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Have you seen those photos of ridiculously blinged out airline seats? You know the ones: They often include flashy big screen TVs, popup minibars, digital windows and seats so big you could melt right into them. These luxurious cabins belong to Emirates, an international airline based in Dubai. While the airline will happily sell you a ticket to fly in these seats, we’ve got another way.
Let’s take a look at the airline's loyalty program, Emirates Skywards, plus how to earn airline miles and the best ways to redeem them.
Emirates isn’t all gold-hued seats and airplane bars. It has all of the regular cabins you’d expect from an airline, including high-standard economy class seating. What the company is really known for, however, is their ultra-exclusive first class products, on which you can find showers and state-of-the-art digital windows.
Fare types: Emirates operates four different cabins of service: economy, premium economy, business class and first class. You won’t find each class of service on every flight since different planes operate different cabins. If you’re looking for a specific seat, you’ll want to check seat maps online before booking.
Main U.S. routes: Emirates operates flights from 12 U.S. destinations, though generally speaking, its most popular routings tend to be from New York City and Los Angeles. You can also find a fifth-freedom route between New York-JFK and Milan (fifth-freedom routes refer to flights operated by an airline between two countries, neither of which is the airline’s home base).
Points currency and loyalty program: Emirates' loyalty program is called Emirates Skywards. You can redeem miles for flights in any class of service, and they’re fairly easy to earn.
How to earn Emirates Skywards miles
Earn by flying
Unlike most U.S. carriers, you’ll earn reward miles on your ticket based on your fare class and distance flown, not the cost of your ticket. This is good news for cheap, long-haul tickets, and the Emirates' website even features a handy calculator that estimates the amount of reward miles you’ll earn on your flight.
Earn by spending on credit cards
Emirates has two U.S. credit card options, both of which offer different features. The Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard® has a steep $499 annual fee, but comes with a 60,000 miles sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. Cardholders also enjoy a 50% bonus on all Skywards miles on Emirates flights.
» Learn more: How much are Emirates Skywards miles worth?
The Emirates Skywards Rewards World Elite Mastercard, meanwhile, has a more affordable $99 annual fee and comes with a 50,000 miles sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. Cardholders will earn a 25% bonus on reward miles on all Emirates flights.
Both cards earn 3x miles on Emirates flights, 2x miles on airfare, hotels and rental cars, and 1x miles on all other purchases.
» Learn more: Are the Emirates' Mastercards worth their annual fee?
Earn by transferring points
Emirates also happens to be a transfer partner of multiple flexible point currencies. American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards®, Brex Rewards, HSBC U.S. and Citi ThankYou points all transfer to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio, which means one point becomes one airline mile.
If you’re looking to boost your balance, The Platinum Card® from American Express is currently featuring a large welcome offer: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. That’s enough for a one-way ticket in first class from New York to Italy, with some left over.
You can also transfer Capital One miles at a 1:1 ratio to Emirates.
Finally, Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus thrown in for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Other ways to earn:
Rental cars: Booking a rental car through Emirates’ website via their partner CarTrawler will net you up to 1x airline mile per dollar spent.
Hotel stays: Depending on where you stay, you can earn up to 10,000 Emirates Skywards miles per night with your hotel booking. If you use a co-branded Emirates credit card, you can also earn an additional 2,500 miles per night.
Shopping portals: You can shop through the Emirates Skywards mall at over 1,500 stores to earn miles with every dollar you spend.
Points pooling: Emirates allows you to create a family account of up to eight members, with a dedicated head of family. You can choose to credit 100% of reward miles earned by family members to this account.
Other partners: Emirates has a number of other partnerships with which you can earn miles, including Careem, the rideshare service; Arabian Adventures, a tour company; and even the Dubai Mall.
How to redeem Emirates Skywards miles for maximum value
Redeem for first class flights
Redeeming your miles for max value is pretty easy via Emirates. In mid-2020, Emirates opted to reduce fuel surcharges for its award flights — this makes flying with them far more enticing.
