In theory the past year or so has been exciting on the Emirates first class award redemption front. Back in October 2012, Japan Airlines actually improved their partner award chart to the point that award redemptions on Emirates became more lucrative. Then earlier this year Alaska Airlines published their award chart for travel on Emirates. So in theory things have been looking up as far as redeeming miles for travel on Emirates goes, though unfortunately that’s not the case, because Emirates has been progressively releasing less and less award space.

When I make posts like this I try to study the award availability trends so I can draw some conclusions. For example, Lufthansa doesn’t release first class award space to partner airlines more than 15 days out, and I think that’s a useful data point.

But unfortunately I’m struggling with drawing conclusions about what Emirates is doing, other than saying that first class award availability has gotten a lot worse. In the past it wasn’t too difficult to get two first class award seats on “prime” A380 flights. First class award seats on other aircraft was a near guarantee — for example, when Emirates launched service to Seattle, they had two first class award seats on almost every flight.

Anyway, that’s not the case anymore. There aren’t many conclusive statements I can make about Emirates first class award availability, though there are a few things I generally find to be true:

  • Emirates is releasing a lot less first class award space across the board than before
  • Emirates is almost never releasing more than one A380 first class award space more than 30 days out
  • Emirates seems to sometimes be releasing an extra award seat about four weeks out
  • Emirates seems to sometimes be releasing two award seats about two weeks out

For example, two weeks out there are exactly two first class seats between Seattle and Dubai and also between Dubai and Seattle.

However, looking at award space for all of next year as far as the schedule is released, there’s not a single first class award seat from Dubai to Seattle the entire year, while there are less than a dozen dates with a single first class award seat between Seattle and Dubai.

But unfortunately the situation is even worse than that when redeeming Alaska miles, according to this FlyerTalk post. Basically Alaska can’t piece together an itinerary if a one-way involves more than one segment, but rather has to use married segments.

Let me explain in the form of an example — say you want to fly from Seattle to Dubai to Tokyo on Emirates. Say two weeks out Emirates opens up first class award space on Seattle to Dubai, but has nothing from Dubai to Tokyo, so you just lock in your award as far as Dubai. Then say a few days later first class award space opens up on Dubai to Tokyo. You can’t just add that segment in first class to the itinerary, but rather first class award space has to be available on both segments in order to make that change. This makes booking a multi-segment Emirates award extremely difficult, especially for two people.

So anyway, given that Emirates first class is for the most part no longer bookable on ex-CMB fares (at least under the “EK” code), RIP Emirates first class for cheap (for the most part). They’re certainly going the way of Lufthansa in terms of only releasing space close to departure, though unlike Lufthansa they’re screwing over their own members and their partner airlines’ members.

Now here’s to hoping Alaska makes one-way awards on Emirates possible soon, which will at least make this a little bit easier.


Infamous Emirates A380 shower suite

  1. May 20th, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Traveler said,

    Infamous?
    Definition of INFAMOUS
    having a reputation of the worst kind : notoriously evil

  2. May 20th, 2013 at 8:40 am

    MilesAbound said,

    More miles chasing less seats. This is sadly the outcome.

  3. May 20th, 2013 at 9:02 am

    RakSiam said,

    I doubt that all of those seats for a year out have been booked up using the miles out there. Lucky’s research indicates a systemic change on the part of EK, not abundant bookings.

  4. May 20th, 2013 at 9:05 am

    clayd333 said,

    I’ve been searching every day since Jan. It dropped off ~ Feb. I was planning to do JFK-BKK to spend my HH mile @ the Conrad Koh Samui over Thanksgiving, but that dream died after the drop-off. Now I think I am going to do a last minute trip. NYC-XXX is “findable” for travel the same week. Note that all the award travel from NYC will be switching over to the 777 with a layover in Milan.. If you want to fly JFK-DXB w/ a shower you better act fast…

  5. May 20th, 2013 at 9:07 am

    MilesAbound said,

    By all means if you want to believe that the easy access to miles today is unrelated go for it. It’s not necessarily a case of all the available dates being taken up. As they start to see people using up the space that is available, they begin to realize they shouldn’t be so generous in their allotment. This definitely happened with Etihad after AA miles opened up for them. With the abundance of miles and ways to print more and more of them, and all the award booking services chasing the same aspirational awards, it is inevitable we will see more and more tightening of the screws, like this.

