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This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel, and was last updated January 2019.
If you’re stuck in economy to Dubai and beyond with Emirates, your stash of Skywards miles can be swapped for a much more comfortable flight in business class.
Upgrades can be requested on most Emirates economy bookings with a 176 ticket number, including on award seats snapped up with Skywards miles but excluding from the least-expensive Economy Special tickets.
The number of miles needed for an upgrade depends on whether you’ve purchased a Saver, Flex or Flex Plus fare.
Between Sydney and Dubai, you’ll churn 54,000 Skywards miles to bump up from Flex Plus; 70,200 miles from Flex or 127,500 miles from a Saver seat, while the cheapest Special fares again can't be upgraded with points.
Emirates upgrades can also be confirmed in advance – unlike the Qantas system which more closely resembles an ‘upgrade lottery’.
From Sydney to Christchurch with Emirates, a mere 5,000 Skywards miles will wing you that business class upgrade from Flex Plus economy, or you can stump up 16,250 miles and move forward from a Flex fare or 45,250 miles from a Saver ticket.
Onwards from Dubai to the likes of London, Paris and Frankfurt, passengers can upgrade for either 30,000, 39,000 or 57,500 miles – but if you’re making the day-long trek from Australia to Europe, you’d be wise to upgrade the full journey.
Swap that cramped economy seat for a lie-flat bed for just 62,500, 81,250 or 171,000 Skywards miles from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Europe, and you’ll save up to 27,950 miles over upgrading separately… here’s how it’s done.
Emirates business class upgrades
Emirates upgrades are all one-class – meaning economy passengers can move forward into business class and enjoy the inflight bar, but only travellers booked into business class have a shot at moving up to the first class suites and their indulgent showers.
Miles can be swapped for a better seat through the Skywards website. The number of upgrades is limited on every flight, but if there's one available and your request is made at least six hours before take-off, it's yours.
Even on board, Silver, Gold and Platinum members of Skywards can nudge the crew for a better seat for themselves and any companions, as long as they’re willing to cough up enough miles.
As of 1 March 2019, Emirates will cease to offer Chauffeur Drive on reward tickets and upgrades with Skywards.
Requesting your upgrade
Most tickets can be upgraded immediately after the booking has been finalised, although some of the cheaper fares don’t permit this until check-in, with others not allowing it at all.
The Emirates website makes it very clear when making a new booking, so you’ll see this if your flights can’t be upgraded until closer to departure:
Top tip: In this instance we'd snap up a business class seat during online check-in before heading to the airport, rather than picking up the scraps when dropping off your luggage.
To get things moving, load up your reservation through the ‘manage existing booking’ section of the Emirates website and go from there.
The site will automatically attempt to upgrade every passenger on your booking, so if you’re travelling with colleagues, give Emirates a call on 1300 303 777 and ask the agent to leave your workmates in economy.
If you’re late to the game and only ponder an upgrade after pulling up at the kerb – or even once you’re in the air – just speak to a check-in agent or a member of the crew for assistance.
Whether confirmed in advance or bumped up on board, upgrades cost the same number of miles.
In some cases, government taxes and fees can differ between business class and economy – in which case you’ll also be asked for a credit card to cover the difference.
A few pitfalls...
If your upgrade to business class is successful, you’ll earn both Skywards miles and tier miles as applicable to your original economy fare.
Also, for Blue-level members, upgrades aren’t available when travelling on Emirates flights sold by other airlines, including Qantas, even if an Emirates (EK) code appears on the booking.
That same principle applies to partner frequent flyer award tickets – so if you’ve used your Qantas points to book an economy flight with Emirates, you can’t then use Skywards miles to upgrade.
Skywards upgrades for Blue members also don’t happen on codeshare flights, so if you’ve booked an Emirates flight but with a Qantas (QF) flight number, you’re also out of luck.
Booking a QF flight number on Emirates – while useful for Qantas Frequent Flyer members – keeps you stuck in economy.
However, Silver, Gold and Platinum members can side-step these restrictions by requesting their upgrade on-board, on all but the lowest Special tickets.
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