Emirates began service on Oct. 25, 1985 with its first flight from Dubai to Karachi. The airline currently flies to over 140 destinations in more than 60 countries worldwide.
Emirates operates flights out of nine U.S. cities: New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle; and from Chicago starting in August.
Although the airline doesn’t participate in any of the worldwide alliances, it has codeshare agreements with 12 airlines, including a recent partnership with Qantas, so Emirates members can earn and redeem miles on partner airlines to a number of international destinations.
Emirates Skywards launched in 2000 and has over 10 million members in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide. Members receive an e-gate enabled membership card once they complete two roundtrips in economy or one roundtrip in either first or business class on any Emirates flight. Emirates Business Rewards program allows small- to medium-sized businesses the ability to earn reward miles for the company while also allowing the individual traveler to earn miles.
Emirates Skywards awards miles based on 18 travel zones. For example, if you travel roundtrip between Dubai and London or Milan (both of which fall into the Europe West zone), you will earn 6,000 miles on Flex Fares and 3,000 miles on Saver Fares in economy class. The easiest way to find out how many miles you will earn on any given route is to plug in your route, fare class and elite level into the online miles calculator.
Members earn class-of-service mileage bonuses of 150 percent in first class and 75 percent in business. Passengers flying on Skywards Saver Fares earn only 50 percent of the base miles. Members earn 100 percent of the base miles when flying on a Flex Fare.
Under the Family Bonus program, you can register up to eight immediate family members and when one of the eight flies on Emirates, you will earn 20 percent of their miles, including any class-of-service bonus miles. The Family Bonus members, however, will not earn any miles themselves. The primary member does not have to accompany Family Bonus members on flights in order to earn miles.
For members between the ages of two and 16, Skywards offers a Skysurfers program where children can earn miles at the same rate as adult Skywards members and attain Skysurfers Silver or Gold status.
Every month, Skywards publishes a list of Miles Accelerator flights that are eligible to earn bonus miles. Essentially, the Miles Accelerator provides an 11-month view of bonuses that will be available if you register for them.
Members can also earn miles through Skywards partnerships with airlines, hotels, leisure services, car rental companies, credit cards and financial services.
Emirates offers two types of award tickets: Saver awards are more readily available during off-peak travel times when there is low demand and require fewer miles while Flex awards are more expensive and are available even on high demand flights. One-way awards are offered on Flex awards for 50 percent of a roundtrip.
A roundtrip award from Dubai to destinations in the Middle East (Bahrain, Tehran, Kuwait, Muscat, Doha, Dammam, Jeddah, Riyadh and Sana’a) is 15,000 miles for a Saver award and 25,000 miles for a Flex award. The same award flight in business class requires 30,000 miles for a Saver award and 42,500 miles for Flex and a first class flight is 45,000 miles for Saver and 57,500 miles for Flex. A roundtrip upgrade to business class from economy on the same route is 20,000 miles from a Saver fare and 15,000 miles from a Flex fare.
A roundtrip Saver award from Dubai to New York City is 72,500 in coach, 145,000 in business, 217,500 in first and 115,000 for an upgrade from a Saver fare to business. A roundtrip Flex award from Dubai to New York is 125,000 in economy, 200,000 in business, 272,500 in first and 90,000 for an upgrade from a Flex fare to business.
Award flights from the U.S. to the Middle East are comparable to those offered by U.S. airlines. Awards from the U.S. to the Middle East are 90,000 miles in economy and 180,000 in first on American Airlines, so Emirates’ economy award is cheaper but American’s first class award requires fewer miles. A Saver roundtrip economy class award on United MileagePlus from North America to the Middle East is 85,000 miles, 140,000 miles in business and 180,000 miles in first. But it’s not easy to make a direct comparison because Skywards members do not earn miles in the same way that members of the major U.S.-based programs do.
On the earn side, members of many U.S.-based airlines earn full mileage credit on discount fares compared to Skywards? 50 percent on Saver fares.
Members can redeem miles for hotel stays and experiences such as 65,000 miles for an award night at the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa or between 22,000 and 29,000 miles for one night at a Marriott hotel.
Members can redeem miles for Skywards gift vouchers, starting at 5,000 miles that can be used with many participating partners. Members can also donate miles to participating charities, but you must have at least 2,500 miles in your account.
Emirates Skywards also offers the Emirates High Street store where members can redeem miles, money or a combination of miles and cash for over 400 products.
Airlines that partner with Skywards include Alaska Airlines, easyJet, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, JetBlue, Jetstar, Korean Air, Qantas, South African Airways, TAP Portugal and Virgin America. Members earn one to two miles per mile flown on partner airlines on eligible flights. You can book award travel with all 11 partner airlines, starting from 7,500 miles for a one-way ticket.
Skywards partners with a number of hotel groups, including Hilton, InterContinental, Marriott, Starwood and Shangri-La, among others. Mileage earnings for hotel stays are 500 miles per stay or up to three miles per dollar spent. Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest, Le Meridien Dubai Francs and Jumeirah Sirius points can be converted into Skywards miles.
Car rental partners include Avis, Budget, Dollar, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt and eligible rentals earn between 500 and 2,000 miles.
