Sweet Spot: Fly Emirates First Class For Fewest Miles, Fees With This Trick

by Chris Dong

Over the weekend, Chase Ultimate Rewards added its latest transfer partner — Emirates Skywards. While this post was originally going to announce that bit of news, it quickly morphed into something better.

The frequent flyer program of the airline known for its blinged out business and first class cabins hasn’t really been on my radar. After the announcement, I dug a bit deeper into a few Emirates Skywards redemption opportunities. Most people have been turned off by the program due to huge carrier-imposed surcharges and fees (not to mention a significant number of miles) required with Skywards bookings.

However, there seems to be sweet spot that is under the radar (or a new development?) that’s not just a good redemption for Skywards, but also perhaps one of the best value redemptions for flying Emirates first class.

First, here is the bit of news about Chase’s latest transfer partner.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

Now, Chase has ten Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners. These include:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Air France-KLM
  • British Airways
  • Emirates
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest
  • United Airlines (exclusive to Chase)
  • Virgin Atlantic

Additionally, Chase has three hotel transfer partners. These include:

  • Hyatt (exclusive to Chase)
  • IHG
  • Marriott

How to Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are fairly easy to earn thanks to generous signup (and spend) bonuses. Points can be earned with Chase’s many business and personal cards. Don’t forget about Chase’s 5/24 rule if you’re thinking of applying. Some of these cards include:

  • Chase Ink Business Cash Card – comes with $500 cash back (or 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points if you have a premium card like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Business Preferred, etc.). The card earns 5x points at office supply stores. There’s no annual fee.
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Card –  comes with a hefty 80,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus and earns 3x points on travel, shipping, advertising, internet and cable service. The annual fee is $95.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve Card has a 50,000 UR welcome bonus and earns 3x points on dining and travel and  a $300 travel credit that helps offset the $450 annual fee.

Emirates Skywards — The Basics

Emirates Skywards is also a transfer partner of both Capital One and American Express, so Chase isn’t unique here. It’s an often overlooked program — for good reason, because its a program with mostly limited value.

However, Skywards miles for upgrades sometimes can make sense. Otherwise, as mentioned, outright redemptions usually require a huge amount of fees and surcharges and a decent number of miles too.

For example, a New York to Dubai roundtrip flight has about $1,700+ in carrier imposed surcharges and taxes and requires 145,000 miles in business class or 217,500 miles in first class.

Emirates’ New York To Milan & Athens Flights

An Emirates Skywards Redemption Without Absurd Fees?

a map of the world

Emirates fifth freedom routes between NYC, ATH/MXP

Now to the good stuff. Emirates also operates a few fifth freedom routes to the US including New York-JFK to Milan and Newark to Athens.

The number of Skywards miles required for booking a one-way differs from booking a roundtrip.

Miles For A One-Way Between JFK-MXP or EWR-ATH

  • Economy: 38,750 miles
  • Business: 62,500 miles
  • First: 85,000 miles

Miles For A Roundtrip Between JFK-MXP or EWR-ATH

  • Economy: 22,500 miles (per direction)
  • Business: 45,000 miles (per direction)
  • First: 67,500 miles (per direction)

These mileage amounts definitely aren’t terrible. Not jaw-dropping but not bad. As you can see, booking a roundtrip saves a significant number of miles over a one-way. But of course, how about those pesky carrier-imposed taxes and fees? And what about routing? This is where things can get very interesting.

Emirates First Class Fees = Economy Fees

On Emirates’ website, when booking a flight using Skywards miles in economy, fees are about $180-220 in each direction. Then for business class, that goes up to a whopping $500-700 in each direction. Finally, we get to first class. At least online, it looks like first class carrier-imposed charges are exactly the same as economy. 

This isn’t just relegated to Milan or Athens but also seems to work for other destinations as well. However, for the scope of this post, I’m going to stick to discussing the New York to Milan and Athens routes.

Here are the fees for each class of service in one direction (the number of miles shown are as if this were to be booked as a roundtrip):

a screenshot of a flight ticket

It looks like whether booking as a one-way or a roundtrip, Emirates is pricing out first class fees at the economy level.

Here are the total number of miles and taxes, fees, and carrier-imposed surcharges for a roundtrip first class flight between New York and Milan.

a screenshot of a phoneAnd here are the total number of miles and taxes, fees, and carrier-imposed surcharges for a roundtrip economy class flight between New York and Milan.

a close-up of a white cardYep, same amount of fees. At least in my book, 135,000 miles + $401 is a pretty awesome redemption for a roundtrip first class between the US and Europe. Keep in mind this is Emirates’ flagship A380 on the JFK-MXP route (the EWR-ATH route is operated on a Boeing 777) — we’re talking about suites, showers, an onboard bar, and opulence galore.

