Introduction

The past two decades featured Emirates transforming from an ordinary regional carrier into one of the most iconic brands in the entire industry. While it’s headquartered in a tiny Middle Eastern country, the United Arab Emirates, everything else about the company is huge. It operates the largest fleet of Airbus A380s, which is the biggest commercial airplane in the sky. Its cabins are decked out in (faux) wood and gold trims; some have called the airline “balling.” It definitely has the requisite swagger. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the onboard showers, bars, and “room service” entitled to those fortunate enough to fly in its fabulous First Class cabin. Even some of the more technical details are noteworthy. Its route network is, for an airline that operates a single hub, impressively expansive. It operates a first class lounge that extends the entire length of a terminal. The inflight entertainment system, ICE, has several terabytes worth of content. All of this comes together to form what many consider to be the pinnacle of higher flying. Among its peers at the top, it certainly is the most over-the-top.

Key Facts

  • Name: Emirates
  • Code: EK
  • Website: www.emirates.com
  • Hub: Dubai International (DXB)
  • Destinations: 140
  • Alliance: None
  • Loyalty Program: SkyWards
  • Loyalty Tiers: (1) Platinum, (2) Gold, (3) Silver

Three Notable Features

  • First class is innovative: Emirates owns a reputation as one of the premiere innovators within the industry, especially when it comes to premium cabin offerings. Although its first class product debuted about a decade ago, many still consider it to be the best in the world; such sustained excellence is certainly a strong testament to what Emirates has been able to accomplish. Even the airline’s most ardent critics would have trouble arguing against how the company’s vision shaped, if not defined, the future of international first class. Many of the over-the-top amenities that higher flyers have come to expect — expansive menus with options to dine on demand, private suites, and even showers — were first featured in Emirates’s fleet of A380s.
    emirates first class suite
    Such an advanced seat was considered near revolutionary when it debuted…other carriers certainly took note!
    emirates first class shower
    The first class shower suite, as pioneered by Emirates on board its A380s.

    Emirates President Tim Clark recently unveiled the airline’s newest iteration of first class and the industry standard rose once again. It’s an exciting time for sure, especially as the new product makes its way on to the rest of the fleet. There really isn’t anything else like it in the skies, with fully enclosed suites, middle seats that have “digital windows,” and way-over-the-top fixtures that are some how, some way, implemented tastefully.

    new emirates first class suite.jpg
    A simply stunning first class suite

    If you’ve ever felt compelled to FaceTime a flight attendant to ask for a $250 bottle of champagne, the new Emirates First has you covered.

  • One stop travel everywhere, made comfy and easy: Partially aiding Emirates’s dramatic growth is its aggressive expansion out of its Dubai megahub. From there, you can fly to most major cities on the six inhabited continents. For travelers seeking the ultimate convenience when they travel, they don’t have to look further than Emirates. It’s a simple premise: get on a plane, fly to Dubai, then get on another plane to your final destination. This business model largely prevents complicated or illogical itineraries, as well as obnoxiously long layovers/connections.
    emirates dubai airport exterior
    Transit here with ease when you fly Emirates!

    Dubai International is also a worthy place to spend some time between flights. There’s plenty going on…

    Inside of the Dubai International Airport. Image shot 01/2009. Exact date unknown.
    Inside Emirates’s main terminal. It sure is bustling!

    …and the lounges are hugely spacious and accommodating for higher flyers!

    emirates dubai airport first class lounge
    The enormous Emirates First Class lounge at Dubai International

    One thing to be aware of: most optimal connections in Dubai occur in the middle of the night, so get ready for the airport rush to be at, like, 2 am. It’s quite surreal actually, but nevertheless it’s annoying if you’re originating in the UAE; who wants to go to the airport at midnight, and then wait an hour to get through security? Oh well, I guess it’s the price to pay for convenience…

  • Comfortable in all classes of service: Even if you don’t have the means to fly in its venerable first class, you still have opportunities to travel well on Emirates. The carrier will be installing a new business class product on its planes shortly, and that looks to be decently competitive with competitors’ offerings. It sure is among the flashiest!
    emirates new business class demo.jpg
    Emirates’s new business class

    But where Emirates really shines is in economy class. I know that may sound weird coming from a website dedicated mostly to premium travel, but for long haul trips, you can’t go wrong with Emirates. Its A380s are particularly spacious, with wide seats and decent amounts of pitch. The catering is respectable too; definitely better than average. The best feature, far and away, is the ICE entertainment system, which offers so much content (i.e. thousands of hours’ worth) for all passengers. You’ll pass the flight by quickly thanks to it, and no other airline can compete with Emirates’s offering.

    emirates economy class
    The awesome ICE system, complete with large HD screens!

Three Notable Drawbacks

  • Airline may not be to everyone’s taste: While some might call the airline glitzy and glamorous, others might call it ostentatious and gaudy. If you hate faux gold and wood trim, the premium cabins on Emirates will be your hell; the interiors feel as if they were designed by Donald Trump himself (interpret that comment as you wish).
    emirates business class wood trim.jpg
    Excessive amounts of wood trim are all around you in Emirates business class!

    As a point of comparison between a cabin onboard an Emirates plane and the President’s interior design choices…

    emirates business class donald trump design
    Trump in his penthouse apartment…the interior design is a bit of an acquired taste!

    First Class too is decked out in wood and gold…

    emirates first class seat wood trim
    There’s still lots of wood in First Class, but not as much as in Business Class.

