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Getting first class rewards flights (I'm failing)

Getting first class rewards flights (I'm failing)

Old May 23, 22, 8:54 am
  #1  
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Getting first class rewards flights (I'm failing)

I live in the UK and have made quite a few London to Cape Town return flights in fully paid first class before the pandemic so I have a pretty decent number of Skywards points in my account plus a whole load more that I could convert across from the Amex rewards points on my Amex card. My problem however is that I have been unable to find any rewards flights in First class despite searching pretty much every week for the last 6 months(*). I'm getting very familiar with the "there are no flights in that fare class for the dates selected" from the online search engine on Emirates site (or whatever the exact wording is on that message). I'm currently trying to find flights for outbound January 2023 inbound April 2023 and again I never see any flights available in first and in fact even business class seems to be harder to find than it was a few months ago. So, I have a few questions on strategy....

1 - Am I likely to have any more luck phoning Emirates? Do the systems the customer services people use have access to extra stuff or are they essentially doing the same searches that I could do myself via the Emirates web site?

2 - Is booking a rewards flight in business and then hoping for an auto-upgrade, or even better an immediate upgrade offer after booking, likely to get me what I want? The upgrade doesn't necessarily need to be a rewards upgrade, I would be willing to buy a paid upgrade as long as the total cost ended up yielding me some sort of saving and with current ticket prices of over £7,000 per return trip there is a lot of scope for savings. I read that rewards upgrades are constrained by the same seat availability restrictions as the rewards flights so I'm thinking that if I don't see a first class rewards seat on a particular flight then a rewards upgrade won't be available either but maybe a paid one would be? If I go for the paid upgrade strategy I suppose it depends on how expensive a paid upgrade is likely to be. Would simply looking at the difference between advertised first and business fares on a given ticket give me a good idea of the upgrade price or does Emirates tend to factor in a premium or (dare I dream?) a discount when calculating the price of an upgrade?

3 - Is there some other strategy that I've overlooked that people have used that might get me what I want? I'll mention again that it doesn't need to be 100% rewards-funded (plus the tax and other fees obviously) booking, anything that gets me some reasonable return on the miles I redeem would be good especially as I have about 40,000 skywards miles expiring at the end of June. I've even considered buying a paid business class ticket and then hoping for a rewards upgrade to first but I suspect the seat availability restrictions on seats in the first cabin mentioned above might make the rewards booking business plus paid upgrade-to-first route more likely to succeed if the numbers add up.

I would be very grateful for any comments, insight and/or personal experiences anyone could share here. I read all these articles and videos from people about how they booked an Emirates first class rewards flight and I'm totally baffled as to how they ever managed it because I have run probably over 100 searches in the last 6 months, all with flexible dates so each search showed me a 7 by 7 grid of dates, and I have never once seen availability of a single rewards seat in first class. I've tried all sorts of strategies to try and spot this mythical creature - searches for flights on the day of my search or the next few days to try and catch last minute openings, searches as far out in the future as the search engine would go to try and catch long lead time bookings, and pretty much everything in between - but right now I'm more optimistic about spotting a Unicorn in my back garden than ever seeing a first class rewards flight that I could book!

(*) Obviously I do realise that Emirates flights were shut down for many weeks after South Africa first announced Omicron to the world but during those times I was searching for flights many months out for dates when the Emirates systems were still showing a full complement of paid fares available for booking.
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Old May 23, 22, 9:03 am
  #2  
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Phoning won't help.

Try looking for flights from AMS. Availability tends to be better from there than the UK, and it's only a short hop over. However, the Cape Town flights may be your problem. I think it's still one flight per day, on a B777, so very few F seats even for sale.
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Old May 23, 22, 9:27 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jan 2019
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I wonder how upgrades are even offered after tickets are bought. Friend and I got business class roundtrip with same fare and I managed to upgrade to F both ways with miles. At the moment, the flight back has 3 out of 8 seats occupied as well (we're flying back later this week). However, he can't get his ticket upgraded - the option is not there for him. I'm a Skywards member since 2014 and he just created his account. Maybe it's related? Just a guess though.
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Old May 23, 22, 9:30 am
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Originally Posted by DYKWIA View Post
Phoning won't help.

Try looking for flights from AMS. Availability tends to be better from there than the UK, and it's only a short hop over. However, the Cape Town flights may be your problem. I think it's still one flight per day, on a B777, so very few F seats even for sale.
Thanks so much. I think you could be right. Funnily enough I was looking at the Emirates site last night and got to a page about its partnership with SAA where it said 3 flights daily between Cape Town and Dubai. That's obviously a page they forgot to update and presumably gives an idea of what capacity was in the good old days. I'm not sure if pre-pandemic any of those 3 flights were operated by SAA directly, I suspect not or if yes then surely only 1 of the 3, so that puts Emirates at at least one-half if not one-third of its pre-pandemic capacity to CPT. Ouch!

