How to Book Emirates First Class from New York to Dubai for 90,000 Alaska Airlines Miles and no $$ out of pocket!
In my last post, I discussed how I booked an Etihad First Class Apartment from Abu Dhabi to New York with 90,000 American Airlines miles and $37. Read that post here: Booking Etihad First Class. I knew that I wanted to fly the Etihad product, since it was one of my 2016 Travel Goals, and there was good availability for 2 people returning from the UAE–but not a lot of availability from the US to the Middle East. Once I found availability in September 2016, I put the flight on a 72 hour courtesy hold with American Airlines and started working on the rest of the trip.
This post will detail why I chose to fly Emirates First Class–after considering several different options; I will take a look at this awesome product and explain why its one of the nicest First Class cabins out there; I will show you how I booked the flight with Alaska Airlines miles, despite having ZERO Alaska miles as of the beginning of January; and how I actually made a small profit on this whole deal!
Planning the Trip
I had an Etihad flight on hold from Abu Dhabi to New York in September and a week of vacation time. Now, I had to figure out how I was going to get to Abu Dhabi to take that flight. I looked at my other 2016 travel goals and started doing some research. First I looked at Cathay Pacific flights from JFK to Hong Kong. These flights are a great way to use American Airlines miles since they only cost 62,500 miles for one-way first class (until March 22). My initial thought was that I would fly to Hong Kong, spend a day or two, then take a flight to the UAE. Cathay Pacific First Class was not available for the dates that would work, but business class was. This was an option. However, I would spend almost the entire week connecting in airports and not really enjoying the sites of the places I was visiting. I looked at several options connecting through Europe, including Lufthansa business class using United miles, but I wasn’t all that excited about this option. Finally, almost as an afterthought I decided to look at Emirates availability on their A380 flights from JFK.
Emirates offers three direct flights to Dubai per day out of JFK on their A380. They also offer two more options that connect in Milan, Italy, also on an A380 for both legs. First class tickets on these flights can cost anywhere from $8,000 to well over $10,000. I originally hadn’t considered Emirates because the best way to book their flights is actually with Alaska Airlines Miles, of which I had zero.
Before I went any further, I decided to see if there was even any availability for the timeframe I needed. To search, I went to Alaska Airlines website. I already had an Alaska account, although it was empty. However, you do not need an account to search for availability.
From their home page, Alaska makes it very easy to search for award flights: simply ensure you have the “Use Miles” box checked and select “one way” if you only want to search for a one-way ticket. Finally, select how many travelers. Normally Emirates has only one or two seats available in First Class on their flights, so be aware that if you are searching for more than 2 travelers it may be difficult to find decent availability.
Click “Find Flights” and you will arrive at this screen:
Note that I filtered the results to only show Emirates availability and you can either select the direct, “nonstop” option or allow it to search for the 1-stop option through Milan. In this example, you can see that there is availability on both the 11:00pm direct flight from JFK and also the 10:20pm flight through Milan–however, this one is a mixed cabin itinerary (you can tell this from the little seat icon next to the mileage cost) so I would stay away from that one.
For the date that I wanted in September, there was plenty of availability back when I searched in early January. But I still could not book. I had zero Alaska miles and I needed 90,000! I decided that this flight would be ideal for a nice vacation–allowing me 3 days in Dubai to explore and another 2 0r 3 days in Abu Dhabi to see the sites there. After some consideration, I decided this would be the best option for this trip.
The Emirates First Class A380 Product
Once I saw that there was availability I got pretty excited, because the Emirates A380 First Class product is one of the nicest out there. If I was able to pull this off I would fly from the US to UAE and back on two different world-class airlines and be able to check out each of their amazing products!
Emirates First Class is located on the top deck of the A380 and has a total of 14 enclosed suites.
The suites are pretty amazing, albeit not quite as spacious as the Apartments on Etihad.
As you can see from the picture above, there is a divider between the side-by-side seats down the middle aisle, which is ideal for travelers with a companion.
Of course, the suite features a fully flat bed and enclosed privacy.
Also, the aircraft features a bar/lounge area for First and Business Class passengers:
And, if that wasn’t enough, it also offers a dedicated First Class bar with ultra premium liquors and wines and caviar:
Finally, like all good first class A380 cabins, Emirates offers its first class passengers a shower/spa in flight:
Getting the Miles
Once I found availability I had to work fast to get from zero to 90,000 miles before the award space booked up. I did some research and found that the quickest way to get Alaska miles is by signing up for the Bank of America Visa Signature Alaska Airlines Card. This card offers 25,000 Alaska miles upon account approval–i.e. no required minimum spend and a yearly coach companion fare for $99 for a non-waived annual fee of $75. I was able to find a promotion where I would also receive a $100 statement credit if I spent $1,000 in the first month. Essentially, this was equivalent to them paying me $25 and 25,000 miles to sign up for their card. So, I signed up for 2!
Bank of America is one of the banks that will approve more than one of the same card on the same day for the same person. I applied for 2 cards online and was instantly approved for one. On the second application, the notification came back that the application was pending further review. This was something I was expecting and did not concern me. If I had wanted to, I could have called the reconsideration line to ask about the status of the 2nd account, but I was pretty confident I was going to be approved for both anyway, so I didn’t call.
After about a week I received both cards in the mail and my 50,000 miles credited to my account a day or two later. I didn’t have to make any purchases on the cards to earn those 50,000 miles, but I did want my $100 statement credit, so I made sure I had a plan to spend $1,000 on each account over the next 3 months.
Only 40,000 miles short
I had gone from zero miles to 50,000 miles in just a couple weeks. But now I needed to figure out a way to get the other 40,000 miles for the trip. As I have mentioned before, having accounts that earn flexible mileage currencies can be a huge boost to being able to meet your travel goals. The 3 best flexible currencies in my opinion are: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest points.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points are transferable to Alaska Airlines at a 1:1 ratio. Better yet, for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000 mile bonus. So, if I transferred 40,000 SPG points to Alaska I would actually end up with 50,000 Alaska miles–more than I needed, but essentially getting 10,000 free miles towards my next trip.
Luckily I had SPG points already. I had opened up a SPG American Express card last year when the bonus was temporarily at 30,000 points. Currently the standing offer is 25,000 SPG points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The card has a $95 annual fee, waived the first year. Between my 30,000 point bonus and my spending over the past several months on the card I had 40,000 points available.
I did have a little bit of consternation about almost entirely cleaning out my SPG account since these points are so valuable and so flexible, but taking a look at this Emirates A380 video convinced me I was doing the right thing! I went to SPG.com, and transferred 40,000 points to Alaska. Note that the transfer is not instantaneous, I placed the request on Thursday afternoon and the miles did not post until Monday, while I nervously waited and obsessive-compulsively checked the award availability of the flight I wanted.
Once I had the 90,000 miles in my account I went back to the Alaska site, and booked my flight for 90,000 miles plus $19.50.
I found good availability on a great product and earned/transferred 90,000 miles in less than a month to book the award. Because I actually made $25 on each of the Alaska Airlines Credit cards ($100 statement credit minus the $75 annual fee) and had no annual fee on the SPG American Express card I technically made money on this deal. I only paid $19.50 out of pocket, but made $50–a decent $30.50 profit to fly an amazing First Class Product!
Think this is something that is hard to do still? It isn’t–it just takes a bit of motivation to find a great deal, find award availability, and sign up for a couple credit cards that will get you to your goal. This story shows that even if you have ZERO miles right now, it is very easy to get enough miles for a world-class trip in just a couple of months. What are you waiting for?!?!