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Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates — the big three Middle East carriers — have become airlines of choice around the globe, thanks to their superior in-flight experience in all three classes. If you’re traveling to the Middle East, India, Asia, Africa or even some parts of Europe, many times these airlines offer the most convenient schedules, making flying them an easy choice.
If you have an American Express card that comes with Membership Rewards® or a Chase card that pairs with Chase Ultimate Rewards®, it can make sense to explore options for using your points to book flights on these airlines. Below, we’ll walk through how to book using Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, how much awards cost and where to find space on each of these airlines.
Etihad is based at Abu Dhabi International Airport in UAE. The airline originally had access to Chase Ultimate Rewards when Korean Air was still an airline transfer partner. Korean withdrew from from Ultimate Rewards in August 2018, leaving no Chase points booking options on Etihad.
Among the three Middle East carriers, it’s easier to book with Membership Rewards points since the Etihad Guest loyalty program is one of 18 1:1 transfer partners in American Express Membership Rewards program. Transfers from American Express to Etihad Guest take around three business days.
Etihad doesn’t have a fixed award chart for its flights. Instead, you’ll have to use Etihad’s GuestSeat Mileage calculator. The airline’s website doesn’t handle itineraries with connections very well, so if you plan on making a connection, you should search for your award segment by segment.
We checked a variety of popular routes to give you an idea of the number of miles required in each class of service. Mileage prices are listed for one-way flights.
|Abu Dhabi – Johannesburg||30,500||66,251||N/A|
|Abu Dhabi – Tokyo||32,499||86,250||117,501|
|Abu Dhabi – Mumbai||12,001||30,000||52,501|
|Abu Dhabi – Sydney||60,499||99,999||136,249|
|Abu Dhabi – Paris||34,500||62,501||85,001|
These are the lowest points available. However, award space at those points won’t always be available. And be warned — you will pay carrier surcharges and taxes on award tickets, which can be pricey. Below, we show points and the fees (which we converted to USD) charged for a one-way flight from Abu Dhabi to JFK one way, in all classes:
You’ll pay fees ranging from $30.10 and $80.10 each way.
Fees for this flight will cost you $30.10 each way.
You’ll pay $30.10 in fees for first class and the airline’s luxury The Residence on-board apartment featured on the Airbus A380 jumbo jet.
As a general rule, you’ll get much more value out of your Etihad miles by redeeming for flights on its partner airlines. The same route with an American Airlines codeshare flight on British Airways connecting through London Heathrow Airport will run you 80,000 AAdvantage® miles round-trip plus $842.53 in carrier-imposed fees and government taxes.
Where to find award space
In order to search for award space, just head on over to Etihad’s website and do an award search. If the itinerary you are interested in is coming up, all you have to do is click through and book it online.
If you have a connection and the itinerary you want isn’t showing up, first do a segment-by-segment search. If you see availability for the segments that you want to book, call Etihad customer service at 877-690-0767 for help.
Qatar Airways, based at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, is the only big three Middle East carrier that belongs to an airline alliance — oneworld. Because of that, the airline has access to more than 1,100 airports in 180 territories, with 14,000 daily departures among its 12 partners.
The airline’s Privilege Club loyalty program gives members access to the Qcalculator so they can see how many miles are needed for award tickets and upgrades across all cabin classes. Below is an example of what it costs for a round-trip flight between JFK Airport and Doha:
Qatar isn’t included under American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. However, you can use your Amex rewards points to book a flight on Qatar Airways via oneworld partner Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles.
American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Asia Miles and British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. Asia Miles are a little harder to use because transfers can take a few days, but it’s often the cheapest way to book Qatar flights with American Express Membership Rewards points.
Asia Miles charges based on the distance of your trip, and most flights from the U.S. to Doha are in the ultra-long zone. Below are Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flight awards, based on a one-way trip.
