The Best Ways to Fly to South Korea With Points and Miles [Step-by-Step]

South Korea
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South Korea is a small peninsula that’s full of fantastic culture, delicious street food, and beautiful nature.

A dense country, South Korea is known for K-pop, Korean barbecue, economic growth, and legendary gamers. If South Korea is not already on your bucket list, be sure to add this amazing country right to the top!

In this guide, we’ll be diving into the best ways to fly to Korea with points and miles. There are 7 airlines that fly nonstop to South Korea from North America, including 6 from the U.S.

With so many options, it’s important to focus on the best value for your points.

Since South Korea is such an accessible country from North America, we’ll talk about nonstop flight options only. Let’s get to it!

Nonstop Flights Between the U.S. and South Korea

South Korea is the second-closest Asian country to America, behind only Japan. Furthermore, South Korea represents an important business hub for many Americans. Luckily, there are many ways to fly to South Korea with points and miles.

Generally speaking, award availability on Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, the 2 largest airlines headquartered in South Korea, is generous both with far-in-advance and close-in booking.

We’re going to be analyzing other nonstop options, too, including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and even Hawaiian Airlines. Award availability on these U.S. airlines is difficult to come by, but is not impossible, especially when booking near your departure date.

All 3 of the main alliances are represented in this guide: Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam. There’s going to be more representation from Star Alliance and SkyTeam, due to the fact that Asiana is a member of Star Alliance and Korean Air is a member of SkyTeam.

Check out all of the airlines offering nonstop flights between the U.S. and Incheon International Airport (ICN) in Seoul, South Korea:

American Airlines

  • Dallas (DFW) – Seoul (ICN)

Asiana Airlines

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Honolulu (HNL) – Seoul (ICN)
  • New York (JFK) – Seoul (ICN)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN)

Delta Air Lines

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Detroit (DTW) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Minneapolis (MSP) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Portland (PDX) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN)

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Honolulu (HNL) – Seoul (ICN)

Korean Air

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Boston (BOS) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Honolulu (HNL) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Las Vegas (LAS) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Seoul (ICN)
  • New York (JFK) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Seoul (ICN)

United Airlines

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN)

Best Programs for Booking Flights to South Korea

Now that we’re familiar with the nonstop routes available, let’s get down to the analysis.

4 major U.S. airlines have at least 1 nonstop flight to Korea, while the 2 major Korean airlines both offer plenty of nonstop routes!

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

Asiana Airlines business class
Enjoy Asiana Airlines business class’ “honeymoon” seats! Image Credit: Stephen Au

It’s no secret that ANA Mileage Club is arguably the best frequent flyer program in the world. The plentiful airline partners, stellar redemption rates, and awesome open-jaw/stopover allowances make this our first place winner.

With ANA, you have the option to fly Asiana or United to South Korea. While both of these options are great, you’ll generally want to stick with Asiana due to its superior soft product. That’s because United has chosen to offer its inferior 787-9 aircraft with seats in a 2-2-2 setup. These seats don’t have direct aisle access at every seat and are generally not as spacious as Asiana’s product.

Asiana Airlines flies from a variety of different cities. Its best business class product is known as Smartium, which we recommend choosing if it’s available.

While there are some restrictions with using ANA miles, it may be worth it if you can get the best deals. ANA doesn’t allow one-way redemptions and it generally passes on fuel surcharges. However, its round-trip award prices are phenomenal, particularly in economy and business class.

That being said, ANA employs 2 separate award charts:

  1. Flights on ANA partners
  2. Flights on ANA

In our case, we’re going to be looking primarily at award chart number 1, since Asiana and United are ANA partners. Here’s how much ANA charges for round-trip flights between the U.S. and South Korea on airline partners:

Cabin Class ANA Mileage Cost Taxes & Fees
Economy 60,000 ~$317
Business 95,000
First 180,000

The value of ANA miles is optimized primarily with business class redemptions. A lot of the value in economy class is diminished by the cost of taxes and fees.

Hot Tip: Want to get a better idea of taxes and fees? Check out our guide to airline fuel surcharges.

