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As Emirates continues its network growth throughout the U.S., the carrier is turning to travel and lifestyle loyalty program partners to gain awareness and boost branding in the still-growing market.

“We are strongly looking at expanding our partnership base as a key pillar when it comes to the development of our frequent flyer concept,” Hubert Frach, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President of the West, explained in a recent interview in Dubai.

“We are really engaging and investing more in partnerships to become more relevant geographically,” Frach said.

Emirates recently partnered with American Express Membership Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programs in an effort to gain relevance in the U.S.

It isn’t unusual for an airline to partner with a credit card and hotel company, but Emirates has larger goals.

“Our ambitions are really to be a globally perceived lifestyle brand,” he said. “We want to develop Skywards into more of a lifestyle loyalty program that’s relevant in every part of your life.”

Frauch’s comments echo an earlier Skift article that looked at how establishing a lifestyle brand could benefit airlines’ historically thin profit margins.

In the article, Devin Liddell, principle brand strategist at Teague, Seattle, a design consultancy, says he sees opportunities for airlines to build their lifestyle brand by focusing on their identity as travel service providers rather than just methods of transportation.

“This is a hiccup in airline strategy. They are too busy stripping away features they perceive as adding costs, rather than adding features which build up brand loyalty,” Liddell says.

Emirates is looking into partnerships around travel as well as fashion, entertainment, sports and finance. The Gulf carrier has already significantly increased its brand awareness and strength through football sponsorships across Europe.

The airline measures the impact of such sponsorships through brand indexes and by giving Skywards members the opportunity to exchange miles into tickets.

In the U.S., Emirates sponsors the Formula One race in Austin near its gateways in Dallas and Houston, the U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, and the San Francisco Symphony.

Competition in the U.S.

Emirates entered the U.S. in 2004, three years before Qatar Airways and two years before Etihad Airways. Emirates is relying on its nine U.S. gates to help it maintain its current edge over its Gulf neighbors.

Emirates, as well as Qatar and Etihad, are faced with a degree of fear-mongering about the Gulf airlines’ growth in the U.S. Frauch says the airline is aware of these discussions and seeks to counter them with a very fact-driven approach.

“We counter it with a good product strategy, good network strategy, and very good people,” says Frach.

“We believe that we are definitely bringing benefits to the market,” Frach says. “It’s a very pro-consumer approach because we are adding choice and doing good things for employment. We ordered 150 Boeing 777 jets at the last airshow, which you can say translates into about 400,000 jobs in the U.S.”

Photo Credit: Emirates rope at its inaugural flight from Brussels Airport. Brussels Airport / Flickr