How to Upgrade to Business or First Class on Emirates

Emirates upgrades require specific booking, miles usage and planning, but its worth the effort.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Published
Edited by Meg Lee

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There aren't many more glamorous ways to fly than in Emirates business or first class. But, unfortunately for points and miles travelers, Emirates rarely makes business or first class awards available to partner airlines. That means travelers need to either redeem Emirates Skywards miles or pay cash to directly book these seats.

But, there's another, arguably better, way to score a first or business class seat — by upgrading your booking from a lower class of service.

That may mean booking Emirates economy with cash and taking advantage of an upgrade offer. Or you could redeem Emirates Skywards miles for a business class award, and then use more miles to upgrade to first class.

Here's what you need to know about how to upgrade to business or first class on Emirates.

Emirates business class upgrades

Emirates economy passengers can upgrade their economy or premium economy seat to business class in advance on Emirates' website, during check-in or even after boarding their flight.

Free upgrades

Emirates doesn't offer free upgrades — even to its Skywards elite members.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The only way to reliably get an upgrade on Emirates is by purchasing it with miles or cash.

With that said, very lucky passengers could end up getting an upgrade for operational reasons. For instance, when flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong on Emirates in 2018, my wife and I were surprised to have a new business class boarding pass print out when we scanned our economy boarding pass. However, these so-called "operational upgrades" are incredibly rare.

Business class upgrades with miles

Emirates Skywards members can upgrade their flight online using miles when booking a qualifying fare class. "Special" tickets aren't upgradable, but all other fare classes are.

The cost to upgrade with miles — and when you can confirm an upgrade — depends on which fare type you book.

The upgrade cost shows during the booking process on Emirates' website. For example, on an Emirates flight from New York-John F. Kennedy to Milan, the cost to upgrade from economy to business class using miles is as follows:

  • Saver fare: 82,000 miles one-way (only possible after check-in opens).

  • Flex fare: 50,700 miles one-way.

  • Flex Plus fare: 39,000 miles one-way.

Another way of checking the cost of an upgrade is to use Emirates' Miles Calculator. Enter your route, cabin class and Emirates Skywards elite status level. Then click calculate.

Finally, click on the "Upgrade" option to see the mileage costs for each fare class option.

In the example from New York-JFK to Dubai, the cost to upgrade from economy to business is as follows:

  • Saver fare: 133,000 miles one-way (only possible after check-in opens).

  • Flex fare: 91,260 miles one-way.

  • Flex plus fare: 70,200 miles one-way.

Beware: Upgrades aren't always an option

One benefit of searching for the upgrade price through the booking process is that Emirates will display whether or not an upgrade is available for your selected flight at that time.

In the example below, clicking on the "eligible" link on the "Upgrade to Business" line pops up an overlay that notes "there is currently no upgrade availability for this flight; there may be availability at a later stage."

If you’re counting on upgrading your flight, consider alternate dates or flights that have availability at the time of booking.

Business class upgrades using cash

If you don't have Emirates Skywards miles (or don't have enough points to transfer into Emirates Skywards) for an upgrade, the airline also offers the option to do so using cash.

Unlike upgrading with Skywards miles — which uses predictable pricing — the cost to upgrade with cash is more dynamic. For example, an upgrade from economy to premium economy might be priced at $1,000 one-way. Meanwhile, you might get an offer to upgrade from economy to business class for less than that on other routes.

To see the exact cost for upgrading your flight, enter your booking details here to see your offer.

First class Emirates upgrades

Emirates first class upgrades work similarly. You can redeem Skywards miles or pay cash to upgrade from Emirates business class to first class.

As an example of the mileage cost, let's consider a paid Emirates flight from Milan to New York-JFK. Again, the mileage cost for this upgrade will depend on which business class fare you book:

  • Special: No upgrades possible.

  • Saver fare: 50,700 miles one-way (only possible after check-in opens).

  • Flex fare: 44,850 miles one-way.

  • Flex Plus fare: 39,000 miles one-way.

If those upgrade rates sound reasonable, keep in mind that rates climb sharply from here. For example, it costs 212,940 Skywards miles to upgrade from an Emirates Saver business class fare to Emirates first class on a flight from Los Angeles to Dubai.

Last-minute Emirates upgrades

If you're looking to upgrade your Emirates flight at the last-minute, you aren't out of luck. Indeed, last-minute upgrades can be one of the easiest ways to upgrade your Emirates flight.

Emirates only releases so many seats for awards and advance upgrades. If all of those slots are taken, your flight will show as not available for upgrade. If you waitlist for an upgrade and nothing opens up before 48 hours to departure, your upgrade request will be canceled.

However, once at the airport, upgrades are possible without any capacity controls. If there's an available seat, it can be booked with miles. In fact, you can even upgrade your seat once you're onboard — although it's better to do so at the check-in counter so you can enjoy more perks of the upgrade. The cost to upgrade is the same as if you'd upgraded in advance of boarding.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you upgrade at the last-minute — less than 48 hours to departure — you might not get an upgraded meal. Emirate only pledges to "do our best to accommodate you with a meal from the upgraded cabin class menu."

Restrictions on Emirates upgrades

  • Limited to one class of service. You're not going to be able to upgrade from economy all the way to first class. If you want to have a shot at flying first class, you'll need to book business class.

  • Must book through Emirates for mileage upgrades. In order to upgrade using miles, you'll need to book your flight through Emirates using cash or Skywards miles. Partner award bookings aren't eligible for mileage upgrades.

  • No mileage bonus on upgrades. Skywards members earn miles based on their original booking cabin. That means you won't earn bonus miles for upgrading to a higher cabin.

How to earn Emirates Miles

As you can see above, Skywards miles are key to upgrading your Emirates flight. Thanks to Emirates' partnerships with several major transferable point partners, Skywards miles are pretty easy to accumulate.

You can transfer points to Emirates from the following points programs at a 1:1 transfer ratio:

Alternatively, you can earn Emirates Skywards miles directly by using an Emirates Skywards credit card. Getting one of these cards will also net you a large Skywards miles sign-up bonus to get you started.

Top cards for booking Emirates flights
Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard®
Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® Credit Card
Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard®
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Annual fee

$99.

$499.

$695.

$395.

Earnings rates

• 3 miles per $1 on eligible Emirates purchases, which includes purchases on emirates.com or at the Emirates sales office.

• 2 miles per $1 on airfare, hotels and rental cars.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 3 miles per $1 on eligible Emirates purchases, which includes purchases on emirates.com or at the Emirates sales office.

• 2 miles per $1 on airfare, hotels and rental cars.

• 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

• 5 points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 spent per year.

• 5 points per $1 on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

• 1 point per $1 on other eligible purchases.

Terms apply.

• 10 miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars through Capital One Travel.

• 5 miles per $1 on flights through Capital One Travel.

• 2 miles per $1 on everything else.

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Final thoughts on Emirates upgrades

Keep in mind you’ll need to book directly through Emirates for the best chance of getting the option to upgrade. And you'll need to redeem Skywards miles if you want to upgrade an award flight. Remember that you can only upgrade one cabin, so make sure to book Emirates business class if you want to upgrade to first.

As you can see, getting an upgrade on Emirates can be complicated. But, all of this hassle will feel worth it when you sink into your business or first class seat or mosey up to the exclusive onboard bar on the Emirates Airbus A380.


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