Clearing Up Misperceptions About Booking Korean Air Using Delta Miles

Points, Miles, and Martinis wrote about Korean Air’s Houston flight and how new routes are often an opportunity for award booking.

Korean is a partner of Delta Skymiles (in the loosest sense of the term).

But there are many misconceptions about booking Korean Air space using Delta miles, so I thought I’d try to clear some of those up.

You need to call Delta to look up availability

The Points, Miles, and Martinis blog notes that searching for award space on Korean at find “plenty of days where you can pick up 2 award seats in First Class.”

However Delta does not allow mileage redemption in international first class. Business class is the top cabin permitted.

He goes on to say, “Business Class is harder to find. I couldn’t find it on Expert Flyer”

But that’s because Expertflyer does not show Korean business class long haul, availability displays only on a handful of predominantly intra-Asia routes.

Delta’s website has displayed Korean Air award space in the past, but it’s glitchy at best. Failing to see Korean Air award space there does not mean that space is unavailable.

You can search for award space on the Korean Air website if you have miles in your account, and if you don’t see award space there it won’t be available to Delta. But just because you find the space on the Korean site doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get Delta to book it.

That means you need to call Delta. And you may need to play call center agent roulette (“Hang Up, Call Back“) until you find an agent who knows that Korean Air is a partner, and knows how to search for the space.

Plenty of Flight Opportunities

In the mainland U.S. they fly to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles. In addition they fly from Honolulu, Vancouver, and Toronto as well. With that many gateways there are many opportunities — although availability for business class tends to appear in spurts with Delta.

In addition to flying from those cities to Seoul, they fly from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo three days a week as well.

But Delta Imposes ‘Nonexistent’ Blackout Dates

Korean Air has blackout dates in its frequent flyer program. Or – more precisely they have ‘peak dates’ where they charge more miles for their members to redeem seats.

Peak dates vary by region. Here are the 2014 blackout dates (the first column of dates) and 2015 blackout dates (the second column).

Delta considers ‘peak’ dates to be blackout dates. But they go one step further.

Delta blacks out travel on Korean for EVERY ROUTE on ANY dates that Korean says is a peak date for ANY route.

As a result, about a third of the year is blacked out for redemption by Delta.

Redeeming Korean Flights With Korean Miles Instead

Korean Air has fantastic first class award availability, possibly the best availability in the world if you want to redeem for international first.

You can’t redeem Delta miles for it, but you can redeem Korean miles for it.

There are some sweet spots in their Skyteam award chart and some great partner awards — especially on Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian — as well.

The easiest way to get Korean Air points is transferring them in instantly from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Less good for earning points, but a generous signup bonus, I recently picked up the Korean Air Visa Signature with a 40,000 point signup bonus. I had an account with them from a previous points transfer, but a balance of 0 in the account and no status. Another account that has never had points in it got offered that as well.

Korean does add fuel surcharges to awards, though. And you can only redeem points from your own account for family members (they ask for proof). See “The Strange Process of Redeeming Awards Through Korean Air Skypass

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Since I’m based in SFO, I came to the conclusion that using KE to Asia was the best way to burn the 75,000 SkyMiles my girlfriend and I each had. We booked an upcoming trip to Asia 11 months out.

    Unfortunately, this hasn’t gone smoothly. The KE flights had a series of schedule changes that left me with a 30 minute connection at ICN. I didn’t get notified about this but happened to notice. KE considers the itinerary invalid and wants me to change the flights through Delta, but Delta is ambivalent. They say they don’t have any alternatives with SkyMiles availability and all they’re offering is to redeposit the miles. I’ve tried finding alternative routings myself on other partner airlines, but they either don’t see the availability, or want me to pay hundreds of dollars for additional fuel surcharges. I haven’t resolved this yet, but it’s looking like I may have to spend a night at ICN and pay for a hotel room out of pocket, missing part of the first day of my trip. And if they won’t let me do that, I don’t know what to try next.

    The only silver lining is that I’ll never have to deal with SkyMiles again after this trip. Based on this experience, I would recommend against accumulating SkyMiles or transferring points in with the aim of redeeming on KE. But if you have miles to burn, go for it – it seems like one of the better values.

  2. So pretty much, Points, Miles, and Martinis does not know what he / she is talking about and should stick w the day job. Well done pointing out the inaccuracies.

  3. The worst part is that the blogger conveniently omits to mention that one can transfer UR pts to Korean Air. Oh but, that bloggers lost his/her Chase links… maybe that’s why.

  4. It seems the true sweet spot is to transfer UR points into Korean to redeem to Hawaii on Hawaiian or Alaska or Air France to Tahiti……..I emailed Korean just to confirm these sweet spots and amazingly they returned an affirmative email the same day…………and that’s without an account………so UR continues to look great to me………..

  5. Funny you should say that. Points, Miles, and Martinis did a post now on a corporate Amex card which 99% of readers are not eligible for and it comes with a whopping $400 AF and a puny 2,500 extrAA pts. And of course my comments pointing this out have been deleted.

  6. Is it me or are most of the blogs that are part of boardingarea getting worse and worse? Aside from Gary, Lucky, Seth, Mommy, and Frequent Miler all the remaining blogs struggle to post original content and just seem to rehash the same news while pushing referral links extra hard. THe worst ones are points & pixie dust, PMM, and Michael W Travels. I think its time there was a cull.

