Emirates Skywards – the essence of the loyalty programme. - Tomasz Makaruk

Emirates Skywards – the essence of the loyalty programme.

In search for a loyalty programme’s gold standard you should definitely get acquainted with the Emirates programme Skywards offer, as well as the whole ecosystem of its supporting programmes and activities.

Skywards is not only an attractive loyalty programme awarding members for their loyalty in connection with air travel and everyday purchases, but also a money-maker for the Emirates airline. As any other programme, it consists of the points (miles) earning stage and the stage of burning them. Gamification tiers – Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum – are also taken care of. Let’s begin the analysis according to the membership logic, i.e. with collecting the miles.

Earning miles

According to the Skywards programme principles members may collect Skywards miles and tier miles. Persons with active accounts may earn and collect Skywards miles for flights and for the use or purchase of qualifying services, goods and products of Emirates or partners, and tier miles for the qualifying flights. In order to earn miles, the Member must show the digital membership card, connect their account or provide the membership number during booking or check-in for a qualifying flight. The number of qualifying miles depends on the departure, destination, travel class and the tariff of each qualifying flight with Emirates or flydubai. Skywards miles are valid for three years since the date when a member takes a qualifying flight or makes a qualifying transaction with a partner.

Skywards miles expire (and are deducted from the member account) at the end of the member’s month of birth, three years after the date of the qualifying flight or transaction. The specific validity period of Skywards miles will depend on the member’s birthday, nevertheless it is never shorter than three years. However, any Skywards miles belonging to the member who at the day of expiry is at the Platinum tier, are extended until the day falling 2 (two) months after the date of the upcoming Platinum tier review. The purchased, gifted, sent and multiplied Skywards miles remain valid for at least 3 years since purchase. They will expire after three years, at the end of the receiving member’s month of birth. Extended Skywards miles remain valid for an extra 12 months since the expiry date. They will expire upon the end of that period. Reinstated Skywards miles remain valid for 12 months since the date of their purchase and will expire upon the end of that period.

The members may also use the Buy miles, Gift miles, Send miles, Extend miles, Reinstate miles or Multiply miles options – the services are provided through an external platform managed by Points.com Inc. Platinum and Gold tier members may purchase up to 200,000 miles in a calendar year. Silver and Blue tier members may purchase up to 100,000 miles in a calendar year. Purchased or received miles may be collected using the Family programme account. Tier miles cannot be purchased or gifted, which means that only the right to choose the award faster is subject to purchase, but not the Skywards member status. That contributes to the prestigious experience for the members. A programme status may only be obtained by purchasing flight tickets (in reality, the Silver or Gold statuses may also be obtained for signing contracts for certain credit cards issued by banks in the United Arab Emirates). Similarly, the tier miles validity cannot be extended or reinstated.

1/ Skywards – miles for flights. The most essential functionality, awarding for the flights taken with Emirates. Already at this tier, however, there’s a range of measures to make the member loyal and monetize them. The programme allows for buying miles and paid extension of their validity, multiply the points collected for the flights already taken or those planned, reinstatement of expired miles and a many other miles transactions providing added value to the Member. In certain cases, the points collected with an Emirates partner can be transferred or converted to Skywards miles, under the so called “Transfer Offer”. Transfer or conversion is possible only when: the member participates both in the Emirates Skywards programme and partner programme and when the partner points are sent from the partner account registered using full name of the member and transferred to the Emirates Skywards account registered using the same full name. The connected accounts must bear the same full name and birth date.

2/ Skywards “My family” – i.e. the Family Programme, allowing to collect miles together with family or friends. When joining the Family Programme account, members who are over 18 years old will be asked to select the share (anything between 0% and 100%) of Skywards miles collected on their individual account to be transferred to the Family Programme account. Any other unused Skywards miles that are not transferred to Family Programme account will remain on the individual Member Account. A family member may change their participation percentage at any time. An obvious downside of the Family Programme is the impossibility to collect tier miles. Skywards miles collected on the Family Programme account may be used solely to the benefit of the Family Head or Family Members who belong to the Family Programme account. Skywards miles collected on the Family Programme account may not be transferred back to the individual Member Account.

