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Emirates First Class is not bookable with Alaska Airlines miles for flights past March 28, 2015. There has been a workaround, but I think all Alaska agents have gotten the memo not to use it.

I reached out to Alaska Airlines for a statement on what’s going on. This is from a spokeswoman for Alaska:

It’s not a glitch. Emirate awards show in our system if there are a minimum of three seats available per flight. The minimum threshold is due to the connection in place between Emirates and our shopping system vendor. We are actively investigating work-arounds, but there is not an immediate solution.

There’s a lot I find odd.

  • How is it “not a glitch” that award space only appears when there are 3+ seats available?
  • There is an immediate solution. “The old system.” But Alaska agents have been told not to use it.
  • I can’t completely verify that the statement is true.

I checked into whether only days with 3+ Emirates First Class seats appear to have space on alaskaair.com. It holds true for Houston to Dubai flights this month.

For instance, here’s the calendar for award space for 1 person in First Class.

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Any day that says 90k + $20 has award space in Emirates First Class. Here’s the same calendar for 3 people and all the 90k + $20 days remain.

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That means that it is true that the only days in March that show 1 Emirates First Class seat from Houston to Dubai show 3+.

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I can’t verify that’s true on every route on every date though I haven’t found a date with 1 First Class Emirates seat that doesn’t also have 3 seats.

But I still don’t think Alaska Airlines is correctly displaying Emirates award space even on these days. Expert Flyer and Alaska award space just don’t match up.

For instance, March 26 shows 2 First Class award seats on Expert Flyer. Alaskaair.com shows 3. Alaska is showing a seat that I’m not sure exists. (I don’t know whether you can book it because I don’t have 270k Alaska miles.)

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March 29 (and many later days) show 3 First Class award seats on Expert Flyer and none on alaskaair.com. Alaska is definitely not showing space that does exist.

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Something stinks with how Alaska Airlines is displaying Emirates award space. I don’t know whose fault this initial screw up is. Alaska blames its “shopping system vendor.” (Let’s all thank that vendor for the extra First Class award seat from Houston to Dubai on March 26.)

But I place the blame firmly on Alaska for not allowing its “old system,” which as far as we know still works perfectly, to be used by agents to book Emirates First Class award space that Emirates has released to Alaska.

Thanks to Alaska for commenting on the issue, though it sheds no light on the situation.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Update 2/18/15: I cancelled my award reservation in Emirates First Class using Alaska miles. I was invited to a wedding that changed my plans. I tried to change my reservation to different dates.

I called up and asked for the change. The agent said the date I wanted had no First Class award space even though Z = 3. I asked her to look in the old system, and she said a supervisor had told her not to.

I called twice more, running my little social-engineering trick of “I just got cut off trying to make a change. The agent had found the space in the old system.” Both agents said they couldn’t use the old system. In the end, I canceled my award because it was 61 days before departure, and free changes and cancellations only last until 60 days before departure.

I reached out to Alaska Airlines asking for a statement on what’s going on because this is what they told One Mile at a Time in January:

First thank you for bringing this to our attention. When you first contacted me, we thought that perhaps your search return was limited because of the original query. However, in digging deeper into this issue, we learned that we were wrong and quickly launched an investigation with our vendors to identify and try to resolve what we believe is a system glitch. We have a strong partnership with Emirates and our mutual customers have been enjoying award travel on both airlines fora number of years. I assure you that Mileage Plan™ members have been able to book First Class awards on Emirates without issue and we are working to restore that functionality. We apologize for any inconvenience this is causing our customers and assure you and your readers that we are working with Emirates to resolve the technical glitch and hope to have it fixed soon.

I will update if I hear back from them. My take is that maybe it is Emirates fault that its First Class award space isn’t showing up on Alaska’s main system, but it is definitely Alaska’s fault that we can’t book the space if they are telling their agents not to use the old system, which displays the award space perfectly well.

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One Mile at a Time broke the news that Emirates First Class award space does not appear on alaskaair.com for any flights beyond March 28, 2015. Business Class and economy class award space does appear until the end of the bookable schedule (mid-December.)

He speculated that the Alaska/Emirates partnership might be ending or at least the chance to book Emirates First Class beyond March 28, 2015 might never again exist. My interpretation is similar: I suspect Alaska permanently wants to block Emirates First Class award redemptions for travel beyond March 28. (Any flights already booked for travel beyond March 28 are safe.)

But just now I was able to book myself an award in Emirates First Class for April. Following my steps, you should be able to book yourself Emirates First Class through mid-December, the end of the schedule.

Being able to book Emirates First Class with Alaska miles is a BIG DEAL because Emirates First Class on the A380 is one of the nicest products in the sky, and until recently, its A380 was the only commercial airline that offered First Class passengers the opportunity to shower onboard.

I flew Emirates First Class on a 3.5 hour hop from Auckland to Sydney and was blown away. Here is the first part of that trip report, and my video inside the shower spa.

