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I bet you 100 dirhams you’ve heard of Emirates, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. I bet you 1,000 dirhams you haven’t heard much about Emirates Skywards, the Dubai-based carrier’s frequent-flyer program.

Ironically, Emirates continues to deliver the highest levels of service and therefore earns the highest levels of praise. Its loyalty program…not so much.

However, after some recent changes to Emirates Skywards, the program is worth a second look.

Emirates Airline Partners

Emirates isn’t a member of a specific airline alliance, yet it has non-alliance partnerships with the following carriers:

  • Air Mauritius
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Copa Airlines
  • easyJet
  • Gol Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes
  • Japan Airlines (JAL)
  • JetBlue
  • Jetstar
  • Korean Air
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • S7 Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • TAP Air Portugal

Emirates Skywards Miles’ Expiration Policy

Emirates implements a rather quirky mileage expiration policy. Your miles expire after three years, even if you have some activity, such as earning or redeeming. However, the miles don’t expire exactly three years after being earned. They expire at the end of your birthday month within the calendar they’re due to expire.

If your Skywards miles expire in the next 90 days, it’s possible to extend their validity for another 12 months for $20 per 1,000 miles (up to 50,000 miles per year).

You can also pay to reinstate already expired miles (as long as they expired within the last 180 days) at a rate of $20 per 1,000 miles (up to 50,000 miles per year). The miles will be extended for another 12 months.

How to Earn Emirates Skywards Miles

Emirates Skywards is a transfer program of multiple transferrable currencies: American Express Membership Rewards points (1:1), Capital One Venture Miles (2:1), Citi ThankYou Points (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy points (3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points converted).

With that many transfer options, you’re sure to have no issues topping up your Emirates Skywards account balance.

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How to Book Emirates Skywards Awards

Award Chart is Distance-Based

Emirates Skywards doesn’t publish an award chart, and the rates vary based on where and how far you fly. Think of it as a distance-based award chart. A flight originating on the U.S. East Coast to either Europe or to Dubai is going to cost you fewer miles than a flight originating on the U.S. West Coast.

For example, a one-way business-class Emirates flight from New York City (JGK) to Dubai (DXB) will set you back 100,000 Skywards miles.

One way business class Emirates flight

A shorter fifth-freedom flight from New York to either Milan (MXP) or to Athens, Greece (ATH), will set you back a more reasonable 62,500 Skywards miles instead. So, if you’re looking to experience premium-cabin service without shelling out too many miles, opt for a shorter flight.

Outbound flight from New York to Milan

One-Way Flights Cost More Than Half the Rate of Round-Trip Awards in Some Classes of Service

Keep in mind that one-way flights require more miles than half of a round-trip itinerary in economy and in business class. In other words, you’re better off booking a round-trip flight at once than booking two one ways separately when flying either class of service.

Let’s re-create the earlier flight from New York to Dubai and back booked into business class as a round-trip journey. In this case, you’ll need 145,000 Skywards miles, which comes to 72,500 per direction instead of the 100,000 miles when booked one way.

Round-trip itinerary

The mileage savings on a round-trip itinerary are substantial.

Effective July 1, booking a round-trip Emirates award in first class using Skywards miles no longer provides a discount, which means booking a return journey will be double the mileage cost of a one-way flight. In other words, there’s no benefit to booking a round-trip flight in first class.

You Can Mix Classes of Service on Round-Trip Flights

If you’re not committed to flying in one cabin or perhaps you don’t have enough miles in your account, it’s possible to mix classes of service on a round-trip booking with Emirates Skywards. In this case, the cost of each segment is based on a round-trip booking cost.

Booking flight

So, if you wanted to fly from New York to Dubai in economy class and back in business class, you’d redeem 108,750 Skywards miles—36,250 for the leg in economy and 72,500 miles for the leg in business class.

Business class round-trip itinerary

Keep in mind that you can’t mix classes on a one-way journey. We’ll see an illustration of how it works in an example below.

Add Stopovers to Round-Trip Bookings

For globetrotters looking to explore multiple destinations on one trip, the Emirates Skywards program offers stopovers on round-trip itineraries booked with miles. To make a reservation with a stopover in Dubai, head to the Advanced Search, check “Search Emirates flights only” and build your multi-city itinerary by adding cities to the list of flights.

In the example below, you’re flying from New York City to Dubai, stopping over for several days before continuing to Male, Maldives (MLE), your final destination, staying there for a week and returning back to New York with a short layover in Dubai.

Booking a flight

And the whole itinerary with each segment in business class will set you back 235,000 miles + $550 in taxes.

