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My Experience Booking Award Tickets On Korean Air Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

by on October 23, 2012 · 36 comments

in Korean Air, Ultimate Rewards

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Booking an award ticket through Korean can be a grueling process as I experienced this past week – necessitating several phone calls, a scanner and even a fax machine. However, being able to book some premium award tickets on Korean was definitely worth the effort. Here’s what I had to do.

I wanted to book two award tickets in Korean Air’s newest Kosmo Sleeper Suite first class aboard a 777-200 from Seoul to Madrid in November.  Before calling Korean Air, I found the flight I wanted on the date I wanted, but I wasn’t able to see whether there was first class availability using Korean Air’s Skypass search for international tickets because I didn’t have enough miles in my account. I checked ExpertFlyer and there were indeed two first class award seats available so I called Korean Air directly and reached a representative who confirmed that two first class award tickets were available for the flight I wanted and would require 80,000 Skypass miles each plus taxes and fees.

The award mileage requirements on Korean Air’s website are listed for roundtrip awards – but the airline allows one-ways for half price.

Here’s where it got really interesting. I was able to put the tickets on hold, and I would have ten days both to redeem my miles and pay the fees and taxes. All I had to do was give them my Skypass number to attach to the reservation – so far so good. 80,000 points per ticket was a pretty hefty charge, but out of curiosity, I looked up the cost of my itinerary and it turned out to be over $5,500 per ticket, so I was getting a value of 6.9 cents per point and I would avoid having to connect through another city. I would have loved to use SkyMiles to book this award, but Delta does not allow international first class redemptions, which is extremely annoying.

Had I bought my first class ticket, it would have cost $5,500!

Then I hit a couple minor snags. The first was: I had been planning to transfer a total of 160,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my Skypass account to redeem for both tickets, but was informed that since there were two people listed on the reservation the points for each individual ticket had to come from each passenger’s own Skypass account.

I wanted to make sure my points would transfer instantly, so I did a test transfer of 1,000 points to my own Skypass account, and it went through in less than a minute. However, I didn’t realize that once I transferred the first 1,000, I would not be able to make another transfer to my Skypass account until 10:00 am ET the next day due to transfer limits in the Ultimate Rewards – Korean Air partnership. It seems you can only transfer points from one Ultimate Rewards into one Skypass account each day. In the meantime I could still transfer points to the other passenger’s Ultimate Rewards account to transfer into his Skypass account, which I did immediately. Note: some people have had issues lately with transferring their Ultimate Rewards to other people, but since I was transferring points from my Ink Bold card to another employee’s account for a business trip I wasn’t violating any rules. While it’s not listed on the website (at least not anywhere I can find), some Chase reps will tell you that you are only supposed to be able to transfer to spouses/domestic partners/ family members/ employees. I’m working on getting more clarification from Chase on this subject, but just FYI a few people have had their accounts shut down for external transfer activity.

Thinking the worst was over and the tickets would be confirmed once the points were in the accounts, I called Korean Air again to make sure. This time they told me that I would have to fill out redemption forms for each passenger and fax them over along with proper photo ID for each passenger, which in this case included scans of our passport photo page. Faxing? Really??

To find this form go to Koreanair.com > Skypass > Forms and it is the SKYPASS Family Mileage Pooling Plan / Bonus Award Redemption Form.

The representative confirmed that the tickets remained on hold and would stay that way for several days but I was skeptical since it seemed like such a process compared to booking on other airlines. Still determined,  I faxed over the forms for both of us to Korean Air’s US fax line (310- 417-5678) and waited until the next morning to transfer the remaining 79,000 Ultimate Rewards points to my own Skypass account. Once I was able to confirm that both accounts each had a balance of at least 80,000 Skypass miles I called Korean Air yet again to wait to speak with a representative.

My Skypass account now shows the 80,000 miles that were transferred and then redeemed for the first class ticket.

The airline was able to see that the points had posted and they had received the necessary paperwork so the tickets could be completed.

The last step was to pay the taxes and fees which only took a couple of minutes and ended up being $196.23 for each ticket. Unlike each passenger having to redeem his own miles, I could pay the taxes and fees for both tickets with a single credit card.

Finally it was time for the fun part. One feature of the website that I thought was nice and very interactive compared to the rest of the site was where you can choose your seats. Once the tickets were no longer on hold, my account was updated and the option was available to choose the seats I wanted. While I thought the site was very slow and a little confusing to navigate, this part was great and we got two seats right next to each other in the second row of first class.

The first class seat map on Korean Airs Boeing 777-200.

Although the award redemption process was a bit convoluted, there were a few positive aspects to the experience. First, almost every time I called the airline, I was able to speak to a representative immediately without having to wait. Each one I spoke to was familiar not only with the award booking process and with finding award availability on the airline. (As a side note, that was in stark contrast to a call I made to Air France/KLM Flying Blue when I thought about using my miles there to book this flight. The rep couldn’t even find any Korean award availability and wanted to route me through Guangzhou on China Airlines instead on a different date!). At times we had trouble understanding each other, but they were always patient and asked if they didn’t understand something, so I found it all to be very pleasant.

I do think Korean Air needs to work on updating their award booking process to make it paperless as well as easier for their customers. After all, South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries on earth – the fact that you can’t book an award ticket online is mind-boggling. Just booking a simple one-way award ticket was very time consuming and though I definitely do not look forward to the rigamarole of booking award tickets through them in the future, I will say that the very solid value I got from my points made the experience well worth it and I can’t wait to experience those Kosmo Sleeper seats.  I’ll just have to hope that by the time I redeem again they will have changed the system and done away with the fax machine!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Allison

    Does Delta allow international business class redemption for sky miles?

    Thanks for the post!

