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Emirates launches ‘Skywards+’, a PAID loyalty programme. Will other airlines follow?

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‘Subscription loyalty’ or ‘paid loyalty’ has been a buzz word in loyalty circles for the past couple of years.

Whilst paid programmes have been around for many years – InterContinental Ambassador is one we discuss most – the real driver has been loyalty consultancy Collinson. The company sees running paid programmes on behalf of airlines as a good cash stream for itself and has been promoting the benefits of subscription loyalty at every opportunity.

After a limited trial in 2019, Emirates has recently taken the plunge and opened its scheme to everyone – but does Skywards+ stack up?

Emirates Skywards+ review

‘Paid loyalty’, in theory, should be a winner for both you and the company selling the scheme.

Let’s take InterContinental Ambassador. IHG did a good job in structuring this:

  • there is a clear ‘quick win’ to persuade you to pay $200, in the form of the ‘free weekend night’ voucher. This gets you two nights for the price of one over a weekend at InterContinental hotels. Suites are often included.
  • there are good reasons to move additional stays to InterContinental – a guaranteed 4pm check-out, a guaranteed upgrade and a $20 food and drink credit

Put together, it is an attractive package.

Outside travel, look at the £20 per month Pret coffee subscription:

  • you win because, as long as you buy more than 8-9 coffees per month, you are saving money
  • Pret wins because it gets you into its shops on more occasions – why would you bother visiting a Nero or Starbucks if a Pret was nearby? Even if you were bored of Pret, the lure of a free coffee versus paying elsewhere would get you in.

Emirates, unfortunately, has got it wrong.

What does Emirates Skywards+ offer?

Here is the home page for Skywards+.

Here, click to expand, is a summary of the costs and benefits:

There are three levels:

  • £289 for Classic
  • £506 for Advanced
  • £723 for Premium

The benefits can be broken down into (exact benefits vary by category):

  • 20% additional tier points and miles when you fly
  • 20% off mileage redemptions
  • lounge passes
  • additional baggage allowance

Where’s the sign-up bonus?

The first problem is that there is no killer reason to hand over a substantial amount of money today.

In fact, as there is no limited time welcome bonus offered, it makes sense NOT to join until you had a number of Emirates flights in the diary and were close to the first trip. You’d want to maximise the period of time you benefitted as much as possible.

Most subscription schemes deliberately lose money on your first few payments to entice you to join. After all, you are being asked to make a non-refundable payment in return for some benefits which may or may not turn out to be valuable. Emirates doesn’t seem to believe in this.

If I was Emirates, I would be offering substantial mileage benefits for joining, especially given the reduction in international travel at the moment.

Perhaps 30,000 miles on the £289 plan, rising to 75,000 miles for the £723 plan? Emirates would get some cash in the door and, as you now have a pile of miles, you would be incentivised to spend them – and take advantage of the 20% discount on a Classic Reward.

Emirates Skywards+

Where is the killer benefit?

The second problem, in my mind, is that these are very marginal benefits.

When did 20% off anything excite you? Does 20% off an item in a shop make it into a ‘must buy’? Does a 20% bonus encourage you to buy hotel points? Not really. Getting 20% additional miles or tier points won’t move the needle much and certainly doesn’t justify an outlay of up to £723.

Even the ‘soft’ benefits, like lounge access, don’t add much to the package. £25 will buy you access to a decent airport lounge so adding two passes to a £289 package isn’t exactly great value.

InterContinental Ambassador is cleverer:

  • the free weekend night voucher has a real benefit
  • 4pm guaranteed check-out has a real benefit, and you can’t get it via any other route as it’s not an IHG Rewards benefits
  • a guaranteed upgrade has value, and you know you are getting it
  • $20 of food and drink credit gives you a firm feeling that you are getting some value back for your $200

Skywards+ doesn’t have any of that.

However …. there IS one real benefit of value

All of the packages, even the cheapest £289 one, offer ‘20% off Classic Rewards’.

This is less generous than it sounds, because you can only use it once per year.

That said ….