Flight details

Remember about mixing classes of service? In this scenario, Male is your final destination, therefore New York City-Dubai-Male is considered a one-way journey even though you stopover in Dubai for multiple days.

When looking to mix classes of service, you have to make sure that all your segments on a one-way journey are available in the same cabin of service. It’s not possible to fly to Dubai in first class and to Male in business class if that’s all that’s available. You have to make sure that both segments are bookable in your preferred class because Male is considered the final destination.

Once you reach Male, you can change your cabin preference on the return, but again both segments must be available in the same class of service on the return to be able to book it with miles.

Emirates First-Class Awards Aren’t Available to All Partners

I’m sure you’ve heard about champagne flowing like water and showers flowing like…well…also water aboard Emirates first class. A suite in the sky is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, and it’s just gotten a little more difficult to book.

It goes without saying that Emirates Skywards members have access to first-class awards. However, not all of the airline’s partners can say the same.

For example, as of recently, Alaska Mileage Plan members can no longer book Emirates first class using miles. Qantas Frequent Flyer members and JAL Mileage Bank members still have access to these coveted awards, but for how long? We don’t have the answer, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Emirates made its first-class award seats available only to its own loyalty program members.

How to Book Partner Flights with Emirates Skywards Miles

You can book some partner flights, such as Alaska Airlines, easyJet, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas, online.

It’s worth noting that beginning Aug. 1, Emirates and Alaska Airlines will end their partnership, and you won’t be able to redeem Emirates Skywards miles for Alaska-operated flights. Alaska award flights booked through Emirates Skywards by July 31 will be valid for travel after Aug. 1 according to existing ticket rules.

For booking award flights on other airlines, you have to contact Emirates via web chat or fill out a redemption request form.

When searching for partner awards bookable through the website, make sure to check the “Search partner flights only” selection. Enter your travel dates, your route and click “Search.”

Searching for partner awards

In the example below, I searched for a JetBlue flight from Salt Lake City to Boston. It came out to 26,000 miles one way whether I searched for a one-way flight or a round-trip journey. So, it appears that a one-way “upcharge” applies to Emirates’ own flights only.

Outbound Flight from Salt Lake City to Boston

The same flight booked with JetBlue directly came out to 14,600 TrueBlue points, so I wouldn’t redeem Skywards miles in this case.

Flight booked with JetBlue

The next search I performed is for a JAL-operated flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND). The search result spat out a few redemption rates: 44,000 Skywards miles for a one-way flight in coach, 88,000 miles for a one-way flight in business class and 132,000 miles for a one-way flight in first class. The taxes at $10.10 are reasonable as well.

Outbound flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo

For comparison’s sake, you can book a JAL flight from the U.S. to Tokyo for 35,000 AAdvantage miles in coach, 60,000 miles in business class and 80,000 miles in first class through American Airlines.

Flight details

However, you have to remember that AAdvantage miles aren’t as easy to earn. The program doesn’t partner with any transferable point programs, but Emirates partners with all the major banks, so the miles are much easier to obtain. Sometimes you have to redeem more miles through the program whose currency you have than fewer miles you don’t have.

Although 132,000 miles for 11 hours in first class is a bit steep, the business-class rate of 88,000 miles seems more reasonable.

Save on Lower Award Fees

Historically, Emirates Skywards charged a lot of money in taxes and fees on top of the miles on Emirates-operated flights. Sure, you could book an award flight at a reasonable redemption rate but then shell out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in fees.

To many travelers’ relief, the Dubai-based carrier has reduced those fees to a rational amount. Now, you’ll pay about $180 on a one-flight from New York to Dubai and about $230 on the way back. That amount used to be topping $1,600 before the airline reduced fees on award tickets, which is a huge improvement.

Pool Skywards Miles into My Family Account

As part of the My Family program, Emirates Skywards members can pool up to 100% of miles earned from flying on Emirates, flydubai or partner airlines into a single account for faster rewards accumulation.

My family program

Each Skywards account can include up to eight family members. To pool rewards, create a My Family account, invite up to seven immediate family members and combine Skywards miles whenever you want. You can move a portion of the miles or all of them into a family head’s account for future use.

Immediate family members include a spouse or a domestic partner, children, step-children, grandchildren, parents, in-laws, siblings and domestic helper.

Pooling miles into a family account doesn’t leave orphan miles in family members’ accounts and therefore eliminates a chance of expiring before three years are up.

Final Thoughts

With the reduction in fuel surcharges and a possibility of first-class being available to Emirates Skywards only in the near future, the program should be on your radar, if not already.

The ability to pool miles into one account, transfer from multiple sources and book free stopovers on round-trip awards makes Emirates Skywards a compelling choice for booking awards on Emirates metal.

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