Emirates has one of the most glamorous first class products in the sky. Some accuse it of being more flash than substance, but there is no denying that it is a fun way to fly. The “new” first class kicks it up a notch higher while even business class can be fun on the airline’s A380 given that you get access to the same lounge at the back of the plane that is used by first class passengers. Ever since Emirates slashed fuel surcharges last year, we have gained some opportunities to fly up front with Emirates for reasonable rates using Emirates Skywards miles. By far, the best practical values for US-based flyers are flying from New York JFK to Milan or Newark to Athens, which offer excellent value in either business or first class. That’s good news since Emirates is an Amex transfer partner, Chase transfer partner, Citi transfer partner, and Brex Cash transfer partner. And there is also good news for those with champagne taste and a near-empty stash of points: on some very short flights, you could fly Emirates First Class from just 30K miles round trip.
North America to Europe
The biggest Emirates Skywards sweet spots for North America-based flyers are the fifth freedom routes from New York JFK to Milan and Newark to Athens. That’s because on these routes, Emirates charges:
- 62,500 miles one-way in business class
- 90,000 miles round trip in business class
- 85,000 miles one-way in first class
- 135,000 miles round trip in first class
I’ve bolded the round trip pricing above because as you can see it is better than the cost of two one-ways. In fact, at 45K each way for a round trip business class ticket, Emirates is one of the cheapest ways to get to Europe round trip in business class using miles. Emirates first class at a cost of 67,500 miles each way is a similarly amazing price. Considering that some programs (*ahem*, Delta) charge north of 100K one-way in business class, these prices from Emirates are terrific.
And now that fuel surcharges are greatly reduced, they are entirely reasonable. Here are round tip business class examples from New York JFK to Milan and Newark to Athens.
As you can see, total taxes and and fees run around $160-$170 round trip.
Taxes & fees on Emirates run the same in first class.
Personally, I’d rather take the Newark to Athens flight and get a total of about 3 more hours of free-flowing Dom Perignon and this view.
As noted at above, a one-way journey is more expensive than half the cost of a round trip. Back when we first wrote about the reduced surcharges, a one-way first class flight from Newark to Athens cost 85,000 miles and $41. The price has since gone up by $19 to to 85,000 miles and $60 one-way, but availability is pretty plentiful early next year.
Availability is generally excellent in business class also, though note that you’ll see some date combinations price at 90K round trip (the equivalent of a “saver” price) and other dates price at 107.5K miles round trip when there isn’t a saver flight in one direction.
Note that it is possible to find a mixed-cabin flight. In practice, I found that the search tool returned mixed-cabin pricing most days but it was only actually available some days. The good news is that when it is available, you get charged 1/2 the round trip price of each cabin class (i.e. fly first one way and business the other and you’ll be charged 1/2 of first class round trip price plus 1/2 the round trip price of business class for a total of 112,500 miles round trip). Note that the following example shows first class from Newark to Athens and business class back to the US. but I’d prefer to work that the other way around (business class to sleep on the overnight flight to Athens and first class on the daytime flight to enjoy on the way back to the US.
Contrast the round trip / mixed cabin award price to the cost if you were to book a one-way in first class and a one-way in business class (two one-ways would total 147,500 miles + taxes and fees).
North American flyers looking to maximize flight time for a small increase in miles could consider positioning to Mexico City as flights between Mexico City and Barcelona cost 95,000 miles round trip in business class or 142,500 miles round trip in first class — a small increase in terms of miles but flights of 11-12 hours in each direction.
Cheap first class with 5th freedom routes
In addition to those flights from the US to Europe, (in a normal world) Emirates operates quite a number of other “5th Freedom” flights (i.e. flights that connect two destinations without traveling through the airline’s home country). The best deals for flying Emirates in premium cabins tend to be 5th freedom routes (surely in no small part because these flights tend to be shorter than flights that connect through Dubai en route to somewhere else). Some of these routes are very short and as such awards can be just 20K round trip in business class or 30K round trip in first class on some intra-regional flights like Europe-Europe or Africa-Africa.