Here are some examples of routes you can take:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Seoul (ICN) round-trip for 95,000 ANA miles + $317 in taxes and fees for Asiana Smartium business class
  • New York (JFK) – Seoul (ICN) round-trip for 95,000 ANA miles + $317 in taxes and fees for Asiana Smartium business class
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN) round-trip for 95,000 ANA miles + $317 in taxes and fees for Asiana Smartium business class

Your only nonstop option flying on United to Korea is the San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN) service.

ANA’s website enables award bookings to be completed online. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Go to ANA’s website.
  2. Click ANA Mileage Club on the top-right side of the homepage.
  3. Click International then Award Reservation. Log in with your ANA Mileage Club number and password.
  4. Type in the desired cities, dates of travel, number of passengers, and cabin class. After that information is filled out, click Search.
    • ANA transfer times are not instant. Be sure to account for this when booking award flights.
  5. Finish your booking by paying for any taxes and fees.

Earning ANA Mileage Club Miles

ANA is currently transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Amex is a 1:1 transfer partner with ANA and is one of the easiest ways to earn a lot of ANA miles. Keep in mind that transfers aren’t instant, as it typically takes 2 to 3 business days for transfers to execute.

Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1 ratio in up to 7 business days. You’ll also receive an additional 5,000 ANA miles for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points transferred, which brings your total up to 25,000 ANA miles.

Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)

Credit CardKey Benefits & Info
New 100k Welcome Offer

The Platinum Card® from American Express


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Earn 60,000 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $695
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.

$2,200

Must Reads: For more info on the Amex Platinum, see our thoughts on the cards incredible benefits and perks, which includes travel insurance coverage, car rental insurance and so much more. Check out our full review to see why it’s one of the best travel credit cards.
New Welcome Offer

American Express® Gold Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Rose Gold is back. You can now choose between Gold or Rose Gold.
  • Earn 35,000 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • Get up to 12 complimentary months of an Uber Eats Pass subscription when you enroll with your Gold Card by 12/31/21.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-840)
  • Annual Fee: $250
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Amex Gold Card, click here.
$1,320

Recommended Amex Cards (Business)

Credit CardKey Benefits & Info
New Welcome Offer

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

The Business Platinum Card®  from American Express
Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 85,000 120,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with your Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Plus, 0% Intro APR for 12 months from the date of the account opening on purchases eligible for Pay Over Time. After that, your APR will be 14.24% to 22.24% based on your credit worthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Earn 1.5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible purchases in key business categories, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else. Cap applies.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in value per year for statement credits on select purchases with your Card, including up to $400 with Dell Technologies, up to $360 with Indeed, up to $150 with Adobe and up to $120 on wireless telephone purchases. Enrollment required.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year toward baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
  • Access to more than 1,300 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting with The American Express Global Lounge Collection®. More lounge options than any other credit card on the market as of 8/2020.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $595 ($695 if application is received on or after 01/13/2022)
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.
$2,640

Must Reads: For more info on the Amex Business Platinum, see our insights on its benefits, top card FAQ’s and the best airport lounges you can access. Go here for our full review. This is one of several business credit cards from Amex.
American Express® Business Gold Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Earn 70,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • More Rewards: Get 4X Membership Rewards® points on the 2 select categories where your business spent the most each month
  • 4X points apply to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these 2 categories each calendar year.
  • Pay Over Time Option: A flexible payment option to help manage cash flow on purchases of $100 or more.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-840)
  • Annual Fee: $295
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold card, click here.
$1,540

Must Reads: For more info on the Amex Business Gold Card see our guide on its benefits, top FAQ’s and our full review.
New Welcome Offer

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners. 2X applies to the first $50,000 in purchases per year, 1 point per dollar thereafter.
  • You’ve got the power to use your Card beyond its credit limit* with Expanded Buying Power.
  • *The amount you can spend above your credit limit is not unlimited. It adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to American Express, and other factors.
  • 0.0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.24% - 19.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors at account opening.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-840)
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus card, click here.
$330

Bottom Line: There are a ton of ways to use ANA miles for loads of value. The best sweet spot, in our opinion, is business class redemptions. You can book round-trip business class on any partner for 95,000 ANA miles and ~$300 in taxes and fees. There are 2 transfer partners in Amex and Marriott Bonvoy, making it easy to earn ANA miles.

