Emirates launches a UK credit card with a 2-4-1 voucher – is it worth applying?

Someone has clearly been busy in the ‘business development’ office at MBNA (Bank of America) in Cheshire. Last month, I wrote about the new Etihad Guest card that MBNA had launched in the UK.

Yesterday, MBNA followed this up by launching the Emirates Skywards credit cards.

As with the Etihad cards, MBNA has produced a rather attractive piece of plastic:

Emirates card

Full details can be found on the Emirates website here.

There are actually 4 cards available! Emirates has chosen to follow the Virgin Atlantic model, with:

a combined American Express and Visa card pack, and

a choice of free or paid-for card packs, with different earnings rates

The free cards (the blue ones, pictured above) offer:

5,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus

No qualifying spend required – bonus posts after first purchase

No annual fee

1 Skywards mile per £1 spent on the American Express

0.5 Skywards miles per £1 spent on the Visa

Double miles on spend at emirates.com

The paid ‘Elite’ cards (which come in red) offer:

10,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus

No qualifying spend required – bonus posts after first purchase

Annual fee of £150

2 Skywards miles per £1 spent on the American Express

1 Skywards mile per £1 spent on the Visa

Double miles on spend at emirates.com

The £150 fee ‘Elite’ cards also comes with three additional features which may or may not justify the annual fee for you:

A 2-4-1 voucher on CASH tickets when you spend £15,000 in a year

This is similar to the voucher offered on the Flying Club credit cards. However, the small print appears very restrictive:

You can only obtain a free companion ticket when you buy a Flex Fare (ie an expensive refundable ticket) in Economy or Business Class

The free ticket is issued as a ‘Saver’-level reward ticket. You therefore need award tickets to be available for the flight you want.

Full taxes and charges need to be paid on the companion ticket

The companion ticket is non-refundable (it is not clear if the voucher is made available for reuse if you cancel)

So, to summarise – to use your voucher (which requires £15,000 of spend) you need to purchase an expensive flexible ticket, and you are still reliant on award space being available at the ‘saver’ level before you can claim your companion seat. Your flexible ticket will also, at the same time, become de facto non-flexible because your companion seat is not flexible!

Let’s imagine, for instance, that you travel for work and your employer pays for flexible tickets. You decide to take your partner with you for once, using your 2-4-1 voucher, and you are lucky enough to find Saver reward space for him/her. On the morning of your trip, you get called into an unexpected meeting and your secretary moves you to a later Emirates flight. Your companion ticket would be cancelled and would not be rebookable on the new flight, because it is unlikely that ‘Saver’-level reward space would be available at the last minute. Try explaining that to your partner ….

£150 discount on an Emirates First or Business Class ticket

Holders of the £150 fee ‘Elite’ cards will receive a discount code which will give a one-off £150 discount on the purchase on an Emirates First or Business Class ticket. This cannot be combined with the companion ticket offer above.

Check in at Business Class ticket desks if travelling on an Economy ticket

This may have some value if flying Emirates in Economy on a regular basis. This is ONLY valid when departing the UK, and only when your ticket has been purchased with your Emirates credit card (which excludes most business travellers from taking advantage of this).

Both pairs of cards also come with some other features which I don’t value highly:

10% discount when you book with Emirates Tours

25% discount when you purchase Skywards miles

0% interest on flight purchases at emirates.com for the first 12 months

What is the Head for Points verdict?

The bottom line – for me – is that, if you don’t already collect Emirates Skywards miles, this card is not a good enough reason to start. Emirates has a pricey award chart, which I haven’t touched on in this article. However, as an example, London to Dubai would cost you 90,000 miles in Business Class at ‘Saver’ level and 125,000 at ‘Flex’ level. This is 10,000 more miles than BA would require, and BA allows one-way awards as well. Emirates only allows one-way redemptions at the more expensive ‘Flex’ level.

If you a serious collector of Emirates Skywards miles, I would recommend that you focus in the short term on the Starwood Amex instead. As per this post, you currently get 20,000 Starwood points for signing up, and these are convertible into 25,000 Emirates Skywards miles (or 25,000 Avios, amongst other things). And that card only has a £75 fee.

If you DO already have a stash of Skywards miles – and if you live outside the South East you may be using Emirates on a regular basis for your long-haul flights – then the Skywards cards are worth a look, albeit that the sign-up bonus is not attractive. (If you can wait six months, I would expect MBNA to run a special promotion with a higher sign-up bonus.)

If you ARE thinking of getting the card, though, you need to ask yourself this:

If getting the free cards, would I not be better off getting the SPG Amex (£75 fee but 25,000 miles sign-up bonus vs 5,000 with MBNA)? The earn rate is lower (1.25 miles per £1 vs 1.5 with the Skywards card) but the SPG card also gives you massive flexibility to redeem for hotels or 30 other airline schemes as well.

If getting the paid ‘Elite’ cards, would I spend enough at 2 miles per £1 to justify the £150 annual fee? The SPG card has a far lower fee (£75) and a sign-up bonus that is 15,000 miles bigger, albeit the earnings rate is 33% lower. Do not place any value on the 2-4-1 voucher or the £150 ticket discount unless you are certain you will use them.

