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Ask Emirates about the higher-than-Platinum ‘Invitation Only’ status level in its Skywards frequent flyer program and you’re likely to be told “No comment” or “We don’t like to talk about that.”
Indeed, the aptly-named iO tier is like one of those old established members-only clubs – no fancy sign, maybe not even a brass plate on the door: if you don’t know about it, then you probably don’t belong in the first place.
And that’s exactly how iO works.
Launched in 2010, it’s still not mentioned anywhere on Emirates’ Skywards website, which talks only of the four public tiers of Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
But for those on the inside, benefits range from private limousine transfers between aircraft and terminal right through to ‘anytime access’ to most Emirates lounges and even entry to the Qantas Chairman’s Lounges when flying within Australia.
While information about iO is usually hard to come by, here’s what we're able to share about Emirates’ secret VIP club.
How to get Emirates iO status
How one actually qualifies for that elusive iO card is seldom known outside of Emirates HQ – but one metric often murmured is that a traveller needs to take at least 50 Emirates flights each year on full-fare business or first class tickets to be in with a chance.
Alternatively, CEOs or those responsible for allocating a company’s travel budget are also understood to be considered if the company’s annual flight spend with Emirates is north of $1 million.
Invitations to the iO program come from none other than Emirates President Sir Tim Clark and last for two years at a time – after which your iO membership may be renewed for another two years or lowered to Platinum at Clark’s discretion.
Clark describes iO as “a very special and extremely exclusive club of Emirates travellers” in an iO welcome kit seen by Australian Business Traveller, noting that “this select group is reserved for our most valued customers.”
“Through iO, I want to recognise your importance to us by offering you the ultimate Emirates experience, one that meets your precise needs,” Clark continues.
Emirates iO (Invitation Only) benefits on the ground
In Australia, Emirates iO members enjoy access to the exclusive Qantas Chairman’s Lounges (below) in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth whenever flying with Qantas.
But book a flight with Emirates and you’ll begin (and end) the journey with complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers, even if booked in economy – and if your aircraft pulls up at a remote stand in Dubai, you’ll be transferred by private car from plane to terminal, too.
In many airports you’ll also be personally escorted through security, passport control and into the lounge before your flight and collected at the time you prefer to board.
There aren’t any separate Emirates lounges for iO cardholders, but like Platinum frequent flyers, Emirates iO members can use Emirates’ first class lounges in Dubai and Qantas first class lounges in Australia when flying with Emirates or Qantas.
It’s also understood that iO travellers can stop by Emirates lounges across the globe regardless of which airline they’re travelling with, subject to space availability and the lounge’s usual opening hours.
Receiving your iO card for the first time is also a special moment – rather than being sent by mail, you’ll find it personally delivered to your home or office by a senior Emirates sales manager, along with a Mont Blanc wallet, matching luggage tags and a book in an iO-branded goody bag:
Also inside that bag: a companion Skywards Gold or Platinum card for a companion of your choice.
Emirates iO (Invitation Only) benefits in the air
Having trouble booking a flight using your Skywards miles? That’s where dedicated ‘iO Relationship Managers’ step in.
You’ll find the number on the back of your card and they’ll greet you by name when they answer the phone – yes, just like Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air.
Along with other requests, they may be able to assist in having frequent flyer reward seats made available on your chosen flight, while members can also make guaranteed business class bookings on any Emirates service, even if the flight is completely full.
Before you board, it’s also expected that the cabin crew will personally check every aspect of your seat to ensure it’s all working perfectly – and if not, you’ll be moved before leaving the lounge to ensure a smooth journey.
Some iO members also place very specific catering requests with the airline for their favourite meal and how they like it prepared.
For instance, if you fancy a low-fat lamb biryani without onions but with extra yoghurt and more rice than meat, Emirates’ Senior VP of Airport Catering can ensure it’s arranged for your flight, as Australian Business Traveller observed first-hand at Emirates’ Dubai catering centre:
Emirates iO cardholders have also shared that where empty seats are available in first class but they’re booked to fly in business class or economy, the crews will routinely move them to a first class seat just before landing to make for a quick getaway on arrival.
And when you’re back on the ground, keep your eyes on your inbox for complimentary event invitations – particularly to sporting events of which Emirates is the major sponsor.
Also read: Inside the secret world of VIP travel
Join other frequent flyers in our Emirates dicussion group