Emirates is a new AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer partner, which you can access by going to Membership Rewards >> Use Points >> Airlines, but is it worth transferring points to Emirates Skywards for an award?
If you're angling for Emirates First Class with an in-flight shower, probably not. You do have the option with Emirates Skywards to upgrade a paid ticket, but upgrades even from Saver fares (which must be roundtrip to upgrade) can be quite pricey.
Ways to Fly Emirates First Class with an Award Ticket
With the new ability to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to Emirates Skywards, there are now several ways to fly Emirates on an award. Keep in mind that it was already possible to transfer SPG points to Emirates with the 25% bonus for transferring in increments of 20,000 points, and the SPG transfer to Emirates is still better value (depending on your valuation of AMEX MR points vs. SPG points) unless AMEX Membership Rewards runs a transfer bonus with Emirates.
- Japan Airlines (Roundtrip awards only, transfer from SPG, see SPG Airline Partners: Transfer Starwood Points to Miles)
- Alaska Airlines (One way awards allowed, but only awards from North America to Middle East, India or Africa allowed, see Alaska Airlines: New Emirates Award Chart and FAQ)
- Emirates Skywards (Saver awards must be roundtrip; more expensive Flex awards may be one way)
Emirates First Class Upgrades: Worth It to Transfer AMEX Membership Rewards or SPG Points?
Emirates does allow you to upgrade a paid Saver fare or Flex fare using Emirates Skywards points. Let's look at a couple examples to see if it could be worth transferring AMEX Membership Rewards or SPG points to Emirates Skywards.
Here's the Emirates Miles Calculator, to figure out how many Emirates Skywards miles are needed for awards and upgrades.
Example 1: New York JFK to Milan MXP Round Trip, Upgrading from Business Saver to Emirates First Class
- You would need 75,000 Emirates Skywards miles to upgrade a Saver Business Class fare to First Class
- Roundtrip saver business class fares for this route are typically over $4000, and $4041 for the dates I checked.
- If you value an AMEX Membership Rewards point at 1.8 cents per point, that would make the 135,000 miles upgrade cost = $1350, so $5391 for the round trip ticket in Emirates first class, upgraded from business saver. That saves only a bit over $1000 over the paid price of first class, $6541
- Upshot: Not worth the upgrade cost. A better option, if the award is available for your dates, is to transfer 80,000 SPG points (with the 25% bonus) to JAL and book Emirates First Class roundtrip JFK-MXP-JFK for 100,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles. Even if you value each SPG point at 2.5 cents each, that would come to $2000 plus taxes.
Example 2: New York JFK to Dubai DXB Round Trip, Upgrading from Business Saver to Emirates First Class
- You would need 115,000 Emirates Skywards miles to upgrade a Saver Business Class fare to First Class
- Roundtrip saver business class fares for this route are typically around $9000 (ouch!)
- If you value an AMEX Membership Rewards point at 1.8 cents per point, that would make the 135,000 miles upgrade cost = $2070, so ~$11,070 for the round trip ticket in Emirates first class, upgraded from business saver. That saves quite a bit over the paid price of first class, $22,082, not that many would contemplate paying that.
- Still, the better deal, if there's award space, would be using transferring 110,000 SPG points (with the 25% bonus) to 135,000 JAL Mileage Bank miles to book Emirates First Class for this award. If valuing SPG points at 2.5 cents per point, that would work out to $2750 plus taxes, a much better value.
- Alaska Airlines would charge 180,000 Mileage Plan miles for the same trip, so you're better off using JAL, although with Alaska you could book one way for 90,000 miles.
The Verdict: If your aspiration is Emirates First Class, you'll generally be better off transferring SPG points to JAL Mileage Bank and booking an award, although it does have to be roundtrip and there must be award availability. If you have very inflexible dates and/or your work will pay for business class but not first, you may find a use for the new AMEX Membership Rewards transfer option to Emirates Skywards, to upgrade your paid business class ticket to first class. If it's only a one way award ticket from North America, you could pay the premium to book with Alaska Mileage Plan, which offers one way awards.
Any plans to fly Emirates First Class? What's your favorite way to redeem AMEX Membership Rewards points or SPG points?
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