Redeeming Ultimate Rewards points for Korean Air first class on the Airbus 380

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Being an airplane and miles junkie, one of my goals is to fly every Airbus 380 first class product there is. So far I’ve flown Qantas and Lufthansa on the A380 in first class, and I have plans to fly Emirates and Air France Airbus 380 first class as well in the near future.

Lately I’ve been looking at how to efficiently redeem miles for Korean Air’s Airbus 380 first class, and I realize it can actually be a pretty darn good deal. Korean Air is transfer partners with Ultimate Rewards, which is the points currency of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Bold® Business Charge Card credit cards. Points can be instantly transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Korean Air.

Korean Air actually has surprisingly reasonable first class award redemption rates. For example, first class from the US to South Korea costs only 160,000 Korean Air miles, which isn’t half bad.

While it’s not cheap, the real beauty of it is that Korean Air has phenomenal first class award space, even on the Airbus 380. In looking at award space on ExpertFlyer, almost every single date has 2-5 first class award seats on most of their to and from the US.

The thing to watch out for is that Korean Air has blackout dates, and if you want to fly during those dates you’re going to pay a 50% premium. The blackout dates are as follows:

With quite a few Star Alliance airlines more or less not releasing first class award space in advance, the relative value of an award like this increases. Good luck getting saver first class award space for 3-5 people to Asia on the same flight just about anytime of year through one of the “mainstream” programs. It ain’t happening.

So this really does tempt me, given that 160,000 miles is most definitely a reasonable first class redemption rate.

Anyone else tempted?

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  1. Absolutlely…one of my goals for the next year is to fly the A380 and the 787 (will try to go IAH-AKL when United starts flying it). This sounds like another great reason to use Chase Sapphire and Ink Business card.

  2. What is the different between First Class and First Class Sleeper seat? Does Korean Airline mileage redemption allowing stopover/openjaws, or at least transfers?

  3. They do add fuel surcharges..I remember redeeming a coach roundtrip for mother in law from IAD to OMG through ICN and fuel was around $500

  4. @ Sean — This is going to be the best deal for Korean Air first class.

    @ Brian — Supposedly they do, though oddly enough I’m not seeing any fuel surcharges on revenue first class tickets, so I’m not sure why. I’ll look into this more closely and let you know.

    @ Stvr — Only part time. In all honesty, you get 100K points just for the Chase Ink Bold and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards, and then some strategic spend through the Ultimate Rewards shopping mall should get you there.

  5. @ James — No excuse, you have two SSNs, I only have one. :p

    @ Palmtenor — It depends on the aircraft type. Some have the sleeper seats, some don’t. As far as transfers or stopovers go, the award I was quoting was only as far as South Korea, so it’s probably a moot point unless you’re making a domestic connection.

  6. Never mind two I would like to get 4 of us on board 🙂 in which case settling for j and using big stock of sky miles may be worthwhile. As for using 160k for 1, well that will be just another solo flight for the purpose of feeling elevated in first class. I can think of more all round rewarding ways to use the points. 320k for two is easily attainable if u can both get the cards but even then only worthwhile if you actually want to go to south Korea (which we happen to do)

    Also consider the relative value. 160k chase points also gets you 7 nights at any park Hyatt in the world with room to spare. I would not use my only stash of points fur the sake of feeling superior on a single flight to somewhere u probably otherwise wouldn’t even go

  7. Three questions:

    1. Does Korean Air offer one way rewards?

    2. If one is connecting in Seoul to another Asian destination (e.g. Cambodia), is there is through mileage cost or does one combine the two separate flights drom the two reward charts?

    3. I hear Korean charges taxes on its rewards. Is this true and, if so, how much do they amount to on the round trip in First Class from the USA to Seoul?


  8. Wow, speak of the devil, I asked Gary about this earlier in his blog post responding to a reader question about applying to a bunch of Chase cards and which one she should apply.

    You and I have an identical goal 😉 except that you are probably much closer to this goal than I since I still need to apply for the Sapphire card.

  9. They do charge Fuel Surcharge on award booking. Although their fare construction doesn’t list “YQ” , they do have “Q” surcharge, which is to be paid by the passenger when redeeming KE miles .

  10. @Stuart Falk — Yes, you can book one-way awards for 50% of the roundtrip cost.

    I almost always choose first over business, but 120k SkyMiles (my value = $1,440) for full-flat business seems to be a much better deal than 160k UR (my value = $3,200) for first class.

  11. I second the comment about not being single, multipling points by two becomes unattainable very quickly.

  12. @Tracy – Not if you’re multiplying sign-up bonuses by two as well!

    @Lucky – If you go down this path, I’d be interested to see a post on how your found the ins and outs of KE awards (e.g. routing rules, partner redemption, etc)

  13. I appreciate the post but please CORRECT me if I am wrong, It has been repeatedly pointed that that KE and AF first rewards even if you have mileage in each of their RESPECTIVE FF programs. You are NOT allowed to redeem them ?

    Has this changed ?

  14. @ Chris S. — If you’re trying to go from LA to Rio, you’re probably best off transferring to a program other than Korean Air, since their only partner flying that route is Delta, and they rarely have “low” level award space.

    @ Spotty — That’s the case for Air France, though if it’s the case for Korean Air, it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

  15. Lucky – I appreciate you providing this information. I am to take it that you were able to book this when you call KE ?

    Cause when I last spoke to KE they said I do not have STATUS and am not ALLOWED to redeem KE awards in F.

    I have been wanting to do this for a very long time. Since KE has a fantastic product even before the A380 came along for the F cabin.

    More so like EK, KE too have “F” redemption inventory in A class. Which is available 90% of the times. They have P for paid First.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  16. @Chris S. – If you have UR points, might be able to transfer to BA (Avios) instead. As I understand it, booking through BA to South America is YQ-free and also saves some points.

  17. @lucky Thanks for checking. TBH I’m more curious about whether they charge YQ on their North America > Europe award travel. KE’s mileage cost is 80k/100k on J/F vs CO’s 100k/12k5. This would be an awesome deal if YQ were not charged. Otherwise, I’d probably stick with CO/UA and their friendlier routing rules.

  18. We need to know if it is true that non-elite members can not redeem F on KE. It would be a shame to transfer that many miles and not be able to redeem.

  19. @Spotty and @Srt8-blue
    Your posts got me concerned. I called Korean Air myself and after being on hold for 10 minutes, they informed me that you do not have to be an elite member to obtain an F award redemption. I wonder why Spotty obtained different info.

    Ben — It would be great to have more info about Korean first class products. Perhaps another blog post???

  20. @Chris S. @lucky

    KE flies LAX-GRU with a 772 with their new first class product, I believe 3X weekly. 140k r/t in F.

  21. @ BrewerSEA — Total oversight on my part, whoops.

    @ NYBanker — By transferring Membership Rewards points to an Air France account, you can book a “flex” first class award. Not a great value, but seems like a product worth trying.

  22. @lucky Presumably you’ll be transferring the MR points into the account of a FB elite member, since only they can book flex (and therefore F) awards.

  23. I thought even those Flex F awards were only for AF Gold Elites (their top status).

    Do you have a friendly Elite member willing to make the booking for you (upon you giving them the points)? Or did you partake in AF’s status match last year?

    I thought about doing to match just to be able to try this F…but never got around to it. 🙁

  24. @NYBanker FlyingBlue’s tiers are Silver, Gold, and Platinum, so Gold isn’t the top tier. There was some discussion on this on the FB section of FT recently, and it appears that it’s any elite as a Silver was working on making a booking.

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