Time to Book an Emirates First Class Award, With Wide Open Availability

Emirates has become one of the world’s largest airlines, and shows profits, but it has quite a few Airbus A380s without necessarily having routes robust enough to support the aircraft.

They’re taking the A380 off of the Dallas route (which they face competition to and through the Gulf region from Etihad and Qatar) and off the Houston route (the energy sector isn’t performing well…).

So they’re adding A380s to Washington Dulles and a second Los Angeles flight.

New routes and upgauged aircraft are often ripe with award space. Two A380s on the Los Angeles route is quite a lot and indeed Washington Dulles was downgauged from a 777 to a 787 by Etihad. With that kind of capacity perhaps award availability will be quite good over time.

PointsMD says the routes are so wide open that much of the year you’ll find 4 first class awards on the Washington Dulles – Dubai flight and quite a bit on the Los Angeles flight as well.

I don’t find the availability to be that good — the Alaska Airlines website often shows phantom award space on Emirates, so I search using the Qantas site instead.

I had a look at Los Angeles – Dubai in first class for two passengers in July. There was some availability, and I left in some stray award space picked up in the process as well (note that Dallas will no longer be served by an A380 come July):

I had a look at Washington Dulles – Dubai in first class for two passengers in November. There was some availability, but New York JFK – Dubai was far better.

Nonetheless, there’s availability across the calendar on a variety of routes. And New York inventory is uniquely good.

Emirates A380 First Class is a Fantastic Product

The Emirates A380 features 14 first class suites on the plane’s upper deck. They aren’t the widest seats in the sky but they’re very comfortable, and do feature actual doors.

I find Emirates food is very good, as well as their wine and spirits program.

You get more swag than you know what to do with.

And of course the absolute highlight is that there are two shower suites in the cabin.

Walk back past business class, as well, and you can take advantage of the business class bar (be sure to ask them to serve you first class alcohol while you’re there, though!).

In Dubai the A concourse first class lounge is really an entire level of the terminal. There must be capacity for over 1000 people. When I was there at one point I didn’t see more than 2 or 3.

Whose Miles Should You Use to Book?

I’ve generally redeemed Alaska Airlines miles for Emirates. I’m flying Houston – Dubai – Bangkok shortly on Emirates Airbus A380s in first class. (I was lucky to dodge a bullet – my Dubai – Bangkok flight won’t be operated by one of the dense configuration A380s without a first class cabin, and of course this is before they downgauge the Houston route to a Boeing 777 — which is the same first class seat but lacks showers).

Alaska Airlines will allow you to fly between the US and Europe on Emirates, via Dubai. You can do a stopover in Dubai. And of course get an extra Airbus A380 segment between Dubai and Europe if you wish.

Japan Airlines, a Starwood transfer partner, has a distance-based award chart that can work out cheaper than Alaska’s (and will let you book routes that aren’t part of Alaska’s award chart). However JAL does add fuel surcharges to awards.

Korean Air Skypass, a Chase transfer partner, lets you book awards on Emirates but their award chart is on the whole unappealing for these redemptions. They add fuel surcharges and you must book one way. Emirates itself is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, but first class awards are pricey (and one-way awards pricier still).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Are Israeli passport holders allowed to fly Emirates (to a final destination recognized by Israel, with transit in Dubai or Qatar)? If not, then I have no interest furthering the boycott of Israel by flying with this airline.

  2. If you schedule A380’s on a certain route and dedicate an entire floor to the first class lounge, travelers will come regardless of the destination! 😉

  3. @PointsPinnacle I was considering changing to the IAD route for my September flight but I suppose they could change their minds at IAD as well. Will just have to keep an eye on my reservation and watch for equipment changes.

  4. Gary, are you sure this is not a phantom availability?

    I booked 1 award ticket using AS miles from my account, and when I logged in to my wife’s account to make a 2nd reservation, availability disappeared. Prior to booking it showed at least 2 seats available. So I am not sure what happened and what to do at this point…

  5. @Sam the award space I am showing above isn’t phantom, and isn’t drawn from the Alaska site. Some of the award space that Points MD is discussing is, I think, phantom.

  6. Gary, Does Qantas website show the correct inventory for EK? I have a booking on EK in business for DXB-JFK in March. Qantas shows that F seat is available on that day, but Alaska shows nothing. If Qantas shows the correct inventory, is there a way for Alaska to see it?

  7. Hi Gary,

    Thanks again for the great tips. One question, though – how would a ‘normal’ USA flyer get a Qantas number in order to use their search engine? I’d like to rule out these phantom Alaska seats in order to plan a trip with a friend (pulling miles online from 2 separate accounts, I’ve read, can complicate the availability picture).


  8. Seems like I’ve failed the deserving-first-class-test! I had a mental notion that one had to be an Australia resident to get an account, so when I was on their page earlier today I balked at the fee to enroll (as an Australian resident of the Marriott Melbourne…). Seems like I’ve over-engineered myself into embarrassment.

    Thanks for putting up with my silly question.


  9. Few Emirates JFK to Milan for (if I recall correctly) 125k miles Sept2014 … was only one in 1st class cabin on an outbound Tuesday night, cabin was tull on a Friday return to JFK. Funny thing was, (when I booked), miles upgrades from biz to 1st showed no availability, but outriight 1st awards were available

    Might see if I can wrangle a NY to London (via Dubai with stopover) using Alaska site.

  10. @Christian that’s such a broad question! What are you planning to do on the trip? What quality level do you want? Are you looking for cheapest price or best? Are you leveraging points or status?

  11. @Gary It’s our first time in Thailand, so we don’t really know the geography. I’m looking for a points hotel, preferably nice. I’m considering the Hyatt to make use of my Diamond status, but open to SPG or IHG, or even Club Carlson. Club access and/or free breakfast are the pertinent considerations besides location. We love food, nightlife, history, general culture, shopping, temples, and architecture.

  12. @Christian – Hard to go wrong with most properties. If you are a Hyatt Diamond that makes the Grand Hyatt compelling though I admit I do not love the hotel. Can’t wait for the new Park Hyatt to open there! Starwood has great properties, from the Sheraton Grande (not Royal Orchid) to the Meridien to the St Regis. The Intercontinental can be good for a Royal Ambassador, I had a great stay there. At the cheaper end plenty of very good properties, the Holiday Inn attached to the Intercon is good too.

  13. I booked Emirates First for this March from JFK to MXP for 90K points + $500 through Qantas. Earning Citi ThankYou points and transferring to Qantas was a lot easier for me than trying to earn Alaska miles.

  14. @Gary Along with the rest of the travelling world, I got the Hilton Diamond match. Are there any Hiltons that particularly wow you?

  15. Do Alaska and Qantas/Emirates pull from a different award bucket? I see EK218 (Z) 12/9/16 /EK372 (Z) 12/15/16 being available on expert flyer and Qantas, but when I called Alaska, they weren’t available. Alaskair.com seems to have a different award bucket than expert flyer and Qantas.

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