Using Korean’s Generous Award Hold Policy to Book Awards on Partners and Korean’s First Class

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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 the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is far better at earning Korean’s miles (because of double points on travel and dining as well as a bigger signup bonus) and of course comes with the flexibility to transfer points to many other programs as well.

This past summer Starwood introduced Korean Air as a transfer partner as well.

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 50,000 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)

Here’s some random routes on random dates, the first searches I did from a few US cities to Seoul using Expertflyer:

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 a 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 80,000 miles roundtrip 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. In my experience I find that it takes 3-5 days to transfer to Korean.

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 Air 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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

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 InsideFlyer.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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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

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Comments

  1. They always say the credit card used for the taxes needs to be presented at check-in, but quite surprisingly I wasn’t asked for it last month.

  2. I can second what mcdulhk88 says. I recently booked an award for a family member and I confirmed with multiple Skypass agents that for award tickets, the credit card is no longer needed to be presented at check-in.

  3. I recently booked a first class korean air flight online for myself, and paid for the taxes. At no point in the process did it mention anything about filling out a form and faxing it in. Is that still required?

  4. I will reconfirm what appears to have been confirmed regarding the credit card needed. I leave from Japan on Korean Friday. Gary love your posts. Short most times, concise and too the point.

  5. @tyler: The form is only required when dealing with phone agents, since the website requires that you log in to book.

  6. The 80K to Europe in business class award is great, but horribly painful to book. You can’t be transferred to the SkyPass department, so you have to call and ask them to call you back. Then when they do, you will find that they don’t have the same access to Air France and KLM award space that Delta and Alaska do, so your careful planning may find agents unable to get you a seat on a flight you could get using Delta or Alaska miles. I also ran into this randomly with an Aeroflot flight. Agents could see space on some Moscow-Warsaw flights but not all of them, and in particular not on the one that I could connect to after coming off the Dulles-Moscow flight. Then there’s the form to fill out, scan, and email in. Then you’re supposed to wait for them to call you back. If you call in, then it’s about 12 hoops to convince them to let you speak to someone who can see that you sent in the form. That person then cannot take your credit card details, so you’ll be transferred to yet another person.

  7. I’ve heard that Korean doesn’t recognize same sex spouses as “family members” for booking purposes. Is this true?

  8. I’ve seen posters on FlyerTalk report being able to register a same-sex spouse by providing a marriage certificate.

  9. Korean air is great. Take proof of relationship to any agent and family mileage program is done on the spot.

    I’ve been here in Seoul 25 years and asiana and kal are superb.

  10. I’m not sure why Gary would claim that it’s not possible to book Korean first class with Delta miles. That’s simply untrue as an across-the-board statement. I’ve book at least 5 first-class awards on Korean using SkyMiles over the past two years — one of which was just recently.

  11. @JC – i believe you must be confusing business class and first class. Delta SkyMiles does not allow redemption for international first class awards, period.

  12. Great job recycling and massaging your old material on Korean Air Skypass miles. Sadly nothing new and a waste of my time. Great job selling your CC affiliate links.

  13. @ABC – Yawn! More stupid troll commentary by an FT whiner. This has gotten so old. Get a life and read something else.Why are you still here? Just to look stupid?

  14. So how would one actually go about booking NYC-HNL on Hawaiian non stop in first class for 60k RT with korea points?

  15. I wouldn’t mind a walk-through “how to” on flying Alaska east coast to Hawaii with Korean miles, either. Thanks for the report.
    (And, troll ABC, please get a life and spread your vitriol elsewhere. You do get that most people who read these blogs really do not know all this, right?)

  16. Like several others said… any “how to” posts on using Korean miles for Hawaii flights or even international flights from non-Korean hubs (like IAH, DFW, etc.).

    (And recycled or not… this is news to me. Thanks for posting.)

  17. It sounds like you need to call in order to place a hold on a ticket without having enough miles in your account – is there a particular number or office for easier/better service, or is the general US customer service line sufficient?

    And do you need to have *any* miles in your account, or will they place an award on hold even if you have zero and plan to transfer all the necessary miles?

    Thanks!

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