How Long It Takes to Transfer Starwood Points to New Partner Korean and Korean’s Astounding Award Hold Policy

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You Can Get Korean Air Points from Both Chase and Starwood

Chase was, for quite some time, the only realistic way for most US residents to accrue large amounts of Korean Air Skypass miles. There’s a US Bank co-brand Korean Air credit card, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is far better at earning Korean’s miles (because of double points on travel and dining) and of course comes with the flexibility to transfer points to many other programs as well.

A week ago Starwood introduced Korean Air as a transfer partner.

Starwood’s Starpoints were already the most valuable loyalty program currency. And they have the most airline transfer partners where points transfer 1:1 plus when you move Starwood points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. That gets you effectively a 1:1.25 transfer ratio with most airline partners.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a signup bonus of 40,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months of cardmembership. (You can also get another 5000 points for adding an authorized user to the account and making a purchase within that timeframe.)

Korean Air is Amazing for First Class Awards

Korean Air has the absolute best first class award availability. Most Korean flights will feature at least 2 first class award seats, but 3 and 4 is common on some routes. (Note that first class awards book into “A” class)

Korean flies to more US destinations than any other Asian airline:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Honolulu
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • New York JFK
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington Dulles

Their primary US partner is Delta — and Delta miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class. Korean also partners with Alaska Airlines, and Alaska miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class.

As a result when you have Chase or Starwood points, which transfer to Korean miles, you’re really not competing against that many people for the seats. With great availability, little competition, and so many flights you can usually find Korean Air award space. I had no problem booking them a couple of months out for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

What’s more, Korean is unique in operating many intra-Asian routes with first class cabins. That means in addition to flying US – Seoul, your flights beyond Seoul to your final destination will often have a first class as well.

Korean Air is a Great Strategy for Hawaii

Korean partners with both Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines and offers exceptional value awards on both (with no fuel surcharges).

You have to book roundtrip, and fly only one airline, so you can’t fly Alaska one way and Hawaiian the other. There’s no change to routing after departure of first flight. Once travel begins you can change only dates/times.

You cannot use ‘family pooling’ of miles (combining miles from more than one family member’s account) to claim a partner award. All of the miles have to come from one account.

Korean allows a stopover on domestic US awards on Alaska Airlines. Hawaii and Mexico are 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first. This is one of the best first class awards to Hawaii there is.

For short-haul non-stops, such as Seattle, Portland, or Los Angeles along the West Coast, you’d do better transferring points to British Airways to redeem flights on Alaska. But for connecting flights or cross-country flights you’ll do better with Korean. And indeed Korean’s award prices for travel on Alaska are cheaper than Alaska’s own prices for the same flights.

For West Coast non-stops to Hawaii In coach you may do better using British Airways Avios at 25,000 miles roundtrip. But from the East Coast, with connections, or in first class Korean is the superior partner to use.

Award availability on Alaska matches what you’ll see on Alaska’s own website (for redemptions at the low/saver level).

Awards between the US and Hawaii on Hawaiian are similarly 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first. However, unlike with Alaska, these awards do not include connecting flights, which are charged at extra mileage. So New York JFK – Honolulu – Maui – Honolulu – New York JFK would be 40,000 miles roundtrip in coach (since Honolulu – Maui is 10,000 miles roundtrip in coach and the pricing is additive).

Korean Air is Cheap for Europe Business Class, Too

You can fly Skyteam airlines between the US and Europe for just 40,000 miles each way in business class. Compare that to 70,000 United miles one-way to fly a Star Alliance partner airline to Europe.

You pay fuel surcharges, the amount that would apply to a given paid ticket on the same itinerary. With the mileage savings, you’re basically spending a cash co-pay to make your miles go farther, sometimes essentially buying back miles at a discount.

Transfer times from Chase and Starwood

Transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air are usually instantaneous, although there are a few reports where it’s taken hours for points to show up.

Starwood doesn’t transfer points ‘live’ to its airline partners. Some non-US airlines in particular can take weeks for trasnferred points to show up. So I was especially interested in how long it would take for a test transfer from Starwood to show up in my Korean Air account.

Since I’m a Starwood Platinum member I can transfer as little as a single Starpoint. So on Wednesday afternoon I made that transfer (it was the wee hours of the morning in Seoul).

Those points showed up in my account sometime between Sunday morning when I checked my account balances and Monday morning when I checked again. I assume the points posted during the day Monday in Korea.

It will take more transfers to determine what the normal pattern looks like. But it took five days, including over a weekend, for this transfer to go through. Which, for Korean Air awards, is just fine.

Korean Air’s Generous Award Hold Policy

You don’t need instant transfers to Korean, at least unless you’re doing immediate travel. That’s because Korean allows award holds and those holds are among the most generous in the world.

When redeeming miles on Korean Air flights they’ll usually set up holds until a few days prior to travel. You don’t need the miles in your account to set up the hold and this can even serve as a backup plan — create a Korean award and only transfer points and ticket if the award you really wanted didn’t open up.

If you’re booking six months to a year in advance I’ve heard of agents setting up the hold only until a month prior to travel, but I haven’t experienced this.

For partner award redemptions award holds are similar to American AAdvantage at ~ 5 days (depending on time zone). My transfer went through in somewhere between a little last than 4 days and a little less than 5. I’m curious how the weekend played into this and will need to run another test.