Emirates Skywards

Korean Air Business Class
With direct aisle access and a lie-flat bed, you can rest peacefully when flying business class on Korean Air. Image Credit: Korean Air

The following award redemption method is one that’s not well known, but extremely effective. If you want to book Korean Air business class and have a ton of flexibility, but you don’t have a lot of Marriott Bonvoy points, utilizing Emirates can be your saving grace.

Korean Air and Emirates are partners, which means that you can use Emirates Skywards miles to book flights on Korean Air.

In addition to Emirates being known for offering a phenomenal first class product, its frequent flyer program actually has a few niche partnerships like with Korean Air and JetBlue. If you want to fly to South Korea, Emirates Skywards can offer a great redemption opportunity.

Currently, Emirates Skywards charges these prices for one-way flights between North America and Korea aboard Korean Air:

One-Way Flight Distance (Miles) Economy Class Business Class Taxes & Fees
0 to 250 8,000 16,000 ~$92 to $185
251 to 500 10,000 20,000
501 to 1,000 14,000 28,000
1,001 to 2,000 20,000 40,000
2,001 to 3,000 26,000 52,000
3,001 to ,000 32,000 64,000
4,001 to 5,000 38,000 76,000
5,001 to 6,000 44,000 88,000
6,001 to 7,000 52,000 104,000
7,001 to 15,000 60,000 120,000

For travel on Korean Air, this is one of the cheapest ways to attain business class awards, as long as you’re open to paying for fuel surcharges.

Hot Tip: Need some ideas of cities to fly out of with Korean Air? Check out our definitive guide to Korean Air U.S. routes.

The best way to book this type of award flight is to search availability on Delta Air Lines and call Emirates to confirm the booking:

  1. Visit the Delta website.
  2. On the top banner, fill in the search box and find partner-level availability on Korean Air.
  3. Call Emirates Skywards at 800-777-3999 and feed the flight information to the representative.
  4. Complete the award booking by providing your credit card information to pay for taxes and fees and pay the appropriate mileage cost.

Here are some examples of routes you can take:

  • Boston (BOS) – Seoul (ICN) one-way for 104,000 Emirates miles and $92 in taxes and fees for Korean Air business class
  • Chicago (ORD) – Seoul (ICN) one-way for 88,000 Emirates miles and $92 in taxes and fees for Korean Air business class
  • Honolulu (HNL) – Seoul (ICN) one-way for 76,000 Emirates miles and $92 in taxes and fees for Korean Air business class
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul (ICN) one-way for 88,000 Emirates miles and $92 in taxes and fees for Korean Air business class
  • Washington, D.C. (IAD) – Seoul (ICN) one-way for 104,000 Emirates miles and $92 in taxes and fees for Korean Air business class

Earning Emirates Skywards Miles

American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles, Brex Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy are transfer partners with Emirates Skywards.

This is a crucial strength for booking Korean Air awards. Korean Air is transfer partners with only Marriott Bonvoy, so the ability to earn Emirates miles further boosts the strength of this redemption.

Amex, Chase, Citi, and Brex are 1:1 transfer partners, while Capital One is a 2:1 transfer partner. Transfers are typically instant.

Marriott Bonvoy is a 3:1 transfer partner. Transfers typically usually take around 3 days. For every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points you transfer to Emirates, you’ll receive 20,000 Emirates miles plus a 5,000-mile bonus.

American Express and Capital One have both been known to offer transfer bonuses, so be sure to hold out for those to make your points go further.

Recommended Chase Cards

Etihad Guest

American Airlines 787-9 Flagship Business Class rear cabin view
American Airlines 787-9 Flagship business class rear cabin view. Image Credit: Stephen Au

Etihad Guest is yet another unexpected frequent flyer program for flights to South Korea. And while Etihad isn’t in any alliance, it partners with American Airlines.

Etihad Guest’s award chart for American Airlines is better than American Airlines’ own award chart. Round-trip economy tickets cost 50,000 miles, while business class tickets cost 100,000 miles. One-way tickets are half the cost.