Looking just at the 2-4-1 voucher, I am supremely unimpressed. At the very least, Emirates could have given you a free cash ticket when you purchase a cash ticket. After all, you have already spent £15,000 on their credit card and bought an expensive flexible ticket. Insisting that the companion ticket comes out of reward space is just crazy, in my opinion.

If you want to know more about the Emirates Skywards card, you can find out more and apply here.

The card will be added to our ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page and I will update it with the latest sign-up bonus each month.

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Comments

  1. James67 says:

    Interesting; I dpubt either these or the Etihad cards will be very popular so perhaps we will get a better signup bonus a few months later, particularly around the turn of the year. Might be useful for regional departures where upgrades are possibly a more useful way of spending skywards miles. Also, I wonder if the £150 rebate can be use on F and J on likes of BKK-HKG route.

  2. Wozza2404 says:

    A “Flex” ticket on EK isn’t quite the same as a flexible ticket on an airline like BA.

    A J “Saver” fare might be £2k, and the “Flex” fare will often be as little as 10% more. The Flex fares earn full tier miles for status, whereas Saver fares earn half. A Flex fare doesn’t always mean “flexible”, either.

  3. 5000 skywards points and 0% on Emirates flights for the first 12 months is fine. Where this card will be most useful is people living away from South East who dont want to change at LHR.

  4. Lazy question … Does the £15000 spend for 2-4-1 have to be on amex?

  5. andy21 says:

    Agree with Wozza2404 – Flex tickets on EK are not like a fully flexible ticket on other airlines and therefore not “hugely expensive” – often you book an flight and it’s not until your miles post that you see that one sector was ‘Flex’ – just depends on the fares available. So actually I think this is quite a good offer, I’m sure you could pick up a pair of tickets in economy to DXB for less than £500.

  6. The 10% off Emirates Tours Holidays will be very nice as I have £11k to pay for a Mauritius trip.

  7. I’d say, as Raffles suggests, the devil is in the small print.

    Agree with comments about a Skywards Flex Fare not being that much more expensive, but try a dummy booking to see the variations in cost, and bear in mind companion ticket requires taxes to be paid.

    For GLA to DXB in November a Skyward Flex ticket costs, £757 (seems expensive, agreed) and with tax payable on companion ticket of £241. So, 2 tickets, companion voucher used, £998.

    Alternatively, one Skywards Saver ticket on same date costs £381. So 2 tickets, £762 total.

    With Emirates flights into DXB seem expensive (to me) e.g. I flew last month to KUL for £600 economy ticket, with miles used to upgrade. However, doing same working on long haul gives similar outcome, cheapest option (in economy) is booking 2 skywards saver tickets.

    Will wait and see, expect the bonus miles to increase at some point which are useful to upgrade an economy ticket to biz. Until then will keep routing Amex MR to SPG then Emirates!

    • “…..Until then will keep routing Amex MR to SPG then Emirates!”..

      I was going to say “and lose half of the points in the process?” (given that the transfer ratio AMEX MRs to SPG is 2:1) but I suppose given that from my experience, AMEX are frequently over generous with their MRs, I suppose this all nets off. (Don’t know why though, but I find it difficult to accept that fact and simply use some of my MRs to top up those bonus 35k AA miles!!)

      • Complicated by double MR points on Amex Gold which then convert at 2:1. Or SPG points which convert at 1:1. Along with more generous welcome miles bonus.

        Reason to wait is for a decent miles bonus being offered, once that’s available i think the card is the best in terms of spend at 2 points per £1.

        All in, it could be a nice additional card to cycle on and off over the coming years!

        • The rules of the Emirates card imply the sign-up bonus is ‘once per person per lifetime’. MBNA – whilst historically very leniant on who could get the BMI credit cards – has reportedly been enforcing this rule more tightly recently.

      • Get yourself the Starwood Amex! 20,000 points for sign-up and they convert 1:1 into AA. Convert all 20,000 at once and they convert 1:25. Details of the current promo here: http://www.headforpoints.com/2013/05/10/20000-spg-points-25000-avios-points-sign-up-bonus-back-on-the-starwood-amex/

  8. EKflyer says:

    What a load of rubbish, in Dubai you get 1.5 skywards miles for a dollar on platinum with Citibank. Here you get 1 skyward mile for 1 GBP.

    Emirates Islamic Bank offers 1 mile for every AED up to 12K in a month, but to be honest it has a higher charge which is always waived by the bank.

    Why can’t they make these offers universal. Surely then more people would take them up, agree go for Starwood and forget EK card from MBNA, As for priority booking so you will behind the platinum, gold, silver and everyone else in the queue, so it will be one of the busiest queues ever in LHR!

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  1. […] Head for Points has an excellent analysis as usual, and if you’re an Emirates flyer in the UK, it could be useful… but there are better options out there if you’re after Emirates miles. […]