Korean’s Bureaucratic Restrictions

You can only use your points for your own travel and that of your immediate family. They want proof of the family relationship. That works for most people, but it means you can’t redeem points for a girlfriend or boyfriend. (If you live with that person, transfer points from your Starwood account to theirs and then on to their own Korean account.)

Korean has told me that it takes 2-3 days to register a family member to an account, but in my experience it’s been done overnight.

Once your reservation is set up they require that a form on the website be completed and emailed or faxed in to authorize the redemption. That can take a couple of days to get set up. And it needs to be done before you can pay taxes on your ticket.

The agent who sets up your reservation can’t take credit card details, they have a separate setup for that. And the credit card used for the taxes needs to be presented at check-in when traveling on Korean’s flights.

They have a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through but I find the program to be hugely worthwhile.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    Any chance we could get you to work on not burying the lede so much? I read your blog frequently, I know the background on KE F, I know why the SPG AmEx is so great, but sometimes I’m amazed at just how much scrolling I have to do to get to the info the headline is drawing me in for.

    Thanks.

  2. Gary, is that “register a family member” thing a one-time exercise, or do you have to jump that hoop with each travel event?

  3. What has your experience been with calling up Korean Airlines to do a partner award booking? I was just trying to get some flight info for a trip to Hawaii on their partner airlines and immediately got a person that wanted my name and number and that they would “call me back” and this has happened EVERY time I call Korean Airlines and I never get a call back! Their lines constantly say that they’re all busy due to “unusually high call volume” which I’m skeptical about. For this reason alone I’m very reluctant to transfer any miles to Korean Airlines. Flying Blue is also 30,000 round trip in coach to Hawaii.

  4. This use to indeed be the case with Korean Air tickets for the hold policy but the last few times that I attempted to put an award on hold they would not hold it longer than 1 month (still a really long hold). The last time I called about a hold was in the spring so perhaps it has changed back again.

  5. #Brandon. Skyteam awards can only be booked by the Skyteam department and they work M-F Noon-9pm PST. It’s is extremely rare that they will be available but I have always received a call back usually within a couple of hours. I was on a Skyteam biz award ticket and they wanted to charge me first class pricing for domestic first award on Delta, I tried about three times with different agents to make them understand is was biz and not first but I got nowhere so i ended up flying coach to my international departure point. I tried to make changes to my itinerary as different flights became available but they would not do that as the ticket had been issued, so no changes once ticketed for Skyteam awards. One other data point is the hold time for AF/KLM reservations is 48 hours.

  6. @Andy, thanks for the reply! I’m going to fly with other airlines instead then. I don’t really need or care for Korean Airlines, their turnaround time is terrible, and their customer service is meh.

  7. @Brandon I’ve always gotten call backs. If I miss the call back, I call them and let them know I was called and a little pushing I get through to the person I need to make the booking. I would hold the award before making the transfer, especially with Chase points. I’m testing another transfer to see if avoiding the weekend speeds up an SPG transfer.

  8. @Gary, I just think it’s a little ridiculous that I need to be “called back”, I never have this issue with any other airline. For other airlines I get a live agent and I’m able to book right there and then or they can even assist me in searching for availability. With Korean airlines it just seems like I get the run-around and then some.

  9. Hi Gary,

    Being new to the points hobby I have just finished the required spend on my first card (Amex everyday preferred) and am now looking at what my second card should be. I am looking at the SPG Amex card as I am about to have a wedding at a Sheraton property in Bangkok and this would earn me some nice points along with zero intl transaction fees. I notice the business card requires 5k spend vs the 3k spend on the non-business. But I don’t see any difference on the benefits. Is there any difference on these two cards that justifies the additional 2k in spend?

    Cheers!
    Greg

  10. I never thought the iconic interesting nut lady with eye for detail and making things right did anything terribly wrong and certainly didn’t warrant jail time. Way overblown
    But their policy of not allowing partners and loved ones to not travel with you on award
    truly deserves jail time of the short sighted executives at Korean.Horrible business behavior greedy and selfish. There are ways to limit abuse in the name of running a secure program but this is abuse of customers, Qantas as overly restrictive as their redemption rules are
    at least has it right when naming a girlfriend or boyfriend

    Otherwise Korean has a good program from what I hear and read

  11. Hi Gary, thanks for the experimentation. To answer your question about hold times, here is my only data point. I have an award in First booked from LAX-ICN-SYD for between Christmas and New Year’s, which I placed on hold on July 23rd. Without requesting a hold, one was proactively given to me during the phone call for exactly one month (ticket deadline 8/23). Around August 1st, I called back and requested an extension to my ticketing deadline, asking generically for one “closer to my travel date.” The agent put me on hold, and then came back on the phone and said that my request was granted, and my new date was September 12th. I’ll admit I had a little trouble with her accent, and so I went online to confirm this new date via the KE.com portal, because I thought the extension time was a little random. Both my iPhone app and the KE.com website from my desktop PC both now show my ticketing deadline as December 1st. (I will call back in early September to confirm with a human, since I do not want to lose this trip!), but I’m hesitating to transfer my 120,000 UR points over too early if something on United / *Alliance opens up, since I’m much more UA miles rich than UR. Long story short – KE does still offer very lengthy award ticket holds.

    Hope this can help others.

    theBOAT

  12. @Greg I think the idea is that businesses spend more through their cards. The business card gets you sheraton club lounge access, and OPEN benefits like 5% rebate at domestic full service Hyatts.

  13. What process is involved in proving family relationship, especially a spouse with a different last name?

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