Best Ways to Book Emirates First Class with Points (And Avoid Fees) [2018]

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Flying first class on Emirates is a bucket list goal for many travelers. And for good reason: both the soft product and the hard product are tremendous and industry leading. But booking Emirates first class with miles and points isn’t quite as easy as it once was and the fees can get very pricey. Luckily, there are still some solid methods for flying first class on Emirates and some ways to avoid those high fees.

This article will walk you through the best methods for booking Emirates First Class, including using partners like Alaska Airlines, JAL, Qantas, and Korean Air.

Be sure to check out the YouTube video at the end of the video as well!

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Emirates US destinations

It’s a good idea to be aware of the the cities served by Emirates when starting your research so here’s a list of US cities that Emirates serves:

Something that you will notice after reading this article is that flying to or from the US on Emirates will usually result in a lot of fees. But you can avoid fees by flying between destinations in other parts of the world (which I’ll discuss below). So keep that in mind when planning your Emirates First Class flight — things will often be much cheaper abroad!

Emirates gateway cities in the USA.

Different first class products

There are two main different first class cabins on Emirates that you’ll likely be booking in the future.

The Emirates A380

Emirates is pretty much the only reason why the A380 has a future and they fly these jumbo jets more than any airline in the world. Thus, you’ll likely be flying on the A380 if you’re flying first class on an Emirates A380. You can find the Emirates A380 routes here.

The Emirates A380 is definitely bucket-list worthy. It has the best shower in the sky in my opinion and also one of the best bars in the sky. (There are actually two bars on board, with a smaller bar only available to first class passengers.) You can read about my experience on board the Emirates A380 here

Emirates A380 shower.

Boeing 777-300ER (three class)

Emirates released its new first class suites in 2017 which fly on the 777-300ER. This aircraft doesn’t have the on-board shower and bar but the suites are very impressive. They are much bigger and feature fully enclosed suites with walls that reach all the way up to the top of the aircraft. The suites are climate controlled and are even more tricked out than the old suites.

Right now these are only flown on limited routes between Dubai and Brussels, Geneva, Munich, Vienna, and London-Stansted (I believe Tokyo HND is coming soon).

There are some Emirates 777s that do offer “old” first class awards and these will have essentially the same suite as the A380 but the first class cabin will be smaller and won’t come with the shower or bar.

The new Emirates first class.

Boeing 777-300ER (two class)

There are some aircraft that do not have a first class such as some versions of the Emirates 777-300ER and A380s so be on the lookout for those.


Is Emirates First Class really that good?

Because it’s going to take a lot of your hard-earned miles and points, potentially a wad of cash, and perhaps a lot of patience to earn enough miles, you probably want to know is Emirates first class really worth it?

The answer in my opinion is a definite: yes.

The hard and soft product are excellent on Emirates first class. You’ve got a fully enclosed suite with a mini-bar, large TV screen, and a comfortable bed to relax in along with great dining and premium champagne like Dom Perignon. The service is also top-notch and I was really impressed with how nice and professional the flight crew was. And then there’s the unique experience of showering on a plane and hanging out at the in-flight bar on the A380.

So there’s really no doubt in my mind that Emirates is worth shelling out extra miles or cash for. With that said, in some cases, your miles could last much longer if you went with other airlines so don’t pull the trigger too quickly and make sure experiencing Emirates is truly a priority before you cash in your miles and points life savings.

Emirates bar on the A380.

Emirates first class lounges

If you’re planning a first class flight with Emirates, I suggest that you consider booking a flight from or through Dubai so you can get to experience the Emirates First Class Lounge at DXB, which is one of the nicest (and biggest) airline lounges in the world.

If you can’t book through Dubai, there are several other Emirates lounges you can enjoy around the world. They won’t be as extravagant and they might be for both business class and first class but there are some pretty nice Emirates lounges around. I recently made my way through the lounge in Milan and thought it was very nice and it even offered direct boarding from the lounge.

You may not be that into airport lounges but they can add an additional exciting element to your travel experience, especially when we’re talking about the top first class flagship lounges.

Emirates Business/First Class Lounge in Milan (MXP).

Visiting Dubai (stopovers)

If you’re going to fly Emirates consider planning a stopover in Dubai. Not only will you get two first class flights to enjoy and be able to experience a really nice airport lounge, but Dubai is an interesting city to visit and you can do things like scuba dive in the mall, check out the tallest building in the world, dune bashing, etc. While the heat and humidity can be downright unbearable in the summer, at other times of the year the weather can be more pleasant.

There’s also a lot of really, really nice hotels to choose from in Dubai and many of them are members of the major loyalty programs like Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and others. In the past we stayed at the W Dubai Al Habtoor which was awesome but now that property is the “V Hotel” and part of Hilton (as are some other former SPG hotels in Dubai).

There’s also a way to get a free hotel stay on layovers called Dubai Connect which you can read about here. Basically, if you have a connection more than 6 hours and less than 24 hours you can get free lodging, meals, and visa costs. You probably wouldn’t want to go scuba diving with such a short layover but there’s plenty of other things you could find to do.

scuba diving in the Dubai Mall.

