Reader Carberrie asks,
Korean Air miles booking process! I know Korean miles are a good option for those of us with Ultimate Rewards points seeking transpacific F. However, I just know that the availability is great but the booking process is a pain in the butt. What I don’t know is how bad is it, and is the pain worth it?
Korean is one of the really undervalued transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Transfer to Korean Air, the transfers are usually instantaneous.
Here’s the award chart. They offer one-way awards at half the cost of a roundtrip. From the US to Hong Kong via Seoul in first class is 80,000 points. They do add fuel surcharges which vary by destination, though Asia is usually less costly than Europe.
The key here is that first class award space is amazing on Korean. There’s really not a ton of competition for the seats. Korean is in Skyteam with Delta, but Delta frequent flyers are not allowed to book first class awards. I find two first class award seats most days on most flights from Washington DC and New York, sometimes more from Chicago, and even four from Los Angeles.
Korean Air flies to Toronto, Vancouver, Atlanta, Washington Dulles, New York JFK, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. So that’s tons of North American gateways you can use. Between these cities it’s hard not to find availability. And they do not ‘black out’ as many dates as Delta tells its members are unavailable (and those high demand dates are still available to Korean members, just for more points).
They offer a good product, too — nice amenities, a good seat, good pajamas and bedding, good food. It’s not as good as Singapore’s suites and I do prefer Cathay Pacific overall but it’s a solid product and the key is you can get it when you want it — I flew them back from Malaysia one-stop to DC the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year and had no problem getting the seats I wanted.
FlightStats.com and Expertflyer show “A” availability on Korean Air (first class award space) and what is shown in those two places matches Korean’s view of what’s available.
So is it worth it? I believe it is. But they do offer a cumbersome booking process, which if you understand it is easy to work through. It’s just different…
The two key things to know are that:
- You can only redeem for yourself and family members.
- And they want proof of family relationship.
So no fudging! If you want to bring a boyfriend or girlfriend or just plain ‘ol friend, it can be done. For instance, instead of transferring points for two tickets to your own Korean account you would transfer points for yourself to one account and for the second passenger to their own account. Korean requires all award passengers to have frequent flyer accounts anyway. (Chase Ultimate Rewards says you’re not supposed to do this, although most of the concerns I’ve read are about transferring from one Chase account to another.)
Assuming you are booking two tickets together, and are going to transfer points into your own account and book two seats, your companion needs to open a frequent flyer account as well and fill out a form online to register them as a family member. They say it can take 2-3 days to do this but my own experience was it happened overnight.
Once that’s accomplished you call Korean to set up the booking. You can of course book online but I find the website glitchy for doing this. Agents are reasonably competent, and I’ve not been charged a fee for booking through them.
Once the reservation is set up you then have to fill out a form to authorize the redemption which you then email or fax to Korean.
The award is on hold in the meantime. You then ring back a couple of days later to confirm that the form was received and processed. Only then will the taxes be finalized and they’ll take payment.
Finally, when you turn up at the airport you will have to show them the credit card used for the taxes and sign another form.
That’s the process. There is paperwork, but it’s not cumbersome or frustrating, just a bit old fashioned I think.
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