Why Alaska Miles?

I desperately want to get back into Emirates First Class because Auckland to Sydney was the best flight of my life. The best way to fly Emirates First Class is with Alaska Airlines miles. Alaska charges 90,000 miles one way to Dubai and 100,000 to Africa or Asia.

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Unfortunately you cannot use Alaska miles for all Emirates routes. Your award needs to start or end in North America and cannot go to Australia.

Alaska does not collect fuel surcharges on Emirates awards. You just pay low taxes + $12.50 per one way partner award + a $15 phone fee.

The Problem

Someone is blocking Emirates First Class award space from appearing on alaskaair.com for flights after March 28. It’s probably Alaska, but it might be Emirates.

You can search Emirates First Class award space on Expert Flyer, a paid service, that I explained how to search here.

The fare bucket to search is Z. This is where it gets a little bit weird.

  • If Z = 1, Alaska may have access to 1 award seat in Emirates First Class.
  • If Z = 2, Alaska may have access to 2 award seats in Emirates First Class.
  • If Z = 2, Alaska definitely has access to at least 1 award seat in Emirates First Class.

So I looked for dates with Z = 2.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 11.23.23 AM
The search screen on Expert Flyer

 

In these search results, you can see that the Emirates flight from Houston to Dubai on April 19 has Z = 2, but on April 20 only has Z = 1. That means Alaska definitely has at least one award seat on the Emirates flight for April 19.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 11.23.54 AM

But that seat does not appear online. Online the April 19 flight only has economy and Business space.

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The Solution

This is why this hobby is amazing. As commentors despaired in the One Mile at a Time comment thread, commentor Carlos provided the solution.

After a lot of [hang up call again], I was able to book a F award flying on april. After getting the same answer that there was no F available (even though in EF Z=2), the magic sentence was to ask if the search could be made on the old system and voilà, space was found.

The “old system” is the magic phrase.

Commentors Chris and Tom quickly chimed in that it worked for them, and it worked for me just now!

My Experience

I picked out flights from Houston to Dubai and Dubai to Bangkok with a day and a half in Dubai. You can get free stopovers on Alaska one way awards on Emirates flights.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 11.24.34 AM

This is going to be 15 hours in the A380 First Class and then six more hours a day and a half later.

For both flights, I found Z = 2 space.

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I called Alaska Airlines at 800-252-7522 and politely told the agent I wanted to fly First Class from Houston to Dubai and then Dubai to Bangkok in First Class.

She searched and came back excited, but it turned out there was space on the flights I had in mind in Business Class but not First Class.

It is important to note that apparently the agents have no idea that the website and their system only show Emirates First Class award space until March 28.

I tried Carlos’ trick.

“Hmm…I really want to fly First Class. I’ve heard that if you check your old system, there might be space available.”

She hemmed and hawed and eventually said she couldn’t do it. I thanked her and hung up after the six minute call. For the second call I had a different strategy.

The successful eight-minute call started out like this:

[in a friendly voice]

“Hi, I want to fly Emirates First Class from Houston to Bangkok. I was just on the line with another agent, and she had found the space and given me the flight info when my phone was disconnected. She said she found the space in the old system. Can I give you the flight info?”

When I said “old system,” this agent actually interjected, “That’s the right way.”

She took the flight info that I had found on Expert Flyer and disappeared for a few minutes, coming back to tell me that she had found the award space in First Class and it would cost 100,000 miles. Success!

I booked the flight on the spot. She gave me an Alaska and an Emirates confirmation number. Twenty minutes later, my confirmation email appeared from Alaska. I went to the Emirates website to make sure they can see my reservation, and they can! I am all set for travel.

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Bottom Line

Hat tip to One Mile at a Time for uncovering the possible end of the Alaska/Emirates partnership at least as far as First Class awards. Hat tip to Carlos for uncovering the trick to book Emirates First Class on flights beyond March 28.

When calling Alaska to book the award, the magic words are “old system,” and I recommend starting the call with a white lie about having just been disconnected after an agent found space through the old system. That may arouse less suspicion and make the agent feel comfortable that her colleague thinks it’s OK to use the old system.

Now there are a couple possibilities:

  1. This could just be a glitch, and Alaska may resume showing Emirates First Class space for flights March 29 and later. In that case, this post is nearly useless.
  2. This blocking could be intentional and could get worse by an outright prohibition on booking Emirates First Class that becomes widely known among Alaska phone agents. In that case, use the trick in this post ASAP if you’re hoping to fly Emirates First Class on an A380.

Alaska has no cancellation fee more than 60 days before departure and a manageable cancellation fee of $125 after that, so somewhat speculative bookings may be prudent if you fear that possibility 2 is more likely.

Book your ticket with your Arrival Plus and you can then remove the taxes and fees from your statement by redeeming Arrival miles.

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Are you going to book Emirates First Class now?

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Emirates is releasing two First Class seats on its A380 flights from San Francisco and Houston to Dubai on a ton of days in Winter 2015.

