Why Alaska’s Devaluation of Emirates First Class Awards Isn’t So Bad

This morning I woke up to some pretty bad news – no, there wasn’t another attack in Europe but rather Alaska Airlines increased the number of miles required for Emirates first and business class awards. Without warning. To me, this isn’t a huge loss. This may sound jaded, but Emirates’ first class product always seemed a bit tacky and outdated to me. Their business class seats don’t look that appealing either. I don’t need to shower on a plane (I’ve got one of those at home) and there are plenty of other great Alaska Mileage Plan redemption options. 

EmiratesA380 First Class Private Suite

That being said, I can understand why others are upset that this happened without warning – I’m thinking of booking a couple of Cathay Pacific awards just to avoid being blindsided in case they decide to increase those awards as well. That being said, this devaluation isn’t all bad. Here’s some glass half-full -perspective on why Alaska’s devaluation of Emirates first class awards isn’t so bad:

1. First class awards are still attainable. While Emirates first class awards have increased substantially, it’s not as terrible as I’d expected. Now, a one-way flight between the US and the Middle East will set you back 150,000 miles rather than 90,000 miles – an extra 60,000 miles is a lot, considering you could redeem those miles for a one-way flight to Asia in Cathay Pacific business class. It’s in no way a small change, but it’s still less than what it would cost you to redeem a first class Emirates award with Emirates Skywards. For example, a flight from San Francisco to Dubai on Emirates first class will set you back 155,000 miles + $755 one-way when booked through Emirates Skywards. Suddenly, 150,000 Alaska miles and $20 doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

While round trips may be out of the question for many of you, at least we still have the option to book Emirates first class as one-way awards, which brings me to my next point….

2. Free stopovers on one-way awards. Thankfully, Alaska hasn’t eliminated free stopovers on one-way awards. The fact that you can still tack on another destination to a one-way Emirates first class award ticket takes some of the sting out of redeeming so many miles.

3. There are other options for booking Emirates first class at reasonable rates. Aside from Alaska Airlines, Emirates also partners with Japan Airlines (JAL Mileage Bank). What’s great about JAL Mileage Bank is that it’s a distance-based reward program, so a first class Emirates award could work out cheaper than redeeming Alaska miles. The program allows up to six segments and two stopovers on a single award, and excludes the hefty fuel surcharges Emirates Skywards tacks on. Ben at One Mile at a Time outlines some very reasonable redemption rates for Emirates first class awards booked with JAL Mileage Bank miles:

  • Roundtrip first class award between New York and Milan requires 65,000 miles
  • Roundtrip first class award between New York and Dubai requires 85,000 miles
  • Roundtrip first class award between New York and Milan requires 100,000 miles
  • Roundtrip first class award between New York and Dubai requires 135,000 miles
  • Roundtrip first class award between New York to Milan to Dubai to New York (with stopovers in Milan and Dubai) requires 135,000 miles
  • Roundtrip first class award between New York to Milan to Dubai to Bangkok to Dubai to New York (with stopovers in Milan and Bangkok) requires 155,000 miles

Those who are unfamiliar with JAL Mileage Bank, the program is a Starwood transfer partner. Starwood points transfer to JAL Mileage bank at a 1:1 ratio and, according to Travelsort, can take 1-2 weeks to post (though officially, it can take 10-14 business days). So if you got in on the 35,000-mile Starwood American Express card offer, putting an extra $10,000 worth of spend on the card would get you the miles needed for a first class Emirates award between New York and Milan.

4. Business class is still an option. Oh the horrors of not being able to shower on a plane! I’ve got some breaking news: Showers exist on land. Most people have them in their homes (except for those who live in actual boxes), the gym, workplace, and even some airport club lounges. So while taking a 5-second shower on an airplane is a novelty you can brag about on social media, it’s not all there is to the premium flying experience. If all you want is a nice, angled flat seat with good food, award winning service and lounge access on the ground, you can always fly Emirates business class. Award prices for Emirates business have gone up as well, but they’re still a lot cheaper than first class:

  • Roundtrip Emirates business class between North America and India or the Middle East 165,000 miles (82,500 one-way)
  • Roundtrip Emirates business class between North America and Africa: 240,000 miles (120,00 one way)

It’s also worth noting that Emirates plans to roll out new, lie-flat business class seats across their 777-300ER and 777-200LR fleet. There you go – worries about slipping off the seat mid-nap averted.