A ‘Classic Rewards’ return trip to Dubai from the UK is 90,000 Emirates Skywards miles in Business Class. For a family of four, you are looking at 360,000 miles return. You could get these miles by converting 360,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.

A family of four would save 72,000 miles on a Business Class redemption between London and Dubai. If you value Skywards miles at 1p each, you are saving £720 for a £289 outlay on joining Skywards+.

This isn’t what Emirates is looking for, of course

Paying £289 to save 72,000 Skywards miles on a redemption is what I would call ‘transactional loyalty’.

You’re not showing any sort of commitment to Emirates and it isn’t showing any to you. You are simply paying £289 to get a big discount on a flight redemption. If you never fly Emirates again, you are still ‘up’. Emirates will probably lose money on your booking, versus the cost of wiping 72,000 miles off its balance sheet.

The bottom line is that Emirates wants you to pay between £289 and £723 for, basically, an expensive book of non-refundable coupons with a short expiry date. No-one is going to get excited about that.

You can learn more about Skywards+ on this page of the Emirates website.

Comments (83)

  • mark says:

    Now what I’d really like to be is the fly on the wall of the person at emirates who reads this and thinks “f**k!”

  • John says:

    I can’t help thinking it’ll be much easier for Emirates to add benefits in future, rather than go out into the market with a package that’s too generous and then have to roll back.

    Maybe it’s possible this is a broad launch with a conservative range of benefits, which we might see added to once they gauge how it’s performing in the market.

    Also wondering how the prices compare in other markets/currencies. Is it a straight conversion at current exchange rates, or does this look more enticing in other countries?

    • ken says:

      This is exactly what I thought – get the structure wrong & have to reduce the benefits kills the program and hacks people off.
      Will be easy to have promotions with a ‘free’ number of miles for joiners.
      That said 20% bonuses / discounts looks too skinny.

  • marcw says:

    If you live in Dubai, and you fly 90% with Emirates, then it “could” make sense. Otherwise, it’s just bollocks.

    • Blenz101 says:

      Still makes no sense for Dubai residents. The local credit card market does not suffer the EU interchange cap so Skyward miles are dished out generously and EK Silver status is widely available as a card perk giving DXB lounge access and bonus miles on all travel anyway.

      Locally you can also double double dip on earning, for any example any Dubai Mall spend will earn you Skyward miles if you upload the receipt in your app be your spend at Waitrose, H&M or Rolex.

      I did wonder if this is aimed at people who can get the benefit via expenses or a tax write off but a tax write off isn’t someone in the UAE is going to have to worry about!

      • Rob says:

        The more you fly with them, the less you need the benefits because you are getting elite status benefits anyway. 20% bonus tier points – worthless if you are Gold. 20% discount on a redemption – only 1 booking per year so value is effectively capped. 20% bonus miles on flights – OK, this one MAY tempt a heavy flyer but in general the more miles you have, the less value you put on earning extra.

  • Benilyn says:

    20% off redemption is pretty decent I’d say especially if you can book into F

  • EdMo says:

    I agree that it needs a slug of Airmiles given on signup and another on renewal each year. However if BA offered a similar programme with reductions in Tier point earning and a boost to Avios earning, Im a mug and I’m sure I’d spend a pretty substantial amount to subscribe to it.

    And Pret coffee is the worst of the lot! Incl McDonald’s.

  • Blair says:

    I had run all the figures on a recent weekend break while sitting by the pool and as a mostly solo traveller I could not make the sums add up bar for a First redemption. And I’d always much rather pay for Business then do the upgrade to First. So this was moot. Regular 100% bonus Skymiles and multiply your miles feature is enough to keep me interested. Also recent news on other travel sites suggesting Biz Saver fares were no longer available as award seats (meaning a UK-DXB flight would be 62,500 rather than 45,000 miles) was utter rubbish. 45,000 still available, every day of 2022.

  • Andrew says:

    It’s not that long ago that BA offered a form of subscription discount. 10% discount on flights for the legacy BMI premium MBNA Amex/Visa card.

    • Michael says:

      That was to replace the 4000 status miles that came with the card when bmi Diamond Club was alive, which in turn replaced the free blue plus status it bestowed (blue plus was scrapped at some point).

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