Redeem Miles For Korean Air First Class

I receive emails, Tweets, and comments all the time from readers saying how much they enjoyed flying [insert premium cabin product] for the first time, and that puts the biggest smile on my face. The most common ones are probably Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa first class.

What puzzles me, however, is how few people seem to be redeeming miles for Korean Air first class, which I consider to be one of the best and most attainable award redemptions out there.

For my own travels this year I’ve redeem more Korean Air SkyPass miles than any other mileage currency. So far I’ve flown the following this year using Korean Air SkyPass miles:

Now, admittedly China Southern first class wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping, though Korean Air’s first class product blew me away and exceeded my expectations.

Korean-Air-First-Class-101
Korean Air A380 first class cabin

Why should you be redeeming miles for Korean Air first class?

Korean Air SkyPass miles are easy to come by

Korean Air SkyPass is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, which is one of the easiest points currencies to come by, in my opinion, thanks to the generous sign-up bonuses and category bonuses for everyday spend on those cards:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers double points on dining and travel, no foreign transaction fees, and a 7% annual points dividend (plus a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3,000 within three months, plus an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make their first purchase within three months)
  • The Ink Plus® Business Card and Ink Bold® Business Card, which offer 5x points on office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services (plus a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months)

Furthermore, if you have the Chase Freedom® or Ink Cash® Business Card in conjunction with one of the above cards, you can redeem those points as “premium” Ultimate Rewards points and transfer them to Korean Air SkyPass at a 1:1 ratio.

Korean Air flies to more destinations in the US than any other Asian airline

There’s not an Asian airline that has as many destinations in the US as Korean Air. Their USA destinations include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington. That’s a lot of destinations, and depending on where you live, could easily translate into one less connection enroute to Asia.

Korean-Air-USA-Destinations

Korean Air releases a ton of first class award space

I think I can say with near certainty that there’s not another airline that releases as much saver level award space to Asia as Korean Air.

And the best part is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re planning your trip far in advance or close to departure, there’s consistently tons of space either way.

For example, yesterday I pulled up award space between Los Angeles and Seoul Incheon for Sunday. Both A380 flights had five saver level first class award seats each — FIVE! Talk about a hell of a party you could have aboard!

Korean-Air-Award-Space-1

For a return tomorrow, each A380 flight also has 4-5 first class award seats.

Korean-Air-Award-Space-2

And if you want to plan far in advance, space is also excellent. Pulling up random dates ~10 months from now, most dates between Los Angeles and Seoul Incheon have ~8-10 first class award seats available.

Korean-Air-Award-Space-4

Korean-Air-Award-Space-3

The one thing to note is that Korean Air SkyPass does have peak dates (where additional mileage is required), which vary somewhat by year and direction of travel (Korea to US vs. US to Korea).

Korean-Air-Blackout-Dates

It’s also worth noting that they impose fuel surcharges on award redemptions, though they’re quite reasonable compared to what you’d pay going to Europe. For example, fuel surcharges for roundtrip first class between Los Angeles and Seoul Incheon are ~$300.

Korean-Air-Fuel-Surcharges

Korean Air first class is a great product

I’m a huge fan of Asiana, and had always been told that Asiana was the airline in Korea with substance, while Korean Air was the airline with style. That wasn’t my experience at all — Korean Air had every bit as much substance as Asiana.

From the service to the food to the bedding to the ridiculous amenities that Korean Air has on the A380 (lounge, bar, duty free gallery, etc.), I was blown away across the board.

Korean-Air-First-Class-103
Korean Air A380 first class bed

Korean-Air-First-Class-104
Korean Air A380 Cosmo Bar

Korean-Air-First-Class-102
Korean Air first class meal

Korean Air has reasonable redemption rates

Korean Air has reasonable redemption rates, which are downright cheap compared to United’s new partner award redemption rates, for example.

Here’s how many miles are required one-way in non-peak season for travel in Korean Air first class:

  • North America to Korea, Japan, China, or Northeast Asia: 80,000 miles
  • North America to Southeast Asia: 95,000 miles
  • North America to Southwest Asia: 105,000 miles
  • North America to Oceania: 120,000 miles
  • North America to South America: 70,000 miles

Korean Air allows one-way awards with stopovers

If you’re traveling on Korean Air metal, you can book one-way awards for half the cost of a roundtrip, and can even have a stopover in Seoul Incheon on a one-way award, if applicable.

