A guide to booking an award trip on Emirates (EK)

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by Pat+, Feb 6, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Pat+
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    Pat+ Silver Member

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    In the spirit of adding useful reference content to MilePoint, I'm summarizing here some knowledge about EK redemptions, based on my own experience and feedback from others. Albeit expensive, redemptions for Emirates First Class make for a truly unique experience, especially when the A380 is involved (think private suites and showers onboard!)

    Considering that the relationship between CO and EK is ending on March 27, 2011, I will only focus on redemptions through UA. However, in the spirit of being thorough I have highlighted the differences between CO and UA in the last section, for those who may want to try to book through CO before the deadline (if that's even still possible.)

    Finally, a word of caution: we have no clue what UA will be up to when it comes to EK award redemptions in the future. Continental did not offer First Class redemptions, and is terminating their partnership with EK... At the same time, UA is increasing their service to the middle east while EK is aggressively rolling out additional flights and capacity to North American gateways. As such, UA and EK are now competing to some level. My advice: if you want to fly EK F, book now :)

    UA redemption options and policies

    The redemption chart is at http://www.united.com/page/article/0,,2152,00.html.

    For reference purposes, rates between North America and the Middle East are:
    • Economy - 90,000 miles.
    • Business - 150,000 miles.
    • First - 210,000 miles.
    See the chart for other types of awards--you can redeem for virtually any route that EK serves, except for the Australia/New Zealand routes.
    EK awards are "standalone" round-trip awards which cannot be combined with other UA, Star Alliance or partner awards. Assuming that you do not live at a EK gateway, this means that you will have to book a separate trip to a gateway, at an additional cost.

    EK awards cannot be changed, before or after travel begins. However, 1K members may cancel at no cost and then rebook. Note that when an award is canceled, there is no guarantee that award availability will be reloaded into the system (immediately or forever), so canceling is not a bulletproof way of changing departure or return dates.

    EK award fare codes and important restrictions

    Emirates awards booked through United book into the following buckets:
    • First Class: Z
    • Business Class: D
    • Economy Class: X and N (?)
    How EK uses the X and N buckets is unclear, some have speculated that maybe EK has different buckets for their own members v.s. members of partner programs, like United does for 1K economy redemptions. If you know more about this, please feel free to contribute.
    Note that premium class award redemption is not available on the A380 between LHR and DXB. As usual, YMMV but generally speaking this route isn't eligible. This is an EK rule rather than a UA rule. An alternative is to fly from CDG instead, which has daily A380 service.

    Also note that because EK uses Z for First Class awards, First Class awards will typically show up erroneously as business class awards, or even, "Connoisseur class" (!) awards, in United's emails and confirmation messages. Do not be alarmed, this is simply because United's systems do not understand EK fares.

    Looking for award availability

    United does not offer a way to lookup or book awards online. Knowing the aforementioned details on fare buckets, however, there are a couple ways to lookup availabillity.

    Using Emirates' web site:
    • Logon to http://www.skywards.com and join Emirates Skywards.
    • Search for round-trip availability for your dates and class for service.
    • Z and D availability show up as "Skywards Saver." In other words, if you see Skywards Saver availability, then UA should be able to book it for you. However UA cannot book "Skywards Flex" awards, which are for EK's own members only.
    • Emirates.com may also display "Not offered" or "Unavailable." The former means "no award seats available" while the latter means "not eligible for redemption" -- which is typically the case between LHR and DXB. If you see "Not offered", you may want to retry every day or so in the hope that space will open up.
    Using ExpertFlyer:
    • ExpertFlyer has the ability to do EK award searches and can search for up to 7 days at a time.
    • Search for buckets Z, D, X or N (see above for caveats regarding X and N.)
    Other methods that do not work:
    • SeatCounter.com does not appear to be able to display EK award availability.
    Note that United doesn't appear to block EK's award inventory, so if you can find award space, then you should be able to book it, but read on for details.
    Booking process

