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- Emirates is widely regarded as having one of the most luxurious first-class cabins in the world, and you can use credit card points to book these seats.
- The Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program is a partner of all five major transferable points currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou® Rewards, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy.
- My girlfriend and I felt very safe in Emirates first class because of safety precautions like full PPE for the flight crew and COVID hygiene kits for each passenger.
- The inflight experience was incredible and included Dom Perignon, extravagant meals, and an enclosed suite with a seat that turns into a lie-flat bed.
- Read Business Insider’s guide to the best Chase credit cards.
2020 was already supposed to be a lighter travel year for me as I left my job as a full-time road warrior to head back to grad school, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced me to cancel the few trips I had planned. This meant that I ended my fall semester with a serious itch to travel again, as well as a massive stash of points and miles burning a hole in my wallet.
My girlfriend and I carefully planned a trip we thought we could take safely, and I set my eyes on the ultimate prize in commercial aviation: Emirates first class. While it’s normally tricky to find award seats in the opulent, gold-studded cabins of the Dubai-based airline, I was able to transfer a combination of Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Amex Membership Rewards points to book a $14,687 ticket for nearly free.
Bigger credit card bonuses = bigger seats
When I first started with travel rewards credit cards, I followed a relatively common path and opened five Chase credit cards before moving on to other issuers. This is because Chase has an application restriction known as the 5/24 rule, which means they will automatically reject your application if you’ve opened five or more credit cards from any bank in the last 24 months.
With so many great options to choose from, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Freedom Unlimited® (two cards that still sit at the top of my wallet) I ended up missing out on the largest bonus Chase offers.
Chase doesn’t offer a “premium” business credit card, but the intro bonus, spending categories, and benefits on the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card make it one of the best choices available for all types of businesses small and large. It took me a couple of years of living abroad to fall back under the 5/24 count, but that patience paid off as Chase is currently offering a sky-high welcome bonus on the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.
New applicants can earn a whopping 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The card carries a modest $95 annual fee, and earns 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on your first $150,000 in combined expenses in the following categories (then 1x):
- Shipping purchases
- Internet, cable, and phone services
- Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines
You’ll earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, and it also offers a number of travel and business-friendly benefits, including primary car rental insurance, trip cancellation, interruption and delay coverage, and cell phone protection.
15.99%–20.99% variable APR
Good to Excellent
100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
More transfer options than ever before
Emirates operates one of the largest long-haul fleets of any airline, with over 100 Boeing 777s and double-decker Airbus A380s, nearly all of which feature posh first-class cabins. Still, Emirates first-class awards had been notoriously hard to book. Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen two significant developments that have made them much more affordable and accessible, no matter what type of transferable points you’ve been earning.
Until May of 2020, Emirates tacked on massive fuel surcharges on premium-cabin award tickets, often in excess of $800 per person. These taxes tend to vary based on your departure city, but itineraries originating in the US were hit especially hard. The airline made the delightfully unexpected decision to drop them earlier this year, meaning taxes on a US to Dubai first-class award are now in the $100 to $200 range.
The other great news is that the Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program is one of just three programs (along with Singapore KrisFlyer and Air France-KLM Flying Blue) to partner with all five major transferable points currencies. This means that you can pool points from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One, and even Marriott Bonvoy to help you reach your goal.
In the end, I paid 136,250 Emirates miles and about $150 per person each way. That’s not a small sum if you’re bent on flying first class round-trip, but the ability to pool points from multiple different programs make this much more attainable than it used to be.
Caviar, Dom Perignon, and an N95
It wouldn’t be a 2020 trip review unless we paused for a moment to discuss the steps we took to keep this trip as safe as possible. For starters, all passengers traveling to or transiting through Dubai are currently required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 96 hours of their departure.
Planes are sanitized thoroughly between flights, Emirates crew are decked out in full PPE (masks, face shields, gloves, and disposable gowns over their uniforms), and we were even presented with hygiene kits when boarding which contained gloves, masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer.
With these safety measures in place and each first-class passenger isolated in a fully-enclosed suite, Emirates was able to provide top-notch service while making passengers feel safe and comfortable onboard. Shortly after boarding, we were offered a glass of champagne (Veuve Clicquot on the ground, but after takeoff, first-class passengers can expect a sublime glass of Dom Perignon 2008) as well as Arabic coffee and dates before departure.
Then the parade of gifts began in earnest, starting with his-and-hers BVLGARI amenity kits featuring full-sized bottles of cologne, moisturizing pajamas, slippers, and more. Already waiting at our suites were well-stocked snack baskets, a second set of BYREDO amenities tucked away under the vanity mirror, and an Emirates writing kit and pen should the long flight (or free-flowing champagne) spark your creative juices. The only thing missing was a bag to carry away all these goodies at the end of the flight!
Shortly after takeoff menus were distributed and the extravagant meal service began. Like many luxury airlines, Emirates offers a “dine on demand” concept in first class. This means that you can order anything off the menu that you like — breakfast, dinner, snacks, or drinks — at any point throughout the flight. Given how many of Emirates’ long-haul flights depart after midnight, this is a great feature for passengers looking to adjust to their destination time zone and stay ahead of the jet lag.
I choose to start with the selection of canapes, designed for Emirates by Dom Perignon’s head chef. It would have felt wrong to pair these small bites — confit duck with curried pineapple, parmesan, and truffle arancini and a poached prawn and guacamole tartlet — with anything but champagne, and the crew did a phenomenal job making sure my glass never even approached half empty.
The canapes were followed by a generous serving of caviar with all the traditional sides, pan-fried scallops, chicken mandi (a flavorful dish with Emirati spices), and a chocolate marquise for dessert.
The personalized meal service was finished no more than 90 minutes into our 14-hour flight, after which the flight attendants converted my suite into a 6-foot-long bed while I went to the bathroom to freshen up. Well-fed and wrapped in my champagne blanket, I pressed a button to close the doors to my suite and drifted off to sleep as the ceiling above my head slowly lit up with dozens of fiber-optic “stars.”
Is flying first class worth the price tag?
While I would never be able to afford the $14,000+ cash cost of this ticket, I had no qualms about redeeming more than half a million miles to fly Emirates first class round-trip to Dubai. It helped that my award balances were boosted by a year of canceled trips and a few massive credit card welcome bonuses, but I likely would’ve made the choice to splurge anyway.
Emirates is one of the few airlines that can make the journey as exciting as the destination, and for health-conscious passengers, the pre-flight testing requirements and added space and privacy that come with sitting up front can make the experience safer and more relaxing.
I was fortunate to not only find multiple Emirates first-class award seats on the dates we needed but also to have the miles available when it was time to book. This is exactly why I choose to build my award travel strategy around transferable points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards. Doing so allowed me to make our one big trip of 2020 as safe and memorable as possible.