  • Brian(J)

    TPG:
    “the jaw-dropping value I got from my points ”
    Even more value on a similar redemption can be had via United miles. Just returned from my first around the world trip from Seattle to Seoul (stopover) then on to Lisbon (via FRA) for a couple weeks returning through Zurich and Montreal all in first for 135K each. Seattle to Lisbon legs were Asiana, Lisbon to Montreal was in Swiss. Fees were under $150 each.
    Asiana and Swiss First class was almost empty and it would be hard to choose between them, but the presence of an actual chef on top of the two flight attendants serving first class on Asiana probably put that over the top.

    This was also our first trip in international First and I’m not so sure it was such a good idea. I have no idea how we will ever be able to fly coach again.

  • Mfoley2

    i booked icn to hnl with premier seat through delta miles, flying with korean air. i wasn’t able to choose the seat, what i understood was you only can pick a seat a month prior to flight. if your flight is more than 31 days ahead and able to choose the seat would you let me know how you did it?

  • sergey

    I wish Delta agents will be knowledgeable as Korean Air agents. I had an itinerary on hold with DL , LAX-SYD on V Australia. I called DL to add domestic US segment (on Alaska Air). If I knew that it could be done online, I would never call. First agent said truthfully that he doesn’t know how to deal with fare codes from Alaska and redirected me to new agent, who told me that seats came unconfirmed. When I hang up, I noticed that my outbound flight is changed from VA to DL flight on the DIFFERENT date. As a result, the total mileage became 260K (not 150K as original). So, now I lost my itinerary thanks to “knowledgeable” DL agents.

  • Shids

    I got solicited for a Korean Air credit card with 40,000 miles bonus.Worth applying for. Might not need to submit passports by fax as a credit card holder.

  • http://profiles.google.com/awindenberger Aurelien Windenberger

    How did you book this around the world trip? Was it one redemption or did you simply combine a couple separate redemptions for the tickets?

  • HoKo

    Yes they do

  • HoKo

    Why were the taxes close to $200? Is most of that YQ?

  • TvlGuru

    Make sure that your bring the same credit card with you that you paid the taxes because they insist on checking it and filling out more paperwork at check-in. It is an insane process.

  • Michael

    Whatever happened with your United redemption fiasco on Swiss Air?

  • Austinfd

    This sounds pretty similar to my recent SFO-ICN round trip redemption for next month…Yes, KE does some stone-agey things, and I imagine that will ultimately change. But don’t hold your breath.

    Anyway, I envy your Kosomo seat…I wasn’t willing to spend more than 70k miles on this trip!

  • BigRedBears

    Brian,
    I’ll give you credit for posting some new and useful info this time (as opposed to advertising junk to get more credit card sign ups through your links).

  • RakSiam

    I wonder if all of the hoops you have to jump through means that fewer people bother to book awards. Which would be a good thing for those who are willing to deal with the system. And it probably works in the airline’s favor if they don’t have to “give away” more award seats. Not sure how the economics of that works.

    With respect to valuations….I typically think of it the same way: I spent X miles for a ticket that retails for $Y so this is the value per mile. Others will argue that unless you were actually willing to spend that much money for the seat, then the value is considerably less than that on a per mile basis.

  • Opty

    Please share the card offer, it would be helpful to me. Thanks.

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  • Haloastro

    If you call back and explain what happened, you might be able to get your original booking reinstated.

  • Haloastro

    I don’t understand why you say that an award ticket cannot be booked online. If I login using my SkyPass account, I can both search for (and book) award tickets on their website.

  • Haloastro

    For all travel classes on international flights, advance seat selection is available from T-30 days up until T-24 hrs. before departure (T-48 for coach). If you booked an award ticket with DL miles, then your SkyPass FF# wouldn’t be in the reservation, and you would not be able to choose the seat yourself at any time on the website. You would need to call in once you’re eligible and speak to an agent to request a seat assignment.

  • Haloastro

    My last two flights on KE had no such requirements at check-in. YMMV.

  • Haloastro

    It looks like this was a one-way N.America-N.Asia + one-way N.Asia-N.America via Europe. Very nice!

  • Milezjunkie

    Does KE ever offer first class awards on the A380?

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  • Nate

    Fax machines are still the only way to really get things done in Asia. In Korea most websites still only work in Internet Explorer because they require ActiveX. It’s beyond unbelievable.

  • Nate

    BTW, the word is rigmarole.

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  • guest

    I’ve actually always booked my Korean Air award flights online without any issues – it’s very quick online …. maybe because I always do it on the Korean version of the website? Sounds like you had to go through a pretty lengthy process!

  • Patrick

    This is just how things work in Korea. If you’re not a Korean citizen, and you try to buy plane tickets, train tickets, or groceries online, bank on- or off-line, rent an apartment, receive an international Fed Ex package, etc., you always end up making 12 phone calls and sending 12 faxes.

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  • Charlie

    Actually there is an online method. One only need navigate to http://www.koreanair.com/local/na/gp/eng/sp/ab/eng_sp_ab.jsp I’ve used last August 2012 LAX/ICN/LAX, once this April LAX/GRU/LAX and just now for ICN/LHR/ICN. You can use only your miles if you have enough or like this upgrade I used some of my wife’s mile as we’re registered on the site as connected family.
    Here’s the link where you input your existing booking reference to proceed with upgrade:
    http://www.koreanair.com/local/na/gp/eng/sp/ab/eng_sp_abifr.jsp?bonus=U&cyb=cyb

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  • Phil

    For someone looking to go ny to asia with a stopover is should one way, will KAL allow it? If I want to to go ny Singapore with a stopover in Seoul, is that allowed? And if so, is it 35k in points(1/2 of a rt from North America to kore)?

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