Chase recently added Emirates as a transfer partner — here are the best ways to use points for award flights and seat upgrades

Business Insider Traveling 1 month ago

Chase's Ultimate Rewards program has some of the most valuable points around. You can transfer your points to 13 airline and hotel partners, and use them to book travel directly through Chase, and get up to a 50% bonus in value if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve

However, other programs have become increasingly competitive. In 2019, the American Express Membership Rewards program has added valuable transfer partners including El Al and LifeMiles, giving cardholders more options for using their points. And Capital One recently introduced a bevy of airline transfer partners to make its own rewards more appealing to cardholders.

In response to other programs' updates, Chase added JetBlue and — most recently — Emirates as Ultimate Rewards transfer partners in 2019. While you may be familiar with the Dubai-based airline's lavish first- and business-class seats, you may be less acquainted with its Skywards loyalty program. So let's take a look at whether it's worth transferring your points, now that you can move the Ultimate Rewards you earned with your Chase cards over to Emirates at a 1:1 ratio.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back. 

Flight options through the Emirates Skywards program

You can use the Emirates Skywards program to book award flights on Emirates, as well as the following airlines:

• Air Mauritius
• Alaska Airlines
• Copa Airlines
• easyJet
• GOL Linhas Aereas Argentinas
• Japan Airlines
• JetBlue
• Jetstar
• Korean Air
• Malaysia Airlines
• Qantas
• S7
• South African Airways
• TAP Portugal

You can also use Skywards miles to upgrade certain paid flights on Emirates.

Booking on Emirates

Emirates allows you to either upgrade paid flights or book award flights on its website. There are three categories of award flights: Saver, Flex, and Flex Plus, each progressively more expensive (not all categories are applicable to every award type between every destination).

While Emirates doesn't publish an award chart, it provides pricing via a calculator on its website.

Upgrade Emirates flights with miles

The "sweet spot" with Emirates Skywards is generally considered to be using miles to upgrade paid flights, but this isn't always the right move. However, Emirates does charge very high fuel surcharges on award flights, and you can "move up" one cabin class with an upgrade, with no additional fuel surcharges involve. You'll only pay a fixed mileage cost based on the price of the ticket you purchased.

Upgrades aren't available on all fares. The least expensive "special" fares cannot be upgraded. Additionally, there's a considerable delta in upgrade cost between less expensive economy class fares and the more expensive "Flex Plus" fares.

Here's an example of upgrade pricing from economy class to business class on a round-trip flight from Seattle to Mumbai:

There are no additional charges to upgrade using miles. However, the devil is in the details: Purchasing Flex and Flex Plus fares is considerably more expensive.

Here's an example using random dates for a flight from Seattle to Mumbai:

Booking a Saver award fare will cost 52,100 miles more for the round-trip upgrade. Meanwhile, the additional cost for a Flex fare is about $300 each way with Emirates. If we're valuing Chase points at 1.5 cents apiece, the "sweet spot" in this case is purchasing a Flex fare, which will yield slightly better "all-in" value for your Chase points when upgrading. It may not be the "sweet spot" in every case, though — read on.

Emirates Award Flights

You can also transfer Chase points to Skywards to book award flights on Emirates, but they are very expensive — both in terms of points and in terms of surcharges. As an example, you'll pay 170,000 miles round-trip from Seattle to Mumbai in business class plus a whopping $1,733 in fees.

Is this a better deal than upgrading with miles? In this specific case, it's about the same. You need fewer miles and more cash for this flight, versus more miles and less cash for an upgrade. Note, however, that upgrades can be available on flights where Saver mileage awards are not, and this can change the calculation.

Booking award flights on Emirates partners

Award flights on Emirates partners are a mixed bag. Some partners allow only round-trip bookings, while others allow one-ways. Additionally, some partners charge a close-in booking fee ($75 within 24 hours of travel and $50 within seven days of travel). Accordingly, you'll need to check closely whether the value is good.

There aren't many sweet spots in Emirates partner award charts, but some of the partners (such as Alaska, JetBlue, Gol, and Copa) don't have fuel surcharges. There can be value if you look hard (really hard), such as flights within central America on Copa, flights within Brazil on Gol, and last-minute flights with JetBlue.

You can get a sense of how many miles you'll need by looking at Emirates' partner award charts.

To book on partners, you'll need to fill out an email form from the respective partner page to request an award. Note that you can't mix awards between partners or add an Emirates flight to an award without incurring additional charges.

How to transfer Chase points to Emirates

To use the Emirates Skywards program with Chase Ultimate Rewards, you'll need to create a Skywards account on Emirates' website and then hook it up to your Chase Ultimate Rewards account on the "Transfer to Travel Partners" page on Chase's website. Like most of Chase's mileage transfer partners, transfers to Emirates Skywards are instant.

Tip: Be sure you're logged out of your Emirates Skywards account before you transfer miles in order to make the transfers smooth and immediate.

Bottom line

To be perfectly frank, Emirates isn't a partner to get overly excited about unless you have a very large points balance, are willing to spend a lot of cash, and are pursuing an aspirational award such as Emirates first class. Apart from some niche redemptions (such as flights on Copa within Central America), there isn't a ton of value to be had in this program. At least not compared to other valuable Chase transfer partners like Southwest, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.

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