The Struggle to Book Flights via Korean Air

I started out looking for premium flights to Europe for the summer. We have a mistake rate hotel booking in Paris over July 4th weekend. The hotel decided to honor the rate, but won’t allow any name or date changes. It is a pretty good deal so we want to take advantage of it.

Premium fares to Europe aren’t cheap. They can range from $2.5-4k per person. There’s no way I’m spending that much on a flight. However, using miles can be a nice alternative. The cheapest option appeared to be Korean Air, which charges 80,000 miles RT for Business class seats to Europe. Korean Air doesn’t fly US to Europe, but they are part of the SkyTeam alliance, which means you can book flights using Korean Air miles with certain partners (i.e. Delta).

Korean Air is also a transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), which we have a good stash of and I find that generating UR fairly easily. So I started my search for award availability.

Seattle (SEA) – Amsterdam (AMS) RT

This was probably one of the best options. I also was able to add an Amsterdam to Nice flight for an extra $50 per person. In hindsight I should have put a hold on these seats. However, I wanted to wait until our credit card statement closed before putting the $663 taxes/fees charge on it.

Unfortunately, two days later when I planned on booking these seats the SEA – AMS leg no longer had award seats. This is another reminder never to procrastinate. I didn’t realize I could reserve seats over the phone without having all the points in my account. So after these seats disappeared we were back to square one. Keep in mind the AMS – SEA seats were still available.

Salt Lake City (SLC) – Paris (CDG) | Amsterdam (AMS) – Seattle (SEA)

This was the next option I found. It pretty much worked out to be the same price, but got us directly into Paris. However, we would have to re-position in the US to get from Seattle to Salt Lake City, which I planned to do using our Companion Pass. We figured this would be worth it since we’d fly direct into Paris.

Korean Air – Phone Bookings

So this is where I started to screw up. First things first, I should have just called in and put a hold on these seats. I was trying to avoid calling since the Korean Air phone booking process can be kind of a pain. For SkyTeam partner awards, you have to call in, wait on hold (for up to 20 mins), provide your information, then wait for a callback. If you miss the callback, then you have to wait on hold again just to tell them to call you back. It’s such an awful process. I wish they would just transfer you to the SkyTeam department.

My Booking Mistakes

The next mistake I made was I thinking I could pool points from two different accounts. Korean Air SkyPass requires you to create a family account. You have to provide proof of relationship to add someone to your family account. It also clearly states that you can share miles. However, what I quickly learned was that you can only share and use each other miles for Korean Air flights NOT SkyTeam partner flights.

To avoid transfer UR from multiple accounts, I transferred 80k UR from my wife’s Chase account to her SkyPass frequent flier account and then 80k UR from my Chase account to my SkyPass account.

When I attempted to book the seats, it gave me an error that I didn’t have enough points. This is because ALL 160k miles needed to be in the same account. My next thought was I’ll just book the tickets separately (80k miles) on each account. When I attempted to do this, I at least got to enter the passenger information. However, on the next page it errored out and I kept seeing this screen:

No Availability

At this point, I was pretty frustrated. I had already made some mistakes, but I figured I’d have my wife call in to try and get the tickets booked to her account. After playing phone tag with Korean Air, they informed her that there was no availability on the Salt Lake City – Paris route even though I was seeing it on my searches. It must have been phantom award availability.

I tried calling as well and got the same message. I asked if there were any other US cities with flights to Paris. The customer service representative was able to find a Boston to Paris flight for the day after as well as the Amsterdam to Seattle flight on July 5th. I asked him if I could put one seat on hold for each of our accounts. He seemed to understand. However, when I received the confirmation email. They were both reserved to my wife’s account, which because of the way that I transferred the points wouldn’t work.

We have until June 5th to pay for these seats we placed on hold. We’re not sure if want to re-position to Boston especially considering that the taxes/fees are still going to be the same. At the same time, I now have 80k Korean Air miles in both of our accounts. If all else fails, we can use these miles to book one-way first class tickets to Asia.

The Search Continues

I’m still searching for award seats and hoping that someone cancels their reservation. However, there’s no easy way to search for availability. You have to search day by day and city by city and typically you’ll get the error below if there are no award seats available. The other difficult part is that one of your dates may have availability, but if the other date doesn’t then it’ll give you the following error:

Korean Air just recently unveiled the ability to book SkyTeam partner flights online. However, in my opinion it still needs a lot of work to make it more user friendly. The phone booking process isn’t any easier.