Credit & Charge Card Reviews (6): Emirates Skywards American Express & Visa

This review was updated in September 2016 and all the information is correct as of that date

This is my review of the Emirates Skywards UK credit cards.

It is part of my series of articles looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether or not they are worth applying for.  These articles will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page.  My other UK airline and hotel credit card reviews can be found here.

If you want to check your credit record before applying for a new card, click here to get your free Equifax credit report and score.  Your first 30 days are free then it’s £14.95 per month.  You can cancel at anytime.

As with all rewards cards, this is not a suitable product for you if you do not clear your balance in full every month.  You should focus on a credit card with a low interest rate such as the AA Low Rate Card. This has a very attractive representative APR of 6.4% variable on purchases and balance transfers.

Key link:  Emirates Skywards American Express and Visa application form

Key facts:  No annual fee

The representative APR is 22.9% variable.

About the card

There are two versions of the Emirates UK credit cards – the free basic version and the £150 annual fee Elite version.  This review covers the free card.

The Emirates Skywards credit cards are issued by MBNA as a double-pack, with recipients receiving an American Express card and a Visa card. This model may not continue into the future as Amex fees on co-brand cards to UK retailers are now capped at the same level as MasterCard / Visa at 0.3%.

MBNA also issues the United, American, Etihad and Virgin credit cards, amongst others. If you already hold one of these cards and are refused for the Emirates cards, they will often change their mind if you ring up and offer to reduce the credit limit on your existing card.

It is important to note that MBNA allows you to have both versions of the Emirates credit card.  You can apply for both this free card and the Elite card and get the sign-up bonus on both.  This is the total opposite of the American Express policy on the British Airways cards, where you can only have either the free card or the Premium Plus version at the same time.

What is the sign-up bonus?

You will receive 5,000 Emirates Skywards miles when you apply, triggered with your first purchase within 90 days.

Occasional special offers increase this to 12,000 Emirates Skywards miles.

On their own, 5,000 Emirates miles are (literally) not going to get you far.  I discuss some possible redemption ideas below, but if you do not already collect Skywards miles then it is highly unlikely – except for very high spenders – that you would earn enough from card spend alone for anything worthwhile.

MBNA has a stated policy of not allowing you to get another sign-up bonus if you have previously had the same card in the past.  In reality, if you leave a gap of a couple of years you will often find that you do receive it.

Any other benefits?

MBNA and Emirates have added some interesting bonus features to the free card:

10% discount on Emirates Holidays – this is either worth a huge amount (enough on its own to get the card) or nothing, depending on your preferences!

25% discount when you buy Skywards miles – worthwhile if you need to buy some to top-off an account, but Skywards miles are not exceptional value when bought directly

0% interest on Emirates transactions for 12 months – could have some value, worth noting that MBNA – on the American Airlines card at least – actually (by mistake?) gives 0% on all airline transactions and not just AA

0% on balance transfers for 6 months, made within 90 days of opening the account (2% fee) – note that you will not earn miles on a balance transfer

Double miles on Emirates flight purchases

What is the annual fee?

There is no annual fee.

What do I earn per £1 spent on the card?

Cardholders earn 1 Skywards per £1 spent on the Amex and 0.5 miles per £1 on the Visa.  MBNA has a good reputation in my experience for posting points punctually.

This is par for the course with a free credit card, but is not exceedingly generous – especially as Skywards miles do not go as far as other airline currencies.  MBNA’s free American Airlines card, for example, is 50% more generous.

You should remember that Skywards is an American Express Membership Rewards partner.  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.  You would earn the same 1 point per £1 spent, but you would have far more flexibility – Amex points convert to a large number of airline and hotel schemes.

If you want to collect Skywards miles from a Visa or MasterCard, however, this card is the best free option.

Remember that the Emirates cards have an FX fee of almost 3% for foreign currency transactions.  You may want to consider getting a separate card to use abroad which charges no foreign exchange fees.  I recommend the Lloyds Avios Rewards card which also earns Avios points – even on your 0% FX transactions!  It comes with a 4,500 Avios sign-up bonus if I refer you.  My review of the Lloyds Avios Rewards card is here.

