Emirates Restricts First Class Awards, Upgrades

New Emirates 777 First Class
Emirates is making it even harder to book one of its luxurious First Class seats using frequent flyer points. Photo: Emirates.

Emirates First Class is arguably one of the best ways to fly, and before the pandemic it was a hugely popular frequent flyer points redemption for Australian frequent flyers. But Emirates has been quietly making it a lot harder for frequent flyers to book or upgrade into a First Class seat using points.

Emirates eliminating Flex First Class awards

Currently, when redeeming Emirates Skywards miles to book a First Class reward flight, there are two options:

  • Flex
  • Flex Plus

Flex awards require fewer Skywards miles and are available when booking a round-trip Classic Reward on Emirates. Flex Plus awards are more expensive, but have more availability and can be used for one-way bookings.

Buried in the fine print of the Emirates Miles Calculator, however, is this footnote:

First Class Flex Classic Rewards will be available for travel until June 30, 2021.
For travel from July 1, 2021 onwards, only First Class Flex Plus Classic Rewards will be available for all First Class one-way and return bookings

That’s right, Emirates is next month removing the cheaper option for First Class awards when using miles in its own frequent flyer program.

For a return Emirates First flight from Sydney to London, this represents a price increase from 384,000 Skywards miles to 480,000 Skywards miles – which is not insubstantial.

Emirates Business Saver fares no longer upgradeable to First Class

Emirates is also make it harder to upgrade from Business Class to First Class using Skywards miles. Soon, it will no longer be possible to upgrade from a Business Saver fare to First Class in advance, meaning you would need to purchase a more expensive “Flex” or “Flex Plus” Business class ticket.

To top it off, Emirates has reportedly also increased the number of miles it costs to upgrade from Business Flex into First class.

Most partner airlines axing Emirates First Class awards

Meanwhile, Emirates has completely removed access to First Class award inventory for frequent flyers with most of its partner airlines.

Emirates already removed access to First Class awards for Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members on 1 April 2021. (Turns out, the entire partnership between Alaska Airlines & Emirates will now end anyway on 31 July 2021.)

This had left Japan Airlines Mileage Bank and Qantas Frequent Flyer as the only other frequent flyer programs which allowed their members to book Emirates First Class award tickets. But Japan Airlines members will also lose access to Emirates First Class award tickets from 31 August 2021. This notice now appears on the JAL website:

Effective from September 1, 2021, new bookings for First Award Tickets with Emirates (EK) will not be accepted. First Class Award tickets that have been already booked and miles have been deducted and ticketed by August 31, 2021 could continue to be used for travel on Emirates on/after September 1, 2021.

Emirates has many other partner airlines including Malaysia Airlines, TAP Air Portugal & Korean Air. But it’s already not possible to book Emirates First Class awards with any of those other airlines.

You can still book Emirates First Class with Qantas points

The good news is that Qantas Frequent Flyer members still have access to Classic Flight Reward seats in Emirates First Class. This is likely to continue at least until ACCC approval for the Qantas/Emirates joint venture comes up for renewal in 2023.

But Qantas Frequent Flyer members don’t get off scot-free either, with Qantas recently increasing the number of points required to book Emirates reward flights in all classes of travel.

Clearly Emirates, which just reported a AUD$7 billion loss for the last financial year, wants to make it harder for customers to access its First Class cabin without paying for a ticket. But if there’s one positive that could come from all of this, less competition for seats could mean better award availability for Qantas Frequent Flyer members!

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: No more EK F on Alaska points – Will this affect QF too?


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]