How to find Emirates award seats

There are a few ways that you can search for Emirates awards.

Emirates Skywards

I like to just utilize the Emirates website to search for first class awards. You can do so by creating an Emirates Skywards account and then clicking on Book Classic Rewards now.

Qantas Frequent Flyer

You can also try to use other parter sites to search for availability, such as Qantas. (You’ll need to create an account with them first to use the award search tool.) Qantas is pretty easy to use but the online search tool won’t show you the total fees due for your flight (you’ll have to call in to get that information).

JAL Mileage Bank

You can search and book Emirates first class awards on the JAL website. Simply create a JAL account and then log-in to the main page. You should see an area you can click on called “Award Redemption (Air)” and then click on “Book JMB Partner Airlines Award Ticket.” After that simply select Emirates as the partner airline and proceed to search for flights as you normally would do.

The cool thing about JAL is that you can see the total fees for the award without having the need to call in.


Amex Membership Rewards

If you’re really interested in flying first class on Emirates, then I highly suggest that you consider focusing on earning Amex Membership Rewards. That’s because Emirates Skywards is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express and so it’s very easy to accumulate miles for them. (I’ll talk more in depth about Emirates Skywards below.)

Another option for using Amex Membership Rewards would be to use the Amex International Airline Program, which can save you a lot on certain premium flights if you have a Platinum Card. If you have the Business Platinum Card from American Express you could redeem your points at a rate of 1.54 cents per point.

You’d be spending a whole lot of points on Emirates First Class even if you found a good discount. But I know some business owners who have hundreds of thousands of points they don’t even have time to use so splurging on a bucket list flight that way could make sense for them.

For earning a lot of Membership Rewards, I recommend going for the Amex Platinum and/or the Amex Gold Card. The Amex Platinum card comes with a 60,000 point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 in the first three months and a host of benefits, so it’s a great way to jump start your Emirates Skywards balance.

Click here to learn more about this card. 

Also, the Amex Gold Card comes with amazing earning potential with 4X on U.S. dining and U.S. supermarkets, so if you’re thinking more long-term the Gold Card can be one of the best Amex cards to get.

Emirates first class champagne.

Alaska Mileage Plan

Alaska Mileage Plan was the long-time preferred way to book Emirates first class tickets because it offered a way to avoid high surcharges and had some very low redemption rates. However, in March 2016, Alaska Mileage Plan increased the redemption rates for Emirates first class by a lot without any notice whatsoever. Some prices increased as much as 100% which quickly made Alaska Mileage Plan one of the tougher redemption options.

Here are some examples of the pricing which is based on region.

  • North America to Africa: 200,000 miles
  • North America to Asia: 180,000 miles
  • North America to Australia: 225,000 miles
  • North America to Europe: 180,000 miles
  • North America to Middle East: 150,000 miles

The good news is that there are still no surcharges when using Alaska Mileage Plan to book Emirates first class. So if you’re trying to keep your cash in your wallet, then using Alaska Mileage Plan to book your tickets might be the best way to go. The fees for these awards will be very low — we’re talking $20 to $50, which is fantastic.

One thing to keep in mind about using Alaska Mileage Plan to book Emirates first class tickets is that all trips must end or begin in North America. Also, they allow stopovers even on one-way awards so many people try to schedule a stopover in Dubai (the hub of Emirates), so they can enjoy two first class flights and experience the magnificent lounge in Dubai. Also note that chauffeur service is not available for these rewards.

Alaska is not a transfer partner of Chase or Amex but you can transfer points from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio. There’s also the Bank of America Alaska cards which can make it easy to rack up Alaska miles.

The view from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Japan Airlines (JAL)

JAL has some of the best redemption options but a major weakness to the program is that they are not a transfer partner to any other major transfer program, such as Chase, Amex, etc.. This makes accumulating a high amount of JAL miles a bit tough.

JAL has been another solid way to book Emirates First Class but they unleashed fuel surcharges on awards recently which made booking Emirates with JAL much less attractive.

However, from a miles standpoint, JAL is still the cheapest route to book Emirates first class. JAL utilizes a distance-based award chart which allows you to book either one-way or roundtrip awards (though note that roundtrip awards are cheaper).

If you’re departing from the US, you might be charged as much as $1,700+ in fees! I can deal with being gutted with fees to a degree and $1,700 is still much cheaper than paying cash for these flights, but paying for $1,700 for an award flight is still a tough pill to swallow for me.

Luckily you can avoid high fees by booking Emirates First Class on specific routes, such as those departing from Hong Kong where fees will be very low. Other cities you may want to look for to find cheaper fees are:

  • Colombo (CMB)
  • Manilla (MNL)
  • Sydney (SYD)
  • Tokyo (HND & NRT)

The bad news is that JAL is about to get hit with a devaluation and some of these routes are going to get more expensive. It’s not a horrible devaluation though because many shorter (one-way) routes won’t even be affected so it’s not something that should keep you from using JAL miles to book Emirates.

Here’s a look at the award chart and what the new changes will look like.

Here are some examples of what you can expect to pay — as you can see some of the fees and mileage requirements can be quite cheap.