  6. May 20th, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Eric said,

    I’m using Alaska miles to book 2 Z and 2 D seats SEA>DXB>SIN return with a stopover in DXB. I was able to book the SEA>DXB segment a month out, but was only able to book the 1 stop DXB>SIN in D for the four of us. Also, with Alaska, your RT itinerary can only be 90 days or less. This made it very stressful trying to find some return space (otherwise, if I complete the outbound without a having booked a return, EK will treat it as a one way trip). Fortunately, I found some space on SIN>DXB>IAH>SEA in September (just under the 90 day limit). We’ll be on our trip for 45 days, so I can’t even book our return until we’re well into our trip (I expect to see the space available 2 weeks out). As for the married segment problem, I may need to wait until my SEA>DXB flight is complete to change the ongoing DXB>SIN flight in order to secure 2 Z and 2 D seats. That’s my experience!

  7. May 20th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Mrtudball said,

    Glad I was able to enjoy EK F (and AA 77W F) on the cheap ex-CMB fare two months ago. BTW, for anyone with orphan UL FlySmiLes from flying in and out of CMB, they are now transferable to and from Hilton HHonors, although the rates aren’t all that great.

  8. May 20th, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Sean M. said,

    It’s not just First Class. Emirates has sharply cut back on their Business and Economy Class award inventory as well. And also on their previously abundant upgrade inventory.

  9. May 20th, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Gene said,

    Glad I’ve already had the opportunity to complete two long haul EK F roundtrips (one on the A380). I guess my stash of AS miles will now be used for CX F SFO-HKG-JNB!

  10. May 20th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Gary said,

    Not sure this has to do with the Alaska partnership, or reasonable pricing from JAL.

    The space disappeared at the beginning of the year, about the same time Emirates rolled out changes to their own award structure (eg no longer offering additional first class availability for flex awards).

  11. May 20th, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Robert Hanson said,

    Award space with {insert name of airline} has greatly decreased.

    Number of points required for a “free” room with {insert name of hotel chain} has greatly increased.

    Ability to churn ccs with {insert name of bank} has been greatly cut back.

    We’ve had a great run though, haven’t we? We will all be able to tell our grandchildren about the “good old days” when you could fly FC, and stay in aspirational hotels and resorts, nearly for free… :D

  12. May 20th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Joe said,

    What is really going on here is not a surprise, and it’s only going to get more and more difficult the more bloggers such as yourself continue to profit off of an increasingly over promised, and arguably misled, public.

    The “highly valuable” credit cards that you, lucky, and others keep pushing on people (on behalf of the banks) are, as you have tacitly acknowledged through posts like this (and whines about hotel program devaluations, etc.), becoming less and less valuable.

    Airline award inventory is a limited commodity due to the fact that it is largely intended to incentivize customers to loyally fly a particular airline (or partner airline grudgingly) by offering up seats that might otherwise go unsold. Airlines simply don’t benefit but so much when a million people are “churning” credit cards in an attempt to turn a couple of $95 annual fees into a $10,000 free award ticket. The math doesn’t add up.

    You are spot on, however, in your frequent use of the word “aspirational”. It is aspirational for people to play this game, but when a million people aspire to the same one or two seats, it ultimately becomes a different game…with lottery-type odds and six connections to some random lame a** destination (Dubai, anyone?!) just so one can experience sleeping for two hours and enjoying a marginally better meal at 35,000 feet. The real “value” (not the retail cost) of this experience is actually pitifully little.

    Where there is real value, as you have discovered lucky, is in promoting these credit cards.

    I eagerly await an honest blogger illuminating their readership to these realities. It would be great if it were you, lucky.

  13. May 20th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    jorge said,

    Strange, we can’t blame AA, UA or DL redemptions since they are not partners as far as I know, and AS is a new partner. Were the Japan Airlines member getting so many seats ? Or maybe the economy is up everywhere LOL !

  14. May 20th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Robert Hanson said,

    So easy to blame the “bloggers” for the end of the good times. In fact, it’s simple economics.

    As jet fuel prices went thru the roof, and business travel dried up due to the recession, airlines cut back their number of flights and concentrated on filling every seat with a paying customer. AA actually flies TA from Boston to Paris with a mere 757. How many fewer seats is that than if they were still flying a 763?

    Likewise with hotels, who previously had empty rooms they could give away without losing any income. Now that business travel is booming back, giving away rooms they could otherwise sell really cuts into their bottom line.

    And you can hardly blame bloggers for the credit card explosion. I see ads on TV for the Chase Sapphire constantly. And after just one stay at a Hyatt in my life, I get an email every two weeks from Chase touting the Hyatt cc as a way to get “free rooms”.