My flight in Emirates First Class was my favorite ever because of the over-the-top service and amenities, like two onboard shower spas.

At the MileValue dinner, when I shared these five tips, a reader (wish I could remember a name for credit here) shared the tip that Emirates First Class award space on its A380s was wide open from San Francisco and Houston.

You can search Emirates award space at alaskaair.com and book it with Alaska Airlines miles with no fuel surcharges. You can get Alaska miles by opening the Alaska Airlines credit cards or by transferring SPG Starpoints to Alaska Airlines miles.

  • How good is award space on the Emirates A380s?
  • What if you don’t live in San Francisco or Houston?
  • How many Alaska Airlines miles do you need?
  • What about free stopovers on the award?

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You can take up to three showers in the First Class Shower Spa onboard Emirates A380s on a single award that costs only 100,00 Alaska Airlines miles. Emirates Airlines First Class is the standard for luxury as the only airline with two showers onboard in which the 16 First Class passengers can freshen up.

In January 2013, I flew Emirates First Class from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia–one of three tag flights between New Zealand and Australia.

I enjoyed the chauffeur service, lounge, onboard bar and meal service, suite, and the shower.

I have wanted to get back into Emirates First Class on a longer flight since then, so I started collecting Alaska Airlines miles, which are the means by which Americans can take a 7-mile-high shower.

Since opening three Alaska Airlines personal cards and two business cards, I have 140,000 Alaska Airlines miles.

Alaska charges only 90,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to the Middle East or India and only 100,000 miles one way to Africa, East Asia, or Europe. It’s quite simple to book over 24 hours worth of Emirates First Class flights on a single one way award, and I’ve even found a routing that gets you three Emirates A380 First Class flights on a single award.

  • How can you get Alaska Airlines miles?
  • Where can you search Emirates award space?
  • How can you maximize an Emirates First Class award with Alaska miles?
  • What routing features three Emirates A380 flights?
  • What are the stopover rules for Alaska awards?

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Update: See the comments for reports that fuel surcharges are being collected by JAL on Emirates flights.

Yesterday I panned the Emirates frequent flyer program for its exorbitant miles prices and fuel surcharges to enjoy Emirates Business and First Class.

But flying Emirates First Class on an A380 is awesome–there’s an onboard shower and bar–so I want to give everyone the cheapest ways to use miles to put a truly luxury experience within reach.

Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite
Fully Flat Bed in Your Emirates First Class Suite

There are two programs that offer Emirates First Class and Business Class redemptions at reasonable rates:

  • Japan Airlines Mileage Bank
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Each program offers a better rate in certain situations, but both offer sweet spots that get you into Emirates First Class and Business Class at reasonable miles prices with no fuel surcharges. And you can quickly get the miles needed in each program even if you don’t currently have an account with either airline and never plan to fly to Japan or Alaska.

What are the redemption prices for Emirates First and Business Class with Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles? When do you use one program, and when do you use the other. How can you get Japan Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles?

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The newest Membership Rewards airline partner is Emirates Skyward miles. To celebrate the partnership, from now until November 22, 2013, you can transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards to 1,250 Emirates miles, a 25% transfer bonus.

The bonus is coded into the transfer page.

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My first thought was: this is a fantastic way to get into Emirates First Class on an A380, the only plane with an onboard shower–that I flew this January from Auckland to Sydney.

Is this your ticket to showering at 35,000 feet? Are there sweet spots with Emirates miles?

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Chauffeur Service

Pre-Departure Services and Emirates Club Auckland

Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed

Emirates First: Service and Food

Emirates First: Shower Spa

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Emirates 413
Auckland (AKL) – Sydney (SYD)
Depart: 6:40 PM on Saturday, January 12
Arrive: 8:05 PM
Duration: 3:25
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 3A (First Class)

There’s one reason why Emirates First Class on an A380 is famous: the on board shower. The eight-mile-high shower was my second favorite part of the flight–the quality of the service was my favorite–and certainly the hardest to replicate again soon.

There are two showers on an Emirates A380, at the front of the first class cabin on either side of the stairs.

From seatguru.com

The showers can be scheduled on a first-come, first-showered basis. Knowing this, I asked the flight attendant who seated me to schedule the first available time for me, which was just after take off.

When the shower was ready for me, a flight attendant came to my seat. He told me to collect anything I wanted to take into the shower. I grabbed a change of clothes and camera and followed him. Everything I needed for the actual shower–shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, towels–was in the shower spa.

The spa was immaculately clean and awaiting my arrival. The spa is spacious. One wall is taken up by a large mirror.

Next to the mirror is a monitor tracking the flight’s progress identical to the one at the bar in the back.

On the far wall was a selection of toiletries and other spa materials likes a razor and slippers. There were two lines of toiletries: Relax and Revive. I chose Revive to use and took the Relax for the rest of my trip.

Continuing around the wall was the toilet.