This Simple Flying post by Chris Loh lists the various Emirates 5th Freedom routes and can help you easily identify some of the shortest / cheapest routes by searching city pairs via the Emirates mileage calculator, such as:
20K round trip business / 30K round trip first class
- Male, Maldives to/from Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Accra, Ghana to/from Abidjan, Ivory Coast
- Harare, Zimbabwe to/from Lusaka, Zambia
40K round trip business / 60K round trip first class
- Larnaca to/from Malta
- Bangkok to/from Phnom Penh
- Singapore to/from Penang
- Bangkok to/from Hong Kong
50K round trip business / 75K round trip first class
- Rio de Janeiro to/from Santiago, Chile (only business)
- Rio de Janeiro to/from Buenos Aires
Note that just as above, those are saver-level prices. You may need to hunt to find them on some routes, though I suspect that it would be fairly easy on most of those routes. While most of those routes may not be very practical, I could see the allure in the right circumstances. For example, if you book a one-way award on Cathay Pacific using Alaska miles, you could have a stopover in Hong Kong. Perhaps you’d like to spice up that Hong Kong stopover with a jaunt to Bangkok. You could fly dirt cheap with Air Asia:
Or sip champagne under the stars for 60K round trip:
Other good Emirates first class and business class award values
The majority of long-haul routes aren’t particularly well-priced on Emirates. However, for those looking to maximize hours-in-first-class-per-mile, here are some decently long options I found that aren’t priced badly:
- Europe to/from Dubai (Lisbon is the longest at 7-8 hours) for 90K round trip in business or 135K round trip in first class. Continue on to select Middle East destinations for 95K / 142.5K.
- Dubai to/from South Africa (Cape Town is 11-12 hours each way) for 95K round trip in business class or 142.5K round trip in first class
- Dubai to/from many cities in Africa (prices range based on distance from Dubai, but a number of them are reasonable enough — like Dubai to Addis Ababa (over 4 hours each way) for 55K round trip in business or 82.5K round trip in first class
- Singapore to Melbourne, Australia for 90K round trip in business or 135K round trip in first class. Note that the mileage calculator shows this trip being more expensive in the opposite direction (120K / 180K). Since the route is currently suspended, I couldn’t find any example flights to test pricing.
That isn’t a comprehensive list, but those are the ones that stuck out to me. It certainly might make sense in other situations where you’re trying to connect the dots on a multi-stop journey and you want to get a flight in luxury on the way. Those who just enjoy trying out luxury flight options might be particularly interested in seeking out routes with the new Emirates first class (which typically isn’t operated on most US routes).
How To Get Emirates Skywards Miles
Another great feature of Emirates Skywards is how easy it is to transfer miles into the program. It’s one of the five most promiscuous airline programs as you can transfer in from Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points, Capital One miles, Marriott Bonvoy, and Brex Cash.
Other Emirates Sweet Spots
Emirates has some additional sweet spots on partner airlines, as well as some non-flight redemptions, so check out the following posts for examples:
- Searching for Emirates sweet spots with partner airline awards
- Searching for Emirates sweet spots with non-flight awards
Y’all really do offer the most thorough and thoughtful posts out there. Thank you! Wondering if you know the answer to this question: I’m booking award flights for my wife and I for September 2023 from US to Milan on Emirates… Currently, only outbound flights are bookable as our return date is past the availability window. I’d like to lock-in the outbound flights that are available now, even though it costs more miles one-way. Is it possible to change my reservation later to round-trip AND benefit from the cheaper round-trip award pricing, or if I modify the reservation to add a return flight, will it price out as two one-way flights? Or would it be better to wait until our return flights are bookable and make a single reservation even if availability may be different for the outbound flights? Hope that makes sense. And thank you!
Nick, when I search for the same JFK-MXP business class “round trip” flights, I am seeing only the option for 125K points instead of 90K for the entire year.
Am I doing anything wrong?
Fyi. 3 weeks ago I booked this route for end of march of 2022 in business for 90000 rt.
I think you have to keep checking and be flexible on dates.
This rate was available till April 7ish and after Easter for first week of May.
Phnom Penh, not Phenom Phen please
Thank you – not sure how I missed that. Fixed, thanks!
Is emirates flying their game changer suite 777 on any of these routes ?
