feeding my own misguided insanity

An Economist's Approach to Retaining your Emirates Skywards Gold Status

September 28, 2012 Shem Radzikowski 20 Comments

Millions of frequent flyers around the globe go through the pain of requalifying for the coveted Emirates Skywards Gold membership level. For some of us, this may mean being only a few thousand tier miles away from retaining Gold, for others, it could be 25,000 miles. So what’s the best way to ensure you keep your Gold status and what’s the most efficient way to earn them?

I haven’t had to do it in the past, but if by chance I find myself in the situation, I have no hesitation in jumping on a plane to fly somewhere in order to earn those last few miles before the deadline. It seems pretty drastic, but if you knew the places I visit and work in, you would understand why Gold can be the difference between sanity and suicide.

A Poor Year for Long-haul Travel

So here we are. I’ve been particularly poor in accumulating the required Skywards tier miles this year — partially because of many short flights and in part because of a change in my role during the first quarter. Irrespective of the underlying reasons, I’m about 23,350 tier miles short of renewing Gold, a status I’ve held for almost eleven years, before the end of the year. And so, with only three months left to earn the difference, the opportunist in me is busy searching for the most efficient strategy that would see me retain it.

My Skywards Tier Miles Status Message

Emirates has grown at such a tremendous rate that even Silver members are no longer allowed to enter the Business Class lounge in Dubai. Maybe not so good for the Silver members, but I have to say that it was a good move. I vividly remember pacing the full length of the Business Class lounge in Terminal 3 trying to find somewhere to sit. At that time the lounge looked more like the airport terminal building in Addis Ababa, with people sitting, sleeping and eating on the ground for want of tables and chairs, instead of an exclusive retreat to get away from the hordes pacing the terminal halls.

The bottom line is that there is only one way to get more tier miles — fly. You can’t buy your way into Gold — or at least I can’t. The number of tier miles you earn is dependent on the destination you travel to and in what class you choose to travel. Typically, the longer the journey and higher the class of travel, the more tier miles you earn. And don’t confuse Skywards miles with tier miles. Only tier miles count towards your Gold status.

Skywards Zones

Not that long ago Emirates changed the way the customers earn Skywards and tier miles by dividing their global destinations into Skywards Zones.[1] Destinations within the same zone are attributed the same tier mileage but this doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual miles flown or time spent in the air.

Hence, this type of logic and zoning introduces a sweet spot for the bargain hunter who might want to fly for the sake of tier mile accumulation. It stands to reason that some destinations might be better than others. Let’s examine this further.

Skywards Zone Map – Source: Emirates.com

Typically, the cost of the airfare will be correlated with the flying time (within some margin of error) — which makes sense, since this is will be approximately proportional to fuel consumption. For the sake of this exercise it’s useful to make some assumptions which will make the calculations easier. Let’s assume that: (1) the aircraft cruising speed to all destinations is roughly the same — this will allow us to use the flying time as a pseudo distance substitute and (2) that there are no specials running on sectors which would skew any results.

With this in mind, our primary objectives are to (1) maximize tier miles, (2) minimize time in the air and (3) minimize ticket cost.

For example, a flight from Dubai (DXB) to Moscow (DME) lasts 5:05 hours, earns you 6000 tier miles and costs AED 3130. By comparison, a flight from Dubai to Glasgow (GLA) lasts 7:45 hours, also earns you 6000 tier miles and costs AED 4630.

Clearly, Moscow is the winner, both in time spent in the air and ticket cost. Why would anyone fly to Glasgow when flying to Moscow earns you the same tier miles, flying time is shorter and the airfare is almost 30% lower?

By the way, in this article we’re only looking at Skywards Flex Economy flights and tier earnings are displayed as seen by existing Gold members. Why Skywards Flex fares? Simple, you get double the tier miles over Skywards Saver fares for only a fractional increase in price. Added bonus is that if you happen to like the destination and want to extend your stay, it won’t cost you extra to make flight changes ;-)

Let’s look at the Destination Data

Emirates airlines now fly to some 122 destinations (at time of writing) and using the abovementioned logic, we can compile the raw data for comparison. I decided to go one step further than just a simple miles per dollar or miles per time comparison.

The three variables: tier miles (m), time in the air (t) and cost of ticket (c) can be combined to produce, what I call, the Frugal Tier Index (FTI). The FTI tries to economize both time and money while maximizing tier miles and can be expressed as:

     \[ \begin{equation} {FTI=\frac{m}{c\:t}} \end{equation} \]

The data in the table below was compiled using Dubai, the hub for Emirates airlines, as the origin for all destinations The flight costs are listed in AED (dirhams), the local currency of the United Arab Emirates. The currency itself is irrelevant to our calculation because the object of the exercise is to minimize cost. Therefore, irrespective of whether we are quoting USD or AED, the FTI or miles per currency will be proportionally accurate.

Frugal Tier Index (FTI) – Skywards Tier Miles per Destination. All journeys begin in Dubai (DXB).


Scanning through the Frugal Tier Index column we can see that locations such as Addis Ababa, Bahrain, Dammam, Doha, Karachi and Muscat are good candidates for building up your tier miles because they have journey times that are very short, the ticket price is quite low and the awarded miles per AED are relatively high.

Of course, FTI hinges on the premise that in addition to minimizing time in the air, you also want to minimize cost. If you don’t really care how much time you spend in the air, but instead, want to get the most bang (miles) for your buck, then the Miles per AED column is more appropriate for you.