Just to the left of the toilet was the large sink and mirror with its tower of ten hand towels.

To sum up my thoughts of everything before the shower, this is a very nice bathroom. It’s quite a bit nicer and larger than my bathroom on the ground–not to mention cleaner though I don’t have two full-time attendants like the Emirates spa showers.

But Emirates First Class isn’t about the bathroom; it’s about the shower.

The shower is a bit on the small side, but it is in no way claustrophobic, and there is even a bench inside in case you get tired of standing during your five-minute shower.

The shower head is a beautiful handheld shower head. The pressure was fairly low, enough that you might complain a bit if you were in a hotel, but you are on a plane, so the pressure suffices.

Also pictured is the timer for the shower. You get exactly five minutes of water. You can hang out in the spa as long as you want, and you can even stay in the shower as long as you want, but you get five minutes of water, measured on the meter on the wall.

With one minute fifteen seconds left, the water automatically shuts off to alert you that you are almost out of time.

You can restart the water by touching the on/off button pictured below. You can also turn the water off at any point to conserve water. I turned the water off while I lathered up, and I was completely finished by the time my 75-second warning came. That meant I had a chance to just stand there and enjoy the warm water.

I mentioned that the water pressure was weak, but the temperature range is superb. Overall it was quite a pleasant shower. If only the shower had somehow ironed my clothes, my “after” photo might be more presentable. ;)

I probably spent 15 minutes in the spa area, marveling, showering, and getting refreshed for my arrival.

In my mind, the shower is not a gimmick. I had had to check out of my hostel early the morning of my flight, so I hadn’t had a chance to shower yet. The onboard shower gave me a great chance to arrive in Sydney feeling great instead of gross. And I always feel a bit off after longhaul flights, and a shower before landing would change all that.

Here’s a video I made of the shower area to give you a better feel for it. Don’t worry. It is safe for work.

Recap

The star of the Emirates show is the shower. The shower is awesome and not a gimmick. The shower spa is large and comfortable. The shower itself is not large, but not claustrophobic.

The shower pressure is the worst part of the experience, but the temperature is great, and the handheld shower head makes up for the pressure partially. Enjoy the most luxurious five minutes in the sky in an Emirates shower.

Overall

This short flight was the best of my life, and I look forward to getting onto a longhaul Emirates A380 flight in first class. To that end, I am looking at every angle to redeem miles for this over-the-top luxury. Expect to read more about how you can get into Emirates First very soon.

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Chauffeur Service

Pre-Departure Services and Emirates Club Auckland

Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed

Emirates First: Service and Food

Emirates First: Shower Spa

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Emirates 413
Auckland (AKL) – Sydney (SYD)
Depart: 6:40 PM on Saturday, January 12
Arrive: 8:05 PM
Duration: 3:25
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 3A (First Class)

I remember the moment I booked my Emirates A380 First Class Seat. It was after 11 PM, but I had to call someone to vent my excitement before I burst. And now the moment had arrived to get on the plane. I had seen Emirates A380s at several airports, but none looked as good as mine!

A380s have two jetbridges, one to the top deck and one to the bottom. Emirates has all of first class and all of business class on the top deck with all of economy on the bottom. So I handed my boarding pass to the agent then took the ramp up.

I was greeted at the door by the Senior Flight Attendant–(Info on Emirates Flight Attendant Hierarchy).

Upon seeing my boarding pass and welcoming me by name, he summoned a colleague to walk me to my seat. This is a special perk of first class; the business class passenger in front of me had been greeted and pointed toward his seat.

Before I go any farther, I’ll end the suspense by saying that the service was the best part of this flight. During every interaction I had on board, the Emirates employee’s attitude was “How can I serve you?” Compare this to United First Class the week before. United flight attendants’ attitudes were “How can I get myself through this flight?”

I’m an avid reader of first class trip reports, and when authors highlighted the service and attitudes of flight attendants I thought it wouldn’t make a huge difference for me. I mean the United agents did comply with my requests. And I’m not a person who needs luxury. But there is something incredible about the experience of being helped by cheerful people, of having needs anticipated, of having someone take pleasure in your taking pleasure.

When I sat down at my seat, the flight attendant asked if I would like a beverage, and I ordered a Budweiser. I also asked her if I could reserve my time in one of the two showers. She asked when I would like my shower, and I said immediately upon getting airborne. She said that they would come to my seat when the shower was ready.