  7. @Seth

    I wouldn’t put mommypoints among the ones you listed. The content on that blog is not very original either…

  8. @Seth – spot on. The 5 you mention are above the fray, but you didn’t mention the worst of the worst – extra pack of peanuts. Somehow that picture of the dude shrugging his arms really irks me.

  9. @ Matt; why be irked? it’s truth in advertising. the back story is: right before they snapped the photo, they asked him if he had any original content…

    the truth is, you could eliminate all but 4 of the BA bloggers and the amount of original useful content that would be lost would be maybe 2% (generously)…


    good on you for not just letting that post slide by. i imagine there’s probably BA pressure to not ‘call out’ other BA bloggers at such time. you did it in a respectful way that needed to be done to look out for readers

  10. I think Gary and Lucky are tier 1 with Seth in between 1 and 2 and MP tier 2. She has a unique perspective of traveling with a little kid which is where I think she adds value to boardingarea. I never read frequent miler so I’m not sure where they would fall.

  11. @Mattb, while they aren’t BA bloggers I can’t stand TPG and MMS. Their content used to be great but they have since sold out and just rehash what Gary and Lucky post not to mention can’t help but take selfies everywhere they go.

  12. I think mommypoints just makes the cut for me. True, she isn’t as original as the others I mentioned, but she at least makes an effort and she does have a unique perspective. Some others like Marshall Jackson and Deltapoints also have unique perspectives even if they don’t interest me.

    What irks me most are the number of blogs simply posting a ridiculous amount of content that is not relevant to boardingarea’s claim to host “all of the best frequent flyer blogs, all in one place.” For example, it seems like every other post on Heels First Travel is a review of some box of the month club or even worse Points and Pixie Dust is constantly pushing her reviews of a certain dating and relationship website. In each of these instances, the authors seem more concerned about pushing their referral links rather than actual frequent flyer news and information.

  13. I think part of what makes Gary’s blog so good is that he is also a good editor. I think many of the other blogs could be better if they restricted some of the content. I really just yawn and move on everytime I see another review of 1st class without anything original on some of the other blogs. That said no need to trash what are basically people’s personal projects…

  14. @Nick- I have 2 issues with your comment.

    1) We are not trashing the blogs, we are offering valid criticisms. Sure you could say we can just avoid reading the blogs, but there are plenty of uninformed readers who don’t know better that continue to read these blogs rather than much better blogs such as Gary’s.

    2) These blogs are not “personal projects,” they are money making businesses. Referral links can earn bloggers thousanda of dollars each year. Many individuals have taken up blogging as their full time occupation.

  15. Be careful with the “sweet spots” on Alaska. The amount of time one has to invest with Korean Air to actually get a ticket booked is shocking. I started the process several weeks ago. It is still not complete. First, I called. The first agent told me I had to call Alaska Air first. I called back and got the first agent. I called back again, and got another agent who found seats on flights. However, that agent said KE miles can not be redeemed on flights operated by Horizon. Furthermore, they don’t have access to all of Alaska’s award space.

    Once the tickets were booked (working within those limitations, quite a challenge), the agent said it would be 25,000 miles. I said I was looking at the chart, and it says 20,000. She put me on hold to talk to a supervisor. Ten minutes later, she confirms its 20,000.

    At this point, I’m into it two hours, thinking, whoa, what a workout. Finally, it’s almost over.

    Not even. She says, in a few days, you will get an email with your confirmation code. You will need to fax in a copy of your passport, and fill out the bonus ticket redemption form, which there will be a link to in the email.

    The email comes several days later. I fill out the form, and scan and email the form and my passport to Korean. I get no confirmation email or anything.

    I call the following day. An agent tells me everything is all set, they have my required documents, and I’ll receive an email that details how to pay for the taxes on the ticket.

    Two days pass, and I’ve received no email. I call again. The agent confirms that I have a reservation, and that I’ll get a call from a different agent to pay the taxes and complete the booking later the same afternoon or the following day.

    Four days pass. No call. That’s where I am today. Who knows how much longer the debacle will take.

    I used Ultimate Rewards for the transfer to Korean. While the value is great, if it were an online booking, or even something remotely reasonable, in actual practice, it requires a massive time investment.

    Perhaps I’ve just had horrible luck, but if you are considering using KE miles to book on Alaska, I hope you have a better experience than me!

  16. @Wildway Thanks for the disclosures……..there have been stories of this sort before but never saw one in such graphic brutality……….Thanks I’ll go prepared with scanned birth certificates, scanned marriage certicate and scanned passports………..and be far ahead of the dates and be patient……….

  17. See my post a few up from this one where I talk about Korean Air award ticketing issues, and link to past discussions as well.

  18. @JustSaying. KE can’t find AF award seats from LAX to Tahiti even it is allowed in the chart. The agent simply said there are not award seats available in next 11 months! (This is looking for 2 award seats.)

  19. @Tim

    Agreed, though I’d put Seth in the second tier, if only because the interface for his blog makes it difficult to read and use. The front page is a jumble, there are too many categories for posts, and too little of the content previewed for each post. Gary and Lucky have less slick interfaces — and I’m glad for it.

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