare that with the paid fares (these are roundtrip totals):
- Economy Saver: $1,252
- Economy Flex: $1,773
- Economy Flex Plus: $3,614
- Business: The lowest roundtrip business class ticket is about $5,255 roundtrip
- First: a little over $13,700 roundtrip
Upgrading US to Maldives with Emirates miles
The amount of miles required to upgrade depends on which type of economy ticket you buy.
- Economy Saver: $1252 and 225,000 miles
- Economy Flex: $1773 and 152,100 miles
- Economy Flex Plus: $3614 and 117,000 miles
Buying an economy flex ticket is just $13 more than the fuel surcharges on a business class award ticket. But buying the economy ticket and upgrading means you’ll earn miles, plus you’ll redeem ~18,000 less miles than you would if you were to book the business class award ticket.
Would you rather:
- Book a business class award ticket: Redeem 170,000 miles plus pay $1760. Earn 0 airline miles OR
- Book economy flex and upgrade: Redeem 152,100 miles plus pay $1773. Earn airline miles on the paid ticket?
You can’t really get around fuel surcharges on Emirates flights, but you can save money and miles on some premium cabin seats. Emirates first class tickets on US to Europe routes are the best all around value in my opinion. If you want business class, upgrading from economy is usually a better way to book for most routes.
Redeeming Emirates miles for economy seats is almost always a bad redemption value due to high surcharges. You’d be better off booking a different way. For example, you can book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards points. If you have Capital One Venture miles, you’d be better off redeeming them via the purchase eraser method. Click here for more info about card_name vs. Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.
Amex Rates and Fees:
- The Platinum Card from American Express [rates and fees]
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