Emirates will no longer offer partner first-class awards as of April 2021

Nov 6, 2020

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Emirates first class is one of the best premium cabins in the sky.

Nine of the carrier’s Boeing 777s feature the “game-changer,” sporting six fully enclosed suites with plenty of room to dine, sleep and relax. While Emirates’ A380s feature a less private first-class cabin, the double-decker planes do have an onboard shower.

Either way, flying in Emirates first class is a bucket-list experience. While some might spend north of £8,000 on a round-trip ticket, we at TPG recommend using your points and miles instead. You can book a suite with Emirates’ own loyalty programme, Skywards, or through a host of partners, including Alaska, Japan Airlines and Qantas.

But beginning 1 April 2021, you’re going to have many fewer redemption options for Emirates first class. As of then, Emirates will no longer offer first-class awards to any partner frequent flyer programmes.

Per an update to Alaska’s award chart,

Beginning April 1, 2021, Emirates will no longer allow partner access to First Class award bookings. Mileage Plan members can continue to redeem on the Emirates’ award-winning Economy Class and Business Class. Business Class redemptions include complimentary lounge access and regionally inspired gourmet dishes. 

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Alaska confirmed that this isn’t just limited to Mileage Plan. The Seattle-based carrier told TPG that Emirates is cutting off partner first-class awards entirely, not just to Alaska. That means you won’t be able to book Emirates first-class awards with Japan Airlines or Qantas, either.

In explaining the move, Alaska said that this decision came from Emirates. The Dubai-based carrier has parked many of its aircraft with larger first-class cabins, putting pressure on capacity. This combined with the displacement cost of a redemption booking during a time of depressed revenue led to the decision.

Suffice to say, this is terrible news for those who’ve been accumulating partner miles for an Emirates redemption. At least we’re getting about five months of notice, but nonetheless, this is definitely a blow to members. Of course, if air travel rebounds quicker than expected, perhaps Emirates will restore partner access to first-class awards.

It’s worth noting that back in 2016, Alaska significantly devalued the redemption rates for Emirates’ first. Before the no-notice change, you could book a one-way flight from North American to Africa for just 100,000 miles. Overnight, the Seattle-based airline roughly doubled the prices across the board. The aforementioned example jumped to 200,000 miles one way.

When Alaska increased the rates, many points enthusiasts began booking Emirates’ first-class awards directly through Skywards.

Emirates’ first-class suite on the Boeing 777 (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Two weeks ago, I got back from my first pandemic-era international trip. TPG’s Zach Honig and I went on a week-long Dubai adventure, with round-trip flights in the “game-changer.”

Over the past few months, the carrier has flown one of its nine wide-body Boeings featuring the newest onboard product to New York-JFK. In fact, there’s even some (extremely) rare award space on the route.

“The Zachs” ended up booking directly with Skywards, thanks to the new, drastically-lower surcharges. We each paid 217,500 miles plus $360 in taxes and fees. With Alaska, we would’ve been out 300,000 miles and $40 per person.

Even though Emirates has cut off access to all partners, at least Skywards remains easily accessible and a solid value for booking first-class awards.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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