Members can earn one mile for every two dollars spent on merchandise from Damas, Emax and Rivoli. Miles can also be earned on cruises with Danat Dubai Cruises, tours with Arabian Adventures and vacations through Emirates Holidays. Additional partners include Language Direct, Ski Dubai, e-Rewards, Magrudy’s, Wild Wadi Water Park and Dubai Autodrome.
Members can earn miles when using credit cards issued by a number of banks. The co-branded Emirates Citibank credit card, available to residents in UAE, Bahrain and Australia, offers up to 2.5 miles per U.S. dollar spent. Emirates is also a partner with American Express, allowing members to convert Membership Rewards points into Skywards miles.
Elite-qualifying tier miles are miles flown on Emirates only and are accumulated over a rolling 12-13 month earning window. Elite status is valid for a year after you qualify, plus an additional two months and there are three tiers including Silver, Gold and Platinum. Platinum elite members who don’t requalify for Platinum are given a “soft landing” and will drop one elite level to Gold the following year.
All members qualify for Blue membership, with benefits that include special members-only offers, waitlist priority and the ability to receive a membership card that is e-gate enabled once two roundtrips in economy class or one roundtrip in first or business class on any Emirates flight or codeshare flight is completed.
Members who fly 25,000 tier miles or 25 flights will qualify for Silver membership. Silver members receive 25 percent bonus flight miles, the option to instantly upgrade with miles at the airport or on board, priority check-in and boarding, additional 12kg baggage allowance and lounge access to Emirates business class lounge in Dubai when flying with Emirates.
Members flying 50,000 tier miles or 50 flights qualify for Gold status. Gold members receive all the benefits offered to Silver members plus 16kg excess baggage allowance, 50 percent bonus flight miles, lounge access for member and a guest to all Emirates lounges worldwide when flying Emirates, guaranteed seat reservations in economy with 48-hour advance notice, priority baggage handling and exclusive offers.
Members flying 150,000 miles qualify for Platinum elite status. Platinum members receive all the benefits offered to Gold members plus 20kg excess baggage allowance, 75 percent bonus flight miles, the ability to redeem miles for Last Seat Skywards Flex award tickets on high demand flights and ability to nominate another Skywards member for Gold membership.
Rules and Conditions
Members can transfer their existing Skywards miles from one account to another Emirates Skywards account for a fee of $25 per 1,000 miles. Miles have a shelf life and are valid for three years. Once expired, miles cannot be reinstated for a fee. A member may make a missing miles claim online or via an Emirates contact center within six months of the final qualifying flight date. You can purchase or gift up to 25,000 miles per year for $00.25 per mile with a minimum purchase of 2,000 miles.
Infant awards are available in economy on Emirates flights for 10 percent of an adult redemption. Children between the ages of two and 16 who register will automatically become members of Skysurfers.
Awards may be canceled and miles recredited for a $50 fee on Flex awards and $75 on Saver or Combined awards. Dates changes are $25 on Saver awards and free on Flex awards. All other award changes incur a $25 fee.
The program communicates with members through monthly newsletters, special offer and promotional emails and the website. Answers to common questions can be found by searching online topics and through the FAQ section on emirates.com.
Award flights on Emirates can be booked online but partner awards, including partner flight awards, must be requested via an online request form or over the phone. Skywards gift vouchers may be redeemed online and miles can be purchased online. Changes to award flights must be made by calling the service center.
Skywards has a solid program with extensive partners, including airline, credit card, hotel and car rental partners. The website is comprehensive with a detailed and informative FAQ and membership guide. Recognition for elite members is strong and those who purchase premium fares enjoy generous flight bonuses.
A common complaint members have about the program is the 50 percent of miles earned on Saver fares. Miles earned for flying on partner airlines do not qualify for elite status and Emirates does not belong to a global airline alliance. Elite members do not earn complimentary upgrades. Fuel surcharges are added to award flights and one-way awards are more than half the redemption of a roundtrip flight.
Report Card from Readers
I love traveling Emirates. Emirates Skywards members enjoy a lot of benefits from priority check-in to priority on-boarding, upgrading of their travel class, facilities in airports. I saw a lot of my friends enjoying all these when we traveled recently though I am not in the category to get benefits yet. However, I love their customer reach as the newsletters they send are quite comprehensive and non-intrusive. They do not feel like spam like most others do.
I have been flying Emirates several times a month for over eight years, and in general, it is one of the best airlines out there but their success has made them much less generous and Skywards is not all that great.
Recognition at Emirates is good though, particularly if you are Gold or Platinum and flying in coach, you get lounge access, extra baggage, business class check-in; and at major airports, your luggage is first off the carousel.
However on Emirates flights to many places in Africa and Asia, their business class service is just not worth the price they charge for it as local staff do not offer the same level of service and the planes are often past their “sell by” date. Their Arabian Airpass can be a major benefit if you do business in the MENA region.
They’ve recently announced that the lowest fares (which were only upgradable on departure) will no longer be upgradable at all. Additional mileage redemptions used to make it pretty easy to get first class awards but now don’t get any extra inventory at all. One-way awards are more than half the cost of roundtrip. They add fuel surcharges to awards. There are some decent deals for short- and medium-haul flights. First class is extraordinarily expensive. Fuel surcharges on routes where those are filed are killer.
All I can think of that’s really positive is that mid-tier fares can still be upgraded without co-pay and that they bonus premium fares nicely on the earning side.