Sign-up bonus on the Emirates credit cards increased – worth applying?

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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.

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

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:

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

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 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

Representative APR of 54.9% 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 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 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.

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

You can apply via 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.)

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  1. andystock says:

    The redemptions for short haul easyjet flights is poor compared to BA avios. The key word is ‘From’ 7500 skyward points! !

  2. I sacked off Skywards following the upgrade redemption changes and will spend my miles on easyjet when they are due to expire despite the poor rate you get for them. It’s a poor programme now unless you are a heavy business user.

  3. The key benefit for me of Skywards miles is space-available upgrades at check-in or onboard for Plat / Gold / Silver holders. Upgrade a ticket from economy to business from DXB to London for 25,000 miles. Pick the right flights and this is very achievable.

    Redemptions are poor. But then, I’m sitting on 1m Avios and struggling to spend them.

    • Terrible value unless you travel a lot. Worse yet. The deep discount economy flights are not eligible for upgrades.

  4. 2 questions:
    Can Skywards be redeemed for anything other than EK or EZY flights?
    Could I buy a ticket on EK expensive enough to trigger the miles, use the 0% purchase offer, then cancel the ticket & still retain the miles? Or does MBNA claw them back?

    • Emirates does have other airline partners but off the top of my head none are hugely useful, eg Alaska.

      MBNA generally does not claw back – not sure they can – and they cannot bill you for the miles because the Skywards rules will probably say somewhere that miles have no monetary value.

  5. OT

    SPG are offering an extra 10% when transferring starwood over to avios, just got the email

  6. Completely off topic, but I’ve just learned from an email sent to me by Marriott Rewards that you can earn up to 50,000 points a year for referring up to 5 friends – 2,000 per paid stay each friend makes, up to a maximum of 5 stays per friend. And the friends get 2,000 bonus points per stay, too.

    Seems like a good deal.

  7. Rob – OT but sounds like the Aegean lifetime *Gold freebie has come to an end…details of the new programme emailed to all members last night.

  8. Could you clarify your comment about high credit card usage and kids please? I have both! I use my card for business expenses and am an Emirates Gold member. My wife is an Aussie and I’d like to understand your comment a little better please for potential good value trips to see the in-laws. – I’m very new to this game so I apologise for the fairly basic questions.

    What are the reward seats that you spoke of?

    • It is hard to get BA reward seats in school holidays to popular holiday places. It is very easy to get Emirates Skywards reward seats in UK school holidays, as long as you book Flex level seats.

      However, since 4 x Emirates business class seats to Dubai at Flex level is 500,000 miles, you would need to spend £250,000 on the Emirates Amex to earn that much. This is why I said that someone with kids and huge card spend should consider Emirates.

      If you don’t have kids you don’t need to be concerned about pricey Flex awards as you will be able to travel outside peak school holiday periods and Emirates Saver awards should be available.

      Oz is actually fairly easy now with Avios as well AS LONG as you don’t fly BA. Malaysia Airlines has lots of availability in business and first, as does Qatar.

  9. The comment Oz is easy now with Avios but don’t fly BA but use Maylasia or Qatar instead does not explain how to book with these airlines. I would ideally like to fly business class. Why not use BA?

    • You can book it on using the normal Avios booking page. You may need to juggle starting points for the best deal, for eg starting your Malaysian flight in Paris rather than London will save a lot of tax and is 20,000 fewer Avios.

      The reason not to use BA is that you won’t get the seats, unfortunately, unless you are very lucky.

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