You’ve seldom encountered an airline as persnickety as Korean Air. It’s got rules that make no sense and airline miles that aren’t exactly easy to acquire (they used to be a Chase transfer partner, but no longer).
But with the eccentricities come some very generously priced awards (some of the cheapest to Hawaii) and broad geographical zones. And there are many creative routes you can conceive with them.
Currently, the only way to earn Korean Air miles in a hurry is by transferring the points you get from the best Marriott credit cards. Here are a handful of reasons why it might be worth doing just that – and a few pitfalls to be aware of before committing to Korean Air.
You can only book round-trip flights with partner airlines
Korean Air has this quirky rule when booking award flights: You can only reserve round-trip flights when using partner airlines. You’re only welcome to book one-way award flights if you’re flying solely on Korean Air.
This is a bit annoying, but it’s not exactly unique. For example, ANA only allows round-trip award flights. And Iberia forbids round-trip partner award flights within the U.S.
You can only book for family members
Korean Air doesn’t allow you to book awards for just anyone. They must be your actual family, and you need paperwork to prove it. Per the membership guide, you can submit proof of documents via the website, by fax, or a local Korean Air office. Examples of qualifying documentation are:
- Family registers
- Resident registration
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Something indicating birth dates and family relations of applicable members
If you and your partner aren’t married, you’ll both need to collect Korean Air miles separately if you want to use the program. This is pretty unique, as most other airline currencies allow you to book a flight for an absolute stranger if you wanted to. The restriction may be a deal-breaker for some.
Use the only complete Korean Air award chart on the internet
The prices are sometimes very generous, but their website only displays prices for one region at a time… which is annoying. So we made a complete award chart. Prices are in thousands of miles, round-trip:
Take advantage of free stopovers
Do you like stretching your vacations into multiple destinations? Korean Air has an above-average stopover policy that you should examine.
You can add one stopover to every round-trip award flight – which can mean significant savings, per Korean Air’s above award chart. For example, for 25,000 miles round-trip, you could fly from western Europe (perhaps even as far as Iceland, if you can find availability!), stopover in Portugal for a little while, and continue all the way to Russia! That’s 6,000 miles of flying for just 25,000 Korean Air miles, which is nuts.
Beware of high fuel surcharges
Korean Air passes along fuel surcharges – sometimes unjustifiably high. They don’t exactly depend on the partner, however, as much as the itinerary. What I mean is that I’m not really seeing any airline partners exempt from fuel surcharges when flying specific routes.
For example, you can fly partner airlines to:
- Japan with no fuel surcharges
- South America with no fuel surcharges
- China with moderate fuel surcharges
- Europe with BIG fuel surcharges
- South Africa with BIG surcharges
Ensure that the route you want to fly is one that won’t incur fees that are so high it offsets the money you’re saving with Korean Air miles. Domestic flights, intra-Europe flights, etc. are also a good option (though I’ve seen a few intra-Europe flights with $150+ fuel surcharges, too).
Korean Air miles are still one of the best for travel to Hawaii
If you look at our Korean Air award chart, you’ll notice it says North America to North America costs 25,000 miles. However, the kicker is that the region for North America is:
- United States (including Hawaii)
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Puerto Rico
The U.S., by the way, also includes Alaska. This is one of the cheapest award price to many of these routes, not including specific routes on British Airways, Southwest, and Turkish Airlines.
Hawaii is the obvious one. This is one of the most generous award charts to get to the islands – and there’s good availability, as you’ll be using Delta to get there.
Get to Tahiti for 60,000 miles round-trip
Our award chart looks pretty basic, but there are a number of exceptions – all good, I might add! There are discounts on specific routes flown by specific airlines.
The best example is the U.S. to Tahiti on Air France. You’ll fly round-trip for:
- 60,000 miles in coach
- 90,000 miles in business class
This is great, as the normal price is 110,000 miles in economy and 185,000 in business class. And the availability is decent.
However, the draw-back is that the only Air France route from the U.S. is from Los Angeles, (LAX – PPT).
Crazy cheap business class to Europe
Remember, North America and Europe are huge zones. You can fly round-trip in business class for 80,000 miles – theoretically from Hawaii to Russia. That is a lot of business class for 80,000 miles.
I just toyed with the award search for a bit, and while I did find coach availability from Honolulu to Moscow, I couldn’t find any business class. That particular route may be a big rarity.
Island hop in Southeast Asia for 20,000 miles
Any flight within Indonesia on the partner Garuda is 20,000 miles roundtrip. This is an excellent, cheap way to go from a place like Jakarta or Bali to East Indonesia. Getting to Raja Ampat can be very expensive, but Garuda doesn’t have fuel surcharges and Korean Air will only charge 20,000 miles.
A basic trip could be Jakarta to Sorong (the city from where you’ll take a boat to Raja Ampat) for 20,000 miles. And if you want, stopover in Bali.
To recap, here are some great uses for Korean Air miles:
- 25,000 miles to Hawaii round-trip
- 25,000 miles to Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Mexico, round-trip
- 60,000 miles to Tahiti, round-trip
- 50,000 miles from anywhere in North America (which includes Hawaii) to anywhere in Europe (which goes as east as Georgia), round-trip
- 50,000 miles from anywhere in North America to South America, round-trip
There are some program annoyances, as well, including the fact that you can only book flights for documented family members, and you can only book round-trip awards on partner airlines.
Let us know if you have any Korean Air tips! And subscribe to our newsletter for more posts like this delivered to your inbox once per day.
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