If the idea of being the only one of your friends to not have showered on a plane really bothers you, you can always opt to fly Etihad Airways instead. Etihad’s First Class Apartments on the A380 have access to an on-board shower and require as few as 62,500 American AAdvantage miles:

  • One-way Etihad first class between the Middle East: 110,000 miles
  • One-way Etihad first class between Europe to Middle East: 62,500 miles
  • One-way Etihad first class between Australia to Middle East: 100,000 miles

5. This may not be the final word. A lot of people are understandably upset about this no-notice devaluation. It’s not ideal when an airline makes such a massive change overnight, without giving its members a chance to redeem their miles at the previously lower award rates. People have been tweeting @AlaskaAir, in a bid to get them to retract the devaluation, or at least give members extra time to redeem miles at the previous rates. It may work, it may not. It takes five seconds to do, so if you feel strongly about this, it’s worth a try to express your outrage to the Alaska Airlines Twitter team.

Has Alaska’s devaluation of Emirates first and business class affected your travel plans?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Love your article !! Exactly my thoughts as well. Doesn’t make any difference to me and pretty sure many like me. We are a family of 4 and make 1 trip a year. 150,000 miles for First Class? I would probably have the whole family travel somewhere with those miles. Economy…. not a problem. Maybe it is just me…maybe it is not.

    • It’s definitely a first class problem (no pun intended). I totally get the fascination and I’m sure it’s an awesome experience, but it just doesn’t bother me on the same level as it does others.

  2. Totally agree w/first comment. This also doesn’t affect me one bit. My shower at home is a thousand times nicer and more comfortable than the Emirates shower. And I get to sing in my shower too! .. 😉 I’m usually more interested in the destination, than in the transportation method I use to get there. Since I travel w/a kid and I’m churning for 2 other people (husband+kid), we all usually fly Economy. We flew economy to HKG last month on Cathay Pacific. It was a 15 hr flight w/a toddler. Sure, it wasn’t amazing, but the flight attendants are still great in Economy, since they all have that great Cathay Pacific ethos. What was really awesome was our week in Hong Kong. I do think Alaska Airlines should have given customers some warning. From the comments I saw on their twitter feed, it looks like they were totally unprepared for the sh*t storm that ensued from some angry customers.

    • Don’t get me wrong – I love a premium cabin but CX business is totally sufficient for me. I did love flying Thai Airways and have a few first class products on my bucket list, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t fly them…and I don’t think Emirates F is that nice! Agree, the destination is more important, since it’s where you spend the majority of your time.

  3. So you’re telling me it’s not so bad. First of all, they gave us no advanced notice. Second, it’s like the bank taking your account and giving you a slap down and telling you your $100 is now worth $33. Would you really say, “Oh, it’s not so bad, I’m only losing 67%” Let’s think about this for a second.

    • I don’t think it’s ok that they did it without warning – that’s the messed up part. But that being said, it’s done and we can either continue to be upset about it or move on and find a way around it.

  4. Thanks for the write up Ari! In general, i think it’s a novelty too. However, I think Alaska owed their customers a warning. I was planning to book a trip from Seattle to Maldives in first class for 90k but with this change I don’t think 150k is now worth it. Since i still want most of the experience I’ll settle for biz class.

    I must admit i was sad and outraged when i saw the news, but I’m over it now 🙂 The miles hacking game is a “freebie” – you still put in work but you come out ahead anyway – so I really can’t complain too much 🙂

    • Absolutely – it’s not ok that they did it without warning and I totally agree that part is bad. And I personally know people who had saved up for an Emirates First Class award and are upset, and they have a right to be. However, it’s done and we have to move on, like you said. And hey, there are lots of other great products we can book at a reasonable rate with our Alaska miles.

  5. Thank you for pointing out the obvious in your first paragraph regarding the shower! A lot of the other blogs have been lauding it as the best product since sticky notes, but who goes into a plane in need of a shower anyway

  6. Wife and I have just flown First on Emirates JFK-DXB-BOM and Etihad F on the way back BOM-AUH-JF all on A380s. Snagged both tickets pre deval (both American and Alaska) to go to a friends weeding.

    Emirates service was much better and they just didn’t stop pouring Dom Perignon for us and we did not complain :-), my wife is not a drinker and she probably had 2 bottles of Dom counting both flights. Food and wine selection was very good. We took the shower and even though is kind of silly 5 minutes it is cool.

    Etihad apartments are awesome but the service is hit or miss. We had the most amazing service from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi, while a terrible on on the long leg to JFK. Food was just ok as was the wine selection. We also had shower on the long leg a couple of hours before we landed in JFK, again 5 silly minutes that we took because we think that flying again these airlines on F will not happen for a very, very long time.

    Would I take the shower again: no doubt about it. Can I fly without them: definitely.

    But the problem is that AA gave a good amount of time before its deval, while Alaska did not. I was lucky as I booked pre-deval on both, but I can imagine that a lot of people who were accumulating miles or working on availability got really frustrated in this is the problem on how Alaska handled it.

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