That would also explain the crazy-high prices for paid tickets I suspect. For many months now I have been seeing prices between 50% and 80% higher than what I was paying pre-pandemic.
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Old May 23, 22, 10:22 am
  #5  
 
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Originally Posted by JulianFP View Post
Thanks so much. I think you could be right. Funnily enough I was looking at the Emirates site last night and got to a page about its partnership with SAA where it said 3 flights daily between Cape Town and Dubai. That's obviously a page they forgot to update and presumably gives an idea of what capacity was in the good old days. I'm not sure if pre-pandemic any of those 3 flights were operated by SAA directly, I suspect not or if yes then surely only 1 of the 3, so that puts Emirates at at least one-half if not one-third of its pre-pandemic capacity to CPT. Ouch!

That would also explain the crazy-high prices for paid tickets I suspect. For many months now I have been seeing prices between 50% and 80% higher than what I was paying pre-pandemic.
None of the three daily to CPT (or four daily to JNB, or daily to DUR) were operated by SA. It was a codeshare.

Yes, capacity is constrained. A combination of constrained ops at DXB due to runway maintenance, and, Iím told, insufficient crew to operate the entire fleet.
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Old May 23, 22, 1:25 pm
  #6  
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Originally Posted by IntrepidAfrican2 View Post
None of the three daily to CPT (or four daily to JNB, or daily to DUR) were operated by SA. It was a codeshare.

Yes, capacity is constrained. A combination of constrained ops at DXB due to runway maintenance, and, Iím told, insufficient crew to operate the entire fleet.

From my own experience with that route, I would suggest the following to get the best chance of using Skywards to fly F:
1. Buy a J return ticket (remember that Special is not upgradeable and Saver only at check in, so it needs to be a Flexor Flex+ ticket to get the best opportunity).
2. Check beforehand if F awards are available on either leg (London/ DXB and / or DXB/CPT). Upgrades come from the same bucket as awards (Z in this case). Consider flying out of LGW or even AMS. I find LHR is much more difficult than LGW. AMS is even better, but of course requires a positioning flight.
3. I have found that more often than not you can upgrade the UK/DXB segment immediately. The problem is always the DXB/CPT leg. Only once (and quite recently actually) did I find a 'through upgrade LGW/DXB/CPT' available.
4. Keep watching for that elusive DXB/CPT upgrade to appear. Chances are that it won't, but I have almost always succeeded to get a 'space available' upgrade in the lounge.


Of course this way you spend more Skywards (two separate legs cost more miles than a through upgrade) but at least you can use them. LGW/DXB upgrade to F from a J Flex is 34000 miles I think so that takes care of most of your expiring 40K miles. And using miles to upgrade is in my view a better use than a straight redemption.

It works the same the other way around, I currently have a DXB/AMS F upgrade and am watching for the CPT/DXB one. If it appears I'll call EK and ask for it to be treated as a 'through upgrade', otherwise I'll take the hit and try the lounge. The flight is in 3 weeks time and is F4 A4, so I am hopeful.

Quite a few years ago, there were three CPT rotations: 772/773, 770/771 and 778/779. The latter was dropped long before the pandemic. Now we only have 772/771 which means that the aircraft does not do it's previous 2 hour turnaround but lands at 11:30 and stays in CPT until 18:30.
There have been regular rumours that the second rotation would be reinstated, but this has not happened, probably because of the runway maintenance at DXB and staff shortages. Also still no chauffeur drive in CPT, which is a pain in the neck. At least the lounge is open which is not the case in JNB.
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Old May 23, 22, 9:21 pm
  #7  
 
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Originally Posted by thijsseh View Post
From my own experience with that route, I would suggest the following to get the best chance of using Skywards to fly F:
1. Buy a J return ticket (remember that Special is not upgradeable and Saver only at check in, so it needs to be a Flexor Flex+ ticket to get the best opportunity).
2. Check beforehand if F awards are available on either leg (London/ DXB and / or DXB/CPT). Upgrades come from the same bucket as awards (Z in this case). Consider flying out of LGW or even AMS. I find LHR is much more difficult than LGW. AMS is even better, but of course requires a positioning flight.
3. I have found that more often than not you can upgrade the UK/DXB segment immediately. The problem is always the DXB/CPT leg. Only once (and quite recently actually) did I find a 'through upgrade LGW/DXB/CPT' available.
4. Keep watching for that elusive DXB/CPT upgrade to appear. Chances are that it won't, but I have almost always succeeded to get a 'space available' upgrade in the lounge.


Of course this way you spend more Skywards (two separate legs cost more miles than a through upgrade) but at least you can use them. LGW/DXB upgrade to F from a J Flex is 34000 miles I think so that takes care of most of your expiring 40K miles. And using miles to upgrade is in my view a better use than a straight redemption.

It works the same the other way around, I currently have a DXB/AMS F upgrade and am watching for the CPT/DXB one. If it appears I'll call EK and ask for it to be treated as a 'through upgrade', otherwise I'll take the hit and try the lounge. The flight is in 3 weeks time and is F4 A4, so I am hopeful.