If 50,000 miles for a one-way business class flight sounds good to you, you’ll be pleased to find out it gets even better. American Airlines operates the 787-9 Dreamliner, which is a great product.

Unfortunately, it only operates 1 route to Korea:

  • Dallas (DFW) – Seoul (ICN)

Award availability is difficult to find, but those who want to fly on American Airlines and save a bundle on points may be willing to put in the extra effort to get this outsized value.

Here’s the process you’ll need to follow to book AA business class using Etihad Guest miles:

  1. Go to British Airways’ website and log in with your Executive Club ID and Password.
  2. Type in the desired route, dates of travel, and business or economy class.
  3. Once you’ve located availability, write down your flight numbers, dates, and times.
  4. Etihad Guest’s Serbia call center (877-690-0767) is the best for booking flight awards. Press 1 for English, and then press 4 (don’t press 2 for “first and business class”). Press 1 to book or change a flight. Then press 1 again to book or change a flight with Etihad Guest miles.
  5. Feed the representatives your flight information.
  6. Ticket the reservation and pay for taxes and fees.

Earning Etihad Guest Miles

Etihad Guest is transfer partners with 4 award currencies: American Express Membership RewardsCiti ThankYou Rewards, Capital One Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy.

Amex, Capital One, and Citi transfer at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000 Etihad Guest mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.

American Express transfers are instant, Capital One transfers take up to 36 hours, Citi transfers take up to 7 days, and Marriott Bonvoy takes around 5 days.

Hot Tip: For more ideas to get miles, check out our best ways to earn lots of Etihad Guest miles.

Recommended Capital One Cards (Personal)

Korean Air SKYPASS

Korean Air Kosmo Suite 2.0 First Class
Want huge, private suites in first class? Check out Korean Air. Image Credit: Korean Air

Korean Air’s frequent flyer program is called SKYPASS. Korean Air SKYPASS is great because it offers the only way to book Korean Air first class with points and miles.

Additionally, one-way flights on Korean Air are bookable when spending Korean Air miles, instead of just round-trip.

Keep in mind that Korean Air redemptions with SKYPASS are subject to seasonality. Korean Air charges the following mileage prices for one-way flights between the U.S. and South Korea:

Cabin Class Korean Air Mileage Cost Taxes & Fees
Economy (off-peak) 35,000 ~$92 to $185
Economy (peak) 52,500
Business (off-peak) 62,500
Business (peak) 92,500
First (off-peak) 80,000
First (peak) 120,000

Round-trip flights are simply double the mileage and fees. Korean Air first class is an excellent product, and using SKYPASS is the only way to book it on points.

Best of all, you can book Korean Air first class completely online. If you’re open to booking over the phone, you can actually request an award hold of up to 30 days while transferring Marriott Bonvoy points to Korean Air.

Hot Tip: Need help booking? Check out our step-by-step guide on booking Korean Air first class.

Here are some great redemptions you can make:

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Seoul (ICN) one-way, during off-peak season in Korean Air business class for 62,500 Korean Air miles and $92 in taxes and fees
  • Boston (BOS) – Seoul (ICN) one-way, during off-peak season in Korean Air business class for 62,500 Korean Air miles and $92 in taxes and fees
  • Las Vegas (LAS) – Seoul (ICN) one-way, during off-peak season in Korean Air business class for 62,500 Korean Air miles and $92 in taxes and fees
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Seoul (ICN) one-way, during off-peak season, in Korean Air first class for 80,000 Korean Air miles and $92 in taxes and fees
  • New York (JFK) – Seoul (ICN) round-trip, during off-peak season, in Korean Air first class for 160,000 Korean Air miles and $277 in taxes and fees
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN) one-way, during off-peak season in Korean Air business class for 62,500 Korean Air miles and $92 in taxes and fees

Earning Korean Air SKYPASS Miles

The only transfer partner of Korean Air is Marriott Bonvoy. As a result, the best way to earn Korean Air SKYPASS miles is by transferring Marriott Bonvoy points.

Both Chase and American Express offer co-branded Marriott Bonvoy credit cards with huge sign-up bonuses.

Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a 3:1 ratio. If you transfer 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to Korean Air, you’ll earn another 5,000 bonus miles to bring your total up to 25,000 miles. Transfer times could take as few as 2 days, or quite a while — sometimes as long as 3 weeks. 