  • HKG to DXB: 65,000 miles + $46 in fees
  • SYD to DXB: 63,000 miles + $67 in fees
  • JFK to MXP: 65,000 miles + $540 in fees

So JAL is still definitely a sweet spot for some Emirates bookings.


Emirates Skywards

One of the simpler ways to book Emirates First Class is to just go through Emirates’ own loyalty program.  When using Emirates Skywards, you’re going to have to pay surcharges and the miles aren’t going to the cheapest but I still think it’s a great way to book Emirates First Class.

That’s because Emirates Skywards is a 1:1 transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards. There are so many ways to earn Membership Rewards that paying higher mileage prices isn’t that big of a deal. Here are some one-way prices in miles and the corresponding fees but note that roundtrips will be cheaper than two one-ways (and you can book a stopover).

  • JFK to JNB: 178,750 Miles + $852
  • JFK to HKG: 131,250 Miles + $852
  • JFK to DXB: 136,250 Miles + $842
  • MXP to JFK: 85,000 Miles + EUR 254

If you want to avoid high fees then once again consider flying out of a city like Hong Kong where such fees aren’t allowed by law. For example, check out the route from Hong Kong to Dubai where fees are at a total of $45.

And it’s not just flights from Hong Kong to Dubai that have low fees, you could extend your flight to the US from Hong Kong and the fees are still going to remain very low at around $70.

One of the perks about using Emirates Skywards is you’ll be able to take advantage of the ride service from Emirates and get taken to the airport in a luxury vehicle. If you’re getting picked up in Dubai, you’ll likely be picked up in a Mercedes-Benz V Class vehicle marked with “First Class” on the exterior. In other cities, transportation will be arranged with a contracting service (which can be a bit hit or miss).

Emirates ride service in Milan.

Citi ThankYou Points

Citi is partnered with Qantas which can be a pretty good option for Emirates first class under the right circumstances. Citi has clamped down on welcome bonuses over the past couple of years so it’s not as easy to accumulate ThankYou Points but they do have cards like the Citi Premier and the Citi Prestige which sometimes offer pretty high sign-up bonuses. 

But you’ll likely need much more miles than that so you might want to consider alternative ways to earn Qantas miles.


Qantas

Qantas is another option for flying first class on Emirates. The fees for Qantas will be similar to the fees for Emirates routes but not all of the time.


Korean Air

Korean Air is another option for booking Emirates first class awards. There are a couple of big issues with trying to go the Korean Air route.

For one, Korean Air is no longer a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. This means that it is much more difficult to accumulate Korean Air miles for a lot of people so this option might not be as appealing.

To make matters even worse, you can only book roundtrips on partners so you’re going to need a lot of Korean Air miles to be able to fly first class on Emirates and still have to pay a lot in fees. And things can get difficult when trying to book partners sometimes so Korean Air isn’t the most attractive option.

As an example, a booking for a roundtrip from JFK to DXB would cost 210,000 SkyPass miles and $1,600+ in fees so you’ll need to be ready to shell out a little bit to make this booking work.

Emirates first class caviar.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

After Korean Air was dropped as a partner from Chase Ultimate Rewards, that really left Chase with no direct route to book flights on Emirates. But you can still transfer points out to Marriott and then transfer those at a 3:1 ratio to JAL, Emirates, Korean Air, and Alaska.

Although you’d typically not want to do that, from a value perspective, you’d actually still be getting a decent deal in some cases, at least when it comes to the value of your points.

Let’s say you transferred 300,000 Ultimate Rewards to Marriott and then to JAL so you end up with 100,000 JAL miles. You then book a roundtrip on Emirates First Class from Hong Kong to Dubai and pay 100,000 JAL miles and about $82 in fees (which is about what you’d probably pay).

That’s a $9,444 flight so $9,344/300,000 comes out to 3.1 cents per point in value for your Ultimate Rewards so you’re still getting decent value for your points so long as you can keep the fees down. Of course, you could put those 300K Ultimate Rewards to use to fly first class on an airline like Singapore Airlines or transfer them to United to fly first class Lufthansa with points left over. So the opportunity cost is huge here.

Personally, I’d rather not transfer that many Ultimate Rewards to Marriott but for those who may not have an alternative and really want to experience Emirates First Class, this at least is a way to make that dream happen.

Consider booking first class on other airlines like Singapore to preserve your Chase points.

Malaysia Airlines Enrich

You might be wondering what about Malaysia Airlines, aren’t they a partner of Emirates? The answer is yes but you can’t redeem your miles for Emirates first-class awards (only business class and below). So for now Malaysia Airlines is not an option to fly first class on Emirates.


JetBlue

JetBlue is a partner of Emirates so you might be wondering about how to use your miles on Emirates first class. Unfortunately, JetBlue is only an earning partner and you can’t redeem JetBlue miles on Emirates.

YouTube


Final word

Flying first class on Emirates can get very pricey with both fees and miles but there are still some routes that offer great value with very little fees. Flying first on Emirates is a special experience though and for many people it will be worth it to splurge for a bucket-list worthy flight. Just be sure to consider your alternatives before you go all-in with the splurge because in some cases, you could really stretch your points a lot further!

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