Booking Emirates premium cabins used to be one of the most lucrative redemption possibilities with Alaska miles. That is until awards prices were devalued (overnight) to the point of some awards jumping up 100% in price. Since then, one of the most economic ways to book Emirates has been to book them through partner airline, JAL (Japan Airlines).
JAL Award chart
JAL uses a distance-based award chart for Emirates awards that you can see below. To get from Dubai (DXB) to New York (JFK), it’s a 6,849 mile flight so a first class ticket would cost 100,000 JAL miles.
100,000 miles sounds expensive but consider that Alaska would require 150,000 miles for a one way trip.
If you transferred American Express Membership Rewards to Emirates you would be looking at 136,250 miles plus $509 in fees.
So 100,000 JAL miles for a one way first class trip from Dubai to New York wasn’t so bad compared the competition, especially because you didn’t have to deal with high fees or surcharges. In fact, the maximum surcharges for a roundtrip from the US to Dubai were capped at a low $78.
Unfortunately, that will no longer be the case (at least for routes to and from the US).
JAL is now stating that the fees for a roundtrip from New York to Dubai will be a maximum of $1,716.09. That’s a drastic swing that completely changes the value of using JAL miles on Emirates.
Is Amex the way to go now?
While these fees are much higher now, Emirates premium awards might be easier to obtain via American Express Membership Rewards.
For example, a roundtrip from New York (JFK) to Dubai (DBX) would cost 217,500 Emirates miles + $1,392 in total fees. At 13,698 miles roundtrip, this redemption on JAL would cost you 135,000 miles plus up to $1,716 in fees. So with JAL it’s roughly $350 more in fees but still 82,000 miles cheaper.
But you also have to consider that JAL is only a transfer partner of SPG so earning JAL miles can prove to be difficult compared to the many different ways you can rack up Membership Rewards.
I’d be willing to argue that for non-frequent flyers, earning 217,500 Membership Rewards might be easier than earning 135,000 JAL miles in some instances, especially if you’re limited to personal credit cards or are over 5/24 and can’t earn Marriott points to convert to SPG. Since you’d also be saving $350 and be entitled to chauffeur service on Emirates, using Amex Membership Rewards to build up an Emirates balance makes much more sense than it did a couple of years ago.
Overall this is a major blow to Emirates awards which have already been made tougher with the last Alaska devaluation. Now, many more people will be forced to pay a large chunk of change to enjoy these premium cabins.