Why Emirates frequent flyer program Skywards is not your friend

Despite their stunning in-flight service, the Emirates frequent flyer program (Skywards) is somewhat lacking.

Whilst this may be tantamount to heresy for all those Dubai expats and travellers with thousands of Skywards miles, bear with me.

Let’s back up a moment to say what this article is not about.

Emirates frequent flyer program - miles DXB LHR return

Skywards miles Dubai DXB – London LRH return

It is about the Emirates frequent flyer program Skywards, and not about the onboard Emirates experience – which in my experience is generally very good to excellent.

See, having heaps of Emirates frequent flyer program miles is a bit of a false impression. It’s like driving a Toyota, which may very well seem fine to you, but without having ever experienced a BMW.

Here are seven reasons why the Emirates frequent flyer program is not your friend, along with suggestions how to hack Skywards to benefit best.




1) Emirates prioritise fare class rather than frequent flyer status for upgrades


Emirates are looking to claw back money due to poor trading results in recent years. This has led them to consider introducing Premium Economy, whilst also adding seat charges and other aspects similar to LCCs (Low-Cost Carriers).

In recent years, Emirates frequent flyer program members often received discretionary upgrades (sometimes even without asking!).

These days, Emirates now prefer to upgrade higher fare types (e.g. Flex) even if they are not in the Skywards program.

Hack Skywards by doing this

Always paying full/higher fare types is likely to be better than flying more miles on a lower fare type, plus you have better earning rates on miles.

2) Lounge access is not guaranteed with Skywards

Emirates have recently revised access requirements for lounge access when flying on Emirates flights:-

  • Skywards Silver flying from Dubai can access Business Class lounges in Dubai
  • Skywards Gold can access Emirates lounges and affiliated lounges (even when flying in Economy class)
  • Skywards Platinum can access Emirates lounges and affiliated lounges with a guest

Hack Skywards by doing this

If you’re only Skywards Blue, you only have three options:-

  1. Pay $100 to access the Business Lounge in Dubai
  2. Find a Skywards Platinum member and access as their guest
  3. Use a lounge membership scheme such as LoungeBuddy or Priority Pass.

Note – lounge membership programs may only get you into the Marhaba (not the Emirates Business or First) Lounges at Dubai. However, they will also get you into some Emirates partner (and other) lounges worldwide.

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3) Skywards miles are extremely poor value (to earn and spend)

Airline points and miles vary between award charts – as written about previously here and here – and loyalty programs.

100,000 Skywards miles will get you nothing like the redemption flights 100,000k points/miles in loyalty programs such as AAdvantage or SPG would.

Earning Skywards miles depends on:-

  1. Route
  2. Fare type (Special, Saver, Flex or Flex Plus)
  3. Class (Economy, Business or First)
  4. Skywards Tier (Blue, Silver, Gold, Platinum)

Skywards do not provide their award chart online, preferring instead to use a web-based Miles Calculator.

Just look at this screenshot to see the difference in earning rates of Tier Miles (that count towards status) on a one way DXB-LHR, Economy ticket for Skywards Blue.

750 to 3,000 is a massive difference, both for earning and spending Skywards miles hey?

Emirates frequent flyer program miles DXB LHR oneway

Skywards Miles Dubai DXB – London LHR oneway



Hack Skywards by doing this

  • If you are looking to book award flights with Skywards miles, try to get the best value by utilising Saver-level fares on return flights.
  • If you really need to book a one-way flight, calculate if it’s better value to book with cash (or Points and Cash) and/or upgrade.
  • As with many other airline loyalty programs, it’s not wise to hold onto points/miles too long as award chart devaluations are becoming more frequent.

4) Award partners are minimal

Emirates is not part of any airline alliance, and only has a limited number of partner airlines.

Qantas is perhaps the most common, with Easyjet and TAP Portugal other decent options. However, the value/cost of redemptions is extemely expensive unless you can find a few ‘sweet spots‘.

Hack Skywards by doing this

Consider a different option for cashing in your miles with Emirates Skywards, such as Kaligo hotel bookings for free nights.

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5) Poor award flight availability

Emirates often releases award availability up to a year before flight dates.

Due to Emirates’s popularity – especially with Americans who can redeem Alaska Airlines miles at far better rates – award space at Business or First Class is often limited.

Hack Skywards by doing this

Use a service such as Expert Flyer to check availability on Emirates as soon as it becomes available. This is far more preferable than the ‘hit and miss’ method of booking through Emirates website on speculative dates.

6) Skywards status can be very difficult to attain

Since Emirates started adding far more fare types and promo fares, it’s also dwindled Tier Miles earning rates. So, not only are you likely earning less Skywards Miles but you’re also getting less Tier Miles towards status.

For example, to attain Skywards Silver status, it will either take 25 flights or 25,000 Tier Miles. That equates to 12 one way Dubai-London flights at Flex fare type.

Hack a solution by doing this

  • Register for a co-branded credit card which will ‘gift’ you Skywards Silver status
  • Pay a higher fare type for each fare (e.g. Flex rather than Saver) as higher fare types offer greater earning ratios.

7) Restrictions when booking award flights/upgrades

Emirates often place additional restrictions on redemptions and upgrades with Skywards miles:-

  • Award flights at Saver level are only available on a return basis. Looking at the Dubai to London route in the two screenshots above, one way at Flex Plus costs 38,750 whilst a return at Saver is 45,000 (or 22,500 each way). That’s an increase of approx. 72% between Saver to Flex – yikes!
  • Partner flight bookings often require a member to leave details and await a written response from Emirates to make a booking.
  • Flex or Special fare types are not availble for spending Skywards miles.
  • Economy upgrades at Saver level can only be upgraded at check-in or on board.
  • Some routes may have additional restrictions (e.g. where Emirates is aiming for heavy transit traffic – e.g. Europe via Dubai to Bangkok/Asia) which reduce options for award flights.

Hack Skywards by doing this

  • To maintain value, aim for return flights rather than oneway. However this puts increased strain on availability, so book well in advance.
  • Flex fares cost more in cash but provide more flexibility for upgrades
  • Always check Emirates website for amendments to Skywards – they often change quickly and quietly – especially on popular routes.
Are you a fan of the Emirates frequent flyer program, and if so, what do you like best about it? Are there are any other issues other than what we've listed above?We'd love to hear from you using the comments below - we're waiting for your feedback!