    The airlines and hotels were the ones who pushed this so hard, since when business was slow they were making money hand over fist selling miles and points to the banks, who also profited from giving away cheap miles and points to generate new accounts.

    Of course, with airlines removing FC from planes, and putting in new lie flat J seats that take up 50% more room than the old ones, while flying fewer planes overall, award availability is going to have to decrease.

    But one can hardly blame all of this on Lucky. Nor even all of the travel bloggers combined. It’s understandable that those of us who have been benefitting from the previous generous state of affairs lament the loss. But pointing a finger at travel bloggers as scapegoats isn’t going to make any of this better.

    If it keeps getting harder to book premium award seats, and aspirational hotel rooms, {and it will}, it’s less because of “too many people with too many miles”, and more because there are simply fewer seats and rooms unsold, and especially fewer premium seats even being flown.

    Rather than looking for someone to blame, I’m just very grateful I got in on the “good old days” of miles and points. As it keeps getting harder to score award flights and rooms, more people will become too discouraged to even try. While those of us who have honed our travel hacking skills will find ways to get whatever is still available. We are all lucky we have learned everything we have learned, and will continue to learn, from Lucky et al.

  15. May 20th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Ari said,

    Since when is the ex-CMB “deal” dead? Seems (more-or-less) alive and kicking to me. In fact, I’m off on Sunday for two weeks, which will culminate with EK and QF A380 F along with BA (787)F. Plus, I just looked up the same deal for a friend and the prices are still pretty low!

  16. May 20th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Ari said,

    Note: BA 777 not 787* sorry for the typo. Haha.

  17. May 20th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Ari — Prices are the same, you just can’t book EK-coded flights as part of the fare in first class anymore.

  18. May 20th, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Joe said,

    @ Robert Hanson – We all like lucky’s blog. That’s why we’re here. But the dearth of available award seats is, in small part, lucky’s own creation. And what I’m suggesting is that the guy at rush hour honking incessantly about all the traffic, is being a bit lame.

    With all of the posts (rants) about award space drying up, hotel programs being devalued, etc., there is nary a single post about how much less the actual credit cards themselves (that lucky continues to plug ad nauseum) are actually worth. To the contrary…

    A gushing review of Swiss Air first class is a good read, but the reality of obtaining this award is scant…short of flying to Charlotte connecting to LGA, taking a taxi to JFK, waiting six hours and then sitting in coach on your flight because you gave away the one and only first class award seat to your wife (who, incidentally, will be flying back with you in coach because there were no premium cabin seats on the return within three months of your outbound flight). Ahhh…the good life.

    I’m not saying don’t review Swiss Air, just don’t pretend that with a new credit card or two (click here), its gonna be wheels up.

    And while I appreciate your defense of our fine blogger, he is not above reproach. If he were blogging pro bono, perhaps. But the reality is that he profits from selling credit cards. If the product he is selling is possibly (much) less valuable than he purports, I see nothing wrong with asking him, or you, to consider this fact.

  19. May 20th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Ari said,

    @lucky That much is true, but nearly 100% of the time that’s irrelevant. If anything, it’s a good thing – after all it makes it 10x more difficult to maximize routing on such trips when trying to figure out ITA. And as we all know, anything to lower the number of people taking advantage is good for the few who can maximize the value :) I actually got really lucky on this one in that I’m getting 26 hours in SIN and 24 hours in DXB thanks to schedule change. But, back to the point, whether my EK flight is marketed as QF or EK or whether the ticket is AA stock or not is really irrelevant for me.

  20. May 20th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    KG said,

    Welcome to the real world guys! If you lived anywhere outside of the USA you would not have had the easy ability to rack up cheap mileage on CC churns and thus redeem cheap premium flights via AA, AS or US mileage programs or get easy top status with hotel programs and redeem mileage for all these aspitrational awards. Agreed with the comments that it is simple economics, in these times it is not economical viable for airlines to “give away” next to free flights. In a way I am happy that airlines are becoming more strict for partners to redeem awards, as in general it means they release more seats to their own premium FF members.

  21. May 20th, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Joey said,

    I’m a skywards member for several years now and from what I recall, I rarely saw any award F space on the A380 (EK201/202 JFK-DXB) for the longest time back in 2008-2011; but did see award F space on the other flight EK203/204 JFK-DXB on the 77W.
    I saw a lot of EK F space available after EK203/204 changed from 77W to A380. Perhaps EK likes to give away F space for a period of time after starting a new route?
    A year ago when I was booking my EK reward flight through skywards, the agent did advise me to keep checking for availability since 90% of the calls she takes are flight changes and the likelihood of people changing their flights tend to be within the last few weeks before departure.

