Are the New Emirates Mastercards Worth Their Annual Fee?

If you can take advantage of the automatic elite status perks, these Emirates credit cards are worth a look.

JT GenterSeptember 16, 2020
Are the new Emirates Mastercards worth their annual fee?

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On Monday, Emirates launched two credit cards for U.S. travelers, issued through Barclays. Between complimentary Emirates elite status, a solid mileage earning rate and lounge access, there’s a lot to like about these new credit cards for the right traveler.

But are these cards worth the annual fee? The Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card charges a hefty $499 annual fee while the Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card costs a more-affordable $99 per year. Let’s compare the benefits to see if the new Emirates credit cards justify these annual fees for you.

Instant Emirates elite status

The marquee benefit of the two new Emirates credit cards is elite status. Both the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card and the Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card offer instant Emirates elite status just for signing up. Plus, cardholders can maintain elite status just by spending on the credit card.

For the first year after being approved for the card, Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card ($99 annual fee) customers get Skywards Silver elite status. Meanwhile, Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card ($499 annual fee) customers get Skywards Gold elite status for the first year after being approved for the card.

Silver is Emirates’ first tier of elite status and is typically granted after members earn 25,000 Tier Miles or take 25 qualifying flights. Despite being the bottom tier of elite status, Silver members get perks including:

  • Access to Emirates business class lounges.

  • Complimentary seat selection.

  • Extra baggage allowance.

  • Priority check-in and boarding.

  • Earn 25% bonus miles when flying Emirates and flydubai.

Gold is Emirates’ mid-tier elite status and typically requires 50,000 Tier Miles or 50 flights to qualify. In addition to the Silver elite benefits, Gold elite members get benefits including:

  • Even more extra baggage allowance.

  • 50% bonus miles.

  • Guest access for lounges.

  • Free seat selection for companions.

  • Priority baggage delivery.

  • Guaranteed seats on Emirates flights — even on full flights.

Each traveler is going to value elite perks differently. So, it’s going to depend on your situation if the perks of Emirates Silver are worth paying a $99 annual fee. And you’ll definitely want to make sure the additional perks of Emirates Gold are worth paying a $400 increase in the annual fee.

Keep your elite status through spending

To maintain elite status beyond the first year, you’ll need to spend on your credit card. To maintain Emirates Silver, Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card customers will need to spend $20,000 in the first cardholder year. Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card customers will need to spend $40,000 in the first year to maintain Gold elite status for the next cardholder year. And yes, even though Emirates is based in the United Arab Emirates, these amounts are in U.S. dollars.

Emirates credit card sign-up bonus

The mileage sign-up bonus is another major benefit of getting one of the Emirates credit cards. Both cards require cardholders to spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. However, the sign-up bonus is slightly different between the two cards:

  • Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card: 30,000 bonus miles.

  • Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card: 40,000 bonus miles.

While we do not have specific valuation data on all international airlines, including Emirates, if we use a common average valuation of 1 cent per mile, the sign-up bonus is worth around $300 on the Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card and around $400 for the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card.

There are plenty of credit cards that offer better sign-up bonuses, but if you’re loyal to Emirates Skywards, this can be a nice boost toward your next mileage redemption.

Earning miles through the Emirates credit cards

Both Emirates credit cards offer the same mileage earning structure:

  • Earn 3 Skywards Miles for every $1 spent via Emirates’ website or sales office.

  • Earn 2 Skywards Miles for every $1 spent on eligible airfares, hotel stays and car rentals.

  • Earn 1 Skywards Mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

That’s a pretty solid earning structure for an airline credit card. Many U.S. co-branded airline credit cards earn only 2 miles per dollar on purchases with the relevant airline. Only a few premium airline co-branded credit cards — such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card — earn 3x miles on airline purchases. Terms apply.

Also, while other co-branded airline cards give an earning bonus only for car and hotel partners, the Emirates credit cards are unique in earning 2x miles on all other airlines, hotel and car rental purchases.

Besides re-earning elite status, there’s another incentive to spend on the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card. Cardholders who spend $30,000 or more in a cardholder year will earn an additional 10,000 bonus Emirates miles. There’s no such spending bonus on the Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card.

Priority Pass lounge access

One of the perks of the $499 annual fee Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card is a Priority Pass Select membership. This program grants members access to over 1,300 lounges worldwide.

While other credit cards limit their Priority Pass memberships, this membership provides unlimited visits for the cardholder and guests. That can make this membership incredibly valuable for those who travel through airports with Priority Pass lounges. An unlimited (Prestige level) membership retails for $429, and that doesn't include complimentary guests.

Reimbursed Global Entry or TSA Precheck fees

Another perk on the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card is a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees. Both Global Entry and TSA Precheck are Trusted Traveler Programs of the Department of Homeland Security and save members time when clearing airport security.

If you charge either a Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee to your card, you’ll get up to a $100 statement credit to reimburse that charge. The Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card benefit is available only every five years — which is the length of both Global Entry and TSA Precheck memberships.

Other perks on both Emirates credit cards

In addition to the benefits covered above, these three perks on both cards are also noteworthy:

  • Receive a 25% discount when buying or gifting Emirates miles.

  • No mileage expiration for as long as your account is open.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Other sources of Emirates Skywards miles

These new credit cards are yet another big push into the U.S. points and miles ecosystem for Emirates. Over the past couple of years, we have seen Emirates become a Chase Ultimate Rewards® partner and then a Citi ThankYou points partner.

With those additions, Emirates Skywards is now a transfer partner of all five major transferrable currencies: American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 transfer ratio), Capital One miles (2:1 transfer ratio), Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ (1:1 transfer ratio), Citi ThankYou points (1:1 transfer ratio) and Marriott Bonvoy (3:1 transfer ratio).

The bottom line

The new Emirates credit cards both offer tempting perks. New cardholders will get either Silver or Gold Emirates elite status for the first year. While the sign-up bonuses aren't the best, the cards offer solid earning rates on purchases with Emirates and other travel. Plus, Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card customers can earn a 10,000-mile bonus for spending $30,000 in a year.

For most casual Emirates travelers, the $99 annual fee Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card is going to make the most sense. Silver elite status gets you access to business class lounges and other elite perks for the first year. Plus, there’s a reasonable spending requirement to maintain this elite status in future years. And the bonus miles you’ll earn through the card will help you toward your next award redemption.

If you’re planning to fly Emirates a lot going forward, it could be worth splurging for the $499 annual fee Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card for the higher elite status. That value is even greater if you don’t already have a credit card that comes with a Priority Pass membership or reimbursed Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees.

However, for most travelers, these cards don’t provide enough value to justify the annual fee and are more suited for those who plan to, or already, fly Emirates at least a few times per year.

The information related to the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

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