One Mile at a Time reports that as of July 1, 2021, Emirates will only allow Flex Plus awards for first class. This means that the round trip discount will no longer exist. As a result, first class awards significantly more expensive for those who would book round trip.
Emirates has clearly been working on reducing access to first class awards. They previously stopped allowing first class awards to be booked via Alaska Mileage Plan (which will soon be irrelevant since those two airlines will soon end their partnership altogether). Then the dominoes continued to fall with other partners no longer being able to book first class awards. That news wasn’t terribly painful since Emirates greatly reduced fuel surcharges last year and has offered reasonable round trip award rates (and they partner with all of the major transferable currency programs).
As an example of the change, you could previously book round trip first class between New York and Milan or Newark and Athens for 135K miles and about $160 at the “Flex” award level. At 67.5K each way in first class, that has been a terrific deal.
But that price has only been available on round trip itineraries. If booking one way, you need to book the Flex Plus price of 85K each way.
Moving forward, first class awards will price at this Flex Plus level and as such will cost 85K each way whether booking one-way or round trip. This means that a round trip award will increase from 135K to 170K — an increase of more than 25%. That’s a big bummer for anyone who has been waiting to book first class travel on Emirates next year.
That said, many people have reported difficulty finding availability for round trip awards, so this removes hours of searching to find the perfect availability. I’m not sure if booking first one way and business the other way will still qualify for the discount on the business class segment.
The truth is that 85K still isn’t an awful price for Emirates first class to Europe and it’s good that Emirates didn’t increase that rate at all. Still, I’m disappointed as I had hoped to find a 135K RT to Europe for travel sometime next year and at the end of the schedule I’m only seeing 170K even on dates where RT flights are available.