The next twenty minutes was a whirlwind of service. Before we took off, all of the following was completed in a non-rushed manner by the four smiling attendants assigned to the four first class passengers:

  • My Budweiser was brought.
  • A flight attendant noticed me taking pictures of the suite and asked unprompted if I would like him to take a picture of me in it.
  • A large selection of magazines was brought to my seat. I declined.
  • Several newspapers from Auckland, Sydney, and Dubai were brought to my seat. I declined.
  • Dates and Arabic coffee were offered and poured at my seat. I had a cup and a date.
  • A hot towel was brought to my seat.
  • Refills were offered for the coffee, and more dates were offered.
  • The en suite food portion of mini bar that included Pringles, Twix, and other candy was taken away for take off. Of course, I was asked if I wanted anything from the basket before it was taken away. (It is returned shortly after getting airborne.)
  • I went to the restrooms at the front of the plane for first class passengers. There are two, and they contain the two on board showers. Outside there are two dedicated spa attendants. After I exited the bathroom, one immediately entered to clean it for the next passenger.
  • A landing card for Australia was distributed along with an Express Pass to avoid the immigration queue.
  • The purser came by and greeted each first class passenger individually. He welcomed us on board. He told us that they took great pleasure in meeting all of our needs and ensuring we had a fantastic flight. He encouraged us to go to the bar in the back of the upper deck during the flight. And finally he asked us if he could bring us a drink as soon as we were airborne. I heard another passenger ask for a Bloody Mary, and the purser asked him whether he wanted it spicy or mild. This guy was not messing around when it came to customer service.
He tried flattering angles. I may not have been the best subject.
Arabic coffee and almond date
Mini-bar food in front of the TV
Watchful spa attendants

That’s 11 things the crew managed to do before departure, and I was one of the last people on board the plane. I’ve flown some airlines where you’re lucky to get a drink from a pre-made tray and a hello.

Immediately after takeoff, a flight attendant came to my seat and said the shower spa was ready for my use. I collected a change of clothes and a camera and followed him to the spa.

The shower spa will be covered in the next installment.

After the shower, I had just sat down in my seat when a flight attendant arrived to ask me how I enjoyed the shower spa. After I finished gushing, he said, “I believe you ordered a Budweiser from our purser.” I was floored. I assumed they had forgotten my order from when the purser had come by pre-departure since I had taken a shower. But I’m not sure why I was surprised. Any lapse in service would have been more surprising on this flight.

The flight attendant quickly returned with my beer and the dinner menu, which was large, leather-bound, and read as follows:

Drinks
Dinner
Desserts

Ordinarily, the courses would be brought one at a time, but I had a long hand-written list of things to do on board before the all-too-short flight landed, so I asked for all courses to be served at once. They brought me the soup, salad, appetizer, and bread basket first, then when I had finished that, they brought me the main course.

roast beef with lentils appetizer, yellow lentil soup, salad, and garlic bread
roast chicken with a pistachio crust, potato fritters, and vegetable

I thought the lentil soup was delicious. The roast beef appetizer was also incredible. The chicken was very good, though it didn’t blow me away. The best part of the main course was the potato fritters. Overall, this was a far better meal than I usually have on the ground.

I was offered desserts, cheese, and fruit after the meal, but between the lounge buffet and dinner, I had eaten about three consecutive meals, so I passed on what surely would have been a delicious finish.

The next thing I was eager to do was to check out the social areas on the top deck. Normally in the area between the first class showers, a bar is set up called the Social Area. Unfortunately this flight was too short for that, so I headed to the bar in the back that serves first class and business class passengers.

Where the First-Class-only Social Area bar is set up on long hauls

Before heading back, I asked a flight attendant for turndown service of my bed. To get to the bar in the back, I walked through business class, which looked very nice.

Business class seat and mini-bar

The bar itself took up more space than I was expecting–a typical Emirates overindulgence, in a good way.

What are you having?

When I got back to the bar, there was only one passenger in the area. When the bar tender saw me taking pictures, he asked if I wanted one behind the bar.

I asked for a vodka pineapple, and took a seat on one of the couches.

Two of these are along the wall in the bar area

As I drank, I talked to the bar tender and flight attendant and learned some interesting things. All Emirates flight attendants are based in Dubai, I was on the first A380 delivered to Emirates, there were 17 languages spoken among the crew, and First Class had slightly nicer liquors that I could request.

Sure, I’ll take a nicer vodka for my next vodka pineapple, so a flight attendant brought back a first class bottle for round two.

Interestingly in this case, the first class brand was Imperia and business class brand was Grey Goose. At least at the state-run liquor stores in Virginia, these are almost the exact same price.

Options

At the back of the bar area was a video monitor and some snacks.

Since I was near the back stairs, I decided to walk down and check out economy. I had heard a rave review of Emirates economy from someone I met in New Zealand (whom I didn’t have the heart to tell I was flying Emirates First.)

Economy looked very nice as far as economy goes. Every seat had its own video screen with free entertainment, and alcohol was free.

The direction you want to go: up

Economy liquor options: free

I couldn’t walk to the front because there was a meal service going on. I headed back upstairs and back to my seat. On the way I stopped at the bathroom on the right side of the plane just behind first class. It has a large window overlooking the wing, which makes for a unique view from a bathroom.

When I got to my suite, the bed had been made, so I laid down to test the bed quality. More on that in Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed.

While lying there, I decided I would like a glass of water, so I picked up the remote control in the side of the seat, which doubles as a phone to call the galley!

