Emirates business class upgrade guide: upgrade with Skyward miles

By Chris C., June 17 2016
Emirates business class upgrade guide: upgrade with Skyward miles

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’.

Read: Qantas business class upgrade guide

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.

If you're on the Emirates Airbus A380, be sure to grab a drink at the bar...
If you're on the Emirates Airbus A380, be sure to grab a drink at the bar...

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.

Business class on the Emirates Airbus A380
Business class on the Emirates Airbus A380

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.

Also read: Emirates A380 business class review, Sydney-Dubai

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Chris C.

A former contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

thanks Chris, these are handy tips! :)

Skywards Gold

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 54

I struggle to fing any upgrade availability between Syd-Dxb... begining to think its non existent or minimal.. Any comments on how many seats they release on each flight?

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

I did a lot of research on this after the July 2013 changes to upgrade policies, using Expert Flyer and a gigantic Excel spreadsheet to monitor changes week by week.

The pattern for upgrade availability on the SYD-DXB and MEL-DXB runs shows that outside of low season it's very difficult to get an upgrade on the direct flights to DXB, but a little easier on the flights that go via SIN, KUL and BKK. The latter flights are all on 77W's as opposed to A380's, so the bed isn't as good, but it's a nice backup option.

In most instances though, and especially if there are only 10-12 (or less) unsold J seats on the 380 in the days leading up to the flight, you've really got to wait until the final 24 hours before departure for seats to become available, if at all.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 239

Upgrades are sometimes available but they still have the worst Business Class seats around.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

17 Jun 2016

Total posts 1

On  our first return flight with Emirates  my husband & i were given an upgrade on the Dubai - Brisbane flight .It was exceptional circumstances as my husband fell ill.He was moved to First class .when we reboarded on the Singapore / Brisbane continuation flight we were both given boarding passes for Buisness Class.  Thought this would never happen again but a year later on the dubai / London flight sector from Brisbane we again got upgraded to Buisness class . Enjoyed the experience & never used skyward miles .You enjoy the upgrade so much more when you recieve it before asking.

22 Jun 2013

Total posts 98

I'm not sure I would agree that the Qantas upgrade system is more like a lottery. Yes you often don't know until the eleventh hour, however, the designation to CL, P1, P, Gold, Silver, Bronze and finally bidders seems pretty sequential to me, rather than being a random process.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2564

Lottery simply in that you don't know if you'll 'win' or not, not a granular analysis of the process.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Feb 2016

Total posts 5

Has anyone successfully asked on board and got upgraded (with points)?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

That last sentence in your article. Do you mean gold and platinum members in Emirates or Qantas?  I am asking because we bought tickets recently Perth/Oslo from Qantas and booked EK flight nr so we could ask for upgrades with our Emirates points. We are gold and platinum in Qantas and just Blue and Silver in Emirates.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2564

"Upgrades (prior to departure) can be requested on most Emirates economy bookings with a 176 ticket number" – booking through Qantas means you'll have a 081 ticket number, not a 176 ticket number, so your only option to upgrade will be if the Skywards Silver member asks on board and upgrades both travellers.

(There's no harm asking earlier at check-in, but expect to be told it's not possible.)

27 Jan 2016

Total posts 54

Has anyone had much luck with cash upgrades on EK? One of my friends had an offer for $500 for a MEL-SIN from Y. When trying the offer had expired, but it seems like an awfully cheap way to upgrade.

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