I never really paid much attention to Emirates’ loyalty program (“Skywards,” which I’m to understand is a combination of “Luke Skywalker” and “Backwards”), since the conventional wisdom is that it’s pretty lame. However, you may want to take a moment to familiarize yourself with it, since the contagion of devaluations spreading around Emirates’ various partners’ programs is making Skywards look better by comparison.
Back in the day, Alaska was the program of choice to book Emirates awards, although a no-notice devaluation sent prices “skyward” (tee hee), and people took cover over at Japan Airlines — well, at least until JAL started levying huge fuel surcharges on Emirates awards, and certainly not now that JAL has announced a devaluation of their own. However, JAL was never great option for most people, since the only good way to earn JAL miles was via SPG. Great if you’re a frequent SPG guest, but not great if you’re trying to earn your miles by credit card spending alone. And even if Alaska had never devalued Emirates awards, their miles have become much harder to earn now that BofA is cracking down on churners and you can’t credit American Airlines flights to them anymore.
So if you want to look like this handsome fellow and fly Emirates first class without paying cash, it may be worth your time to check out Skywards.
It’s not like Skywards has suddenly become a great program or anything, but it is an Amex transfer partner, and Amex points are pretty easy to earn. Even if awards are more expensive through Emirates, it may end up evening out given that you can earn 2x points per dollar via Amex, which is something you definitely can’t do with Alaska or JAL. And sure, the fuel surcharges are a bitch, but there are ways to mitigate that with Amex points as well. (Don’t forget that Emirates awards booked through Skywards also include chauffeur service, which is a marginal benefit but still nice to have.)
I recently used 170,000 Amex points to book two first class awards from Milan to JFK this fall, and I felt like it was a pretty good use of points. That’s 85,000 points each, compared to 62,500 (and equivalent fuel surcharges) if I had flown Air France’s shitty angle-flat seats from Paris. Delta flies from Milan to JFK too, for anywhere between 70,000 and 465,000,000 points, depending on Ed Bastian’s mood on any given day. Being based in San Francisco makes it not as good of a deal, since I still needed to figure out a way to get from JFK to SFO in a flat bed, which of course I wouldn’t have had to do if I used those same 62,500 Flying Blue miles to book a ticket from Paris all the way home. But, I think my point still stands that 85,000 miles is a pretty reasonable cost for 8-9 hours in an Emirates A380 suite.
Given that Qatar and Etihad are in a race to see who can ratfuck their loyalty program faster, there’s a very good chance that Emirates will follow suit and render this post obsolete by doubling the cost of all their awards by the time I hit the “publish” button. But until then, my advice to you is to give them a look and price out some awards, since you may find something that works for you.
Here’s the wrinkle: unlike most programs that partner with Amex, Emirates will only accept transfers to the account owner’s Skwards account. I found this out when I tried to transfer 140,000 out of my wife’s account to my Skywards account. (Quick refresher for anyone that forgot: Amex will let you transfer points into a loyalty account that belongs to an authorized user on your credit card. While they don’t let you pool points with family members like Chase or Citi, the flexibility to transfer points to authorized user loyalty accounts is a suitable workaround.)
Amex kept giving me a confirmation that the points had been transferred, but as soon as I logged out and back into my Amex account, the balance would be the same. Eventually, I realized that this was due to Emirates rejecting the transfer, which was confirmed by the activity on Justine’s Membership Rewards account the next day.
I could always have created a Skywards account for Justine and booked her ticket separately through that account, but that wouldn’t help in situations where I have almost enough points for an award in my account and just need to transfer over a few thousand from hers to top up.
That’s why I was excited to find out that Emirates launched a new program that allows points pooling. Unfortunately, the scheme seems fairly convoluted — rather than transferring points between accounts (which they still allow for $15 per 1000 points), you have to create a family account, and then each family member decides what percentage of the miles they earn on future flights will go into the family account and what percentage will stay in the individual’s account. It makes sense for large families who fly Emirates a lot, since I’m sure it’s annoying for parents when odd amounts of miles are stuck in their ungrateful kids’ accounts. (I wouldn’t know, since I have no kids and my dog isn’t allowed to have her own loyalty accounts for reasons I won’t go into.)
The FAQ makes a point of saying that points earned before setting up the family account can’t be shared later, and that only points earned through flights will be shared. It doesn’t mention point transfers from Amex at all, so I realized the only way to know definitively would be to try it myself. Yes, I sacrificed 1000 hard earned Membership Rewards points just to find out something I was 95% sure was the case anyway. Who says I’m not committed to this blog?! I created an Emirates account for Justine, then went back into my account and invited her into my family (so romantic), making sure to set her sharing percentage at 100%. (She’s such a giving spouse.)
With everything set up, I transferred over 1000 points from Amex, and they instantly appeared in her individual account – not the family account. I tried chatting with a representative to innocently ask if there was a way to share those miles with the family, and there really isn’t. The rep actually told me that it was possible to do, but the instructions she gave me were basically just how to navigate to the page I linked to above that describes the program. I suppose there’s a sliver of hope that a competent phone rep could complete the transfer, but I doubt it. And anyway, Skywards is not a program where you’d ever want to strand a bunch of points, so transferring a big block of Membership Rewards points based on the hope that you get a good phone rep would be downright reckless.
That’s where I left it — 1000 points poorer in Justine’s Amex account and 1000 basically worthless miles in her Emirates account. Oh well. Does this knowledge help you in any way? Yes, I’m fully aware that I could have just tweeted this entire post thusly: “Bummed that Emirates family points pooling doesn’t solve the problem of Skywards blocking AU point transfers from Amex.” However, I felt like writing a blog post, so here we are 1200+ words later. You’re welcome?
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