Two Negative Changes to Korean Air’s Program Show Why They’re the Most Absurdly Generous in the World

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).


Korean Air has the easiest first class award availability in the world. It’s the most generous program if you want to redeem first class awards for a family and not just for two passengers.

The caveat on Korean Air is that you can only redeem miles from your account for eligible family members, and Korean Air Skypass will insist on documenting the relationship.

Lots of Flight Options and Very Little Competition for Seats

Since Delta (and many other Skyteam partners) don’t have access to Korean’s first class award space, there’s really very little competition for these seats.

And Korean flies to more US cities than any other Asian airline. They fly to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles.

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.

Great Value Partner Awards

You can fly Skyteam airlines between the US and Europe for just 80,000 miles roundtrip in business class. Compare that to 140,000 United miles roundtrip 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.

And Korean Air has access to Air France award seats on the same level as other partners and without blocking.

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.

Roundtrip US domestic coach is 20,000 miles, and roundtrip first class is 40,000 miles.

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 is Making Two Negative Changes to the Program… Which Show Just How Awesome They Are

New Ticket Fees That Are Absurdly Modest

Korean Air Skypass is introducing new award ticket fees. (HT: One Mile at a Time)

  1. The fees are really, really modest.
  2. They don’t even go into effect until August 2017. That’s the kind of advance notice I respect from a program!

Here are the fees:

  • Change fee. Reissing an international award ticket will cost 30,000KRW (US$26.10 as of this writing)
  • Cancel and redeposit fee. The charge will be 500 miles for domestic tickets and 3000 miles for international tickets as long as the refund is processed within one year of date of issue. Refunds more than a year from issue will be 3000 miles for domestic and 10,000 for international.

Compare these fees to $150 – $200 for US airlines for change or redeposit. And I didn’t even realize you could get a refund on tickets that are over a year old!

Possible Limitation on Award Holds That’s Still Absurdly Generous

Korean Air has had the most generous award hold policy in the world.

When redeeming miles on Korean Air flights they’ve 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).

Hungry for Points reports only being given a 30 day hold on an award for travel on Korean. We’ll see if that’s a new policy or simply what the agent did.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

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.

Comments

  1. Great post, Gary. One question: I recall reading somewhere that the actual redemption process is a pain in the rear with Korean, where you have to call them, fax them ID verification, etc. What are your thoughts on this?

  2. Whew! . This is still on my bucket list! But due to lack of leave, I cannot schedule anything until summer 2017. Thinking about A380 from ATL. And 747-8i from ICN westward.
    Already ticketed – pre AA deval:
    July 16. ✈️ CX 1st JFK HKG FRA. need to snag LH 1st on 747-8i home to IAD
    Later July ✈️ Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, & Museum of Flight /Reton plant tour on way home
    Sept. Dewey Beach, DE
    Oct 16 RTW. Japan Airlines 1st ORD NRT HND LHR. BA1st IAD
    Jan 17. Annual Maya Riveria
    May 17. Amsterdam & Keukenhof .

    Or maybe just retire early

  3. Would it be too much to ask that in future you simply say how much you love a program vs intimating how stupid and dumb and naively inept its program admins are for being “absurdly” generous ? It’s almost like u r mocking them for treating customers fairly. Sometimes with PAX advocates like you, who needs enemies. Just sayin’ ….

  4. Am I correct Korean still requires booking over the phone? That was always the most annoying part of using them to me, heh.

  5. I just booked 2 round trip tickets from US to Maui for only 25,000 per person (not 30,000). It was a bit cumbersome to call, wait for a call back, send in the appropriate documents and then call again to confirm, but definitely worth it. We are flying Delta and those same flights on Delta would cost 90,000 per person.

  6. Has it dawned on you yet that each time you start writing that some benefit is too generous or too good compared to the competition, that it goes away soon? Airline employees read blogs too.

  7. I’m assuming LAX/SFO-ICN-FRA is two awards ? IF so how many miles in F, this would be a one way for 2

  8. based on my experience of last 3 years, korean has fantastic award availability on their prestige class.
    however, their j class food quality has deteriorated over the years. terrible food.

  9. Just tried to book award to Hawaii next June on Delta using Chase UR Points transferred to Korean. The Korean agent who called back said that the award space on partners (Delta) is only available 6 months out. I’ve never booked awards with Korean before so I have no idea if this is true or not. This trip is about 310 days out and I found saver level award space on Delta which I was hoping to book through Korean. Does anyone know if partner space is really only available 6 months out when booking awards through Korean?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *