There’s been a ‘Battle of the Suites’ lately with both Singapore Airlines and Emirates launching brand new versions of their popular high-end products in the last year. Having sampled the latest SIA Suites in July, it was time to put the latest offering from the Middle East giant to the test.
Fitting it in on the way back from London to Singapore meant positioning myself to Geneva to pick up this rare product for less than half my routing. Those weren’t significant enough reasons to put me off trying one of the latest First Class seats in the sky.
- Flight: EK84 Geneva to Dubai
- Class: First (Suites)
- Seats: 1A & 1E
- Aircraft Type: Boeing 777-300ER
- Aircraft Registration: A6-EQJ
- Aircraft Age: 0.7 years
- Date: 9th September 2018
- Departure / Arrival: 21:40 / 06:10
- Flight Time: 6h 30m
In recent times, increased competition, spiralling fuel prices and reducing yields have led Emirates to rethink its audacious plans of world domination. What concerned us most was their move to withdraw First Class completely from some newer A380s allowing them to pack in even more Economy Class seats.
Was the First Class product a dying breed?
Just when we were starting to lose hope, a brand new Emirates First Class product was unveiled in November 2017 as part of a multi-million dollar fleet-wide upgrade plan, intended not only to keep up with Emirates’ stiff competition (such as Qatar’s Qsuite), but once again make it the market leader.
The carrier’s original First Class suite was revealed in 2008. At the time it was a strong product but it fell short of Singapore Airlines’ A380 suite in terms of the outright luxury of a double bed option.
Instead, Emirates were the first in the industry to offer an in-flight spa including the famous shower suite. We’ll cover that product in an upcoming review as I flew it on next sector of this journey, but it’s clear that Emirates has always been serious about producing a top-notch First Class offering.
A rare breed
Having travelled together for 18 hours in the ‘old’ Emirates First Class product on an A380 some years ago, starting as sceptics and finishing as converts, we knew we had to try this brand new product. The question was… how?
It’s currently only being rolled out on the newest Emirates Boeing 777-300ERs and at the time of writing this article, it’s only available on 8 aircraft (Emirates has around 250 planes in total).
The routes the new First Suites launched on were obscure, to say the least. Instead of targeting its ultra-premium markets, Emirates instead chose Stansted (a distant London airport, usually served by charter holiday airlines and low-cost carriers), Brussels (the capital of a small European country with comparatively few international air links outside of Europe) and Geneva (Switzerland’s second busiest airport).
Emirates has promised that this product (or a similar version) will be increasingly available in the future, with the A380s due to start receiving it in 2021. However whether a full retrofit program is launched for existing aircraft remains vague and even the newer A380s are still being delivered with the old First Class product for now.
Redemption was an option. Following the ridiculous Citi Apple Pay 8 miles per dollar promotion in Singapore, I’d managed to accumulate nearly 400,000 additional miles in the preceding months.
Citi does not transfer directly to the Emirates Skywards scheme, but instead you can transfer to Qantas Frequent Flyer and redeem from there. Sadly, there was no redemption availability on these routes on any of the days I checked – so either it had already been snapped up by other travellers keen to try the new product or Emirates has restricted availability to reserve this product to fare paying passengers while it remains rare and exclusive.
We did take a recent look at the Geneva route and it appears availability, typically for 2 suites on each flight, does tend to appear around 2 days before departure subject to the booked load. That’s to say if you’re looking to fly tomorrow or the next day, you may well secure these seats with points. Qantas Frequent Flyer had the same access to these award seats when we checked.
As I was planning a trip to the UK in September anyway, getting home to Singapore via any of the three cities with this new product seemed possible. After trying a number of options – Geneva produced the best timings and included the A380 First Class on the second leg (EK404) giving me a chance to see both products side by side.
Each ticket cost S$5,500, one-way, including taxes. I chose to ApplePay using Trip.com during the Citi promotion mentioned above. I also paid for my travel companion (not Andrew this time, who was busy reviewing Qatar Qsuites!). She paid me back for her ticket, but this way I was able to accrue maximum miles with the Apple Pay promotion.
The total transaction netted me a cool 88,000 miles. Enough for a Singapore Airlines Business Class redemption to Europe!
Crazy rich Asian?
Whilst S$5,500 might sound like an eye-watering amount of money lets put it into perspective – a return flight on Singapore Airlines Business Class is typically between S$6-7,000 depending on the time of year and demand levels.
Let’s also not forget the miles accrued from this booking. Many people would simply enter their Emirates Skywards number and earn 16,250 miles for this flight. But 16,250 miles on Skywards just isn’t enough to do anything useful from Singapore.
