Korean Air Awards: (Still) Great for Traveling with Friends

Nothing groundbreaking or new in this post (so feel free to skip), but I was recently reminded of how great Korean Air SkyPass awards can be — particularly when traveling with more than one companion — while booking a trip for myself and some friends.

KOREAN AIR FIRST CLASS AWARD AVAILABILITY

As has been noted by others elsewhere, Korean Air is very generous with first class awards, often opening up to four first class awards per flight on the A380 (388), up to three on the B747-8i (748), and up to 3-4 on the B777-200 (772) and B777-300 ER (77W). First class awards seem to be available widely: from far in advance, to several months out, to close-in. Business class awards are considerably more difficult to find, but given the cheap price of first class awards (discussed below), there’s no reason not to spring for first.

Very few SkyTeam carriers have a first class product and each individual carrier has to negotiate first class redemptions with each partner. As such, Korean Air’s SkyTeam partners largely can’t book first class award tickets. Because of this and in contrast to carriers in the other two major alliances (where essentially every frequent flier program has access to first class awards), there are far fewer people competing to book Korean Air first class awards.

As noted above, I’ve found A380 routes to routinely have four first class awards available, while certain 772/77w routes have up to 3-4, but less commonly than on the 388. For quick reference, Korean Air operates the A380 to LAX (one flight daily and another flight six days a week) and to JFK (twice daily until 10/29/2017, after which they’re downgauging one of their A380s to a 748), while all of their other US destinations (ATL, ORD, DFW, HNL, IAH, LAS, SFO, SEA, IAD) are serviced by the 772 or 77W.

KE F availability LAX-ICN

KE F JFK-ICN availability

KOREAN AIR FIRST CLASS PRODUCT

Korean Air’s B777s (772 and 77w) and A380s have their standard Kosmo suites, which include a lie-flat bed, large TV screen, the infamous and poorly designed/positioned reading light, and a large privacy shield.

Korean Air Kosmo Suite. Image: Korean Air

In my opinion, the A380 is best for groups of 3-4 people traveling together, both because of consistent availability for four in first on the same flight and because of the social areas on board, in particular the business class bar in the rear of the upper deck. It’s no Emirates A380 business class bar, but with the right travel companions it can be pretty damn fun and give the EK bar a run for its money.

Korean Air A380 bar. Image: Korean Air

Korean Air’s 748, meanwhile, has their new, fully-enclosed Kosmo Suite 2.0, with doors. (Edit: thanks to commenter Sean, who pointed out that certain 77Ws have been outfitted with the Kosmo Suite 2.0 product as well.) This is by far the best Korean Air first class product, but I haven’t been able to find more than three first class awards on any 748-operated route.

Korean Air Kosmo Suite 2.0. Image: Korean Air

AWARD COST AND BOOKING PROCESS

The SkyPass award chart is very reasonable and off-peak awards between the US and Korea, Japan, or China cost only 80k miles one-way, while off-peak travel to/from Southeast Asia is 95k miles one-way. Peak travel dates are few and far in between — generally just a couple days each month — so there’s no reason anyone should be paying peak pricing.

Fuel surcharges are reasonable and generally run no more than $80-90 one-way to/from the US, at the very most. Unfortunately SkyPass doesn’t allow connecting on partner airlines on the same award, so separate positioning flights may be required.

Of note, Korean Air Skypass allows for some very generous award holds. My recent booking was held for up to a month, but I’ve seen holds that have been significantly longer than that. In addition, the US phone line (800-438-5000) has short phone hold times and proficient agents who speak English well. In under ten minutes, I had my award on hold.

Korean Air SkyPass partners with Chase and SPG, and transfers from the former are instantaneous, while SPG transfers are of course frustratingly slow (~1-2 weeks). Awards can be booked online, and once awards are placed on hold over the phone, they can be booked online.

SUMMARY

I was able to book four first class seats on the same flight on Korean Air’s A380 from JFK to ICN for early next year. While the product isn’t the newest or greatest and is often overlooked, it’s rare these days to be able to get so many seats up front on the same flight. Of note, intra-Asia connecting flights generally won’t have as much premium cabin availability, but given KE’s extensive schedule, it’s easy to put two people on one connecting flight and two people on another. In our case, for instance, my girlfriend and I will simply spend an extra hour in the ICN lounge, while our friends fly out earlier.

Honestly, it’s pretty amazing that this value is still around, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been devalued.

Comments

  1. After I get to ICN and spending the day in Seoul, I’m going to Sydney JFK-ICN-SYD IN 1st for 120,000 Korean miles ✈️

  2. Can you book Korean awards for a friend. I thought that the owner of the Korean points, has to be the one travelling?

    • KE awards can only be booked for self and immediate family. Each of the four of us booked with our own individual SkyPass accounts.

  3. I thought that the award flights had to be for yourself or a family member. How’d you circumvent this with your girlfriend?

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