There are two types of people: those who yearn to someday fly in Emirates first class, and those who can't wait to tell you that it's overrated, that the seats are actually pretty narrow, and that ________'s first class is like way WAY better. I'm happy to report that in late 2018, I will transition from the first group to the second, and I can't wait to be disappointed by the experience when it doesn't live up to the insanely high expectations I'm coming in with. As a method of visualization, here's what I think I'll look like flying in Emirates first class:
Let me back up for a minute... I've been lusting after Emirates first class since well before I got into points and miles. Their marketing is really persuasive, and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Nowadays I know that there are other airlines who offer you more space, better food, better ground services, and all that jazz. Emirates still has that special something that has always made it the very top aspirational redemption for me, and I'm pretty sure this is true for a lot of people.
I remember years ago reading an article about how you could spend $800 or so to fly Emirates first class (specifically the A380, or as it's now known, The Emirates Showermobile) between Bangkok and somewhere else in Asia... it was only a 3 hour flight, but the writer had me convinced that someday I would be in Bangkok for some reason, and that I would finally get a taste of the good life, if only for a few hours before I crammed myself back into economy for the transpacific flight back home.
And even after I got into miles, there were a few things working against me ever redeeming for a flight on Emirates. First, Alaska devalued partner award redemptions on Emirates, so it no longer made any sense to even consider using my Mileage Plan miles this way. The next best option seems to be Japan Airlines, but they only partner with SPG. If I had a six-figure SPG balance, I'm sure this would have been in the cards, but I've never been anywhere close to that. Finally, Justine and I haven't had the Middle East on our radar as a potential vacation destination, so it didn't seem very likely that we'd ever need to fly on Emirates anyway.
I had been aware that Emirates has a couple fifth-freedom flights between the US and Europe, but I always just assumed that availability was really bad. Plus, without anywhere near enough SPG points or Alaska miles, I figured I'd never be able to afford one of their awards anyway. I even forgot that Emirates Skywards is an Amex transfer partner, because the conventional wisdom is that it's a shitty program that you should never use.
However, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, the winds have changed after I realized that: a) Justine has always wanted to go to Italy, and we could fly home from Italy on Emirates (Milan to JFK), and b) the cost of the award through Skywards isn't actually that bad. It's 85,000 points, which is the same as American Airlines would charge you to fly from London to JFK on British Airways in first class, or what Delta would charge to fly from Paris to JFK on Air France in business class. Emirates does levy fuel surcharges, but they're not terrible - around $300 per ticket, which is less than BA and on par with Air France.
It's not an exceptional deal by any means - Lufthansa first class all the way to San Francisco would only be 70,000 Amex points via Aeroplan, although fuel surcharges would be a little more. In terms of pure points (not factoring in fuel surcharges), that has to be the best deal in transatlantic redemptions. However, if we want to compare apples to apples, we could use additional Amex points to cover the cash difference in fuel surcharges between the two (around $200), which at the 1.25cpp rate I get from my Charles Schwab Amex works out to 16,000 points (making Emirates and Lufthansa almost the same).
Plus, while Lufthansa first class is one of my must-try products, I don't think it will come anywhere close to Emirates in terms of enjoyment. In all the premium cabin flights I've taken so far, once the first meal is over, the novelty wears off pretty quickly, and even though the cabin is really nice, I'm still bored and ready to be done with the flight. At least on Emirates I'll have a bar to go to, a shower to take, an in-seat minibar to play with, and as much food as I could possibly eat. Cheers!
Another benefit of booking directly through Emirates is that they don't offer chauffeur service to passengers booked on partner award tickets. While it's not something I'd pay for on its own, it will be really nice to get picked up from wherever we are in Milan and taken to the airport, rather than having to deal with the train like common folk. The one small disappointment is that I won't get to experience Dubai's A380 terminal and first class lounge/concourse in all its glory... MXP does have a perfectly nice looking Emirates lounge for business and first passengers, although it certainly won't be in the same league as the cavernous spaces provided for high rollers in Dubai.
Also, I'm really impressed with Emirates' service so far. Here's why: in my excitement to book the ticket, I forgot to enter Justine's maiden name, which is what is on her New Zealand passport. (Since her green card has her married name, that's the name I use for domestic tickets.) I called to change it, figuring I'd have to pay a change fee or something, but then I realized that the award I booked was a full-flex ticket that could be changed or refunded for free. (And this may actually come in handy, since I found out today that hotel availability around the dates I had planned to travel actually isn't that good.) However, I couldn't change the name online, so I called in. I got a helpful rep almost immediately, and when he couldn't change it either, he put me on hold to try to sort it out. I ended up being on hold for around 30 minutes, but when he came back, he said that after talking to multiple supervisors, he was able to make the change. I was impressed that he was willing to put in so much effort to fix what I admitted was my mistake all along.
So, bottom line is that I'm really excited about this flight... the only part that's killing me is that I'm dying to tell Justine all about it, even though this trip is supposed to be a surprise. It's been hard keeping my trap shut (and no, she never reads this blog, so this doesn't count as letting the cat out of the shower suite), but hopefully the surprise will be well worth it in the end.