Update December 2017 – Fuel Surcharges are now unfortunately being applied on these awards.
Emirates has one of their flashiest first class products around. I’ve flown it a few times, but with Alaska Miles before they devalued their award chart significantly for First Class. Their business class redemption are still very reasonable (starting at 82,500 miles) and stacks well with the current 50% Bonus purchase promotion. However, the cheapest way to book Emirates First Class is now with Japan Airlines Mileage Bank (JMB) miles.
It now costs 150,000-225,000 Alaska Miles for a one-way redemption from North America, an insane amount. While I’ve read about JAL redemptions on Emirates, I’ve never booked a ticket firsthand. This was my experience booking Emirates First Class with Japan Airlines (JMB) miles.
Earning Japan Airlines Miles
The only way to earn Japan Airlines Miles in Canada is with the SPG Personal American Express and the SPG Business American Express. JAL is a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest at a 1:1 ratio. Each card offers an increased bonus of 25,000 points. If you apply for both cards and meet the minimum spend, you will earn 63,000 miles after including the transfer bonus.
You can also top-up by transferring Membership Rewards at a 2:1 ratio and Marriott at a 3:1 ratio. So if you picked up the American Express Business Platinum Card with a 75,000 points bonus, you’d get get 42,500 JMB miles. The Chase Canada Visa Marriott would get you 16,666 JMB miles.
JAL uses a distance-based chart to calculate how many miles you need for a redemption. The prices improve the longer your itinerary becomes. Each award can be up to eight segments with one-ways permitted. You essentially have unlimited stopovers, except you cannot stop twice in a city (the second visit would have to be a connection).
For example, you could fly New York – Milan – Dubai – Bangkok – Dubai – New York, with stopovers in Milan and Dubai (1x). The total miles flown on that routing is 19,874, which means it would cost 155,000 miles roundtrip. That’s a tremendous value for your miles.
Searching for Emirates Award Space
One thing that is very important to note is to check directly with Emirates to see availability. First, you should not be using Alaska to find seats, as they often have inaccurate and phantom availability.
Furthermore, from my experience, searching just Qantas and ExpertFlyer is only fairly accurate. Inventory displays correctly for most flights, but occasionally, they displayed space that JAL could not see. For example, take a look at 9/7 flight EK208 from New York to Dubai. The Qantas award search engine shows seats available in First Class.
Expertflyer also confirms this.
However, the JAL representatives could not see it at all (and I had called multiple times). I finally realized my mistake when I checked directly on the Emirates site. Indeed – it wasn’t bookable with Emirates miles. The site is mildly confusing to figure out, but the key is ignoring the (very) high award prices, and instead use the Classic Rewards search.
I’m guessing that Expertflyer and Qantas.com have a delay in showing award space – which is why they would show space even though someone might have grabbed it. I don’t have enough Qantas miles to try ticketing that flight, but I doubt it would confirm.
The Emirates search engine is instant, and in my opinion, the most accurate way to check availability. It is real-time, so I saw the award space disappear online as the JAL agent was creating the reservation. I would strongly recommend signing up for an Emirates Skywards account and using their own award tool to make sure the seats are there before making a transfer.
I didn’t do that – and it would have been disastrous if I didn’t have a backup option.
Book Emirates with JAL – Process
Figuring out the award chart and routing rules are fairly straightforward. Finding the award space is pretty tricky – so is booking.
First, I transferred the miles earned from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. You are limited to 74,999 miles per transfer, although the best amounts to transfer are 20k, 40k, or 60k. You also can only make one transfer within a 24 hour period.
I made two transfers from SPG on August 17 and 19, which posted on August 22. This matches other reports where it takes anywhere from 3-7 days for the miles show up in your JMB account, although Starwood says it may take up to two weeks.
You cannot book Emirates online with your JAL points. To ticket, you have to talk to a call center agent. The phone number for North America is 1-800-525-3663/310-607-4160. They are open 0600-1800 Pacific on weekdays and 0700-1500 on weekends and holidays. As well, they also have call centers in Europe, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific region.
What are the Taxes and Fees to Book Emirates Awards?
The agents were fairly competent at putting together an itinerary. Taxes and fees are charged based on the call center you issue the ticket with. I had the funny coincidence of reaching the same agent twice, once through the Hong Kong number and the other with the Australian number. The price of taxes I got were roughly the same in HKD and AUD.
For my ticket, I was not charged any fuel surcharges. Most reports state that as well, but I did have an Asia-based representative tell me that my taxes and fees were $779, instead of $15. There isn’t any clarification online about what the policy actually is. However, given that an e-ticket number has been issued for my booking, you are definitely able to book without paying fuel surcharges.
There was also one other detail that I couldn’t find online – change and cancel fees. Changes are free – but only time and date changes are allowed. Any routing changes are not. For example, you can’t change Los Angeles – Dubai – Delhi to San Francisco – Dubai – Delhi. Cancellations are the equivalent of 31,000 JPY, and the miles should come back instantly.
This makes for an interesting scenario when award space on a difference flight opens, because then it becomes and issue of whether the cancelled ticket seats would come back into the award bucket. Anyways, I haven’t run into that yet.
If you’ve always wanted to fly Emirates First Class – now is the time. The increased bonus on the SPG Personal American Express as well as the SPG Business American Express make them great to get. Even if you have no SPG points to start with, getting both cards is enough to fly First Class on a shorter route. If you need more points, you can always top up from other AMEX cards.
One really cool route to North America that I’ve wanted to take is the fifth-freedom flight from Milan to New York JFK. This clocks in at just under 4,000 miles, so it would cost only 65,000 Japan Airlines miles, which is very reasonable for a First Class transatlantic flight on an A380 with a shower!
Has anyone else booked Emirates Awards with Japan Airlines JMB?