With Emirates introducing a new Skywards Platinum tier, matching up to Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum in advance of the Qantas-Emirates alliance, business travellers have been taking a hard look at the new benefits unveiled as part of the alliance and comparing them between the two programs to see how they measure up.
One man with his finger on the frequent flyer pulse is Simon Chen, one of Emirates' most regular travellers and moderator of the Emirates Skywards forum on points-and-miles website FlyerTalk.
In the last twelve months Chen has flown over 60 flights with Emirates, with ninety percent in first class and the rest in business and economy.
And he's lukewarm about Emirates' Platinum offering: "the benefits are okay — not great, just okay," Chen told Australian Business Traveller.
Emirates' primo perk: First Class lounge access in Dubai
"By far the biggest advantage for Platinum members now is the ability to access the first class lounge in Dubai, plus the ability to bring a guest, irrespective of travel class," Chen observes.
"Previously, Gold members who were travelling business could bring a guest - but only into the business class lounge," notes Chen, although Emirates will be restoring Gold members' guest benefits when they travel in economy.
"It's not clear whether the driver for this was the Qantas partnership or by the relentless barrage of complaints at each and every lounge," Chen muses.
"Not a day would go by when a hapless lounge agent wouldn't be trying to appease an arm-waving Skywards Gold member who wanted to bring his partner into the lounge but couldn't, as they were both in economy."
"This has been one of the more sensitive issues for Gold card holders for the past 18-months or so. The Emirates/Qantas partnership meant that Emirates virtually had no choice, given that Qantas [Platinum] members were already entitled to first class lounge access."
Skywards Platinum: not great, but much closer to it than Gold
Overall, Chen reckons that "Emirates still hasn't got it right — but they just got a little bit closer. This is clearly a tier aimed at the premium cabin market and at 150,000 tier miles, it's at the upper end of the industry."
"Sadly, I don't think the new range of benefits is going to bode well for Gold or Silver members. The tier levels are now lopsided: 25K for Silver, 50K for Gold and 150K for Platinum. I wouldn't be surprised to see the qualification level for Gold increase to 75,000 tier miles."
And earning those tier and reward miles is still harder than in many other airline programs.
While Qantas Frequent Flyers will always earn one point per mile flown on Qantas, even in discount economy, Skywards members must purchase the more expensive Flex fares on Emirates or have their miles earned cut in half. Saver fares earn just 50 percent of miles flown.
"Most business travellers I talk with (who have to use a travel department or travel agent) wouldn't have a clue about Flex versus Saver fares, and often are shocked when they look at their Skywards statement and realise that a whole lot of flying didn't amount to much," Chen suggests.
Business travellers should sit back and consider their points and status strategy for the next year given the new Qantas-Emirates alliance, Chen says.
"I'm taking much more notice of where I book travel this year. One reason is due to the fact that we moved countries, so it makes more sense for me to push to a US carrier or program."
"And the second is that because Emirates doesn't really provide an incentive to continue to fly post 50K (and now 150K). Apart from earning miles, I don't quite see the point."
If you're a high-flying Emirates Skywards member, what's your take on Skywards Platinum? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.