Recommended Marriott Bonvoy Cards

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Limited Time Offer

Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card
Learn More
(at Chase's secure site)
  • For a Limited Time Only! Earn 60,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn up to 14x total Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Card.
  • Earn 2x Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains).
  • 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, qualifying you for Silver Elite Status. Restrictions apply.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $0
Limited Time Offer

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
Learn More
(at Chase's secure site)
  • For a Limited Time Only! Earn 125,000 Bonus Points and 1 Free Night Award (value up to 50,000 points) after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
  • Earn up to 17x total Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card.
  • Earn 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Automatic Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year. Path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year.
  • 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Bonvoy points and get Free Night Stays faster.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $95
​​
Limited Time Offer

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points and a bonus Free Night Award after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Resort fees may apply. Terms apply. Offer expires 11/3/2021.
  • Enjoy up to $300 in statement credits each year of Card Membership for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
  • Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program. 3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive 1 free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy unlimited airport lounge visits when you enroll in Priority Pass™ Select membership.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-840)
  • Annual Fee: $450
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.

$1,400
​​
Limited Time Offer

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card


Learn More
(at Amex's secure site)
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points & 2 bonus Free Night Awards after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months. Each bonus Free Night Award has a redemption level up to 50K points. Certain hotels have resort fees. Offer ends 11/3/2021.
  • Earn 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
  • Earn 4x points at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping. 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status with your Card. Plus, earn Gold Elite status after making $35,000 in eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-840)
  • Annual fee: $125
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, click here.

$875

Hot Tip: Need some more inspiration on earning miles? Check out our guide on the best ways to earn lots of Korean Air miles.

Avianca LifeMiles

Asiana A330 Business Class
Asiana A330 business class. Image Credit: Asiana

Avianca LifeMiles is one of the most underrated booking programs. Avianca LifeMiles enable you to book on any Star Alliance airline, which means you can leverage both Asiana and United flights.

Best of all, LifeMiles doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges on award flights. It recently removed its award chart, but it still uses a region-based award chart.

Here’s how much awards cost on one-way flights to South Korea:

Cabin Class Avianca LifeMiles Cost (Continental U.S.) Avianca LifeMiles Cost (Hawaii) Taxes & Fees
Economy 35,000 27,500 ~$51
Business 75,000 48,000
First 90,000 66,000

On the surface, this might not seem terribly attractive. However, LifeMiles is known to offer promos of up to 20% off! This could bring a one-way business class flight down to 60,000 LifeMiles.

Additionally, there are often transfer bonuses from American Express and Citi of 15% to 30%. If you’re able to stack these transfer bonuses with the LifeMiles promos, you can secure business class for as little as 42,000 miles. To make things even better, fuel surcharges aren’t charged.

To book award travel on Avianca LifeMiles, follow these directions:

  1. Visit LifeMiles.
  2. Log into your LifeMiles account by entering your LifeMiles number and password.
  3. Change the language as necessary by clicking the flag icon in the top-right corner.
  4. Click Fly on the top banner of the landing page.
  5. Type in your flight information, including airports, number of passengers, and class of booking.
  6. Select your flights and pay with your miles along with any taxes and fees to complete your reservation. A $25 award booking fee is charged for each way. This means round-trip flights are charged a $50 award booking fee.

Here are a few great redemptions you can make:

  • Honolulu (HNL) – Seoul (ICN) one-way in Asiana Airlines business class for 48,000 LifeMiles + $51 in taxes and fees
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN) one-way in Asiana Airlines business class for 75,000 LifeMiles + $51 in taxes and fees

Earning Avianca LifeMiles

Avianca LifeMiles are very easy to earn. In fact, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Brex Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citi ThankYou Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, and transfers process instantly. Sometimes, LifeMiles even offers generous transfer bonuses of up to 30%, particularly from Amex and Citi.

If you have a bunch of Marriott Bonvoy points, you can transfer at a 3:1 ratio, which takes 3 business days. Transferring 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points gets you a 5,000 LifeMiles bonus.