Calling Room Service

The phone was answered quickly, I was greeted by name, and a cheerful flight attendant brought my water at once.

I absolutely loved the Room Service phone. Not only had I never seen anything like it on a plane, but it was very convenient since it saved the flight attendant a trip to take my order and got me what I wanted faster.

The flight was coming to an end too quickly. The captain soon put on the fasten seat belt sign for the approach into Sydney. I passed the rest of the flight enjoying the music selections on the entertainment system.

I was the first one off the plane, being thanked again for flying with Emirates, and on my way to my Emirates Chauffeur in no time.

Overall

The food on this flight was very good. It’s not the best food I’ve ever had, but it’s better than I normally eat on the ground or in the air.

The service was by far the best service I’ve ever experienced: every need was met cheerfully, proactive suggestions were made by the crew to make my flight more enjoyable, and the ways in which Emirates serves you are unparalleled. They have two spa attendants, a Room Service phone, and a well-stocked bar on board with a bar tender who could go toe-to-toe with your favorite bar tender.

Stay tuned for your chance to shower with me on board an airplane in the next installment.

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Chauffeur Service

Pre-Departure Services and Emirates Club Auckland

Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed

Emirates First: Service and Food

Emirates First: Shower Spa

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This section of the trip report deals only with the seat and suite. Food, service, and shower are covered in links above.

Emirates 413
Auckland (AKL) – Sydney (SYD)
Depart: 6:40 PM on Saturday, January 12
Arrive: 8:05 PM
Duration: 3:25
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 3A (First Class)

The Emirates First Class cabin has 14 seats, four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

From seatguru.com, Showers are the large bathrooms at the front of the cabin. The bathroom in the bottom right has a window with a great view of the wing.

Suite Guide

I had a window seat on the left hand side of the upper deck. A few minutes after sitting down, I was handed a 23 page manual on first class experience. I’ve endeavored to publish pictures of every word of that manual to give you an overview of the suite.

Seat

Here’s the actual seat with a pillow and duvet in the background.

I found the seat very comfortable for sitting for dinner. I also reclined it for listening to music and watching the tail camera and found that enjoyable. I always compare in-flight features to things on the ground, and I thought the seat matched up well to any recliner in terms of comfort.

From the 23 page manual, I learned there are seven adjustable parts to the seat: headrest, backrest, footrest, lumbar, seat pan, seat tracking, and armrest. Many of these parts could be controlled by buttons around the seat, and all could be manipulated by the mini touch screen to the left of the seat. The seat was truly customizable to anyone’s specifications and preferences.

Bed

The most important position for any first class seat, though, is the bed position. How did that fare?

I asked for a turndown service before heading back to the bar (more on that in another installment.) When I came back, I arrived to this:

A large-for-a-plane bed-sized pillow, a duvet, and a mattress pad made up the bed. The Godiva chocolate and flower on the pillow continued the hotel theme nicely. After all, Emirates calls your area a suite, which has a Do Not Disturb sign, and a phone for room service.

I found the bed supremely comfortable. The bed is 7’2″ long and 1’11” wide, so everyone should fit comfortably. In many airplane beds, I feel slightly trapped by the arm rest extending above me. It’s the same sensation I get sleeping on a top bunk, with something hanging above me to keep me from falling out. I don’t like that feeling, and I didn’t get it on Emirates because the arm rest lowered to seat level at the push of a button. This made me feel like I had ample space instead of being trapped.

The pillow and mattress pad made the bed as comfortable as a futon. I certainly didn’t feel like I was lying down in my own bed, but it was better than most plane beds, which feel like sleeping on a sofa to me. The duvet was very comfortable also.

(I rank sleeping surfaces from worst to best: floor, sofa, blow up mattress, futon, bed, cloud.)

Closing the suite doors gave a very private feeling to the bed. The suite doors extend high enough that you can’t see anything, but passing flight attendants can see you to make sure your seat belt is fastened. In the window seats, you are enclosed by the side of the plane and suite doors. In the middle seats, you are enclosed by the suite doors and a privacy divider.

Rest of the Suite

Across from the seat is probably the most noticeable thing about the suite–a 23″ TV. This TV blows away the TV of every other airline that I’ve been on. It is much larger than United’s for instance. A TV of this size so close to where you’re sitting is almost like watching a big screen.

Also pictured is a vanity mirror, a small amenity kit of lotions and smelling salts, and the food part of my en suite mini-bar.

The TV is a touch screen, but if you don’t like leaning forward to touch it, you have two other options: the remote control in your arm rest or the mini touch screen just to your left, which can also control your seat.

The actual entertainment options were incredible. There were over 100 films, tons of TV options, and the best selection of music I’ve ever seen. There was a selection of essential albums that included the best albums of all time–think Pet Sounds–and even an extensive country selection–think Taylor Swift. And all of that was displayed on a 23″ inch screen a few feet from you and heard through the provided noise cancelling head phones.

I can easily imagine passing any length flight happily with all the entertainment options.