The below-8 hour flying time JFK-Milan makes the flight just a bit too short to sleep -for six hours and also really enjoy being up front. Still valuable for the sleep alone.
The EWR-Athens flight is more like it in terms time to enjoy the flight, but I’m disappointed to read from @Euro in these comments about the seemingly very inferior business class product.
I’ve heard that overnight train travel is making a comeback in Europe and that they run the trains slower than the best possible travel time to make the trip more comfortable, time-wise. I wish they could find a way to slow down eastbound transatlantic flights for the same reason!
Are Emirates 5th Freedom economy seats also a deal?
In my experience watching the Milan flight a few years ago, they were generally completive with the other carriers in Economy, although rarely the lowest. I once did the JFK-Milan flight by buying economy and upgrading the outbound flight only with points and felt I got a really good deal.
To be clear — I was looking at the cash prices for economy, not miles.
You can easily use the mileage calculator to check – it searches economy first by default:
The US-Europe flights are 45K RT — that’s pretty good for an economy class award rate to Europe, but it’s not the best (and doesn’t compare favorably to current economy class cash prices).
The shortest flights (the ones in the 20K business / 30K first bracket) were 10K round trip in economy, which is probably a solid deal in at least some of those cases. For example, I just looked up Accra to Abidjan and the cash price for economy looks to be $379 round trip every day through the end of the schedule, so 10K round trip looks like a pretty screamin’ deal for economy class on that route. I imagine the same is likely true on the other intra-African routes. On the other hand, the flights within Asia are probably less compelling. You can probably book a low-cost carrier from Bangkok to Hong Kong for next to nothing (I’m seeing $149 RT on many days and that’s without some low-cost-carriers that would operate in normal times pulling prices down).
Thank You! I never thought to look at Emirates for intra-African flights.
Thought about taking the Milan route last year and I wish the flight arrived in Italy a bit earlier (around 12 noon). Some things to note about the North America-Europe fifth freedom routes is that the business class products are… different.
The Milan-New York route has the staggered A380 business class product with direct aisle access for every seat, but the Athens-Newark route operates with a 777-300ER that has an angled-flat 2-3-2 business class product. The Barcelona-Mexico City route operates with a 777-200LR with a lie-flat 2-2-2 business class product with slightly wider seats than the 777 with a 2-3-2 configuration.
And for first class, of course there’s the A380/777 “shower vs no shower” difference. And the 200LR doesn’t have first class anymore.
Wait, Lisbon is the farthest city from Dubai in Europe with that price bracket? I would have thought Manchester was farther away.
It’s not. Neither is Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, or Porto. I mapped them all out. I’m about 98.8% certain that Lisbon is the longest distance they fly from Dubai in Europe.
Ah, that’s why, I was looking at the wrong award chart.
There’s also a price bracket change for Europe: Athens and Istanbul cost 75000 miles RT in business and 112,500 miles RT in first to/from Dubai… though flights are a lot shorter I imagine.
Tricky, yet clever, post, Nick. Lure them in with the title, explain first the best deals from the US which have nothing to do with the title, then get to the main topic. You got me. But I hope Greg gets you in a “post roast” for using the word “promiscuous” to describe Skywards. Either you were really tired or really horny when you wrote that. Thanks for the Emirates insight.
That’s actually Greg’s terminology:
Thanks for the reminder about that post. I’ve updated it and reposted.
I’m surprised that anyone would suggest that the title was deceiving. The title advertised “Emirates Sweet Spot Awards: First class from 30K miles round trip” and that’s exactly what is found in the post: first class awards starting at 30K.
WOW i’m impressed . . . in 2 ways. 1. that’s a REALLY great find to value for award flights in a class that’s worth it and 2. see that EK FIRST class Dom Perignon pic of that hunky guy (YOU Nick), … damn who would have guessed of such a handsome face behind that guy? Worth a sin in many ways . . . to get on any of those flights, in reverence to such a low mileage needed of course! ha ha ha GREAT News and tips. US a no go, as EU citizen, that country won’t let us in …. but who knows what’s next? Maybe we’ll meet in F on EK sometimes on some non US route . . . toast to you!