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

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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.

EDIT: These cards have now been withdrawn. Scroll to the bottom of this review for the current best options for earning Emirates Skywards miles from UK credit card.

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.


Earning Flying Blue miles from credit cards

How to earn Emirates Skywards miles from UK credit cards (November 2020)

Emirates Skywards does not have a UK credit card.  However, you can earn Emirates Skywards miles by converting Membership Rewards points earned from selected UK American Express cardsThese are:

Membership Rewards points convert at 1:1 into Emirates Skywards miles which is an attractive rate.  The cards above all earn 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 spent on your card, which converts to 1 Emirates Skywards mile. The Gold card earns double points (2 per £1) on all flights you charge to it.

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