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Emirates has one of the most coveted business and first-class products in the sky, with gilded cabins and a reputation for excellent onboard service. It was awarded Best First Class in the world at the 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice® awards for airlines thanks to amenities such as private suites, the in-flight Shower Spa and the Onboard Lounge.
While a first-class ticket can cost you thousands of dollars in cash, it’s not hard to score an upgrade using miles earned in the carrier’s Skywards loyalty program. Unlike many mileage programs, the best value with Skywards miles tends to be upgrading cash tickets to business and first class, rather than award tickets.
We take a look at the best ways to redeem Skywards miles to get into Emirates’ coveted premium cabins.
In this article
- What miles you’ll need
- How much do upgrades to business class and first class cost?
- What is Emirates like in first class?
- What is Emirates like in business class?
- How to know when upgrade space is available
- Do upgrades come with lounge access/chauffeur service?
- How to book the upgrade
- The bottom line
What miles you’ll need
If you want to upgrade your Emirates flights with miles, you will need to join the Emirates Skywards loyalty program. If you don’t have any miles with Emirates, it’s one of 18 airline American Express Membership Rewards® transfer partners, at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy™ members can also transfer their points to Skywards at a 3:1 ratio.
If you want to book an Emirates award ticket in business or first class, Alaska MileagePlan™ miles are a good bet, with business class awards going for 82,500 miles or first class for 150,000 one way from the contiguous U.S. and Alaska to Dubai.
How much do upgrades to business and first class cost?
The number of miles required to upgrade depends on the route. Additionally, the mileage cost to upgrade varies depending on if you booked a Saver or Flex fare. You can calculate the number of miles required to upgrade for any route you are interested in with Emirates’ Mileage Calculator, but here are a few key routes and the mileage required for a one-way upgrade, based on Emirates Skyward Blue, the loyalty program’s lowest status.
Upgrade from economy* to business class**
|Route||Upgrade from Saver||Upgrade from Flex||Upgrade from Flex Plus|
|New York – Milan||57,500||39,000||30,000|
|New York – Dubai||95,000||70,200||54,000|
|Los Angeles – Dubai||108,750||81,900||63,000|
|London – Dubai||57,500||39,000||30,000|
|Dubai – Sydney||95,000||70,200||54,000|
|Dubai – Johannesburg||61,250||46,800||36,000|
*Economy Saver fares can only be upgraded at check-in and on board.
**You can use your miles to upgrade one class.
Upgrade from business to first class
|Route||Upgrade from Saver||Upgrade from Flex||Upgrade from Flex Plus|
|New York – Milan||39,000||30,000||30,000|
|New York – Dubai||70,200||54,000||54,000|
|Los Angeles – Dubai||81,900||63,000||63,000|
|London – Dubai||39,000||30,000||30,000|
|Dubai – Sydney||70,200||54,000||54,000|
|Dubai – Johannesburg||46,800||36,000||36,000|
For comparison, if you wanted to redeem Skywards miles for business class from Los Angeles to Dubai, it would cost 113,750 miles one way.
This compares to an upgrade costing between 63,000 and 81,900 miles, depending on the fare you purchase in cash, shown below:
What fares can you upgrade?
The only fares that cannot be upgraded are Emirates’ special fares, which are deeply discounted in economy and business class. Saver, Flex and Flex Plus fares can all be upgraded, but mileage requirements vary.
Saver fares cost the most to upgrade, and can only be upgraded during check-in starting 48 hours before the flight. Flex and Flex Plus fares cost fewer miles to upgrade and can be upgraded whenever inventory for upgrades is available.
Flex fares sometimes don’t cost much more than a Saver fare, like this example from New York to Milan that’s only $50 more. Paying for the Flex fare will save you almost 20,000 miles for an upgrade and let you confirm an upgrade in advance, so it’s worth checking to see if the price difference is small.
What is Emirates like in first class?
If you’re lucky enough to score a seat in Emirates first class, you’ll have a much better experience on the airline’s Airbus A380 double-decker jumbo jet. The A380 features a private suite with a seat that turns into a fully lie-flat bed complete with pillows and a duvet.
You’re served gourmet meals and fine wines and spirits. Freshen up onboard in the aircraft’s shower spa, which features Bvlgari amenity kits. Enjoy the quiet or in-flight entertainment with premium Bowers & Wilkins E1 noise-canceling headphones.
What is Emirates like in business class?
Like first class, the best business class experience is also on the A380, where every seat is fully lie-flat with direct aisle access, so you never have to step over someone to get out of your seat.
There’s an onboard bar and lounge that serves premium drinks and canapés throughout the flight. Emirates serves regionally-inspired dishes made with the freshest ingredients on Royal Doulton fine bone china and Robert Welch cutlery.
Emirates’ Boeing 777 aircraft have a more cramped 2x3x2 seating configuration, which means you could be stuck in a middle seat or have a neighbor climbing over you to get out of their seat.
However, even with the cramped layout on the 777, it’s still a big upgrade from economy.
How to know when upgrade space is available
To check if upgrade space is available before you book your flight, you will need to call Emirates at 800-777-3999. Upgrade space is typically available on flights out of the U.S., especially on the Boeing 777s, which don’t have as nice business and first class seats as the A380.
If you haven’t booked your flight yet and have some flexibility, it may be worth looking at upgrade space before deciding on your specific flights to increase your chances of upgrading with miles.
Can you waitlist if no upgrades are available?
Yes, a waitlist for upgrades is available if it is not possible to directly confirm an upgraded seat.
Do upgrades come with lounge access and chauffeur service?
If you upgrade from economy to business or first class, you will have lounge access on your trip regardless of when you upgrade, as well as all other benefits of the premium cabin.
In order to qualify for chauffeur service, your upgrade needs to process at least 48 hours in advance of your flight. Short flights across the Atlantic (U.S. to Europe) are not eligible for the chauffeur service. The chauffeur can be booked through ‘Manage My Booking.’
How to book an upgrade
Upgrades can be made online using Manage a Booking either right after booking or during check-in depending on what fare you have booked. Saver fares cannot be upgraded until check-in, which begins 48 hours prior to departure, while Flex and Flex Plus fares can be upgraded right after purchase.
Emirates’ site will upgrade everyone on the booking, so if you only want to upgrade some passengers, you will need to give Emirates a call at 800-777-3999.
The bottom line
Emirates is one of the airlines seen as the gold standard when it comes to the passenger experience in business and first class. Aviation consultancy Skytrax has given its first class cabin five stars.
The airline, along with its Middle Eastern counterparts Etihad and Qatar Airways, have forced competitors around the world to step up their efforts as travelers flock to the Dubai-based carrier to experience amenities such as the shower spa and private suites.
Using your Skywards miles to upgrade on Emirates is a good way to get into business or first class at pretty reasonable rates compared to the cost of a full-fare ticket. If you belong to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan loyalty program, you can also redeem your miles for a seat in Emirates’ business or first class.