MBNA has brought back a special sign-up promotion for its two Emirates credit cards. It is an improved version of the promotion that ran in June, which was actually the first time that there had ever been a bonus offered.
EDIT: These cards have now been withdrawn.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.
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 12,000 miles – this is 2,000 more miles than was offered in June and the highest ever bonus on this card
the bonus on the £150 card is increased from 10,000 miles to 25,000 miles
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 now offer:
12,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus when you apply by November 30th
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 offer:
25,000 Emirates Skywards miles sign-up bonus when you apply by November 30th
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 54.9% including the fee, based on a typical £1200 credit limit
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 37,000 miles – 12,000 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 – 45,000 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.
Intriguingly, the free card is advertised with the slogan “A total of 12,000 bonus Miles is enough for a one-way flight within Europe on easyJet”. This is not strictly true – easyJet flights are priced based on the cash price at the time you book. You can get easyJet flights for as little as 7,500 Skywards miles but at the same time you could end up needing a heck of a lot more than 12,000 miles at peak times.
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 one-way tickets for this October over half-term. This is the busiest leisure week of the year in Dubai.
How to earn Emirates Skywards miles from UK credit cards (September 2021)
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 cards. These are:
- American Express Preferred Rewards Gold (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 20,000 Emirates Skywards miles. This card is FREE for your first year and also comes with two free airport lounge passes.
- The Platinum Card from American Express (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 60,000 Emirates Skywards miles. 60,000 points is a limited offer which ends on 2nd November 2021.
- American Express Rewards credit card (review here, apply here) – sign-up bonus of 5,000 Membership Rewards points converts into 5,000 Emirates Skywards miles. This card is FREE for life.
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.