Emirates Skywards credit card review

What is a Skywards mile worth?

This is a tricky one, because it depends on very specific sets of circumstances.

Emirates is not part of a major airline alliance, although it has a lot of partners.  Oddly, easyJet is one of them and you can redeem miles for easyJet flights!  The rate is poor, though, at about 0.4p per mile.

In September 2016, Emirates introduced ‘cash and miles’.  This allows you to use miles to reduce the cost of any Emirates cash flight at the rate of $0.008 per mile.

Skywards also has a draconian expiry policy.  Your miles expire three years after you earn them, with no exceptions.  It is not possible to save up over a long period for a redemption.

Looking at the core UK to Dubai route, a Skywards ‘saver’ ticket is 90,000 miles in business class compared to 100,000 Avios (off peak) or 120,000 Avios (peak) on British Airways.  Emirates also has ‘flex’ awards which cost 125,000 miles for the route but which offer substantially better availability.

(As I regularly find out, Emirates includes its free chauffeur service on reward tickets in cities where they have it which gives added value.  If you redeemed to, say, Bangkok return with a stopover in Dubai in both directions, you would receive eight free chauffeur rides!)

Emirates does NOT offer one-way rewards at the ‘saver’ level – you need to book a ‘flex’ ticket to get that.  This is another reason why collecting miles solely from the Skywards credit card is not a good idea, as the minimum required for a decent reward is high.  A one-way business class ticket from the UK to Dubai will be 62,500 miles.

Skywards charges high taxes and fuel surcharges on redemptions, which are on a par with those charged by British Airways.

Miles can be used to upgrade economy tickets to business class but this benefit is restricted to customers with expensive flexible economy tickets.

You can also use your Skywards miles to buy standard and VIP tickets to watch Arsenal and other top football clubs.  Surprisingly, they can also be transferred into Heathrow Rewards points at a ratio of 6,000 miles to 2,000 (£20-worth) of points.

I see no reason to value Skywards miles higher than I value Avios points, ie 0.75p.  (That would ‘value’ a London to Dubai saver award in business at 90,000 miles x 0.75p + £650 tax = £1,325, which is roughly the price you would pay for cash in a sale.)  On this basis, the 1 mile per £1 on the Amex is equivalent to a 0.75% rebate on your spend.  The Visa returns just 0.38%.

How does this compare to a cashback credit card?

The best cashback card on the market which offers a) a MasterCard or Visa, b) no annual fee and c) unlimited cashback is the ASDA card, which pays 0.5% back in ASDA vouchers.  This is probably a better return than earning 0.5 Skywards miles per £1 on the Emirates Visa.

In some ways this debate is academic, though, because unless you are an exceptionally heavy card spender, this card will only be of interest to an existing Emirates Skywards collector looking to top-up an account.

How else can you earn Skywards miles from a credit card?

There are three good alternative ways to earn Emirates miles from your credit card spend:

The American Express Preferred Rewards Gold charge card offers 20,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up and is FREE for the first year.  These convert to 20,000 Skywards miles.

The American Express Platinum charge card offers 30,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up.  These convert to 30,000 Skywards miles.  It has a £450 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card offers 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points for signing up.  These convert to 10,000 Skywards miles.  It has a £75 fee, refunded pro-rata if you cancel.


5,000 miles as a sign-up bonus is an OK deal on a free card when compared with the standard bonuses on the British Airways, Virgin and Lufthansa free cards.  This does not necessarily compensate for their lack of flexibility.

In terms of spending, 1 mile per £1 on the Amex is typical of the rate you would see on a free airline card. The same goes for the Visa at 0.5 miles per £1.

The application form for the Emirates Skywards credit cards can be found here.

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. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

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  1. OT: Amex online offers include shop small 5 off 10 spend, 5-20 December. Also, a couple of other offers Appleyard and 1st years.