Besides these transfer partners, you can earn lots of miles directly from the co-branded Banco Popular Avianca Vuela LifeMiles credit card.

Lastly, LifeMiles routinely offers huge sales of up to 125% to 200% more miles. Buying LifeMiles outright can make for some cheap first and business class redemptions.

Recommended Citi Cards

CREDIT CARDCARD INFO
Citi Premier® Card

Citi Premier Card
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(at our partner's secure site)
  • Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants, Supermarkets, Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels.
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Good to Excellent Credit Recommended (670-850)
  • Annual Fee: $95
$1,280
Citi Rewards+® Card

Citi Rewards+® Card
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  • For a limited time, earn 20,000 bonus points after you spend $1,500 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $200 in gift cards at thankyou.com
  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months from date of first transfer and on purchases from date of account opening. After that, 13.49% - 23.49% variable APR. Balance transfer fee will apply.
  • Earn 2x ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X ThankYou® Points on All Other Purchases.
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 13.49% - 23.49% variable. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
  • Annual Fee: $0

United MileagePlus

United Airlines Polaris Business Class
United business class to Korea is not true Polaris, but it’s a solid option. Image Credit: United

United offers some decent opportunities to fly to Korea with points and miles. Specifically, the most attractive redemptions are on United’s own flights, as they’re slightly cheaper than partner flights.

The main strengths of United MileagePlus are the extremely easy award booking process, no fuel surcharges, and the ability to transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Marriott Bonvoy.

United uses dynamic award pricing, but here’s an estimate of how much it would cost to redeem for one-way United flights to South Korea:

Cabin Class United Miles Cost Taxes & Fees
Economy From 35,000 $5.60 to $81
Business From 70,000
First N/A

Here’s an estimate of how much it would cost to redeem for one-way partner flights to South Korea:

Cabin Class United Miles Cost Taxes & Fees
Economy From 38,500 $5.60 to $81
Business From 88,000
First From 132,000

As you can see, using United miles for partner flights is significantly more expensive in business and first class, so you may want to avoid that unless you have a bunch of United miles sitting around.

We give mention to United because the booking process is extremely easy. The search engine on United.com is excellent and you can take care of your booking completely online.

To do so, follow this process:

  1. Go to United’s website.
  2. Click either One-way or Roundtrip.
  3. Check Book with miles.
  4. Enter your flight information, which includes booking class, number of travelers, flight dates, and origin and destination cities.
  5. Pick your flights and ticket the reservation.

That’s it!

Hot Tip: If you’re a United elite member, you may have access to additional award availability for United flights. 

Earning United MileagePlus Miles

United Airlines is transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Chase transfers at a 1:1 ratio instantly while Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1.1 ratio in 3 business days. Furthermore, you’ll receive a 15,000 Marriott Bonvoy point transfer bonus if 60,000 Marriott points are transferred.

This will bring the miles up to 27,500 miles for every 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Additionally, Chase offers a bunch of co-branded United credit cards to earn lots of United Airlines miles directly.

Recommended United Cards

Delta SkyMiles

Delta One Suites A350-900 rear view
Delta One Suites on the A350-900. Image Credit: Stephen Au

Delta SkyMiles is the frequent flyer program used by Delta, and it has been ruthlessly devalued over the years.

It has different types of award space and enjoys the explicit benefit of being able to access more award space that isn’t given to partners like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Air France/KLM Flying Blue.

Delta charges anywhere from 120,000 to 300,000 miles for a one-way, international business class flight. Most of the time, the business class award availability costs 120,000, 150,000, or 180,000 miles one-way.

You can book Delta One Suites on the following A350 and A330-900neo routes between the U.S. and Korea:

  • Atlanta (ATL) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Detroit (DTW) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Minneapolis (MSP) – Seoul (ICN)
  • Seattle (SEA) – Seoul (ICN)

There’s also a Delta One route, which does not offer the newest Delta One Suites offering:

  • Portland (PDX) – Seoul (ICN)

Here’s how you can book Delta One Suites to Korea with Delta SkyMiles:

  1. Visit Delta Air Lines.
  2. Enter your travel dates, airports, and number of passengers. Click Advanced Search right under the number of passengers.
  3. Select Show Price in Miles. Choose Best Fares for Delta One if flying in business class or Main Cabin if in economy.
  4. Click on the red return arrow.
  5. Confirm award availability and complete your award reservation.