Below are the miles needed for trips that involve more than one airline. For example, it covers two oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is not one of your chosen carriers; or three or more oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon is one of your chosen carriers. Choose from all oneworld alliance airlines in your journey, with a maximum distance of 50,000 miles. The distances in the chart below are round-trip.
An award flight between New York and Doha on Cathay Pacific will cost you $207.35 in charges and taxes. Awards can be booked online at the Asia Miles website, but note that you should set up a free account with Asia Miles about a week before you plan to transfer, as their system can take some time to register new accounts.
You can search for Qatar Airways award space by logging into the Asia Miles website.
In order to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Qatar flights, they must be booked via British Airways Executive Club. One nice benefit on BA is that you can break up your trip with stopover cities you choose. For example, here’s what it costs in Avios to fly from Washington, D.C., to Doha, Qatar.
An award ticket comes with $270.75 in surcharges, fees and taxes.
If you want to travel from D.C. to Johannesburg using Avios on a Qatar Airways flight, you’ll pay separately for each leg, and the price is based on the distance of your flight, below.
So a trip from Washington, D.C., to Johannesburg with a stop in Doha will cost 50,000 Avios, along with $342.82 in surcharges, taxes and fees. You can search for Qatar Airways awards by logging on to BA.com and clicking on “Book flights with Avios.”
Emirates is known for its amazing business and first class accommodations with features including enclosed first-class suites and a shower spa. Like Etihad, Emirates also had access to Chase Ultimate Rewards via Korea Air, but that deal is no longer available. American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Emirates Skywards miles at a 1:1 ratio.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when booking with Emirates Skywards miles. First, you will pay carrier surcharges and taxes – and they can be significant. On a round-trip JFK-Dubai flight, you’ll pay an extra $285 in surcharges and taxes for economy and $847 for business and first class.
Emirates also does not publish an award chart, so you’ll need to use this Miles Calculator to calculate the price of a round-trip flight on the popular routes below.
|New York JFK – Dubai||72,500||145,000||217,500|
|Dubai – Johannesburg||47,500||95,000||142,500|
|Dubai – Tokyo||62,500||125,000||187,500|
|Dubai – Mumbai||27,500||55,000||82,500|
|Dubai – Sydney||72,500||145,000||217,500|
|Dubai – Paris||45,000||90,000||135,000|
*A Saver fare.
**A Flex fare.
Emirates charges ridiculously high prices for flights booked with miles. If you’re looking for a way to save miles, we recommend looking into using Alaska Airlines miles on British Airways for JFK-Dubai flight via London Heathrow Airport, but be aware of the surcharges, taxes and fees.
You can search for and book award space directly through Emirates.com or you can call Emirates at 1-800-777-3999. It may be easier to find award space through Emirates’ partner Alaska Airlines, but you will still need to book directly with Emirates.
The backup option
If none of the options above work for you, redeem your Membership Rewards points, valued at 1 cent per point each toward travel purchases, at AmexTravel.com. Using the Membership Rewards calculator, 10,000 points equals $100 for flights when booked at amex.com. If you have The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, you receive 35% of your points back when you book business or first-class airfare at AmexTravel.com.
While this isn’t the most valuable way to redeem your Membership Rewards points, you can book any flight with an available seat. Plus you’ll still earn miles for those flights since you’re paying for them directly with points. If you can hop on one of the fare sales for flights from the U.S., it may actually cost fewer points to redeem at AmexTravel.com than directly with the airlines.
The bottom line
If you’re dying to experience the premium cabin service on one of the big three Middle East carriers, using your American Express Membership Rewards points is a good option. Etihad and Emirates are American Express transfer partners. Qatar Airways isn’t, but you have options because it is a oneworld partner and some of those airlines are American Express and Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners (see card options below).
Be prepared to pay hefty carrier-imposed surcharges, but know that they’re cheaper than paying full fare to sit in business or first class on the three carriers. But even with those fees, using Membership Rewards points is a great way to experience service on these three award-winning airlines.
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