British Airways vs. Emirates: Which Is Better?
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British Airways and Emirates are both known for impeccable service and expansive route networks — with each flying to more than 70 countries. However, there can only be one winner in the battle of British Airways versus Emirates.
Let's compare five key metrics for the two airlines to see which one comes out on top.
Where they’re based and where they fly
Winner: British Airways
British Airways serves more total destinations and more destinations in the U.S. than Emirates. Plus, London is a more convenient connecting point for U.S.-based travelers than Dubai.
As of this writing, British Airways serves more than 200 destinations across 79 countries. That includes more than two dozen U.S. destinations from the airline's home in London. To get to British Airways' numerous other destinations — from Algeria to Zambia — you'll need to connect in London.
Like British Airways, Emirates operates a hub-and-spoke route through its headquarters in Dubai. As of this writing, Emirates flies to 136 destinations across 75 countries. Emirates destinations in the U.S. include:
In addition, Emirates operates a couple of fifth-freedom routes between the U.S. and Europe that don't touch the United Arab Emirates. From the U.S., you can fly on Emirates between:
New York-JFK and Milan, Italy.
New York-Newark and Athens, Greece.
Travel credit card availability
Emirates takes this category. Emirates offers more co-branded credit card choices. Plus, you can transfer points to Skywards from any major transferable points program.
U.S. travelers can sign-up for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. The current welcome offer is: Earn up to 100,000 Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening.
Plus, cardholders get a 10% discount on British Airways flights departing the U.S. and up to $600 in statement credits to offset the high fees that British Airways can charge on its reward flights. Big spenders are rewarded with a Travel Together companion pass for spending $30,000 in a calendar year.
You can also build your British Airways Executive Club balance by transferring points from:
American Express Membership Rewards — 1:1 transfer ratio.
Capital One Miles — 1:1 transfer ratio.
Chase Ultimate Rewards® — 1:1 transfer ratio.
Marriott Bonvoy — 3:1 transfer ratio.
Bilt Rewards — 1:1 transfer ratio.
Emirates offers U.S.-based travelers a choice between two co-branded credit cards.
The Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card charges a $99 annual fee.
Earn 50,000 bonus Skywards Miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Cardholders will also start out with Emirates Skywards Silver elite status for the first year after opening your card. Keep this status by spending $20,000 in a card membership year.
Meanwhile, the premium Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card charges a heftier $499 annual fee.
Earn 60,000 bonus Skywards Miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Getting the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card gets you Skywards Gold elite status for the first year. Maintain this status by spending $40,000 in a cardmember year.
» Learn more: What to know about the Emirates Skywards credit cards
In addition to Emirates co-branded cards, you can generate Emirates Skywards miles by transferring points from all five major transferrable point programs and some transfer program newcomers:
American Express Membership Rewards.
Capital One Miles.
Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Citi ThankYou Points.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Airline loyalty program
Emirates and British Airways have similar earning structures that reward flyers miles based on the fare class and the distance of the flight. However, Emirates Skywards is more valuable than British Airways Avios for both economy and business class awards.
British Airways flyers earn Avios based on the fare class booked and the distance of the flight, with the earning rate ranging between 25% and 300% of flight miles. If you have Executive Club elite status, you'll earn between 25% (Bronze) and 100% (Gold) bonus Avios.
When it comes to redeeming Avios for British Airways rewards flights, flyers can expect to get just 0.8 cent each for economy flights and 1.9 cents per Avios in business class. That's low compared with the other airline loyalty programs we analyzed.
British Airways Avios can be much more valuable when redeemed for award flights on British Airways' Oneworld alliance partners. Among the British Airways sweet spots is the ability to book flights to the Caribbean for just 7,500 Avios each way and flying to Hawaii for as few as 13,000 Avios each way.
» Learn more: Your guide to the British Airways Avios program
Emirates flyers earn Skywards miles based on the distance of the flight, cabin booked and the fare class of their ticket. Instead of publishing an earning chart, Emirates provides a calculator that flyers can use to see how many miles they'll earn from Emirates and FlyDubai flights.
Skywards elite members earn a bonus on top of their base earnings.
Silver elites earn a 25% bonus.
Gold elites earn a 50% bonus.
Platinum elites get a 75% bonus.
In NerdWallet's analysis, Emirates Skywards miles are worth 1 cent per mile for economy redemptions and a whopping 3 cents per mile for business class redemptions.
Emirates isn't a member of any airline alliance. However, Emirates has inked partnerships with 14 airlines which flyers can use to earn and spend Skywards miles. Emirates' only U.S. partner is JetBlue, and this partnership lets flyers book JetBlue Mint flights with Skywards miles at reasonable rates.
» Learn more: The guide to Emirates Skywards
Emirates also beats British Airways in this category by charging lower fees and including a free checked bag on all fares.
From seat selection fees to first checked bag fees on the cheapest fares, British Airways comes across as nickel-and-diming passengers for items that many passengers may assume are included in their ticket price.
On reward flights, passengers now need to pay up to $641 in fees on round-trip economy flights, almost $1,000 round-trip in premium economy and nearly $2,000 in business and first class. These substantial airline fees virtually eliminate any value of British Airways Avios.
» Learn more: Which airlines have the best and worst fees?
Emirates also charges seat selection fees for its cheapest Economy Special and Economy Saver fares. However, all Emirates passengers can check at least one bag for free. For flights touching the Americas and Africa, even the cheapest fares get one free checked bag of up to 23 kilograms (around 50 pounds). For all other routes, passengers get at least 20 kilograms (around 44 pounds) of checked luggage.
Unfortunately, fees on Emirates award flights have recently increased. But, these fees still fall short of British Airways' fees. For example, fees on round-trip award flights between New York and Dubai cost $408 in economy and $1,672 in business class.
British Airways has made significant improvements over the past few years. However, Emirates offers an unrivaled experience in all four cabins it offers. Emirates beats out British Airways by offering free messaging and Wi-Fi packages to Skywards premium cabin passengers and elite members and live TV to all passengers. Plus, travelers can achieve the lounge and onboard perks of Skywards elite status via Skywards credit cards.
» Learn more: The best airlines for onboard entertainment, Wi-Fi
In 2018, British Airways launched a refresh of its economy ("World Traveller") and premium economy ("World Traveller Plus") cabins — which added 50% larger screens and power at every seat. The airline followed that up with long-overdue new direct-aisle access "Club Suites" business class and first class products.
Known for being over-the-top glitzy, Emirates cabins are clearly designed to impress. In economy, you'll find a large entertainment screen with seemingly endless entertainment options and surprisingly good food. Emirates new premium economy cabin offers design elements that make it seem like you're flying private.
Business class on Emirates gets you a spacious seat and access to the onboard bar on Emirates Airbus A380s. And Emirates first class is in a league of its own — especially in the new fully-enclosed Mercedes-Benz-inspired suites being rolled out.
The bottom line
When comparing British Airways versus Emirates, Emirates comes out as the clear winner.
Emirates offers more credit card options and better card perks. Plus, Skywards miles are more valuable than British Airways Avios, Emirates charges fewer fees and Emirates provides a better onboard product.
However, travelers may still want to fly with British Airways instead of Emirates when Dubai isn't the ideal connecting point for where they want to go.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card