Bottom Line: Practically speaking, Delta SkyMiles will be the best program to book Delta One awards to Korea. Other partners like Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue exist, but they don’t have access to any award space besides the lowest-level Saver awards, which are almost impossible to find. Expect mileage prices to start at 120,000 Delta SkyMiles one-way.

Earning Delta SkyMiles

You can earn Delta SkyMiles by transferring from American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Amex transfers instantly at a 1:1 ratio, while Marriott Bonvoy transfers at a 3:1 ratio with a bonus of 5,000 miles after transferring 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Marriott Bonvoy transfers in 1 business day.

Other Options To Fly to Korea

We analyzed a slew of different booking options for award flights to Korea. However, we didn’t include them due to unfavorable redemption rates, convoluted booking processes, or even a lack of viable transfer partners.

Some of the airlines we analyzed included Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Virgin Australia, Singapore KrisFlyer, Alaska Airlines, Lufthansa Miles & More, Asiana Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and JetBlue.

Final Thoughts

There are tons of ways to book award travel to South Korea as there are many airlines that operate nonstop flights to Korea due to its geographic location near the U.S.

We went over a variety of booking options for the 3 major alliances. In addition, we discussed the pros and cons of each method, so now you have the inside scoop on the best ways to fly to South Korea with points and miles.


The information regarding the Capital One Venture Rewards Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.


Frequently asked questions

Which airlines include carrier-imposed surcharges on award flights to South Korea?

Pretty much all of the airlines levy a fuel surcharge.

Asiana, United, American, Delta, and Korean Air all levy around $92 to $185 for one-way flights, regardless of cabin class.

The booking programs that don’t pass on fuel surcharges on flights to Korea are Avianca LifeMiles, United MileagePlus, and Delta SkyMiles.

What is the fewest number of miles you can use to book an economy class award flight to South Korea?

ANA is one of the best frequent flyer programs in the world, and for good reason. For 60,000 ANA miles, you can book a round-trip economy ticket on any Star Alliance partner, which includes Asiana and United.

Otherwise, United charges 70,000 miles and Avianca charges 70,000 miles. Delta and American both charge 70,000 miles for round-trip flights.

What is the fewest number of miles you can use to book a business class award flight to South Korea?

One of the best deals is using 95,000 ANA miles for round-trip business class. Your options would be either Asiana or United.

If you can find MileSAAver availability on American Airlines, Etihad Guest only charges 50,000 miles each way to fly on AA business class. Etihad Guest is transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, and Capital One Miles, so there are tons of opportunities to earn miles.

To fly on Korean Air business class, you can spend 76,000 to 104,000 Emirates miles or 62,500 Korean Air miles for one-way flights.

What is the fewest number of miles you can use to book a first class award flight to South Korea?

Korean Air charges as little as 80,000 miles for one-way first class. Unfortunately, the lack of transfer partners may be a deal-breaker for these particular redemptions.

Asiana doesn’t offer first class anymore, making it impossible to book Asiana first class.

What U.S. airlines fly nonstop to Gimpo Airport?

No U.S. airlines fly nonstop from the U.S. to Gimpo International Airport (GMP) in Seoul.

What U.S. airlines fly nonstop to Busan?

No U.S. airlines fly nonstop from the U.S. to Gimhae International Airport (PUS) in Busan.

Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

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18 comments

  1. I looked into booking via ANA and Alaska for May 2020 and they both came back with nothing available.

    Reply

    • Hey Steve,

      Award availability is subject to the inventory of airlines, and this is something that is out of our control. Keep looking and trying! Thanks for reading.

      Reply

  2. Hi Stephen – is it possible for me to use Chase ultimate rewards to book ANA flights on ANA’s website? The only star alliance travel partner is United, but Mileageplus points can’t be transferred at all. I was wondering how I could take advantage of the Mileageplus points to book directly on ANA for the 95k business flight from North America to Korea.

    Reply

    • Hi Paul,

      There’s no easy or cost-effective way to do so. Unless you transfer Amex to Marriott and then to United, you won’t be ale to transfer Amex points directly to United.

