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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Chase Sapphire Reserve
After finally being approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, I got the card and started spending right away to hit the $4,000 in minimum spend within three months to get the 100,000-point sign-up bonus. Luckily, I had a lot of flights and hotels to book to net me the 3x points on travel and to get the $300 in travel credit. My first purchase was a hotel stay through Hotels.com for $709, and I instantly got the $300 rebated — sweet!
I then bought a couple thousand dollars in flights and other purchases. My statement closed on September 23, and the 100,000 points were in my account by September 24 — talk about speedy service! I really hope other issuers take note (ahem, that means you Amex — let’s get rid of that month-long pending period for MR points to post!).
The baseline value of Ultimate Rewards points with the Reserve is 1.5 cents each when you book through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. So, those 100,000 points are worth $1,500 toward pretty much any flight or hotel. We value Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents apiece in our most recent monthly valuations, which is based on average readers being able to leverage transfer partners like United and Hyatt for valuable awards. So transferring 115,000 Ultimate Rewards to United (enough for a round-trip business-class award to Europe) is generally going to get you at least $2,415 in value (usually more). Well, Ultimate Rewards can be worth even more, especially when flying international first class, like I just experienced with my sign-up bonus.
I’m going to Nihiwatu, which was named the best hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure and is located on an island about 45 minutes off Bali, for New Year’s Eve and didn’t yet have my flight home. Knowing that I was 100,000 points richer, I decided to redeem for the one-way trip back home with Korean Air. Lo and behold, when I looked online, there was not only one but two tickets available for me and a friend to fly home together. We’re going to be flying Korean Air first class from Bali (DPS) to Seoul (ICN) and then back to New York (JFK) for 95,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles and $190 — a flight that’s worth more than $7,200.
The one thing to know about first class on Korean Air is that availability is usually phenomenal, as it was in this case. Booking awards online with Korean Air can be super simple if you have one class of service and all the flights are on Korean. Mixing classes or partners is where the website fails and you have to call to book your award. Some airlines have bad call centers, but thankfully that’s not the case for Korean. Once you get an agent to call you back, they’re amazing and always helpful.
My first step was to search Korean Air for availability on the days I was looking looking for — January of next year. The best option for looking for availability is by going to ExpertFlyer and searching. If you’ve never used ExpertFlyer before, check out this guide. Once I had the dates in mind, I called Korean Air and told them I was looking to book an award ticket, with the first leg (DPS-ICN) on a Korean Air partner and the second leg (ICN-JFK) on Korean. The representative took down my desired flight information and said that someone from SkyPass would call me back the following morning.
The next morning rolled around and still no call from SkyPass. I called back a little frustrated and the representative I got ahold of was extremely apologetic and connected me to SkyPass after about a five-minute hold. Unfortunately, the flight I originally wanted for the first leg of my trip (DPS-ICN) with Korean Air partner Garuda Indonesia was no longer available. Thankfully there was another flight available around the same time on Korean Air in business class, so it wasn’t so bad. Fortunately, my selected flight on Korean between ICN and JFK was still available on the A380.
The rep informed me that I then needed to transfer the 95,000 miles to my SkyPass account, which I was able to do instantly from Ultimate Rewards. After logging out and then back in, the miles appeared. The rep also told me that I would need to fill out some online paperwork and submit a copy of my license, which was annoying, but not the end of the world.
Once I’d completed all the necessary steps and the miles were in my account, I was able to locate and click on a button to pay for the $190 in taxes and fees all online — of course, with my Reserve to earn 3x points. Once you’ve got everything planned, it’s not that terrible of a process, but it could certainly be easier from planning to booking if you’re flying in mixed classes or with partners.
It’s worth noting that one of the caveats of booking Korean awards is that you can only book travel for family members. According to the carrier, the family member guidelines are as follows:
For residents of countries other than Korea, legal documents such as certificates of marriage, certificates of birth, census registration and certificates of tax return issued within the last six months that state the family relation and the date of birth of the applicant and the family member to be registered.
Because I couldn’t book for my friend with Korean’s family policy, he got the Reserve and booked it for himself with the 100,000-point sign-up bonus. If I wanted to use my points to book for a non-family member, I could have added them as an authorized user on my CSR account, which costs $75 per year, and transferred points from my Chase Ink Plus Business Card to the CSR account. Note that you can only transfer points to one additional cardholder per year.
I haven’t confirmed his return flight with the carrier as of yet. Instead, I’m taking advantage of Korean Air’s extremely generous hold time for award tickets — the rep I was speaking with to book his award allowed me to place his ticket on hold until December! I chose not to confirm in case the business-class waitlist doesn’t clear on his economy ticket from DPS to ICN. The rep suggested to me that I wait to confirm until he’s off the waitlist or until the hold is closer to expiration because if I were to change the flight, both segments have to be available at the time of rebooking, not just the first leg that I would need to change.
Korean Air as a Premier Redemption
Korean Air is a great, reliable choice for your award redemptions — especially for first class. However, I’ve flown Korean Air’s A380 in first class before and it wasn’t the most premier first-class seat I’ve ever flown in, and the food wasn’t the tastiest. Even knowing that, I still always consider it an option when traveling to Asia.
Korean redemptions can be so lucrative that it’s well worth looking at SkyTeam redemptions on flights to Europe — particularly the 80,000-mile redemptions in business class. SkyTeam redemptions on flights to Europe include those from AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, KLM and Tarom.
Not only am I excited to get to try Korean Air’s first-class product once again, but I continue to be impressed with the carrier’s award availability. The even sweeter part of this deal is that I’ll be flying in first class from Asia back to New York for just $190 — all thanks to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. There are a number of ways you can use the 100,000 points from the sign-up bonus, so look into the options and choose what’s best for you.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You’ll earn 3x points on travel and dining and 1x points on everything else, as well as a $300 travel credit, which can be used on everything from Uber rides to airfare. The card comes with a $450 annual fee, but that cost can easily by justified by all the valuable perks you can get from it.