Now that I am back from vacation, expect postings to be a little more regular but also keep in mind that these Alaska Partner Award posts take a lot of time and research to complete so you may see them spaced a couple of days apart.
Today, we are looking at another carrier that partners with Alaska; Korean Air. As the name suggests, Korean Air is based out of Korea and is hubbed out of Seoul, both at Incheon (ICN) and Gimpo (GMP) International Airports. Korean Air has been rated as a 4 Star Airline by SkyTrax and generally has very good reviews for both their hard and soft product.
As this is generally a Canadian site, I will be focusing on Canadian routes that Korean Air services. As you might expect, Korean has service from the two largest Canadian airports, Toronto Pearson (YYZ) and Vancouver International (YVR).
If you’ve ever tried to find a route with a SkyTeam Parter, like Korean Air, you will know that the route map they use is brutal. Super slow to load and such a pain to use. I’ve relied on FlightConnections to help with the routing details.
Now that we have the generalities covered off, let’s delve into the specifics of why you might want to consider Korean Air as a redemption partner.
Restrictions on Korean Air
Hang on to your hats because it’s about to get complicated.
I haven’t looked in detail at all of Alaska’s travel partners but from the ones I have looked at, Korean seems to have the most restrictions (by far). Here are things to keep in mind for Korean.
Korean uses blackout dates and they differ for each region so check the fine print before you set your heart on using Korean as your airline. As an example, here are the restrictions on travel between North America and Asia.
As you can see from the image above, there are severe travel restrictions during the prime summer travel season as well as over the Christmas break. Each region is different, so I would suggest you consult the Alaska Airlines Award Chart and look to the footnotes at the bottom of each chart.
No One Way Award Travel … Unless
You may notice at a glance that Korean’s awards are very expensive but that’s because all the prices listed are for roundtrip awards. You see, Korean requires you to book a roundtrip if you want to fly with them.
There is an exception to the rule but it’s a bit complicated so pay close attention here.
Here is the rule verbatim.
So what does this mean? It means that if you book an award AND have another flight with a different partner as part of a round trip then you will only be charged 1/2 of Korea’s round trip cost.
I know it’s confusing, so let’s look at an example itinerary where this would work.
Calgary to Seattle on Alaska Airlines
Seattle to Seoul on Korean Air
Seoul to Sydney on Korean Air
Sydney to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong to Seattle on Cathay Pacific
Seattle to Calgary on Alaska Air
In this specific example, we are flying three airlines as part of a round trip: Alaska, Korean and Cathay.
With this itinerary, because it is part of a roundtrip with another partner, Korean would only charge 1/2 of their award pricing for North America to Australia. However, the other part of the clause states that “If any part of a round-trip itinerary is flown on Korean Air, it becomes ineligible for any refund of the unflown portions.”
This means that if you booked the above flight and flew the first leg to Sydney and canceled the return, you would automatically be charged for the full round trip price by Alaska. From my talks with Alaska, they do actually watch this closely and claw back the miles so I wouldn’t try to do it if I were you.
No Lap Infant in Business Class
This is a bit of controversial one as it can be a divisive topic. On Korean Air, you cannot have a lap infant (children under 24 months of age) in the Business Class cabin. While we can argue all day about whether or not this is a fair policy or not, the fact remains that if you want to travel in a premium cabin with your family and your child is under 2, find another airline.
No First Class Availability
One thing that is severely lacking for Korean Air is the ability to book First Class travel using Alaska Mileage Plan. While Korean does have First Class service, it is unavailable through Alaska redemptions, which is a shame.
Now that we’ve gone through the restrictions, let’s look at the actual miles required to redeem an award. Keep in mind that the chart will show the round trip cost.
Asia includes: Mongolia, Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan
SE Asia includes: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, and Cambodia
As you can see from the multitude of destinations, Korean Air competes with Cathay as the Alaska Partner with the most destinations available to book as an award. But is the value there? Only one way to find out.
As with my previous posts in this series, let’s take a look at the Points Per Mile (PPM) required for Korean Air redemptions. This will help us determine if there are any sweet spots available through their redemption chart.
As you can see, I have taken the mileage requirements for a roundtrip flight originating out of Toronto (YYZ) and connecting in Seoul (ICN). This represents the furthest distance you can fly from Canada on Korean Air. I then found the distances traveled and divided by the number of miles required for the redemption to get the PPM.
At first glance, flights to New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific seem to offer the best value on Korean but how does it compare to another Alaska partner that flies to the same areas … like Cathay?
Well, now that you can see Cathay next to Korean, you can see that Korean is expensive (remember, the lower the PPM the better).
As I mentioned earlier in the post, Korean is based out of Seoul so if you want a stopover on your award flight with Korean, it will be in Seoul. As with all Alaska redemptions, you can stay up to 365 days in your stopover city before you have to connect to your final destination.
I should first preface this by saying that when I spoke to the Alaska Partner Desk, they told me that finding availability with Korean is spotty so don’t expect miracles. If you consider that there are significant restrictions on award travel (blackout dates, roundtrip only, etc.), you begin to see why it might be difficult to find availability.
There is also anecdotal evidence that seems to suggest that Korean only releases 1 Business Class Seat and 2 Economy Seats to partners per flight so keep that in mind if you are searching for more than that allotment of seats.
Alaska has a very straightforward search for Korean flights so you simply do a search as you normally would but make sure to check off “Use Miles” as your option. Also keep in mind in order for a Korean to show up, you need to search for a roundtrip award. If you search for a one way, Korean does not show up.
When the search results come back, I check off that I only want Korean Air results to show up.
You may want to also check off Alaska Airlines as well to see other cities that might have availability.
You can also search for Korean availability with Delta Airlines but quite honestly, you will get the same search results as Alaska so I would just stick with using Alaska’s search engine.
Taxes and Fees
As you can see, the price for the Economy Class award is 70,000 Alaska Miles and $71.16 USD. The breakdown of the fees are as follows:
You may notice that you are charged $25 USD for the Partner Award Booking Fee, which has normally been shown as $12.50 USD in my other posts but this is a per direction charge so $25 USD is an accurate reflection of the correct charge. All other charges are airport taxes that are unavoidable.
With all the restrictions in place and the overcomplicated nature of booking a Korean Air award, I would not recommend using them as your primary airline of choice for an Alaska award. There are many other airlines that can get you to your destination for fewer points and better availability. Cathay is the airline that springs to mind when I think of an airline I would search first.
In my opinion, the only reason you would want to fly Korean is if your travel dates fall outside of the blackout dates AND you really want to go to Seoul with another city as your final destination AND you prefer Korean’s product over Cathay’s. Even at that, you would be paying a points premium for this option over Cathay. You would also need to be a party of 1 if you want to fly Business and at most a party of 2 if you want to fly Economy.
Get In On The Action
Notwithstanding Korean Air, I hope you are starting to see that by having Alaska Miles, you open yourself up to a lot more options for finding award flights. As with your financial portfolio, you should diversify across programs that offer you the best value and in my opinion, Alaska offers extreme value, especially if you live in the West.
Now if you want to get in on the Alaska redemption train, I would suggest you first read my review on the Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard to get a sense if this card is for you. I personally think that it’s a no brainer to get this card, especially because you can get 25,000 Alaska Miles for a $75 Annual Fee but you can read about how to reduce that to a $15 fee in my review of the card.
We’ll continue our journey through Alaska’s Award Partners by examining American Airlines next. I was contemplating looking at Delta but because they will no longer be a partner with Alaska after May 2017, I think I’ll skip it unless I get a bunch of people clamouring for a Delta review.