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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.
- Korean Air is a points transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card‘s points transfer to Korean.
- Starwood Preferred Guest added Korean as a transfer partner last August. Your Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express‘ points transfer to Korean.
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
- The fees are really, really modest.
- 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.