Plus you can watch any of the three cameras mounted on the plane, the most interesting one being the tail-mounted camera. This is pretty boring in flight, but cool during take off and landing.

Then there are the food options in your suite. Pictured above in front of the TV, you can see the basket of snacks at the seat when you arrive: Pringles, Toblerone, Twix, Mars Bar, and more. This is taken away right before take off, then returned when you are in the air.

Just to the left of the seat and available from the moment you walk on the plane is your own mini-bar featuring Voss water, Perrier, mango juice, and sodas.

I found the snacks to be convenient and tempting. The drinks were more of a wow-factor than a practical thing, though, because they weren’t chilled. So when I drank the water and juice, I had to ask for ice, meaning the mini-bar didn’t save me any time or the crew any work.

The beauty items in the suite are a vanity mirror, pictured in front of the TV, and a small amenity kit with some smelling salts and lotions. There is a “real” amenity kit given on longer flights, but we missed out on it and pajamas on our short hop.

My seat had access to three windows. All the windows were push button operated. The inner windows are large on the A380, but the outer part of the windows looked the same size as on older planes, so I didn’t feel like the windows were huge.

The middle two seats in each row are perfect for companions or solo travelers because there is a privacy divider, which can be raised and lowered.

The first class cabin has no overhead bins. My carry ons fit comfortably on the floor at the front of my suite. If you don’t want your carry ons there, you can ask a crew member to store them. But the suite is so large that even though I’m 6’4″, the bags didn’t infringe on my leg room.

There were also various storage areas around the suite for things in your pockets, your shoes, and anything you might take out of your bags during the flight.

The suite has a table that is pleasantly large for dinner or working. The table was wooden and comes out of the side panel.

And I’ve saved the best for last.

My favorite part of the suite was the fresh flower that greeted me. It was out of place on a plane, in a good way.

Recap

The seat, bed, and suite in Emirates A380 First Class are incredible. I like to compare these things to analogous things on the ground. The bed was about equal to a futon, which is more comfortable than most airplane beds to me, which are more like a sofa. The seat was as comfortable as any recliner, better really because of the seven adjustable parts.

The rest of the suite was practical and luxurious. From the oversized TV to the convenient storage locations, the big handsome table to the fresh flower, this is the best hard product I’ve experienced.

Stay tuned for the next installments about the food, service, and shower spa!

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Grab dinner with me in Los Angeles, Tampa, or Baltimore.

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Chauffeur Service

Pre-Departure Services and Emirates Club Auckland

Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed

Emirates First: Service and Food

Emirates First: Shower Spa

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Once inside Auckland’s airport, I headed straight to the Emirates check in counter. Emirates flies three flights out of Auckland within a few minutes of each other to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, all of which continue to Dubai.

Emirates had a special counter for First Class check in on the far end of its counters, and a special First Class red carpet, which I had just stepped onto when I was waived forward.

I filled out a New Zealand departure card while the agent checked me in. When she was done and she handed me my boarding pass, she told me to go to the exiting-New-Zealand pre-clearance booth just a few feet away, so I could avoid the line upstairs.

There was no line at the pre-clearance desk, and within a minute I had an “NZCS PRECLEARED” sticker on my boarding card that let me skip the exit queue.

After heading through security, I walked upstairs to the Emirates Lounge, next to the Qantas and Air New Zealand lounges.

Inside I was greeted by name while the agent scanned my boarding pass. She told me that my gate was “far away” and that she would announce boarding at 6 PM. I was given a wifi code for the lounge, and I headed in. The lounge was very large since it handled business and first class as well as Emirates elites and included easily over 100 seats, a business center with computers, and a separate dining area.

Main Lounge Area
Business Center Computer
Dining Area

I very much liked the unified motif of the lounge. The same muted gold color repeated throughout the lounge with some green on the pillows and the brown wood. It looked very nice and consistent with the Emirates brand.

I was hungry, so I headed straight for the buffet, which was well stocked by an employee who kept shuttling more food from the kitchen, so that there was never a shortage of this kind of bruschetta or that kind of cheese.

Cooked Foods
Chicken Tikka, the star of the show

I put together a simple plate and sat in the dining room. For beverages, I had a ton of quality options.

That famous Veuve Cliquot

I had chicken tikka masala, beef, rice, veggies, potatoes, and bleu cheese.

A few plates of food later, and I was on my computer for the next few hours. I got a comfortable chair and ottoman facing toward a window looking down on the terminal, so I didn’t notice the lounge filling up. But when I went for dessert, the lounge might have had 100 people in it. There was plenty of seating for everyone, but with all of business and first for three flights in the lounge, it was a bit crowded. I saw several tennis players heading to Melbourne for the Aussie Open after playing in the ATP event in Auckland, but I didn’t recognize any.

Whether your preferred after-dinner treat is dessert liqueurs, candies, dates, or coffee, the Emirates Lounge has you covered.