To upgrade the most expensive Economy Class Emirates tickets from SIN-DXB is 39,000 miles alone. I knew what would happen – they would sit in my account until near expiry where I would end up using them to buy a new toaster… no thanks!
We’ve talked about wheretocredit.com before here. It’s genuinely a very useful tool that allows you to look at alternative options instead of ending up with orphan miles (or a stack of new toasters). A quick check showed that the GVA-DXB-SIN in Emirates First Class, when credited to Alaska Mileage Plan, is worth 23,414 miles.
Even assuming my Alaska account was empty at the time, buying 2,000 more from them for S$80 would mean I can then book the following itinerary SIN-HND-KUL in Business Class, using the JAL stopover trick that we discussed in detail here.
So in summary, for S$5,500 (only my own fare), plus S$80 (for the Alaska miles top-up) and S$86 in taxes on the JAL flight, I received the following:
- Emirates New First Class 777 suite from GVA-DXB
- Emirates First Class lounge in Dubai
- Emirates Old First Class A380 suite from DXB-SIN (including the shower and onboard bar)
- Mercedes chauffeur service to and from the airport
- 44,000 miles from the Citi 8mpd promotion (Singapore to Cape Town on Singapore Airlines, 13 hours in 2013 Business Class is 45,000 miles, usual cost S$5,600)
- JAL Business Class Singapore to Haneda returning to Kuala Lumpur using the Alaska miles detailed above (usual cost S$3,240)
So maybe, just maybe – I’m not so crazy after all?
Emirates doesn’t have its own lounge in Geneva so instead, we were invited to the DNATA (an Emirates-owned ground agent) Skyview Lounge. This lounge can also be accessed by Priority Pass holders and premium class passengers from several other airlines.
There isn’t much good to say about this lounge. It was dirty, most of the chairs were covered in crumbs, lots of tables were stacked with used plates and glasses. The service was bad, nobody came to clean or attend to the food counter. The food selection was limited and very bland. The lentil salad appeared to have been warmed up and was offered as the sole hot option.
The only redeeming feature was the view of the Swiss Alps from the window. We were put out of our misery earlier than anticipated with boarding being called 1 hour 20 minutes before departure. Confused, I repeatedly checked my watch to see if I was somehow mistaken but the reason for the early call quickly became clear as we approached the gate – passport control with a long snaking queue and no priority lane.
Around 30 minutes later, we were through to the gates where First and Business Class was already boarding. I didn’t have much to worry about, as all that the early boarders had achieved was a seat on a bus to take us to a remote gate. After a solid further 15 minutes waiting on the bus, we departed for the aircraft.
All things considered at 45 minutes from lounge to plane, this wasn’t the seamless luxury experience that I had expected from Emirates First Class.
First impressions and design
After some strategic shuffling on the bus, we were the first to board the aircraft. As you approach the second cabin door, located between the two Business Class cabins you spot the new cabin decor.
A short walk through the forward section of the new Business Class product (we remain unimpressed that Emirates stuck with 2-3-2 on the 777-300ER) and we were into First Class.
The aisle floor transitions from carpet to a wood effect material as you move from Business into First Class.
This two-row cabin is laid out in a 1-1-1 configuration, for 6 suites in total.
From the left aisle you can access suites 1A and 2A, the window seats, and 1E which has virtual windows.
From the right aisle you can access suites 1K and 2K, again window options, and the other virtual window suite 2F.
We chose 1A and 1E, though I had to call Emirates in advance to have my seat ‘unblocked’ as I suspect it is the allocated bassinet position in this cabin.
The middle suite has a row of “virtual windows” so that they feel like window seats, we’ll talk about them later on in detail but they are pretty stunning.
The pictures don’t do justice to the size of this suite. It is a big space, enough to make you stop in your tracks and appreciate how amazing the product is.
The design accents centre around motifs of the Ghaf tree (the national tree of the United Arab Emirates) that are reflected at the entrance, throughout the cabin and are even embroidered into the walls of the suite. It’s nice to have a consistent theme that actually reflects some meaning.
Also, this suite design includes much less gold and bling that personally was a constant source of cringing in the previous Emirates premium products. Instead, they’ve chosen light modern colours and materials that are easy on the eyes. The overall design is a nod to the Mercedes S-Class. I’d have said it feels more luxurious than that but I understand the luxury car comparison.
A glass of champagne was offered, and if you’ve travelled on Emirates First Class before you’ll know that dates and Arabic coffee are the traditional start to any journey.