    Even in Economy Class, faux wood trim can be found lining the windows.

    emirates economy class wood trim
    Notice the wood! Image courtesy of emirates.com

    Perhaps my favorite example of the excessive faux wood trim is in the lavatory!

    emirates lavatory wood trim
    Is this level of “luxury” really necessary?

    While I’m not really a fan of a cabin enhanced by gold and wood trims, you might be, and we’re allowed to have differing opinions and tastes. In all seriousness, it’s a contentious issue among higher flyers!

  • The Halo Effect is real: A lot of people think that Emirates is one of the best airlines in the world, even if they have never flown it before. President Tim Clark is due a lot of credit; because the first class product so renowned and so iconic, many assume that the rest of the onboard product offerings are the best-in-class. The Emirates brand evokes images of unprecedented luxury and comfort in ways that American legacy carriers can’t even compare to. But, but, but those sentiments may be misplaced. For example, for a 14 hour flight in business class, would you prefer to fly on an American Airlines 777 or an Emirates 777? Your gut instinct might be Emirates, but here’s another question: which seat would you rather spend 14 hours in? This one… american-airlines-business-class-reverse-herringbone.jpg
    …or this one? emirates business class angle lie flat.jpg
    One seat is a flat bed in a reverse herringbone configuration, the other is only angled flat in a 2-3-2 arrangement. The first, on American, is clearly better than the second, on Emirates, but most people wouldn’t think so initially. This is because Emirates is winning the “battle of reputations,” as it’s much more highly regarded than American is. Be wary of that as you plan your higher flyer experiences; Emirates may not always be the best of the best! Note: I’m not saying Emirates business is bad, it’s just not as good as you might think it is.
  • Skywards aren’t that valuable or useful: Behind all the glitz and the glamor associated with flying Emirates is…well, not much of anything. For all of the airline’s grandness, its loyalty program sure is uninspiring. Award pricing is muddled — although it’s nowhere near as bad as Delta’s scheme — and horrendously overpriced. You’ll also pay fuel surcharges. It is instead far cheaper and far more effective to use one of its partners (namely Japan Airlines or Alaska Airlines) to fly onboard Emirates. This is especially true with the premium cabins. Earning points is a bit of a challenge too, given Emirates’s lack of alliance affiliation and lack of transfer partners beyond American Express. That’s a real shame because the airline could be synonymous with higher flying, but it isn’t, all because of Skywards. 

Three Special Opportunities

  • Redeem Alaska or Japan Airlines miles to fly First Class: Skywards, for lack of a better phrase, sucks. Thankfully for ambitious higher flyers, there are two popular workarounds thanks to Alaska Airlines and Japan Airlines. On the former, you can redeem 150,000 miles (or more) or 80,000 miles (or more) for one way First and Business class tickets, respectively. That’s definitely a lot, but for something that can cost more than $20,000 or $8,000, neither are terrible deals, and you don’t have to cover for fuel surcharges. But thank God for JAL though, which utilizes a distance-based chart to price Emirates awards; it’s quite lucrative for higher flying purposes. For example, a round trip ticket between New York and Dubai costs only 135,000 miles in First, 85,000 in Business. While Mileage Bank points can be hard to come by, they too go a long way in terms of redeeming valuable airfares. And besides, you get to fly Emirates, which is worth the cost of admission!
  • Cash tickets are competitively priced too: If you don’t want to obliterate your stores of miles to fly in an Emirates (premium) cabin, consider outright paying for your ticket. Emirates, generally speaking, is one of the cheapest airlines operating on any given route in all three classes of service. You can use this to your advantage by saving a lot of money and miles, while earning a lot of the latter in the process. That would epitomize higher flying, simply because you would be getting such a great value in terms of quality of travel and return in award points. Take this flight between Casablanca and Hong Kong via Dubai…
    emirates cmn-dxb-hkg price comparison
    I’ve edited the Google Flights search results to show First Class on top, then Business Class, and then Economy at the bottom.

    Don’t get me wrong, these three fares are expensive, but as noted by the green font, they are the cheapest options on this route. If you’re willing to save up for it and spend that kind of money, buying Emirates tickets is a worthwhile way to get on board. Then again, it’s not always feasible depending on where you are flying between…

    emirates lax-perth price
    Down payment on a house or…?
  • The most fabulous First Class: Ridiculously expensive tickets go along way though, and you’ll be treated to the most famous first class product in the world when you fly on Emirates. Being on an Emirates A380 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The fun you’ll have simply isn’t replicated by any other carrier in the industry. It’s so memorable and worth every penny. On what other airline can you…
    emirates first class pre departure
    …sip Krug as a pre-departure beverage?
    emirates first class meal dessert
    …have a meal like this?
    emirates first class minibar
    …help yourself to a minibar like this?
    emirates first class new bar
    …enjoy a night cap at a bar like this?
    emirates first class shower spa in use
    …clean up in a bathroom like this?
    emirates first class bed rose petals
    …crawl into a bed like this, complete with rose petals?
    emirates first class mood lighting stars
    …and then sleep under the stars?

    And it’s only getting better!

    new emirates first class suite fully enclosed.jpg
    Now available on select 777s!

    There isn’t another airline quite like Emirates. It is so well-deserving of its prestigious reputation in the world of higher flying.


As is the case with the other airlines, Emirates has its share of strengths and weaknesses. While it isn’t one of my absolute favorites, that doesn’t mean that its competitors are definitely superior. You probably have different experiences, perspectives, and values than I do; what matters to me may not matter to you and vice versa. The point of this guide is merely to highlight the features that makes Emirates unique, and help you better understand how it fits in to higher flying collectively.