Bottom line

When you combine airline quality, availability, and redemption rates, I don’t think there’s a better option for first class travel to Asia than Korean Air SkyPass. It can be tough to find two first class award seats on a single flight to Asia nowadays, let alone 4-5 seats, enough for a family.

So if you haven’t yet redeemed miles for Korean Air first class, what are you waiting for?

(In the interest of full disclosure I earn a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the above links. They’re all for the best publicly available offers for each card. Neither this post, nor the comments, are provided nor commissioned by Chase. The comments below have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser, and it is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered. Thanks for your support! )

Comments

  1. Ted says

    “So if you haven’t yet redeemed miles for Korean Air first class, what are you waiting for?”

    Sadly, no First Class redemptions on KAL for Alaska Mileage Plan members :-(

  2. Stuart Falk says

    I did book Korean Air first class from Los Angeles to Seoul and, frankly my experience as regards food and service was quite different from yours. The steak I ordered was cold and raw, really inedible, and when reheated, was not much better. The cabin staff, while friendly, had difficulty with English and were not pr-active (they said that they were spending much of their time with an infant in Business Class). The hardware was indeed excellent, but on the whole I think Asiana has a better product.

  3. mangoceviche says

    is KE similar to SQ in the sense that I’d have to book a separate ticket to one of its gateway cities?

  4. Craig says

    Hi Ben,

    Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but I was wondering what your thoughts are as far as what mileage currency should be used before others. That is, before a possible devaluation.

    Lets say I have AA miles that I could use for CX first, Chase UR Points that I can use for KE first as you nicely discuss in this post, and Hawaiian Air miles that I can (unfortunately) only use for either AA business class to Europe or Virgin Atlantic to London upper class (to get the most value).

    Do you think I should use any one over the other because of a possible devaluation coming up?

    Thanks!

  5. purcitron says

    @onemileatatime
    whats the best place to search for KE award space please (sans expertlyer, awardnexus, etc) ?
    thanks

  6. Jon says

    A 50% mileage premium, 300% premium in actual out of pocket costs, and dealing with KE booking hassles may have something to do with it.

  7. Anthony says

    Pretty simple explaination

    1) Hong Kong (Cathay) and Europe (through Lufthansa) are more popular destinations for your readers than Seoul. Obviously you can get to most of Asia via Seoul, but it is easier to use Cathay for most people.
    2) People would rather convert UR points to other currencies (United, Avios, etc)
    3) Their US partner (Delta) isn’t as popular with the mileage crowd

  8. Lantean says

    I am waiting for them to update their archaic award booking system and rules… if i want to travel with a friend i don’t live with it’s a major hassle.

  9. Beachfan says

    I value UR points for Hyatt stays. Got plenty of airline miles in other alliances.

  10. Justin says

    I believe Korean Air only operates the A380 to a few destinations in the US (Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York), and I think all their other US destinations have other planes with a different / older first class. I suppose first class is first class, but on Korean Air it’s only slick and shiny on the A380 ;)

  11. WB says

    For the same 80k could I fly JFK-LAX(stop)-ICN, with the first leg on DL metal?

    Or do I have to fly JFK-ICN(stop)-XXX?

  12. Greg B says

    I had no problem getting two Korean Air First class seats from Seattle to Bali a couple weeks ago for travel in January. As I spoke with the rep on the phone, I was able to put the the tickets on hold until I could transfer UR points to my Korean Air FF account. I was told that they could hold the seats 2 weeks prior to departure in January…Really?….I couldn’t believe that they would hold the FF seats that long, so I called back a few days later, and was told the same thing. Anyone have the same experience, and do you think I should wait that long for ticketing?

  13. AJK says

    For me it’s simple… still flying on award redemptions made with the old UA chart. Then after I’m done with that, I’ll start burning all my AA miles in light of the imminent deval. Then, and maybe then, will I start looking at KE :P

  14. Carl says

    I see that they also offer F out of HNL, which is on the 747 and A330, but appears to be the old F product. What have you heard about that product and which aircraft would you choose?

