Updated heavily 1/13/17 since you can now book these awards online.
It is cheaper to book the exact same Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean miles than with Delta miles.
- Delta charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii or 50,000 in flat bed Delta One
- Korean charges 25,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 45,000 miles roundtrip in First Class or Delta One between the mainland and Hawaii
That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 Delta miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 50,000 Korean miles. Instead of paying 160,000 Delta miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 90,000 Korean miles–even theoretically for flat beds!
To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use.
Plus Korean awards to Hawaii can include a free stopover on the way! Delta awards do no permit stopovers.
Korean has access to all the same Level 1 award space Delta releases to people with Delta miles, but no other Delta award space.
What’s the catch? For Korean bookings to Hawaii, there are two:
- You can only book Korean awards for yourself or immediate family members, with proof of relationships.
- Korean awards are the same price roundtrip or one way, so you have to book roundtrip (although an open jaw and stopover is allowed.) Delta awards can be booked one way (and then you can return home with another type of miles.)
However there are a number of benefits to booking Korean awards to Hawaii:
- Korean awards cost fewer miles than Delta awards
- Korean awards have no change or cancellation fees if your plans change
- Korean awards of Delta flights to Hawaii do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of $11 roundtrip
- Korean offers a stopover on roundtrip awards to Hawaii; Delta doesn’t
- Korean miles are easy to get
Getting Korean Miles
Korean miles are a partner of two of the four major transferable points program:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
- SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Korean miles.
The Sapphire Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:
- 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
- 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
- 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
- 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
- no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter
The Ink Business Preferred is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:
- 80,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
- 3 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone services; and search engine or social network advertising
- 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
- $95 annual fee
Starpoints also transfer to Korean miles, and you can get a ton of Starpoints right now from SPG personal and business cards and the Marriott personal card, since Marriott points transfer 3:1 to SPG points at this stage of their merger.
Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards
You can now search and book Delta (and other SkyTeam) awards on koreanair.com. However I think it’s a little bit easier to search delta.com for Level 1 award space and only then to search koreanair.com for that space that you already know exists.
On the home page of delta.com run an award search from your home airport to Oahu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kauai (LIH), or the Big Island (KOA). I prefer one way searches because I think they display the results more clearly.
At the top of the search results, select “Delta Only” to avoid Alaska Airlines flights showing up in the results (they can booked with Korean miles, but at a higher price) and change the calendar to “5 Weeks” if you are extra flexible.
Here are the results for this fall from Los Angeles to Maui for two passengers. We are looking for Delta Level 1 award space, the only space that partners like Korean can book. Days that say 22,500 have Level 1 award space that we can book with Korean miles. Other days do not.
Similarly, here is Kauai to Los Angeles for two passengers. Again, I see surprisingly good economy award space this fall. First Class award space is not nearly as good. Here you’re looking for award space that costs 40,000 miles, the Level 1 price between the mainland and Hawaii in First Class. Once you find the award space you want that prices at the Level 1 price, note the date, cabin, and flight number. For instance, here is an economy trip with Level 1 award space from Minneapolis to Maui, returning from Kauai to Minneapolis.
Delta flies flat beds from Atlanta to Honolulu, but award space is terrible on the route. These flights would still be 45,000 Korean miles roundtrip even though they are 50,000 Delta miles one way at the Level 1 price. Let us know in the comments if you find any award space on these routes.
Booking Process on KoreanAir.com
On koreanair.com, scroll down to the flight search. Select “International” and “Redeem Miles.”
You will be required to sign into your Korean SkyPass account. Sign up for a free one here.
Search is completely intuitive. The only problem is that if you search a date without award space, you get an error message instead of a calendar showing when there is award space.
That shouldn’t happen to you, though, since you start your searches on delta.com and only go to koreanair.com to search and book award space you already know exists.
After selecting the flights, click the “Calculate” button.
The award space prices–as expected–at 25,000 Korean miles roundtrip + $11.20 in taxes.
Enter your credit card details and purchase.
The One Big Problem Searching on Koreanair.com
The one insanity when using Korean miles is that you can only redeem them for yourself, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and children-in-law, and you have to provide proof of the relationship, which means scanning and emailing a marriage certificate or birth certificate. (Most miles programs allow you to redeem miles for anyone.)
Until you add a family member to your approved list, you can only search for and book award space for one person. Once you add a family member, he should show up on the search screen, allowing you to search for more than one seat.
Get Creative (Routing Rules)
Here are the routing rules when redeeming Korean miles to fly SkyTeam partners, like Delta:
- Roundtrip and one way awards are the same price, so book roundtrip awards
- You get one stopover per roundtrip award in addition to the destination
- You can have three segments maximum in each direction
- You get one open jaw, at the destination only
You can get a stopover on the mainland an open jaw in Hawaii, so you can book something like:
- Your home airport to Los Angeles
- Hang out in LA for a few days (or weeks or months)
- Los Angeles to one Hawaiian island
- Another Hawaiian island to your home airport
That leaves just a single interisland flight to be booked separately (or several interisland flights depending on how many islands you want to see.)
I searched multi-city on koreanair.com, adding a stopover one direction in Los Angeles.
As expected–the award prices at 25,000 Korean miles + $11.20. Delta would charge 57,500 miles + $16.80 for the same itinerary.
Transfers from Ultimate Rewards to Korean are instant, so search on delta.com to find award space, make the transfer, and then book on koreanair.com.
SPG transfers take approximately five days. Initiate these transfers after searching delta.com and calling Korean at 800-438-5000 to put the award on hold. (Korean award holds are of essentially limitless duration.)
To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, call Delta.
Use Korean miles instead of Delta miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on Delta flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Korean awards allow a stopover en route an open jaw at the destination.
Ultimate Rewards and Starpoints transfer to Korean miles.