Emirates is an extremely aspirational airline for mileage redemption because A) they have very “glamorous” premium cabin offerings, and B) because it’s generally not the easiest thing to do–they only have a few partners, and none of them are the “traditional big 4” programs in the United States with big bank tie-ups and easy mileage accrual.
You can redeem for Emirates flights with:
- JAL Miles
- Korean Air Miles
- Alaska Airlines Miles
- Virgin Elevate Points
- Qantas Miles
Unfortunately there are drawbacks to every partner… Sometimes the redemption rates (looking at you, Qantas) are just obscene in terms of required mileage, while other partners (JAL, Korean Air) only allow round trip travel, which doesn’t always suit everybody’s travel plans, and Alaska Airlines, for instance only allows award travel on Emirates that begins or terminates in the United States. I can’t book, for instance, London to Sydney with Emirates using Alaska Mileage Plan.
But Virgin America actually might have the most painless program for redeeming on Emirates as long as you don’t want to redeem for first class. They only allow redemption in economy or business class, unfortunately, but they do allow one way redemptions, redemptions beginning or ending outside of the USA, and pretty reasonable mileage cost to boot.
Here’s the page where you can see how many Virgin Elevate points you’ll need for a redemption on Emirates. As you can see, the pricing is pretty reasonable–particularly when you compare it to pricing for flights on Virgin America.
Check this out, here’s how much a redemption costs from Dubai to Hong Kong:
… and here’s exactly one month from now on Virgin America for Washington to Los Angeles:
So “main cabin select” on Virgin America, requires about 40% more mileage than business class on Emirates.
Here’s what Virgin main cabin select gets you:
…so you get a free checked bag, a little more leg room, and a caesar salad (or whatever). Here’s what Emirates business class looks like:
…not only do you get a lie flat seat, food, wine (including champagne), and chauffeur service both to and from the airport… for fewer miles.
Note that Virgin America redemptions are tied to ticket prices, so it could be more or less than the ~40k it costs next month, though from what I saw, not by substantially much. Either way, it’s no comparison.
So, as part of a trip we’re planning later this year, I wanted to incorporate an Emirates segment from Mauritius (MRU) to Dubai (DXB). We’re flying there on Emirates as well, but because we’re planning on continuing on to Sydney (and not somewhere in the USA) after Mauritius, I wasn’t able to use Alaska miles for this segment, so Virgin America was the only other option that allows one way rewards on Emirates at a decent price.
I called up Virgin Elevate at 1-877-359-8474 and after answering a few robo-questions, I was transferred to the “partner redemption desk.”
I explained that I wanted to use my Elevate points for award travel on Emirates. The very friendly agent asked me where I wanted to travel, the date, and number of passengers. I gave her the information, and she said she needed a few minutes to check availability and would put me on hold.
She came back after about five minutes and said there was availability (which I, of course, knew already since I checked on ExpertFlyer and called Virgin before transferring Amex points to confirm they “see” the space). She quoted me 28,800 miles and roughly $280 in taxes and fees. Note: Virgin America does charge fuel surcharge on Emirates, but it’s quite reasonable compared to, say, British Airways or Lufthansa.
I confirmed all of our information, gave her my credit card number, and she said we’re all set. She explained that I’d get a confirmation email immediately, and another email within a day or two after ticketing.
After a few hours, I didn’t get a confirmation email, so neurotic paranoid nut in me said “something must be wrong.” So I called back to verify that everything truly is all set–the previous agent said the email would be “immediate.” I got a great agent who was able to determine that there were 10 reservations in the queue ahead of me–which she said was “a lot,” so I guess most people aren’t redeeming Virgin America miles for partner travel–and I’d get our e-tickets within a couple days.
But what really stands out, is that she followed up almost immediately with an email herself.
Kudos to Virgin America and Jamie for excellent customer service!
And I have to say, the entire experience booking with Virgin America was pretty painless. Their agents are competent and friendly, wait time was reasonable, and they seem to have pretty good follow up. In my experience, they also “saw” the available award seats which sometimes Alaska doesn’t. My only real complaint is the fuel surcharge, but even that’s not that bad…
Remember that right now through April 30th there is a 30% bonus on transferred points from American Express, so it would be a good time to get in on some pretty decent Emirates pricing.