Points travel is a very fluid sort of hobby. You learn tricks and find sweet spots and every year or two the airlines devalues your points or changes the redemption rules on you. It's part of the game, you roll with it.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the spectacular new First Class Suites from Emirates. It takes luxury up to overdrive considering you have a high ceiling suite behind closed door. It is one of the best first class hard product I have seen recently.
Emirates has not been the most easy to redeem as of late. Previously prior to 2016 there was a sweet spot using Alaska Airlines' program, but they devalued that redemption massively by increasing the miles cost by almost double. Pretty much completely eliminating the viability of Alaska as you could easily spend 150-200k miles for a ONE WAY Emirates First Class ticket when you can get a ROUND TRIP First on many of their other airlines for sometimes even fewer points on the same routes.
Today is the first day Emirates starts flying planes with the new First Class product from Dubai to Brussels and Geneva. They have announced that they will not retrofit existing A380s and 777s to offer this new product, but this is the new 777 first class product that will only have more inventory available as they take delivery of more planes. So for the time being, the number of seats and routes with their new 777 First Class Suite product is just.... well, 2 planes worth.
They also have said they will plan on having the new suites in 9 planes by 2019. Again... not that many.
So I suppose it is understandable they basically completely blocked all sorts of award availability for this product. You can only pay cash to fly in their new suites. :(
On top of this, another Emirates sweet spot partner, Japan Airlines, is adding MASSIVE redemption fees.
Prior Japan Airlines Mileage Bank was still a relatively attractive partner to book Emirates flights with US to Europe round trip First Class flights costing around 100k miles, to 135-155k miles for Asia routes.
Japan Airlines had only charged taxes and fees capping out at $78.20 for a round trip ticket. However, as of November 22, they are imposing fuel surcharge if you are departing from the United States on many routes with costs running over $1,000, which is 20x or even 30x what the previous maximum fee would be (!!!).
However, it seems like some routes that is originating from outside the US is still carrying low or now fees. It seems like this policy change was directly aimed at the US market.
So I guess while Emirates offers a spectacular product and experience, it is increasingly difficult for many of us based here in the US to experience it unless you are willing to blow a lot of points, or pay the fees.
You can use miles with Alaska Airlines, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and Emirates' own Skywards to redeem, but all of these programs now have high mileage costs, or fees, or BOTH. Japan Airlines is still probably your best option in my opinion since the miles needed is still comparable to a lot of other airlines' first class flights, and 1/3 fewer miles than any other partner programs, but it will still cost an arm and a leg in fees.
Emirates has been setting the benchmark for luxury traveling for the past decade. Looks like they are shaping their award structure to reflect some sort of exclusivity. I suppose while having your own suite flying from New York to Hong Kong would be pretty sweet..... perhaps flying on Singapore Airlines' Suites may be even sweeter.
At least with Singapore, I won't have to cough up thousands in YQ fees.