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.
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.
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.
Not that long ago Emirates changed the way the customers earn Skywards and tier miles by dividing their global destinations into Skywards Zones. 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.
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 ;-)
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:
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.
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.