The lounge’s bathrooms had well-appointed showers, which would be nice for business class passengers but unnecessary for first class passengers ;).

Boarding began 45 minutes before departure, and an announcement was made in the lounge that it was time for Sydney passengers to go to gate 15. I packed my things and started walking. As the people movers carried me toward the two white double deckers, I was downright giddy.

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Chauffeur Service

Pre-Departure Services and Emirates Club Auckland

Emirates First: Suite, Seat, and Bed

Emirates First: Service and Food

Emirates First: Shower Spa

__________________________________________________

My shower-in-the-air, room-service-to-my-suite, bar-on-a-plane trip report starts on the ground with the first part of my trip: the included chauffeur service.

With a few exceptions, Emirates First Class and Business Class passengers are eligible for free chauffeur service to and from the airport. This page lists the rules for every airport. Each has slightly different rules for where the chauffeur service is available for each cabin.

Business class passengers from Auckland to Sydney don’t get the chauffeur service, but first class passengers do from anywhere up to 40 km from the airport. That’s a smaller radius than most airports, but it does include the central business district where I was staying.

The chauffeur service can be booked at the time of the flight booking or later. I’m not sure the cut off, but I booked my cars about three days before my flight from Auckland to Sydney. The booking can be made on the Manage Booking tab of emirates.com.

Once you enter your confirmation number and the booking comes up, scroll down to the chauffeur booking section and click Manage Chauffeur-drive Bookings.On the next screen, select Book a Car for the departure airport.

The form asks for the address of the pick up and your phone number. I put in my American phone number, which I assumed would not be contacted since that would be expensive for a driver in New Zealand.

I put in my hostel’s address. I didn’t know its post code, so I left that blank. The latest pick up option was 3 hours before the flight with the earliest option 4.5 hours before in 30 minute increments. I chose 3.5 hours before because I wanted to spend a while in the lounge.

I repeated the same steps for the Sydney car. I put in the address of a hostel I thought I’d stay at, but I actually forgot the address I had entered. When I tried to check on the day of the flight to see where I’d be dropped off, the online form said the drop off address was “On File,” but wouldn’t actually tell me where I was going. I asked the agent in the Emirates Lounge Auckland, and she was able to tell me where I had entered. She also told me that as long as I had reserved a car, I could tell the driver to drop me anywhere inside the drop off radius without issue.

About 24 hours before the flight, I received a text message reminder to my American number, but I don’t think this had anything to do with my chauffeur service.

My pick up was scheduled for 3:10 PM. At 2:30 PM, I was outside my hostel reading and waiting. At 3:05 PM a white Ford pulled up and parked across the street and a driver got out.

I had read that the driver will call the passenger, sometimes the day before to reconfirm. But I didn’t get a phone call–probably because I had no local number. At 3:10, I walked up to the driver and asked if he was from Emirates. He asked if I was Mr. Grimmer and away we went.

The car was a spacious sedan–plenty of room even for a giant. I had planned to read during the ride, but the driver was very interesting. He had been to the Aussie Open before, so we talked about what I should expect in Melbourne.

When we got to the airport, he parked around the corner from the entrance closest to the Emirates check in. He handed me two New Zealand departure cards, which was nice though not necessary, since they are right at the Emirates desk.

I tipped him 20 NZD (~$17) for the 30 minute ride.

Sydney Chauffeur

I blew through immigration and customs in Sydney as the first one off the plane. As I walked out of customs, there were three chauffeurs holding Emirates signs.

My driver waited while I went to an ATM and restroom, then walked me to his car parked just outside the arrival area.

The car was spacious inside, and I had plenty of room. The driver was a chatty Filipino immigrant, who assured me that Australians would be very friendly to me. I told him that I wanted to be dropped off one block away from the address I had entered online, and he said it was no problem.

The ride was about 15 minutes, and I tipped him 10 AUD (~$11).

Overall Thoughts

I really enjoyed the chauffeur service. I’ve never had a door-to-door car service when flying, and I quite liked it.

I didn’t save much money. I tipped more than I would have spent on Auckland’s convenient airport bus. And I tipped only a few dollars less than Sydney’s convenient airport train would have cost. If I had had more bags, such that I would have taken a taxi to the airport then the chauffeur would have been a big money saver. But I travel with one bag, so I would have taken public transportation.

I probably saved about 25 minutes total over public transportation, which is worth some amount of money too.

It was fun to have the car service, but it was a luxury I won’t miss on my next trip.

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The ultimate aspirational award may just be First Class on an Emirates A380 with its onboard shower.

Alaska Airlines has announced a partnership with Emirates, and has promised for most of this year that the award chart for awards booked with Alaska miles on Emirates planes would be coming in late 2012.

We are quite late in 2012, and the award chart has not been released, but the website has been updated to reflect a delay.

This is a bummer, but I’ll keep monitoring the situation. If you want to stock up on Alaska miles in advance of the announcement, grab the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America or bulk up your SPG account balance.

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