  22. May 20th, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Joey said,

    It’ll be very interesting if Alaska releases one-way awards on Emirates. I say that because even for Skywards members, Emirates only releases one-way flex award tix (no such thing as a one-way saver award ticket, unfortunately.)

  23. May 20th, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Joey said,

    BTW, Lucky, I was looking at awards for the JFK-DXB route just for fun and similar to your SEA-DXB results, I saw a handful of First Class saver for JFK-DXB (on both EK202/204 A380 flights)… like 1 or 2 a month from Aug-Feb but literally nil for the DXB-JFK A380 leg (though lots on EK205 w/stopover in Milan on the 77W.)
    Wow! Let’s just hope the JFK-MXP-DXB is high in demand that EK would change that to an A380 route too!

  24. May 20th, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Robert Hanson said,

    @ Joe You say Lucky “is not above reproach. If he were blogging pro bono, perhaps”

    So I have to wonder, do you do all of your work “pro bono” ? If so, do you live in a public assistance apartment, eat only Food Stamp food, and clothe yourself at St Vincent de Paul? Or just live in your mother’s basement? When did making a living, while helping others, become evil?

    You say “there is nary a single post about how much less the actual credit cards themselves (that lucky continues to plug ad nauseum) are actually worth”

    Let’s go back and re-read Lucky’s post after post on the HHonors devaluation:
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    “Hilton’s devaluation in late March was almost unprecedented as it is. In the years I’ve been watching the hotel industry I’ve never seen a devaluation as extreme.”

    “Hilton, Hilton, Hilton. I can’t stop shaking my head at you guys. If they had any shame they’d feel like this dog…”

    “As of March 28, 2013, Hilton will be in an almost unprecedented manner devaluing their award chart, to the point that I’d argue the value of their points drops by about 50%.”

    “Delta SkyPesos SkyMiles are generally considered to be the most devalued mileage currency, while I think Hilton more than gives them a run for their money on the hotel front….Delta SkyPesos SkyMiles are generally considered to be the most devalued mileage currency, while I think Hilton more than gives them a run for their money on the hotel front…Next, the new “benefit” of elite members getting the fifth night free is actually a devaluation as well.”

    “This is probably the worst single hotel program devaluation I’ve ever seen….This has been a horrible year so far on the hotel front — Priority Club has devalued their award chart, Starwood has increased the cost of cash & points, Marriott added a category nine and increased the cost of 36% of their properties, and now this, which is by far the worst.

    “Horrible, horrible, horrible. Not feeling too good about my 500,000 point HHonors balance right now.”
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Lucky has “nary a single post about how much less the actual credit cards themselves (that lucky continues to plug ad nauseum) are actually worth.” ?

    Nary a single post? Do you even read this blog, or just come here to denigrate it?

  25. May 22nd, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Alfred Vachris said,

    I can’t wait to try the product!!!

  26. July 27th, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Matt said,

    Could you use Alaska miles to book an Emirates a380 business class ticket say 9 months out), and then when (really if) a first class seat opens up, pay the extra miles and change the ticket to first class?

  27. July 27th, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    lucky said,

    @ Matt — Yes, to the best of my knowledge you should be able to do that.

  28. February 26th, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Fan said,

    Hi Lucky,

    Do you use expertflyer to find EK availability? Is there a free tool to access EK availability? I’ve tried with emirates website, but it doesn’t allow me to perform a search if I don’t any miles.

  29. February 26th, 2014 at 6:58 am

    lucky said,

    @ Fan — I usually use ExpertFlyer, but Alaska’s website also displays Emirates award space for markets in which they allow award redemptions, so isn’t a bad “free” option.

  30. February 26th, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Fan said,

    @Luck, It works, thanks!

  31. February 27th, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    FAN said,

    Lucky, One more question, can I transfer 80k spg points to JAL JMB and get 100k with transfer bonus? From SPG website, it states the following:

    With Japan Airlines, you can transfer up to 79,999 of your Starpoints® into JAL Mileage Bank miles at a 1-to-1 ratio. And for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, you’ll earn 5,000 bonus Starpoints which will be automatically added to your transfer up to a maximum of 94,999 miles per eligible transfer.

  32. February 27th, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    lucky said,

    @ FAN — The daily cap is 79,999, so the way to maximize this would be to transfer 60,000 Starpoints one day and then 20,000 Starpoints the next day, getting you a total of 100,000 JAL miles.

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