Wait, but it gets better…

The Amazing First Class Redemption With Emirates Skywards

Emirates A380 First Class Seat

Emirates A380 First Class Seat

While I mentioned the direct New York to Milan and Newark to Athens flights above, not flying direct turns this from a great redemption opportunity to an incredible one.

Emirates allows a routing through Dubai on these fifth freedom routes — and still charges the same exact miles and taxes as if you were flying direct. 

Yes, that means you can fly one-way in Emirates First Class from New York to Dubai to Milan for 85,000 miles and ~$190 in taxes and fees. 😮

emirates first class

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Theoretically, this should also work for the roundtrip rate that I quoted above for 135,000 Skywards miles and ~$400 in fees. However, you would have to find first class award space on all four segments — JFK-DXB, DXB-MXP, MXP-DXB, and DXB-JFK.

That’s simply insane value — and fewer miles than what Alaska MileagePlan required pre-devaluation. Alaska previously required 100,000 miles each way for Emirates first between the US and Europe via Dubai (but with only about $40 in taxes and fees). That increased last year to 180,000 Alaska miles each way.

This routing at the mileage levels seem to be just limited to the fifth freedom cities between New York and Milan/Athens. To find availability, use ExpertFlyer, search on Emirates’ site directly, or use an award booking service like our affiliate partner Juicy Miles.

Has anyone tried to book this first class redemption? Did it actually work in practice?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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NEAL August 26, 2019 - 1:55 pm

could you layover in DXB

Chris Dong August 26, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Hey Neal, I saw a layover of 20 hours possible but I don’t believe stopovers would work as it would probably price out as two separate awards.

Josh August 26, 2019 - 2:26 pm

Is there a way to see how the stopover would price out if you don’t have enough miles in your account?

Chris Dong August 26, 2019 - 2:56 pm

Hey Josh, you don’t need any Skywards miles in your account to view pricing and availability through the website.

Bill n DC August 26, 2019 - 4:05 pm

Not bad, but I now feel better about my 180,000 Alaskan miles JFK-DXB-ICN one way and less than $20 fees 🙂

Mike August 26, 2019 - 4:32 pm

I like that you can book mixed class since it can be hard/impossible to find first class availability. Using the outbound date you show above, 10 Mar 20 I was able to find first class JFK-DXB-MXP with an 8-hour layover, and a return on 27 Mar 20 in economy (direct or 20 hour layover at DXB). It prices out at a total of 90k miles and $412 USD. Thanks for pointing at this redemption possibility while all the other blogs are just blowing off Skywards altogether.

Chris Dong August 26, 2019 - 8:28 pm

Thanks Mike! Glad you pointed out the mixed cabin redemption opportunity. As you mentioned, 90k + $412 is still excellent for a first/economy combo with 4 segments.

Issac Reisman August 26, 2019 - 5:48 pm

Are the 777 on this route the new ones?

Chris Dong August 26, 2019 - 8:26 pm

Unfortunately, no scheduled date for the new 777 for that route yet. But always check ExpertFlyer since there’s always the off chance it gets subbed in.

Christian August 26, 2019 - 9:52 pm

There is some value to be had! Sweet. I’d looked at the prices, balked at the prices and surcharges, then given up. Now there may be some possibilities.

Christian August 26, 2019 - 10:19 pm

Also, do the lower YQ charges apply on all routes from the US to Europe?

Searching for Emirates sweet spots with partner airline awards September 3, 2019 - 4:40 am

[…] In addition to the many ways one can get miles, there are many ways to spend Emirates Skywards miles.  You can, of course, spend miles to fly Emirates.  Unfortunately, instead of an award chart for their own flights, they offer a miles calculator.  This makes it tough to find sweet spot awards as you’d have to plug in all possible city pairs to do an exhaustive search.  Fortunately, others have uncovered some great options such as JFK to Milan round-trip in Emirates first class for as few as 135,000 miles plus $401 in taxes and fees.  That’s phenomenal considering that Emirates usually imposes huge fuel surcharges on their own flights.  See this post by Juicy Miles for full details. […]

Hank September 3, 2019 - 5:03 pm

Deal is (mostly) dead, fuel surcharges are back up to $560 one way (same as business class)

Ryan May 17, 2021 - 5:36 pm

Fuel Surcharges are low again (as low as $60 to Milan or Athens). The problem is now there is no availability that brings you to Dubai first. Only directs to MXP or ATH. I was hoping as the routes starting opening back up, this deal would too – but I think it’s gone. I wouldn’t mind paying the higher fuel surcharges if it meant that much more time in EK F.

Miles Jackson May 17, 2021 - 8:32 pm

Good points. Unfortunately the pandemic has affected schedules dramatically. We all hope that as international travel resumes, we will see greater opportunities for Mileage Runs and still enjoy low fares.
Thanks for adding to the discussion.


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