Big boost to the sign-up bonus on the Emirates credit cards – worth applying?

MBNA is on a bit of a roll at the moment.  They have increased their sign-up bonuses on the:

Etihad Guest credit card (article here, 12000 miles, free)

Virgin Flying Club credit cards (article here, 10000 / 30000 miles, free / £140)

United MileagePlus credit card (article here, 15000 miles, free) and the

American AAdvantage credit card (article here, 15000 miles, free)

…. and a bonus on the Lufthansa card finished last week.

That only left the Emirates Skywards cards – and now that has joined the party too.  This is the first time that there has ever been a special offer on these cards since they were launched.

I will go through the features of the cards in detail in a minute.  In summary:

the bonus on the free card is increased from 5,000 miles to 10,000 miles

the bonus on the £150 card is increased from 10,000 miles to 25,000 miles

Emirates card

Full details can be found on the Emirates website here.  Both cards come as a combined pack of an American Express and a Visa.

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

10,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus when you apply by July 7th

Bonus requires £1,000 of spend within 90 days

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

Representative APR of 17.9% variable

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

25,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus when you apply by July 7th

Bonus requires £2,000 of spend within 90 days

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

Representative APR of 55.1% including the fee, based on a typical £1200 credit limit

Churning rules

MBNA has two specific rules regarding repeat applications for credit cards which are worth remembering:

You can usually only get the bonus on a particular card once.  If you cancel and reapply in two years time you are unlikely to receive another bonus.

You can apply for BOTH sets of cards.  This means that your maximum bonus is actually 35,000 miles – 10,000 from the free card and 25,000 from the £150 Elite card.

Additional ‘Elite’ features

The £150 ‘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 Virgin 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

Are these cards worth it?

Emirates offer an excellent product and flies from various UK airports.  Here is my review of their Business Class product from last year.  Trying out the private suites in First Class on their A380’s should be on the ‘to do’ list of every serious points collector!

There is, however, a fundamental problem with Emirates Skywards.  Emirates has a pricey award chart (you can try their ‘Miles Calculator’ here) which I haven’t touched on in this article. 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.

More importantly, if you are reliant on the credit card to earn miles, is that Emirates does not allow one-way redemptions at Saver level.  The cheapest one-way Business Class ticket to Dubai would therefore be 62,500 miles (half of a ‘Flex’ reward).  Even with 25,000 miles from the ‘Elite’ credit card you are a long way short.

You can top up an Emirates Skywards account with American Express Membership Rewards points.  Unless you have a huge number of Amex points this is unlikely to change the maths much.  If you got an American Express Gold card, for example (free in the first year) you would get a 20,000 point sign-up bonus, equivalent to 20,000 Skywards miles.

Emirates miles have a strict expiry policy.  They expire 3 years after you earn them and there is NOTHING you can do to stop them expiring.

Fuel surcharges on Emirates are also high, on a par with British Airways.

Emirates used to have attractive upgrade rewards.  These have recently changed and now require the purchase of a flexible Economy ticket in order to upgrade to Business Class.

Who would these cards suit?

If you already have some Emirates miles, this offer is well worth considering.  You will be able to top up your account at almost no cost.

If you fly Emirates on fully flexible tickets for work you may even be able to get some benefit from the 2-4-1 voucher, although you will still find it hugely restrictive.

If you have high credit card spending and kids, Emirates is also worth a look.  Reward seat availability at the ‘Flex’ level is very good even at peak periods.  We got four return tickets over Easter and – even more impressively – got four return tickets for this October over half-term.  This is the busiest leisure week of the year in Dubai.

My full reviews of the Emirates credit card are here (free card) and here (Elite card).

You can apply via emirates.com here.

(To see our complete list of all current credit card bonuses, click here to visit our ‘Credit Cards Update’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

(Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history.)

HSBC no longer taking £TC's from June 27 - last chance to boost Amex sign-up spend!
150 Clubcard points (360 Avios) with new range of 60 pre-order DVDs from £7
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. DMRevis says:

    I recently re-applied for the white Virgin Atlantic card after cancelling it last year and was surprised to get the 10,000 mile bonus again since you say MBNA generally don’t give you a second bonus. I called VA before applying again and was assured I could cancel and re-apply unlimited times and still get the bonus which I was dubious about but maybe its true?

    • MBNA is a bit odd. When the BMI cards existed, you could cancel and reapply as often as you wanted. With 20,000 points on a free card as a bribe. many people did. Towards the end of BMI, MBNA clamped down tightly and stopped giving additional bonuses.

      There is no stated policy anywhere though.

  2. signol says:

    Is it worth using the bonus Emirates points on EasyJet flights do you think?

  3. Howard says:

    Can this be linked to my American Airline points? Wife and I have about 45,000 each.

    • No. American is a partner with Etihad, though – if you want a holiday in the Gulf then redeeming on Etihad from Heathrow (or elsewhere in the UK) to Abu Dhabi is an excellent value redemption.

  4. Camille says:

    I am in a similar bracket – medium to high spend with kids – so have been waiting for an improved sign-up bonus. The 3 year expiry rule is a PITA, but at least they offer an exit route via their shopping mall, so you could get “some” value if you had miles about to expire.

    Raffles, do you have any experience of EK taxes/fees ex-DXB….either back to the UK or, say, the Far East? I am wondering if low-ish cost redemptions could be achieved on either of these, which would make EK miles a more attractive proposition.

    I am reminded of your excellent article “Emirates, fuel surcharges, and why the right redemption is ALWAYS a good redemption” from last September. What’s the point of a stack of miles if you can’t use them? Hence, planning to sign up to the Elite Card, cane it on spend and then aim to use over the next 3 years for the Flex level….if any Saver awards became available, well that would just be a bonus!

  5. Not sure what the taxes are like to the Far East. On the UK route the taxes work out the same as BA, almost to the £ (at least they did last time) due to the fuel surcharge they add on.