  15. says

    Ben,

    Those dates you pulled from the Korean chart are not blackout dates, those are their peak dates. You can still redeem awards, it’s just more miles.

  16. Christian says

    You show the blackout dates for 2014/15, which is great. Are the blackout dates peak season periods?

  17. Euro says

    Having redeemed the majority of my UR points for Korean Air last month (albeit in business class because I wanted a seat on the upper deck of the plane and wanted to save some points for a possible trip next year), I’ll say this:

    1. There was plenty of business availability on the route I was choosing (HKG to LAX via ICN and about 80% of the days there was availability on both sectors, though my HKG to ICN segment was a redeye and was swapped from a 777-300ER with their latest lie-flat seat to a 747 with their older angled flat seat. The lie-flat looks very similar, but felt much nicer. First class on the 747 looks even older per their website.)
    2. On both sectors I had nobody sitting next to me, though the redeye was more barren.
    3. My original plan was fly to ATL and meet a friend, but this summer, Korean Air switched their A380 to a 777-300ER, which was the reason I chose the LAX route.
    4. The booking process wasn’t that archaic- I didn’t have to fax anything to Korean Air, and was able to book the ticket and pay the surcharges through their website. But if you want to book an award with a partner or a more complex itinerary, that’s probably another story.

    Will be willing to fly on Korean again, had an excellent experience- comfy seats, excellent service, amazing food. Lounge at ICN was a bit plain, very small at HKG.

  18. says

    Your posts on flying KE in First were very helpful to me when setting up a one-way flight from Qingdao, China to Washington, with a stopover in Seoul. We always fly Korean to/from China as they’re wonderful with our dog who flies with us, and the airline has really grown on us over time. Flying First with them was something we had been looking forward to for some time, and it was pretty spectacular, even though it was the 777-300 and not the A380.

    We had no issues with English ability and were the only passengers in First for the short hop from Qingdao to Seoul. There were just two other passengers with us from Seoul to DC. Language-wise, our only problem was the FAs often confused my Chinese wife as Korean, but they were overwhelmingly apologetic when they caught their mistake.

    The best tip I can share is if you’re flexible with your dates, you can snag tickets within days of the flight. We transferred miles into our account so we could check availability live and did so every couple hours in the two weeks leading up to our desired dates, and we were able to book two First class tickets about 5 days out. Well, we already had economy tickets on hold, but were hoping First would open up.

    Unfortunately our flight was a lunchtime service, so no dinner, but we enjoyed it all the same. And yes, we made sure to finish off a bottle of the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2006!

  19. says

    I said the posts were helpful, but neglected to say “thanks” — Thank you for the great write-ups and walkthroughs! Saved us lots of headache I’m sure.

  20. ffi says

    @Jon may have hit the nail
    That and the blackout dates
    Their partner never seems to have access to their seats and never in F by design
    That and their rules on booking for others as pointed out by lantean

    All said and done, if you have a ton of uR points then may be a better option for Asia than UA
    The problem is that Citi has stuffed the market with AA points as well and we stocked up
    I would rather deal with AA agents than Korean

    @AJK is on the same game plan I can see

  21. Roger says

    For me, the rule against redeeming miles for one’s unmarried partner makes it a non-starter.

  22. Bill says

    Family can sit in coach.

    Given the devaluation of United MileagePlus, and the reduction by Asiana of first class partner award seat allocations (including A380s), Korean looks like a better option for spending Chase Ultimate Reward points.

    How does Singapore Air compare to Korean for using Chase Ultimate Rewards now that this is an option? Surely you like Singapore more than Korean?

  23. Simon Hotchkin says

    Can I fly from NY to Sao Paulo on Korean air for 70K miles? Also how do I search availability? expert flyer is a paid service.

  24. Rob says

    Couple reasons :
    -People actually want to travel on those blackout dates, which makes the mileage less valuable
    -You can transfer UR points to Singapore Airlines now and usually fly similar routes for less miles

    Still, I am thinking the real reasons are people are still burning through trips booked under old UA chart and AA miles. I’d much rather burn through my AA miles via JAL or Cathay at 62.5K a pop with $50 fees when we can see the devaluation coming next year. But then, I am not even sure if I can use those miles before devaluation since I booked cheap repositioning flights until next April. Let’s just say I am going to be flying lot of international Economy until then, which makes me really doubt my sanity..