3/ Skysurfer – a loyalty programme for the youngest fliers. The programme allows to register children aged 2–17 and connect them to their parent’s or guardian’s account. As Skywards members, the children collect Skywards miles for each flight with Emirates and flydubai. They may pay with miles for their subsequent flights or use the partner privileges. By collecting miles, Skysurfers may transfer to Silver and Gold tiers, and consequently enjoy even more bonuses. Skysurfers have the right to use certain privileges, such as extra baggage and priority check. Skysurfers may be added to the account in the Family Programme only if the parent or guardian identified in their Skywards Skysurfers profile is the Family Head for the account in the Family Programme as well. All rules applicable to Skysurfers that pertain to the management of their accounts apply to the extent that they are Family Programme family members. Similarly, it is the Skysurfer’s parent or a guardian who selects (for them) what percentage of Skywards miles earned by such Skysurfer is to be collected on the Family Programme account.

4/ Skywards+, i.e. a subscription programme allowing to earn additional miles for the flights taken and other privileges, such as additional Skywards miles, Classic Rewards discount for flights, access to Emirates airport lounges for business class passengers, preferential mile spent rates and “Cash+Miles”, increased limits for checked baggage, flight class upgrade for a promotional number of miles at Advanced and Premium tiers and many others. The programme consists of three segments: Classic, Advanced, Premium. In the latter segment, members get 20% of additional tier miles as well.

Skywards+ was discussed in an interview with Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher responsible for Skywards programme in Let’s Talk Loyalty podcast hosted by Paula Thomas, whose transcript is available here

Dr. Nejib Ben Khedher: I think the jury is out to call it or not a paid loyalty program, because I think of it as something that really is an add on to our existing loyalty program with the different tiers that we have based on your travel activity and the tier miles that you’re acquiring. We thought about the different tiers and see, can we overlay the existing program with something else that could bring value to our members.

For example, for Blue members (basic tier) as part of „Skywards+”, allowing them to use certain privileges and benefits such as access to a special lounge or additional baggage allowance. So that is much more catered to them on top of the bonus miles that they would receive. And then the discounted upgrade that they would get. And then for the higher tier members who are truly wanting to retain their tier status, we’re offering more of the premium package that allows you to have 20% more tier miles on every flight you fly and therefore making it easier for you to retain your tier.

Emirates Skywards – the essence of the loyalty programme. – Tomasz Makaruk

5/ Skywards Everyday – i.e. earning Skywards miles for everyday purchases. Emirates Skywards members may obtain Skywards miles for transactions made with the programme partners participating in the offer, listed in the Skywards Everyday mobile app. According to the terms and conditions, in order to collect Skywards miles for purchases at the partner points, run the Skywards Everyday mobile app, select the participating partner point and ask the personnel to enter the required details and the PIN code. Moreover, in order to obtain the Skywards miles, Emirates Skywards members must have the localisation service active on their mobile device. This, however, turns out not to be actually necessary, and when the payment is made with a payment card registered in the Emirates IT system as well, Skywards miles are granted automatically.

6/ Use of partner offers – the programme works with several partners, including banks, hotels, stores and lifestyle partners as well as car rentals. In exchange for purchases with the partners, Skywards miles can be collected.

Burning miles

The members can redeem Skywards miles for rewards. These include mainly:

1/ Emirates Classic Rewards – i.e. redeeming Skywards miles for Emirates or flydubai airline tickets.

2/ Cash + miles – i.e. any combination of cash and Skywards miles for Emirates tickets. The option is not available for Skysurfers.