In which case, the top five destinations that deliver the most miles per AED are: Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Vienna — with Ho Chi Minh City earning a massive 2.46 tier miles per AED (or about USD 0.25).

Based on this exercise, I think I know where I’ll be going for holiday this year.

Happy travels.

  1. The Skywards programme is based around broad geographic zones. A set amount of Miles applies whenever you travel between, or within, these zones. http://www.skywards.com/skywards_zone_map.aspx ^


Emirates (airline). (2012, September 26).Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Emirates_(airline)&oldid=514690274
Emirates destinations. (2012, September 26).Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Emirates_destinations&oldid=514623060
Skywards – Earn & Spend – Earn & Reward Zones. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2012, from http://www.skywards.com/skywards_zone_map.aspx
Skywards – Earn & Spend – Miles Calculator. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2012, from http://www.skywards.com/Mileage_Calculator.aspx


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20 Comments → “An Economist’s Approach to Retaining your Emirates Skywards Gold Status”

  1. Ina A 11 years ago   Reply

    Rome is 0.23 on the FTI, and Paris is 0.14 :( but if you combine them with Venice you get 0.61, and that’s pretty good :) That’s how it works right?

  2. Dr.Shem 11 years ago   Reply

    … something like that

  3. Peter 11 years ago   Reply

    Oh, the problems you have!

    • Dr.Shem 11 years ago   Reply

      You’re right Peter. It does sound trivial given all the atrocities on this planet. Shame on me. Having said this, and in light of the fact that next week I will be flying into Pakistan in the midst of an “Innocence of Muslims” fuelled hate parade, I’m glad to have some final luxury before I meet my maker.

  4. Christopher Hartwell 10 years ago   Reply

    As a fellow economist and Emirates Gold flyer, this is a great exercise. However, as I live in Moscow, I note a huge flaw in the “why not just fly to Moscow” comment you make – it is prohibitively expensive in terms of time and money to get a visa to Russia. Unless you have connections or hold a visa for here already, doing DXB-DME runs will get you more of a headache than anything else.

    Thanks for doing the math for us, maybe DME-Ho Chi Minh is the way to go for us :)

  5. Tomek 10 years ago   Reply

    BTW – Warsaw related values are missing from the list … does it mean that Emirates are not assigning you any points for flying here :)?

    • Dr.Shem 10 years ago   Reply

      Hi Tomek, at the time I put the list together, Emirates wasn’t flying there yet and so I couldn’t generate the Skywards point numbers.

  6. Brett 10 years ago   Reply

    Great article!! I live in London and Australia is my ancestral home so I tend to do a few long hauls each year and am quite impressed with both Emirates and the awards programme. I am thinking of changing awards programmes to Emirates but am not sure about flights from London and how quickly I can build up my status. Is there an easy way to collect the data to do this comparison? Rather than individually searching for every flight?

    • Dr.Shem 10 years ago   Reply

      Hi Brett, to the best of my knowledge, Emirates hasn’t made this data easily searchable or downloadable – probably for good reason, stopping people doing a miles run. I’ll keep an eye out for possible alternatives or maybe even put something together myself.

  7. Sanjay 10 years ago   Reply

    Do I understand correctly that the fares are RETURN economy class from Dubai and so are the miles stated in your brilliant research paper?
    Are the TIER miles not multiplied by a factor of 50% if u are an existing GOLD member?

    • Dr. Shem 10 years ago   Reply

      Yes, these are return economy class fares from Dubai. Please note that the 50% bonus does not apply to tier miles, only skywards miles. To increase tier miles you must increase the class of travel, business or first class.

  8. Anirudh 9 years ago   Reply

    Excellent data analysis. I am sure like you (and me), there are others who like to maintain their status with airlines and are probably too ashamed to admit it. Any chance of updating this data? The prices have changed and new routes are bing added for 2014.

    • Dr. Shem 9 years ago   Reply

      Hi Anirudh. I’ve been meaning to update the flights for 2014 but it’s been a rather busy year and lots of things have been put on the back burner. Will try to put together an updated list shortly.

      • Philip 8 years ago   Reply

        Would be great if someone had the time to make a 2015 updated table. I’m 7500 miles short of gold with 2 weeks remaining. So will likely rush off somewhere just to retain. :-)

  9. Ayad 9 years ago   Reply

    Excellent Analysis…. very usefull information but I think it needs an update.

  10. Neil G 9 years ago   Reply

    Useful and insightful, would love an updated version!

  11. murad 8 years ago   Reply

    Singapore to auckland will earn you 15400 tier miles for 1000$ economy :)

  12. Sam 8 years ago   Reply

    For sure it needs an update, already fact that he claims there is place in the business lounge in Dubai…. don’t think so. Even when Silver and friends are not allowed it is horribly busy.

  13. Grant 6 years ago   Reply

    I am a self confessed data junkie and this is GREAT information! Yes, outdated now, but still probably pretty close to the truth. Can you do another run for 2017 prices and destinations?? Also would be great to know the impact of flying business class or first class. I have 35k miles left to reach platinum and 2.25 months to do it in. Show me the way!

    Thanks Shem!

  14. Clarky 6 years ago   Reply

    Cape Town is a stunning city and return trips from there to places like New York can rake in some miles for cheap.

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