My Experience Using Alaska Miles To Book Emirates First Class

a white airplane on a tarmac
a white airplane on a tarmac

Sorry for the sporadic blog posts as of late – work has been absolutely crazy and has taken over my evening time, which I’ve historically tried to reserve for blogging (and the occasional trashy reality TV show). But I’m currently in the middle of a 2-week vacation to Dubai and Seychelles (full trip report to come!) and am looking forward to using this break from work to catch up on my blogging. As an added bonus, the trip will even include a stopover in Vegas for BACON, the annual BoardingArea conference, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about that from all the bloggers in the coming weeks.

Back to the original reason for this post – after spending the first part of the year quickly accruing Alaska Airlines miles, I reached the 200,000 mile mark which is enough to book 2 one-way tickets anywhere in the world in First Class. Every since my 1st experience with Emirates last year I had been dreaming of an encore, and this would be the perfect opportunity as Emirates would provide the most efficient routing to fly from SFO to the Seychelles.

As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I’d been closely studying premium cabin award availability (either First Class or Business Class) on Emirates via Alaska Airlines miles, and provided some initial insight. For those that are looking for premium cabin seats from North America to Dubai, I provided my initial not-very-scientific ranking of the best routes for availability:

Everyday and twice on Sundays
1. Chicago (Boeing 777-200LR)
2. Houston (Boeing 777-300ER)
3. Washington DC-IAD (Boeing 777-300ER)
4. Dallas (Boeing 777-200LR)

Look hard, but it’s there
5. Boston (Boeing 777-300ER)
6. Seattle (Boeing 777-300ER)

Good luck, you’ll need it
7. San Francisco (Boeing 777-300ER)
8. New York-JFK (Airbus A380)
9. Los Angeles (Airbus A380)

Updates since the last post

In the end, my final routing actually ended up changing a couple times from the original post and instead of flying through Chicago, I was able to grab 2 seats in First Class aboard the direct SFO-DXB flight. Leading up the my departure date, I had been closely studying the award availability patterns and wanted to share a few of tips that may be helpful:

  • Like clockwork, Emirates award availability for almost all remaining First and Business Class seats are released on a rolling T-5 days prior to departure schedule
  • They aren’t released at the same exact time each day, but typically occurs between 9pm to 1am PST
  • Phantom award availability does exist, and will lead to an error on the final step of booking. For those that have ExpertFlyer subscription, make sure to cross-reference any space you see on the Alaska Airlines website with availability on EF
  • Once award space is taken, is it NOT released back into inventory. For example, before getting the SFO-DXB seats, I had SEA-DXB seats booked. After cancelling, I kept on eye on these and the award space was never released back, despite the fact that the flight took off with just 3/8 load in First Class. So what I’m trying to say is, you snooze you lose! Book first and think later, especially if you can make changes for free
  • The free stopover is easy to book online, just make sure to use multi-city search option
  • Be prepared to book a separate positioning flight if needed – since you can only use Alaska Airlines-metal on award tickets, there is a strong possibility that you won’t find a suitable routing that will take you to your North American gateway

Based on what I’ve learned over the past month, here is my updated not-very-scientific ranking of the best routes, specific to First Class award availability. To give some broad perspective, at some point within the T-5 days prior to my departure date, 2 First Class seats were available from all the destinations below with the exception of Chicago and Los Angeles, which I’d say is pretty darn awesome.

Consistently reliable
1. Seattle (Boeing 777-300ER)
2. Dallas (Boeing 777-200LR)
3. Washington DC-IAD (Boeing 777-300ER)
4.  Houston (Boeing 777-300ER)
5.  Boston (Boeing 777-300ER)
6. Chicago (Boeing 777-200LR) 

Need a little bit of luck
7. New York-JFK (Airbus A380)
8. San Francisco (Boeing 777-300ER)

Once in a blue moon
9. Los Angeles (Airbus A380)


    1. It depends. To clarify, are you paying cash for a coach ticket? Or using miles for a coach ticket?

      If paying cash, then you can only use miles to upgrade 1 class of service, so best you could do is Business Class.

      If using miles, then you can change your ticket at any time if First Class space opens up, either by calling in or online by clicking on the “change flight” link in your reservation. Note that without status, there may be a change fee, but I have successfully helped my wife change an award reservation without any fees and she has no status.

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