    Call United and request the international desk. All agents should be able to book EK awards but most have to lookup instructions. At a high level, the process is as follows:
    • You mention your dates and class of service, and the CSR places a request in the system.
    • Assuming that the request comes back with a positive answer (i.e. space is available and bookable) then the CSR will deduct your miles manually and create your PNR.
    • Your reservation will remain on hold for 12 hours, during which, in theory, EK can come back and say "no" despite the initial "yes."
    • Call back after 12 hours and within 3 days. Assuming that EK has accepted the request, then the agent will issue your ticket and you will pay taxes ($100 in my case.) If you do not ticket within 3 days, the reservation will be lost. Miles will not be refunded automatically.
    Some gory details, based on my experience with less-than-experienced agents:
    • Agents can view flight schedules but cannot see an availability chart, they have to request segments one by one.
    • Before placing a request, an agent needs to create an Emirates traveler profile. If the agent fails to do so, then EK award requests remain in a "Pending" state forever, and will not come back as approved of declined. If your agent waits for more than a couple seconds for a segment to come back as approved or rejected, do let them know about the profile requirement--specifically you may want to ensure they have typed in your name and MP# into the EK profile. Note that creating a profile takes time so expect to be on the phone for a while.
    • EK's system sends back generic messages in response to requests. While "yes" typically means that space is available and that your award will go through, "no" does not mean that no space is available. It could be anything from lack of space to a technical issues. If a request is rejected, no reason is provided.
    • When a booking is completed, a UAL and an EK PNR are created, with two different confirmation numbers, as with any other partner airline. Completed bookings can be viewed on united.com and emirates.com.
    Overall, the process is not really complex, but most agents are extremely unfamiliar with the tools, and the system is such that virtually any mistake puts requests into Pending mode without giving any further details.
    e-ticket info

    It appears that tickets are issued by EK's Canadian office, so you may see a reference to Canadian dollars in your e-ticket. Mine showed the following info:
    (Note that this was for CDG/DXB, thus the 160,000 miles.)

    Appendix: key differences between UA and CO

    The relationship between CO and EK will end on March 27, 2011. In the mean time, and largely for reference purposes, below are the major differences between UA and CO when it comes to award redemptions on EK.

    Class of service:
    • CO does not allow redemptions in EK F. Only economy and business are allowed. While Emirates offers a solid business class product, they really shine in First, so whether to redeem for any other class of service is up to the reader :)
    • UA, on the other hand, does allow redemptions in First class, albeit an at abviously higher cost.
    Combining awards / Star Alliance awards:
    • UA EK awards are "standalone" round-trip awards which cannot be combined with other UA, Star Alliance or partner awards. Assuming that you do not live at a EK gateway, this means that you will have to book a separate trip to a gateway, at an additional cost.
    • CO on the other hand will allow you to combine EK (and VS) segments into a Star Alliance reward, without an extra mileage surcharge
    Changes:
    • UA EK awards cannot be changed, before or after travel begins. However 1K members may cancel at no cost (the fee is waived) and rebook. Note that when an award is canceled, there is no guarantee that award availability will be reloaded into the system (immediately or forever), so canceling is not a bulletproof way of changing departure or return dates.
    • CO will permit you to make changes after travel begins.
    Basically, if you want to fly F, book through UA and be aware of the restrictions. If you're okay with C, (or Y :) then CO offers more competitive redemption rates as well as superior flexibility. Again, the relationship between CO and EK is ending soon so YMMV when it comes to redemptions.
    Hope this helps! :)
     
  2. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    This is great, thank you!

    Am I correct that United does not publish an award chart for (and thus does not allow) bookings that do not either start or end in North America (eg Europe - Dubai, Dubai - South Pacific, Auatralia-New Zealand)?
     
  3. Pat+
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    Pat+ Silver Member

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    Nope :) While I only quoted the NA/Middle east redemption rates, if you follow the link to the chart above you'll see that all sorts of redemptions are available. I did successfully redeem from Europe to Dubai. In fact, you can even redeem for short haul flights... which can be either an awesome way to try a high end product for "cheap" or a total waste of miles, depending on how you see it!

    See the chart at http://www.united.com/page/article/0,,2152,00.html.
     
  4. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Thanks! But there's no Australia-New Zealand chart, right? I mean you might say, 'why bother?' but it IS an easy easy opportunity to try out the A380 in F...
     
