Earlier I posted about the huge devaluation that Alaska made to Emirates first class award travel overnight, where we saw the cost of some first class awards increase by 100%. To me this destroys a lot of my trust in the Alaska Mileage Plan program, because trying to catch members off guard with changes undermines the very point of a loyalty program.
So is this the end of Emirates first class redemptions for me? Nope, at least for as long as the Japan Airlines Mileage Bank program stays the same. I’ve written about how to redeem Japan Airlines miles on Emirates in the past, though figured I’d recap it again, given the drastic change which happened today.
How good of a deal are Emirates first class awards through JAL?
The basic rules of these redemptions are as follows:
- You can travel either one way or roundtrip
- You can fly up to six segments per itinerary
- You can make up to two stopovers per itinerary
- Mileage required is based on the total cumulative distance flown on all sectors
Best of all, there should be no fuel surcharges when redeeming Japan Airlines miles on Emirates, at least for flights between the US and UAE. Japan Airlines publishes the maximum amount they charge in fees for travel on partner airlines; for Emirates that figure is as follows:
EMIRATES (EK): U.S. to U.A.E round-trip: maximum US$78.20.
In the past JAL has gone back and forth as to whether or not they impose fuel surcharges on Emirates, as it seems to be based on where you’re flying to/from. So I can’t make any guarantees, but they do officially publish the above regarding travel between the US and UAE, which suggests there shouldn’t be fuel surcharges. I’d research this more, but JAL will only quote the taxes and fees on a ticket if you have enough miles in your account and are ready to book, which isn’t a situation I’ve been in up until now.
Emirates first class goodies
As I explained in a previous post, here are a few examples of possible redemption values:
- A roundtrip A380 first class award between New York and Milan would cost you 100,000 miles
- A roundtrip A380 business class award between New York and Milan would cost you 65,000 miles
- A roundtrip A380 first class award between New York and Dubai would cost you 135,000 miles
- A roundtrip A380 business class award between New York and Dubai would cost you 85,000 miles
- An A380 first class award from New York to Milan to Dubai to New York (with stopovers in Milan and Dubai) would cost you 135,000 miles
- An A380 first class award from New York to Milan to Dubai to Bangkok to Dubai to New York (with stopovers in Milan and Bangkok) would cost you 155,000 miles
Book all of this in Emirates A380 first class for 155,000 miles
The best part is that Japan Airlines miles can be acquired at the same cost as Alaska Airlines miles… though it may require a bit more effort.
How to buy Japan Airlines miles for 2.1 cents each
Japan Airlines is a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, so you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.
SPG often offers a 25% discount when purchasing points (including at the moment, through April 15), bringing down the cost per purchased Starpoint to 2.625 cents.
Since 20,000 Starpoints convert into 25,000 airline miles, that means you’re paying 2.1 cents per airline mile.
When Alaska sells miles directly, the lowest price with a 40% bonus is typically ~2.11 cents per mile, so it’s actually even marginally cheaper to go through Starwood.
The catch is that you can purchase a maximum of 30,000 Starpoints per account per calendar year.
How to get around the annual Starpoint purchase limit
One way to get around the limit of only being able to purchase 30,000 Starpoints per account per calendar year is to make a household points transfer. Starwood allows members registered at the same address to transfer Starpoints between accounts. This means if you have four people at your address with Starwood accounts, you can all purchase Starpoints through this promotion and you could then transfer the points to one account.
There’s rarely just one good program for a particular mileage redemption, and that’s also true for Emirates first class. While Alaska doubled their first class redemption rates on Emirates in many markets, Japan Airlines still has very reasonable redemption rates. Admittedly purchasing those miles is a bit more challenging than with Alaska, but the price ends up being the same (or even marginally cheaper).
Emirates first class caviar service
The other good thing is that you can always keep the points in your SPG account, and only transfer them when you’re ready to book, so you don’t lock yourself into one specific mileage currency, with the risk of a devaluation (a realization many woke up to this morning with Alaska Mileage Plan).
I’d add two other caveats:
- Japan Airlines could also devalue award redemptions on Emirates (especially if it’s Emirates prompting it), so I’m sharing this simply so everyone knows of their options; personally I don’t think they’ll change their system too soon given how few people redeem Emirates awards through JAL rather than through Alaska; over time that could change
- There aren’t too many data points on Emirates redemptions through Japan Airlines, so I’m not sure of the competency of the agents, what kind of fees are charged in practice, if availability matches what Emirates makes available to their own members, etc.; hopefully we can share some data points and start figuring that out
With the above out of the way, there are plenty of fantastic values to be had for Emirates first class through JAL’s program, and in many cases they’re better than anything Alaska ever charged. On the most basic level, a roundtrip New York to Dubai first class award will cost you 135,000 miles plus ~$80 in taxes. That’s under $3,000 roundtrip for Emirates first class between the US and Middle East
Anyone else planning on earning/buying JAL miles for the purposes of Emirates first class redemptions, or are you concerned the redemption will be devalued shortly?