Perhaps the best way to spend your Skywards miles, however, is on a first class Emirates flight itself. This is especially true since Emirates is in the process of eliminating all partner awards for its first class; if you’d like to experience the high life, you’re going to need to book it with Emirates directly.
Emirates doesn’t publish a specific award chart for its flights. Instead, you’ll need to use the flight calculator to determine how many miles each flight will cost you.
Unfortunately, Emirates doesn’t allow you to redeem miles for any fare class except “Flex Plus,” which is the airline’s most expensive option — even in miles.
Let’s take a look at the flight between New York-JFK and Milan, which is a popular option among those wanting to experience Emirates’ first class. A one-way ticket will cost you 85,000 Skywards miles, while a round-trip fare is 170,000 miles.
A flight from New York-JFK to Dubai, meanwhile, is 136,250 one-way and 272,500 miles round-trip. That’s a pretty hefty increase over the Milan routing, though obviously it’ll take you all the way to the Middle East rather than Europe.
Redeem for business class flights
Business class is another option for redeeming points, with a flight from New York-JFK to Dubai costing 100,000 miles one-way and 200,000 round-trip. As you can see, this isn’t that much cheaper than a first class ticket, but the difference between the two cabin classes is stark.
Perhaps the best case scenario in which you’d prefer to fly business over first class is when traveling with a partner — Emirates first class suites are completely isolated and thus make it difficult to experience the flight together.
Although its first class cabin is phenomenal, its business class remains outdated, with a 2x2 seating configuration that lacks privacy. If you’re looking to spend miles to fly business class, you may want to consider booking elsewhere.
Redeem for economy flights
Finally, you can also opt to fly economy, which is significantly cheaper than both business and first class flights.
A one-way award from New York-JFK to Dubai is 62,500 miles, while a round-trip ticket is 125,000 miles.
Each round-trip option is double the cost of a one-way flight, so if you’re simply looking to check off a bucket list item, you can save yourself some miles and fly first class just one-way.
Emirates elite status
Emirates has a total of four different elite levels, depending on how much you fly. The Emirates Skywards membership levels are Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Members of Blue, the airline's entry-level tier, do not have to collect tier credits to be eligible. Unfortunately, the tier doesn’t offer many benefits: There’s no complimentary seat selection, no excess baggage allowance, no miles bonus and no complimentary lounge access.
Here’s what’s included and what’s required for the higher-level tiers in Emirates’ elite status program:
Tier credits required
Complimentary seat selection
Excess baggage allowance
Earn miles bonus
Complimentary lounge access
There are plenty of other perks available, including specific benefits when you fly via FlyDubai, the low cost airline operated by Emirates.
The world’s best first class
We’ve already spent a fair amount of time talking about Emirates’ first class product, and for good reason. The airline’s cabin on the A380 features a lounge complete with dedicated bartender — and don’t even get us started on the onboard shower. Each suite is fully enclosed for ultimate privacy.
Its newest first class product, meanwhile, features just six seats in each first class cabin. You can find these seats on select Boeing 777-300ERs These suites are also completely enclosed, and Emirates has one-upped itself by creating digital windows on its middle seats, somehow transforming those dreaded spots into the cabin’s most popular options. These digital windows project images from cameras outside the plane in real time.
Emirates customers clearly agree, as the airline won best first class from TripAdvisor’s Travelers' Choice awards in 2020.
If you’re itching to try out the onboard shower or the digital window, you’ll want to make sure that you’re booking the correct cabin. Fortunately, it’s simple to figure out which airplane you’ll be flying. When searching for flights via Emirates’ website, you’ll simply look in the top right-hand corner of your flight info to see the aircraft that’s flying.
Emirates Skywards, recapped
Although many people are probably familiar with the luxury Emirates offers its customers, they’re likely less aware of how to get these seats for themselves. Fortunately, Emirates Skywards is a well-worn path toward finding and booking award flights with your airline miles.
Even better, Emirates Skywards miles are easy to earn, with co-branded credits and a number of different transfer partners, including AmEx, Chase, Capital One and Citi, which makes earning enough miles for a ticket simple.
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