  5. Pat+
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    Pat+ Silver Member

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    Good catch. I'd call UA. I know folks who redeemed between Australia and NZ. The chart says "You can use your miles toward award travel on any Emirates flight, worldwide" so I think you should be covered... weird that the mileage requirement isn't called out. Why don't you call and let us know? [​IMG]
     
  6. joanek
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    joanek Silver Member

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    Thanks very much---I'm hoping to put all your hard work to use soon.
     
  7. Lucky
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    Lucky Silver Member

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    I followed up with United about the SYD-AKL question, and apparently you can't redeem Mileage Plus miles for travel exclusively between SYD and AKL and vv. Would be a nice way to sample the product without spending too many miles, though apparently it's not possible. Oh well...
     
  8. Pat+
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    Pat+ Silver Member

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    Bummer. I've updated the original post. [​IMG]
     
  9. The Mileage Millionaire
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    The Mileage Millionaire Silver Member

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    Another great way to try Emirates F on the A380 is to purchase an F ticket between HKG and BKK. The all-in round trip price is roughly $800. Although each flight is only 2.5 to 3 hours, reports are that F passengers do have the option to use the shower!
     
  10. chitownflyer
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    chitownflyer Silver Member

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    @The Mileage Millionaire, thanks for posting this. It is great info. I do wonder, is it possible to redeem EK via the Air Canada or ANA programs?
     
  11. eponymous_coward
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    eponymous_coward Gold Member

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    UA also does not publish a chart for intra-South Asia, which would cover EK flying on the HKG-BKK route. (CO allows this just fine: I have an EK segment on a 30K intra-South Asia C award, going BKK-HKG. This award, and the North Asia-South Asia C award at 30K is absolutely one of the best mileage values around, IMO. It's a pity that EK won't be part of it after March, though I hold out a little bit of hope that EK mix-and-match with *A awards will come back once UA and CO merge, though not much.

    Yeah, I don't get the shower, but to be honest, I'd rather be at the bar during a ~3 hour flight anyway. ;)
     
  12. eightblack
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    eightblack Silver Member

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    Which is exactly where you should be....[​IMG]
     
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  13. From NYC
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    From NYC Gold Member

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    Well, I've arrived at the airport after a day in a hot, humid place and the idea of catching a quick shower while on board would be great. FWIW, have flown the EK 380 in F and the shower, though you only get 15 minutes of time in the lav, is quite nice.
     
  14. J.Edward
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    J.Edward Silver Member

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    FWIW CO required N, not X, on EK to create a reward reservation for coach. Not sure if this is the case with UA but a data point none-the-less.

    Beyond that, it's a shame to see CO drop their partnership with EK as not only were the rates lower (115,000 vs 150,000 for business from North America to the Middle East), but EK could be sold in seamlessly with other *A partners at no extra cost on any sector in the award chart.

    (As a side note one of the best awards I ever did with CO was IAH-DCA/IAD-FRA-IST-NRT-BKK-SIN-CGK as a *A F award coupled with CGK-DXB-IAH as a C return on EK for 135,000, but I digress.)

    Sure would be nice if they'd consider EK as adefacto *A partner, with the *A rates of course, in allowing mileage redemptions.

    Finally if you're using expertflyer to track down space, be sure to use the +/-3 days option as that will let you cast a far larger net.
     
  15. eponymous_coward
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    eponymous_coward Gold Member

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    The EK lounge at BKK apparently has a shower, after doing some searching on the Interwebs about this. So there's that.

    I can't justify paying hundreds of dollars for a one-way F segment (which I'd have to do to get the BKK-HKG shower time at 35,000 feet) when I've got a seat in the C cabin for free as part of my CO award, though (hundreds of dollars from my vacation budget goes rather a long way towards luxuries in places like DPS and BKK). Rather expensive shower if you ask me, though it apparently does come with complimentary Dom. I do think the cash price IS brilliant for people who do have the budget for it- $800 for 7-ish hours of EK F on an HKG-BKK roundtrip? Not too shabby at all. I could completely see doing that another time when I've got more space in my budget.

    But if I'm not in my seat because I am in the lounge anyway, why should I care if that seat's in the F or C cabin? :p
     
  16. dogcrazy
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    dogcrazy Silver Member

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    Can UA miles be used to redeem Emirates award ticket ??
     
  17. Pat+
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    Pat+ Silver Member

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    Not anymore. It's over.
     
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