3/ Upgrade of Emirates or flydubai flight class for miles – i.e. upgrade to Business Class (with both airlines) or First Class (with Emirates). Members may use miles to upgrade their flight class from Economy to Premium Economy Class, from Economy to Business Class, from Premium Economy to Business Class or from Business to First Class. All Emirates Skywards members may redeem their miles for instantaneous free upgrade of flight class at the check-in (subject to availability). Platinum, Gold and Silver tier members may redeem miles for instantaneous free upgrade of flight class on-board (subject to availability). On Emirates flights with multiple sectors, a Member can redeem Skywards Miles for a flight upgrade for one sector at a time. If a Member wishes to continue flying in the higher class, additional Skywards Miles will need to be redeemed for the next travel sector. Due to limited number of flights in Premium Economy class, Classic Rewards flights in premium economy class and upgrade of class for miles from economy to premium economy class are currently not available.

4/ Skywards Exclusives – i.e. a platform allowing to redeem miles for experiences (mostly tickets to sports events) at a pre-established mile rate or make auction bids to purchase tickets to specific events in return for using a specific number of miles indicated in their offer (provided that the bid is the highest).

Emirates Skywards – the essence of the loyalty programme. – Tomasz Makaruk

Source: Print screen of the sports event participation offer. https://exclusives.skywards.com/ Accessed on: 26 February 2024.

Gamification tiers

As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, the programme offers four gamification tiers: Blue (granted when joining), Silver (granted upon obtaining 25,000 tier miles or taking 25 flights), Gold (granted upon obtaining 25,000 tier miles or taking 25 flights), and Platinum (granted upon obtaining 150,000 tier miles, including taking at least 1 business or first class flight). Membership benefits differ in the number of extra miles and tier miles granted at the moment of their collection, service priority at the Emirates contact centre, weight (and starting from Gold tier also the number of pieces) of extra checked baggage, access to business class lounge (for Silver and Gold tier members) and the first class lounge (for Platinum tier members) as well as many other less prominent benefits.

The picture above shows an accurately designed and smoothly implemented system; however, there are several areas for improvement.

What raises concerns:

  1. Skywards miles are granted upon taking a flight (in reality within 48 hours), but are deducted from the member account when a Classic Reward or Cash+Miles flight is booked. There is a clear asymmetry in the relation, likely resulting from the specific nature of IT systems’ integration, causing also other drawbacks.
  2. The mobile app leaves much to be desired. The loyalty programme module does not offer session maintenance, which means that you need to enter login and password each time (there are no biometric login or PIN functionalities). Simultaneously, the application itself in its “non-loyalty” areas is unstable, which impacts the overall programme experience.
  3. The rate used to convert Skywards miles into cash applied for Emirates or flydubai tickets’ purchase in the Cash+Mile system, as well as the connected additional services, is subject to changes at any time, at the Emirates’ sole discretion. This results from the local legal system.
  4. Flight class upgrade for miles is possible only with a single segment of travel, while the same functionality for cash is possible only with all segments of one-way travel taken together (in reality subject to special offers, if one week before the flight date there are still free business or first class seats. Then Emirates and flydubai send upgrade offers at promotional prices for single flight segments).

Business Rewards +

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Emirates Skywards is an exemplary loyalty programme that proved successful on the market. Alongside, there is the Business Rewards+ programme addressed to organizations, irrespective of the number of their employees. The enrolled employees will receive Skywards miles for the flights taken. Passengers who are Emirates Skywards members will receive Skywards miles. They will also get tier miles for each flight they take. If the passenger is not a member of Emirates Skywards, they will not receive Skywards miles, but their organization will receive Business Rewards points. For each flight the employee takes with Emirates, the employer gets Business Rewards points according to the rate of 1 Business Rewards point for each USD 1 spent on the basic ticket price, including the carrier fees. Business Rewards points may be redeemed for flights and flight class upgrades with Emirates. They may be used to book business trips or offered as a reward for their employees.


Emirates Skywards – the essence of the loyalty programme - Tomasz Makaruk

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