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It is reported by multiple sources (here and here, for example) that that Korean Air will again by a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner beginning tomorrow (January 25th). They went offline with Chase as a transfer partner back in November and while we were told it was going to be a temporary glitch, it remained impossible to transfer points for longer than some hoped.
The good news is, the functionality should be back tomorrow, and Korean Air is a program you really want to know about if Hawaii is on your family’s travel wish list, as this may be the very cheapest way to use points to get your family to Hawaii. Korean Airlines is also very good for many types of awards, but I’ll stick to the family friendly destination of Hawaii in this post.
Korean Air is in the SkyTeam alliance, along with carriers such as Delta Airlines. This means you can use your Korean Airlines miles to fly on a Delta operated flight to Hawaii. This is a very lucrative award because Korean categorizes Mexico, United States (including Hawaii), US Virgin Islands, Canada, and Puerto Rico all in the same North America Zone. Usually airlines categorize Hawaii in a region all its own, and charge more miles for award flights as a result.
However, with Korean travel within the North America zone costs just 25,000 miles round trip in economy or 45,000 miles round trip in business (domestic first). Being able to fly from anywhere in the United States to Hawaii and back for just 25,000 miles is a fan-tas-tic deal!
Being able to earn those 25,000 miles needed to go to Hawaii is pretty easy for those of us here in the US via the Chase Ultimate Rewards program and cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Plus Business Card, or even the Chase Freedom®, if you also have one of those other two cards.
If you were to fly using Delta miles for those same Delta operated flights, it would cost you 45,000 miles at the Level 1 rate – and it is very important to know that there has to be Level 1 Delta award availability in order to book with a partner like Korean. This means it is 20,000 miles fewer via booking with this partner than directly with Delta. Now the catch to this deal has always been that Delta Saver/Level 1 availability to Hawaii has been less than stellar. It’s still not perfect, but I have seen improved availability via the SkyMiles 2015 program, at least in economy.
As an example, I have relatives in Austin who may head to Hawaii this summer. I plugged in 3 people from Austin – Honolulu in July on the Delta flexible search page and expected to find nothing at the 45,000 mile level. Instead, I found 3 seats at the lowest award level available on good dates and with decent routing/flight times during the summer break.
If you want to book those exact flights for 25,000 Korean miles each (instead of 45,000 Delta miles), you will need to call Korean at 1-800-438-5000 to make the award booking (or as they like to call it, bonus ticket booking). Now, they are a bit different to work with from what I hear, as you can only book for immediate family members, and will have to submit things like copies of passports/photo IDs and a redemption form to complete the booking. That’s an extra PITA for sure, but worth it if it gets your family to Hawaii.
I recommend reading this post by One Mile at a Time for more details on the exact booking process. Note that you can put tickets on hold while completing their booking process and transferring in points from Ultimate Rewards, which helps tremendously.
Do you have plans to use Korean Air to book awards for your family to Hawaii or beyond now that they are coming back as a functioning Ultimate Rewards transfer partner?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.