Quite a few years ago, there were three CPT rotations: 772/773, 770/771 and 778/779. The latter was dropped long before the pandemic. Now we only have 772/771 which means that the aircraft does not do it's previous 2 hour turnaround but lands at 11:30 and stays in CPT until 18:30.
There have been regular rumours that the second rotation would be reinstated, but this has not happened, probably because of the runway maintenance at DXB and staff shortages. Also still no chauffeur drive in CPT, which is a pain in the neck. At least the lounge is open which is not the case in JNB.
you can still upgrade J savers at any time if there is a available
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Old May 24, 22, 12:44 am
  #8  
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Originally Posted by m3red View Post
you can still upgrade J savers at any time if there is a available
Yeah - I was confused about that!
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Old May 24, 22, 1:08 am
  #9  
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Originally Posted by DYKWIA View Post
Yeah - I was confused about that!
I was clearly confused as well. Still am, actually. There is some type of ticket that is only upgradeable at checkin, I thought. Maybe Y saver then? I'll try to find it.

Got it!
*Emirates Special tickets can’t be upgraded. Business Class Saver Fare tickets can be upgraded at any time up to six hours before departure. Economy Class Saver tickets can only be upgraded at the time of online check‑in, at the airport or on board.

So as I read the above (copied from the EK website) J saver cannot be upgraded as 'any available seat' at check-in, lounge or on board. That's a heads up for the OP then as far as my suggested strategy is concerned.

Last edited by thijsseh; May 24, 22 at 1:16 am
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Old May 24, 22, 9:11 am
  #10  
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Originally Posted by thijsseh View Post
So as I read the above (copied from the EK website) J saver cannot be upgraded as 'any available seat' at check-in, lounge or on board.
I really hope you're reading that wrong! That would be another serious degradation if you can't upgrade J Savers at the airport or on board.

I'm hoping it means that from 6 hours before, you won't be able to upgrade online... you'll have to do it at the airport or on board
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Old May 24, 22, 11:51 am
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Originally Posted by DYKWIA View Post
I really hope you're reading that wrong! That would be another serious degradation if you can't upgrade J Savers at the airport or on board.

I'm hoping it means that from 6 hours before, you won't be able to upgrade online... you'll have to do it at the airport or on board
correct - they will make you wait til t-60 if busy but they will upgrade J savers
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Old May 25, 22, 7:23 am
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Originally Posted by m3red View Post
correct - they will make you wait til t-60 if busy but they will upgrade J savers
OK, that's good to hear. I just copy / pasted from the website and taken that literally (I am not a lawyer but a bit Aspergers), it says that you cannot upgrade after T-6 hours. On line or airport not mentioned....
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Old May 26, 22, 11:59 am
  #13  
 
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Just picking a random set of dates in September/October....

DUB-DXB-CPT is $9143 RT in F. BA, for what it's worth, is $4092 through LHR and JNB with J on the DUB-LHR and JNB-CPT flights. (I know BA F is not EK F.)
AMS-DXB-CPT is $7771 RT in F. ($4096 on BA.)
CDG-DXB-CPT is $8487 RT in F. ($3820 on BA.)
BRU-DXB-CPT is $7610 RT in F.
LGW-DXB-CPT is $8940 RT in F. LHR-DXB-CPT is $8989. BA through JNB is $6327.

You get the idea. There's a pretty wide range of F fares in cities around London, and you might prefer to fly a cheap Avios ticket from London to that city and fly in F from there. You can also fly BA in F for much cheaper, but you obviously will get a significantly diminished experience.
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Old May 26, 22, 12:11 pm
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Originally Posted by steveholt View Post
Just picking a random set of dates in September/October....

DUB-DXB-CPT is $9143 RT in F. BA, for what it's worth, is $4092 through LHR and JNB with J on the DUB-LHR and JNB-CPT flights. (I know BA F is not EK F.)
AMS-DXB-CPT is $7771 RT in F. ($4096 on BA.)
CDG-DXB-CPT is $8487 RT in F. ($3820 on BA.)
BRU-DXB-CPT is $7610 RT in F.
LGW-DXB-CPT is $8940 RT in F. LHR-DXB-CPT is $8989. BA through JNB is $6327.

You get the idea. There's a pretty wide range of F fares in cities around London, and you might prefer to fly a cheap Avios ticket from London to that city and fly in F from there. You can also fly BA in F for much cheaper, but you obviously will get a significantly diminished experience.
It is a very wide spread. Did you try CPH?

Regardless, Iíd rather fork over or fly less if itís a binary EK or BA choice. BA is simply not worth a penny of aggravation for me. Stuffed me over too many times.
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Old May 26, 22, 12:44 pm
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Originally Posted by IntrepidAfrican2 View Post
It is a very wide spread. Did you try CPH?

Regardless, Iíd rather fork over or fly less if itís a binary EK or BA choice. BA is simply not worth a penny of aggravation for me. Stuffed me over too many times.
I would also prefer to avoid BA if I can. But OP has BA listed in his programs, and at about half the cost, I'd consider it.
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