  25. lucky says

    @ mangoceviche — Yes, if you want to book a Korean Air metal award. You can book a partner award, but then a roundtrip is required, and some of the costs and rules are different. The prices are quite similar, though, assuming you’re looking to fly roundtrip.

  26. lucky says

    @ purcitron — Unfortunately there’s no other place to search. You can search on the Korean Air website if you have enough miles for an award, but not otherwise.

  27. lucky says

    @ Craig — In general I recommend using non-transferrable mileage currencies first. So if miles can’t be converted into another mileage program at an efficient rate, they’re higher risk. So in the above example I would burn American miles before Ultimate Rewards points.

  28. lucky says

    @ WB — If you book partner awards then they have to be roundtrip, though award rates are very similar. So in theory you could do 160K for roundtrip first class and include the domestic segment on Delta. That being said, Delta doesn’t release saver level BusinessElite on the New York to Los Angeles route.

  29. lucky says

    @ Diamond Vargas — First class is really the “sweet spot.” That’s because partner airlines have access to business class award space, while they don’t have access to first class award space. So first class is most readily available.

  30. lucky says

    @ Greg B — Yep, they’re ridiculously generous when it comes to award holds. I’ve had them hold seats till the day before departure in the past. That is indeed correct.

  31. lucky says

    @ Carl — Personally I’d still take 747 first class over A330 business class, given that the mileage premium isn’t huge. It’s not the most modern hard product, but isn’t half bad either.

  32. lucky says

    @ Christian — Good point, I should have phrased it differently. Those aren’t blackout dates but peak season dates, so it simply costs more mileage.

  33. lucky says

    @ Simon Hotchkin — There’s no free service that allows you to search space. You can check on Korean Air’s site if you have enough miles, but if you don’t then you can’t search online. Otherwise you have to call. You’d want to look at the partner SkyTeam award to see how much it would cost if you included any segments on Delta.

  34. WB says

    @Lucky, I understand DL doesn’t release businesselite availability JFK-LAX. What if I were to fly coach JFK-LAX, stop, F LAX-ICN (or whatever)? Will KE allow mixed cabin partner awards?

  35. Ivan Y says

    @ Lucky – are you going to try the new route to/from IAH any time soon? It’s a lowly 772ER but it has the new first class if I understand their site correctly. Only costs $18,197.49 for a round-trip in F :P

  36. lucky says

    @ Ivan Y — As much as I like trying new routes, realistically don’t see that happening anytime soon when I could fly A380 first class instead.

  37. Ivan Y says

    @ Lucky – I have a feeling KE will start A380 service to Houston before Qatar gets their planes :P Anyway, the nonstop flight to ICN is pretty intriguing way to get to Asian destinations and is probably more appealing than going on CA through PEK.

  38. Kevin says

    Lucky, if I book a oneway award from Korea to Sao Paulo, can I do a stopover at LAX?

  39. ORDnHKG says

    I wouldn’t necessary say KE is a great product but a good product, , even on the 380, the F seat is already a generation behind their competitors, e.g. low walls, no doors. The upper deck bar in the back and also the duty free gallery do look interesting, but I don’t need to fly F to use that.

    Despite KE fly to many US cities, only 380 has the best amenities, if not when you fly their 744, 77W, and 772, you will get various hard products, some are even 2 generations behind. Long haul food seems good, but your NRT-ICN flight, despite you are flying F, it seems like you got a C meal compare to OZ. Also, all KE’s lounge sucks even at ICN, no matter NRT or ICN, no matter the food, or even the lounge décor, it is all supbar. No wonder KE had never made it to the top 10 list of world’s best airline no matter F, C, or Y.

  40. Silver says

    @Lucky, how/where do I look up award space on Korean Air?

    How many Alaska miles do I need to fly in first class from North America to Southeast Asia, is that 95,000 Alaska miles each way?

  41. NYCWahoo says

    Lucky or other commnters,

    If I am using KE miles, can I book JFK-LAX on Delta(connetion) and LAX-ICN on KE? or KE won’t allow that?

  42. lucky says

    @ NYCWahoo — You could, but it would need to be a roundtrip and would be charged per the SkyTeam award chart.

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