United and Emirates launch reciprocal loyalty benefits, other perks

30 March 2023

It’s turning into a big week for United Airlines.

The carrier’s brand-new flight from Newark to Dubai touched down on Sunday, March 26, as part of a once-unthinkable partnership with Emirates Airline. Though the tie-up was first unveiled last September, the details about the partnership have been largely kept under wraps, aside from the introduction of United’s new long-haul route and codeshare opportunities.

On Thursday, the two airlines announced some additional details about tie-up related to the passenger experience and loyalty perks. Here’s what you need to know.

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Reciprocal loyalty benefits

As of March 26, United flyers can now earn miles on Emirates flights that have been purchased in conjunction with United’s nonstop from Newark to Dubai.

This means that if you fly United to Dubai and connect onwards to Africa (all on one ticket), you’ll be able to earn MileagePlus miles for both segments. However, if you purchase the Emirates flight separately, you won’t be eligible to earn United credit.

If you purchase your ticket through United, the airline will credit Emirates earnings according to the fare spent, with the multiplier ranging from 5x to 11x the fare depending on your Premier elite tier. Meanwhile, if you buy your ticket from Emirates, award mile earnings will range from 10% to 150% of the distance flown.

Note that some of the cheapest Emirates fares aren’t eligible for mileage accrual.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Additionally, if you’re a casual United flyer, you might now consider crediting your future United flights to the Emirates Skywards loyalty program — a benefit that went into effect on March 30.

Unlike with MileagePlus, you can earn Skywards for any United flight. Your accrual will vary based on the distance flown and the fare purchased, and you can find the full earnings table on Emirates’ website.

Unless you’re eyeing a particular redemption with Skywards or are a frequent Emirates passenger, you’ll likely do better crediting your United flights to MileagePlus or another Star Alliance member airline, as opposed to Emirates.

Aside from the fact that Skywards keeps devaluing awards, the carrier’s earning rates for United aren’t great. A deep-discount business-class ticket nets 110% of the miles flown with Skywards, whereas this same ticket would earn 150% of the miles flown with Air Canada Aeroplan — a much better deal.

Furthermore, as of March 30, the two airlines have also enabled the ability to redeem miles on each other’s flights.

Before you get too excited, note that you can only redeem MileagePlus miles for Emirates flights that are booked on the same itinerary as a United flight from Newark to Dubai. There’s no indication that this condition will change any time soon, and unfortunately, first-class redemptions are off-limits to MileagePlus flyers.

MileagePlus offers variable pricing, so you’ll need to search across multiple dates to find the rates. That said, there isn’t much saver economy or business availability on United’s flight to Dubai, so you may end up redeeming for an “anytime” award with a mixed United and Emirates itinerary.

Meanwhile, Emirates Skywards now has access to United’s saver award availability. Emirates is pricing United awards according to a distance-based award chart, which is pasted below for your convenience.

One way distance (miles)
Economy class
Business class

0‑250
8,000
16,000

251‑500
10,000
20,000

501‑1,000
14,000
28,000

1,001‑2,000
20,000
40,000

2,001‑3,000
26,000
52,000

3,001‑4,000
32,000
64,000

4,001‑5,000
38,000
76,000

5,001‑6,000
44,000
88,000

6,001‑7,000
52,000
104,000

7,001‑15,000
60,000
120,000

While the award rates might seem attractive in certain distance bands, the taxes and additional surcharges will likely make these awards considerably less attractive, especially on international routes.

EMIRATES

For instance, a one-way ticket from Newark to London prices at 64,000 miles and a whopping $815.10 in taxes and fees.

Reciprocal lounge access

When United and Emirates first announced their so-called “historic partnership,” they shared that reciprocal lounge access would be coming soon.

Unfortunately, that benefit has yet to be implemented, and we’ll update this story when it is available.

Until then, United Polaris customers originating in Dubai won’t be able to use the Emirates business-class lounge. Those connecting in the Gulf metropolis should be able to use the Emirates lounge, since their connecting business-class flight will likely include access to the lounge (assuming that you didn’t purchase a “business-class special” fare.)

Connecting itineraries

This is perhaps the most basic level of coordination, but Emirates and United flyers can both benefit from the partnership by being able to book connecting flights beyond their airline’s respective hubs.

United customers can now purchase one-stop flights from Newark to an undisclosed number of Emirates destinations across the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This allows United to market tickets to cities it couldn’t otherwise reach on its own.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Meanwhile, Emirates passengers headed to or from the U.S. will enjoy additional connectivity beyond the carrier’s 12 domestic destinations. In fact, through the codeshare partnership, Emirates passengers can fly to more than 150 U.S. cities thanks to domestic United feed from Chicago, Houston or San Francisco.

All of these connecting itineraries can be purchased via United or Emirates. Thanks to a new interline agreement, your checked bags will even be transferred automatically between connecting flights, except at your first point of entry in the U.S.

Plus, if your flight gets delayed or canceled, you’ll have additional reaccommodation options on both carriers.

Bottom line

Despite years of hostility in the 2010s, United and Emirates have now buried the hatchet with a brand-new partnership.

The “historic” tie-up is being hailed as “game-changing,” but the actual details aren’t necessarily as lucrative as you might expect.

Loyalty benefits for MileagePlus members are limited to certain flights, while reciprocal lounge access hasn’t formally been unveiled yet.

Though you’ll now have more connecting opportunities than ever before, I’d love to see the two carriers deepen their partnership by adding elite benefits for frequent travelers and opening up more eligible routes for MileagePlus redemptions.

Related reading:

When is the best time to book flights for the cheapest airfare?
The best airline credit cards
What exactly are airline miles, anyway?
6 real-life strategies you can use when your flight is canceled or delayed
Maximize your airfare: The best credit cards for booking flights
The best credit cards to reach elite status
What are points and miles worth? TPG’s monthly valuations

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