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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 top quality on board service. And while a ticket can cost you thousands of dollars in cash, it’s not hard to score an upgrade with Skywards miles. Unlike many mileage programs, the best value with Skywards miles tends to be upgrading cash tickets to Business and First Class, rather than straight up award tickets.
If you want to upgrade your Emirates flights, you will need Emirates Skywards miles. If you don’t have any miles with Emirates, it’s a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can use those points to fill up an Emirates account and book an upgrade. Transfers from Amex are instant, while those from Starwood can take a few days.
Alternatively, if you want to just book a full award ticket in Business or First Class (no upgrade or cash ticket needed), Alaska MileagePlan miles are a good bet, with Business Class awards for 82,500 miles one way from the U.S. to Dubai.
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 fare or a 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.
|Route||Upgrade from Saver||Upgrade from Flex||Upgrade from Flex Plus|
|New York - Milan||57,500||39,000||30,000|
|Newark - Athens||57,500||39,000||30,000|
|New York - Dubai||95,000||70,200||54,000|
|Los Angeles - Dubai||108,750||81,900||63,000|
|Chicago - Dubai||95,000||70,200||54,000|
|London - Dubai||57,500||39,000||30,000|
|Dubai - Sydney||95,000||70,200||54,000|
|Dubai - Johannesburg||61,250||46,800||36,000|
|Route||Upgrade from Saver||Upgrade from Flex||Upgrade from Flex Plus|
|New York - Milan||39,000||30,000||30,000|
|Newark - Athens||39,000||30,000||30,000|
|New York - Dubai||70,200||54,000||54,000|
|Los Angeles - Dubai||81,900||63,000||63,000|
|Chicago - Dubai||70,200||54,000||54,000|
|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 don’t want to pay for a cash ticket, and just book a Business Class award, a Los Angeles to Dubai award in Business Class costs 113,750 Skywards miles one way, compared to an upgrade costing between 64,000 and 81,900 miles. The catch is the straight up award also comes with hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges, so in many cases using your Skywards miles to upgrade is the best bet.
You will not be responsible for any additional fuel surcharges when you upgrade your flight with miles.
However, some countries and airports do charge additional taxes to premium cabin passengers and those will be collected when you upgrade your Emirates flight with miles.
The only fares that cannot be upgraded are Emirates’ ‘Special Fares.’ These are very deep discount Economy and Business Class fares.
Saver, Flex, and Flex Plus fares can all be upgraded, but the mileage requirement varies.
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 and let you confirm an upgrade in advance, so it’s worth checking to see if the price difference is small.
When upgrading Business Class to First Class, there is no difference in the cost to upgrade Flex and Flex Plus fares which both still cost less than upgrading Saver fares.
Emirates operates two very different Business Class products.
The best is on its A380 aircraft, where every seat is fully lie flat with direct access to the aisle, so you never have to step over someone to get out of your seat.
And there’s an onboard bar and lounge to relax in throughout the flight.
The 777 aircraft have a more cramped 2x3x2 configuration, where you could be stuck in a middle seat, or have a neighbor climbing over you to get out of the seat.
On both aircraft meal service includes a choice of appetizers and a small salad bowl, followed by a generous main course, then cheeses and sweets for dessert.
Even with the cramped layout on the 777, it’s still a big upgrade from Economy, but if you have a choice between the 777 and A380, go with the A380 to get a lot more out of your miles.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to upgrade a Business Class ticket, First Class is a world of its own, and a great experience on both aircraft, though if you fly the A380 you’ll have access to an onboard shower.
To check if upgrade space is available before you book your flight you will need to contact Emirates.
You can also utilize ExpertFlyer, a paid service, to determine if upgrade space is available. Business class requires space in ‘D’ class and First Class requires space in ‘Z’ class.
If you see a flight that says ‘Yes’ under seats, it has upgrade space available.
Upgrade space is pretty good on a lot of flights out of the U.S., especially on flights operated by 777s, which don’t have as nice a Business Class seat 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.
Yes, a wait list for upgrades is available if it is not possible to directly confirm and upgraded seat.
If you upgrade from Economy class to a premium cabin, 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. – Europe) are not eligible for the chauffeur service. The chauffeur can be booked through ‘Manage My Booking.’
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 on 1 (800) 777 3999.
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