Japan Airlines Crushes Emirates Awards With Crazy Surcharges (Plus A Fun Solution to Fly First Class for $81)

Well, rather than devaluing their award chart by increasing the number of miles required for award tickets, Japan Airlines has taken a different approach. Japan Airlines will now pass on crazy carrier-imposed surcharges to booking on their partner Emirates from the U.S.

How much could Japan Airlines possibly raise the maximum surcharges on Emirates awards though?! Well, the maximum used to be $78.20. The maximum on a round-trip award from New York City (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) is now $1,716.09.

A one-way first class ticket on Emirates will incur over $800 in surcharges (YQ).

Obviously, with an increase of ONLY 2000+%,  those 9 cents were really freaking important. You can still use a reasonable 135,000 Japan Airlines miles to book a first class award, but you're going to have to take the big hit on the taxes and fees.

If you were hoping, JFK to Milan (MXP) or Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) would be better, think again! These routes still only cost 105,000 Japan Airlines miles for a round-trip first class award ticket, but you'll get hit with over $1,000 in taxes and fees.

This is a really sad development and it comes about 19 months after Alaska Airlines gutted their award chart for Emirates. After increasing award prices between 67% and 100%, Japan Airlines really became the go-to program for award bookings on Emirates.

Sure, you could have use Emirates' own Skywards program but they have uncompetitive rates and massive surcharges. Well, now we're stuck with horrible mileage rates with Alaska Airlines, horrible surcharges with Japan Airlines, and horrible mileages rates plus nasty surcharges with Emirates Skywards.

Of course, you could also use Korean Air SkyPass miles to book Emirates award tickets, but they also hit you with massive surcharges.

While people have long raved about Emirates first class for the bling, the massive shower, the Dom Perignon—I mean, who doesn't enjoy a glass (bottle?) of champagne when flying and the in-flight bar, it is getting harder and harder to book award tickets at reasonable rates.

It's really disappointing to see this change just as Emirates is starting to roll out its new first class product on the Boeing 777. I was very much hoping to try it as soon as possible, but that idea might be delayed for a bit while I consider whether its worth it over other options.

I'm actually very fortunate though in that I booked a crazy Emirates first class adventures with Japan Airlines miles earlier this year. I'll be flying from New York City (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) to Bangkok (BKK) to Dubai to Milan (MXP) to New York City for 155,000 miles and $120.76. Can you imagine the surcharges if I booked this now?!

What Are Our Award Options For Emirates First Class Now?

Will the new Emirates first class suite still be worth it to you even with the surcharges? - Image courtesy of Emirates

So, where do we go from here? Well, it's not pretty, but here are your options.

If you utilize the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program and have a ton of Starpoints, you will still get your best value out of the Japan Airlines award chart when it comes to the mileage required. You just have to be okay with the massive surcharges. If it's a once in a lifetime kind of thing for you, it might be.

Thanks to the 5,000-mile bonus you receive when you transfer a block of 20,000 Starpoints, you can reach the required Japan Airlines miles a bit quicker. If you wanted to book the same crazy route that I did, you would need to transfer 125,000 SPG Starpoints. However, you can only transfer 60,000 SPG points per 24 hours if you want to receive the transfer bonus on each block of 20,000 points. This means you'll need to do the transfer in 2 parts over a couple days.

If you want to avoid the cash cost of the surcharges, you could choose to use a ton more miles with the Alaska Airlines program which is also a transfer partner of SPG. Additionally, the Bank of American Alaska Airlines card (personal and business versions) can boost your Alaska miles balance with their 30,000-mile sign-up bonuses. You're going to need all the help you can get if you want to fly first class as it will cost 150,000 miles for one-way award.

Not an option I'd go for, but you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to Emirates Skywards to book award flights. The mileage cost and the cash cost is going to be rough though, so I'd only consider this one if you don't mind the cash cost for a special trip and have TONS of Membership Rewards.

Finally, perhaps the least talked about way to book Emirates awards is the Korean Air SkyPass program. A round-trip first class booking between the U.S. and Dubai will cost you 210,000 Korean Air miles plus all the lovely surcharges that come with flying Emirates.

Fly Emirates First Class To The U.S. For $81

Wasn't all that super uplifting?! Don't worry, I have a solution for those of you who want to fly Emirates first class and enjoy some crazy luxury in the sky (that shower, though) without using all of your miles and points or paying stupid high taxes and fees.

You'll notice there aren't any surcharges (YQ) listed, unlike the the JFK to DXB route.

The solution: Fly Emirates first class from Hong Kong. It's that simple. It's a bit of a long way home at a minimum travel time of 28 hours, but you'll only pay about $81 in taxes/fees because Hong Kong doesn't allow carrier-imposed surcharges—I love them for this! 

To do this, you will want to book Emirates first Class from Hong Kong (HKG) connecting in Bangkok (BKK) and Dubai (DXB) to New York City (JFK) or Washington, DC (IAD). You could also skip the BKK segment and the booking would cost about $90 in taxes/fees.

You will need 115,000 Japan Airlines miles to book this. Look at that, we can still use the best redemption rate out there and NOT pay crazy surcharges! Thanks to the SPG transfer bonus, you can transfer 95,000 SPG Starpoints to get the required 115,000 Japan Airlines miles.

If you want to fly all the way to Los Angeles (LAX), you will need to transfer 115,000 SPG Starpoints to your Japan Airlines account to get the required 135,000 miles.

Sure, this isn't the quickest way to get back to the states, but it's a fun way to do it. You can even book a stopover in Bangkok and Dubai on your way back to the states at no extra cost (miles or cash)!

Bottom Line

Let's be clear, this massive increase in the surcharges required by Japan Airlines when booking Emirates awards is very disappointing. You'll also notice I call them "carrier-imposed surcharges" rather than "fuel surcharges" since fuel prices have dropped and the rationale for these surcharges disappeared. Now, it's just a choice of these airlines.

However, things aren't all doom and gloom. There is still a great opportunity to book award tickets on Emirates out of Hong Kong thanks to their law preventing surcharges. This is yet another example of why I try to drive home the point that learning how to redeem miles and points is just as, if not more, important as learning how to earn them.

For those of you who wanted to book Emirates awards, what approach are you going to take (no) thanks to this change?

PS. You can also book Emirates awards from Tokyo, Colombo, or Sydney without surcharges. Sao Paolo (GRU) and Rio de Janeiro (GIG) to Dubai round-trip can be booked with moderate surcharges—$465 is a lot better than $1,700.

Featured image courtesy of Emirates

H/T: One Mile At A Time