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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)

  • JC says:

    I’d argue that Avios have bene running a similar voluntary paid subscription for years. This is on the basis that no one serious about collecting Avios can really do without one of the BA Amex cards. They earn money from both the free card and the paid card, with you paying for the privilege by forgoing what you would have got as an owner of a cashback card.

  • ankomonkey says:

    I’ve only been once, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Emirates Lounge at BHX. I would be happy to pay to hang out there on days when I’m not flying. More fun than many alternatives. Shame that isn’t included in any of the packages or for standalone visits. They could open up a high-street lounge somewhere with paid entry.

    • Blenz101 says:

      You can access any EK lounge worldwide if you are flying with them and happy to paid. It’s about $100 + tax for entry per person for Skyward members.

      • ankomonkey says:

        Thanks! Shame you have to be flying with them. Would be amazing before a £10 Ryanair flight 😉

    • John says:

      So basically a restaurant with a buffet and an open bar?

      • ankomonkey says:

        Yep, but the buffet and open bar were both excellent, so I’d be looking for a similar experience.

        • Blenz101 says:

          I think it’s most valuable for a couple at DXB where only one member has silver status (so no guest). You at least then have the option to both enter and the cost split is closer to a normal lounge price and you can drink much of it back in free flowing champagne.

          • Rob says:

            The Dubai also, frankly, aren’t great.

            The Ahlen First Class lounge is pay to enter with (at least pre covid) free flowing champagne and it was on DragonPass!

          • Blenz101 says:

            Ahlan Lounge is on lounge key as well.

  • Phil Fisher says:

    Does this mean 20% bonus on miles through Amex transfers or is the 20% bonus miles awarded purely on flights only?

  • Oh! Matron! says:

    I find it difficult to reconcile my commitment to the environment vs my need to sometimes do tier point runs. Yes, I get the odd weekend in Boston / DC, etc, but I’d much rather not have to do this but still have the status I crave. I can’t be the only one that feels this! Virgin, if you’re listening, find a way, especially now that many (not all) companies have found that they can be just as productive virtually as in person, that business travel will mit be the same again.

    • John says:

      But this doesn’t give you any status

    • Mr. AC says:

      In general if you’re doing Tier Point runs you’re flying on not busy flights. If your extra demand is not requiring an extra flight to be added on a route or preventing a flight from being removed from schedule (both of which are really long shots if you’re doing a TP run), your marginal extra carbon footprint is EXTREMELY tiny and very easily offset. I would also suggest this to get a grasp on carbon costs and optimistic / pessimistic offset costs and how to do them: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/carbon-costs-quantified

  • PJJ says:

    @Rob
    Are you likely to get feedback from Emirates or Collinsons on your article ?
    Would be interesting to hear their comments

  • G says:

    If I “WERE” Emirates, not “WAS”.

    • Rob says:

      Er, no. A company is singular, not plural.

      Standard of education in this country today … 🙂

      • Genghis says:

        In the subjunctive, “were” is the conjugation of the verb “to be”.
        I’d always look to get a subjunctive into French A level writing for +++ marks…

      • Michael AC says:

        “If” takes the subjunctive in English in constructions like these. It’s not a case of singular vs plural.

        • Bagoly says:

          It indeed does in elite English, but sadly now rarely in even the “quality” newspapers.
          The response supports my suspecting that education up north in the 1980s didn’t include the possessive gerund either!

  • Peter Gerstle says:

    @Rob: Appreciate the name check on paid loyalty expertise from Collinson. Indeed, the EK product has been inspired by our conversations with them. But I agree: they got a number of benefits wrong and the incentives are not stacked up correctly (read: beneficially for the customer).

    I do however hope that this now gives other airlines the impetus to work with us to launch a proper paid loyalty proposition…! It’s really an idea of the times, and it can work well for brands and customers

  • Joe King says:

    I don’t see the point in this at all. It’s a no from me!

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