If there’s any positive bi-product of this gawd-awful pandemic, it’s that people aren’t taking travel for granted anymore. When you do travel, you want to have even more meaningful and impactful experiences, and with flights, that means enjoying some more space, and maybe a glass of champagne to toast the occasion.

Emirates has crafted a generous way for more people to do that, but only for a limited time. Still, it’s worth taking about, because it’s a brilliant strategy other airlines should use right now to get people buying.

Emirates 30% Off Upgrades

For a very limited time, like the end of next week, Emirates is offering 30% off most upgrades using Skywards Miles, including from economy to business class.

On a flight from London to Dubai, that means I can buy a reasonably priced economy ticket and upgrade one way for 21,000 miles rather than 30,000, or on an even more inexpensive ticket upgrade for 33,150 miles instead of 39,000 one way.

People want extra space these days for peace of mind and celebration alike, and without business travelers, there are more seats up front to fill than ever. Emirates strategy is a brilliant one. Here’s why…

  • Can only upgrade using Emirates miles. This rewards loyal customers.
  • Miles balances are a liability to airlines. Encouraging people to use them unloads liability, in a time where it’s great to shed liability.
  • Seats up front would truly go empty on most flights right now, so it allows sale of more seats in both cabins, since you can then re-sell economy ticket.

Other airlines should do this. People want to travel, but they’re timid, and scoring an upgrade for less goes a long way. We don’t know how vaccine rollout will go, but best case scenarios see most of the world in good shape by summer.

Why not allow people to upgrade for 50% off the usual price in miles through March, and 25% through August? People are always more likely to book travel if they see a fair and reasonable path to a better experience, particularly one with *some* social distancing.

Business travelers won’t chance upgrade availability, or inflexible fare options, so it’s not like you’re losing out on seats you would’ve sold, you’re just giving a new market of customers a taste of why they may want to earn more miles, or save up for an extra special trip next time.

Keeping things to ‘operating airline’ miles only makes loyalty a greater proposition too. Too often, the best way to use miles is by using one airline’s miles on another airline entirely. Restricting upgrades only to people who’ve earned miles with the airline they want to fly creates an obvious reason to keep earning miles, but also to actually fly that airline too.

We’ve seen forays into this recently, with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offering 50% off the cost of any flight using miles, for a limited time. This applied to upgrades as well. In a time where cash is key to airlines though, keeping a discount on upgrades only, rather than miles redemptions means a customer must first book a cash ticket to benefit, getting cash in the door.

Allowing them to then trade up to a better experience while cabins are empty is just the icing on the cake for both parties. Airlines get money in the door, and some miles off their balance sheets, and customers get a chance to have a real ‘win’ with an airline.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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5 Comments

    1. Yes. It’s shown when you search for a cash ticket and then look at the different fare options, like in the screen shot in the post. When is your travel for?

  1. Must admit, I can’t seem to find any either… I’ve checked a selection of dates between January & July.

      1. More frustrating when they do this! They offer an almost pointless perk with such a short-term timeline that it does the opposite of rewarding loyalty. Shame.

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