      Reply

  3. Hi Stephen,

    This is very helpful as I have quite a bit of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points. I’m leaning towards ANA business or Delta One suite to fly to ICN later this year. However, availability is very tough find. One quick question though: when searching for a Delta One flight to Korea (on Delta’s website) from either Detroit, Seattle or Atlanta, do I need to pick the dates that has 100,000 miles (lowest cost) one way? Or is it possible to pick dates with maybe 125,000 miles and still use 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles to book that exact flight?

    Thanks in advance,

    Sam

    Reply

    • Hey Sam, good question!

      We’ve found that Delta’s award pricing and the saver award space (bookable by Virgin Atlantic, etc) it releases to partners do not go hand-in-hand. This means that an expensive Delta SkyMiles award ticket may still be bookable for 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles. With this in mind, we recommend calling Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and working with a representative to find dates bookable with Virgin Atlantic miles. Hope this helps—thanks!

      Reply

      • I thought I’d just follow up to provide what happened when I called the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club customer service. Good thing I hadn’t transferred the points in advance because I almost did so that I didn’t lose Amex 30% transfer bonus to flying club miles which ended back in June 30th? or July 31st.

        Virgin Atlantic representative was actually very delight to work with and helpful. However, there were pretty much 0 availability from August to December 2019 from all four airports that fly to ICN (Seattle, Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis) in delta one suite. It looked like delta really doesn’t allocate any delta one seats to Virgin Atlantic. However, I was able to locate very spotty economy seats (even these weren’t very available) which may have been a great deal for someone looking to fly economy who’s also flexible with travel time.

        Anyhow, I was determined to fly first class or at least business SEP/OCT/NOV time frame! looked at every single method listed on this blog post and came to a conclusion that availability is just not an easy find. You really have to do your due diligence and search way in advance to score business/first class seats. (tip: Asiana’s 777 no longer has first class seats)

        Ended up transferring points to ANA and found Asiana business class going at an awkward date mid November and coming back on late Nov (wanted to get 3 weekends with 2 weeks of vacation, i.e. leave friday, come back sunday two weeks later). Oh and it definitely wasn’t fun looking for availability too because ANA’s website is the worst for finding business availability!

        At this point, I’m tempted to open korean air’s skypass credit card because they dropped chase as their transfer partner. It was nice flying first class back in 2017.

        Reply

  4. I was just checking Chase Ultimate rewards and I see that you can transfer points to Emirates Skywards now?

    Reply

    • Hi Ben,

      Yes, Emirates is now a Chase transfer partner. We’re working on updating our entire site to reflect this.

      Reply

      • Using the Alaska portal there seems to be an issue with ICN being recognized as a destination.

        Reply

  5. Hi Stephen, I currently have about 200,000 citi points (on prestige) and about 160,000 amex points. I’m trying to send my retired parents from LAX to ICN on Business Class around Feb – Mar – Apr. What do you think would be the best transfer option based on your experience.

    I also currently have over 1 million Avios points, but I can’t find anything for less than 570k avios points and another $3.8k cash. Thanks in advance for your answer!

    Reply

  6. When using Emirates Skywards option: As I look for RT Econ flights from IAD to ICN within the Alaska Airlines portal, I see numerous flights on Korean Air for 70k miles.

    Do I then call Emirates and reference that flight? Or am I doing this incorrectly and need to find an Emirates flight on Alaska Airlines portal?

    Reply

    • Hey El,

      If you’re using Emirates Skywards miles, you need to call Emirates Skywards to book your award ticket.

      You can find availability using Alaska Airlines, write down all the pertinent flight information, and then call Emirates Skywards to feed them the flight information you want to book.

      Reply

  7. Hi Stephen,

    Thank you SO much for this very thorough post! With all the research I’ve done on flights to Korea and credit card points to use, this by far is the most helpful. I hope you and your now wife (?) enjoyed your trip. Is “UP” also on social?

    Reply

  8. Hi Stephen. I’m located in the Washington DC metro area and I’m looking to go to Seoul (preferably direct) for ~1 month around the end of April 2022 . I’m sitting on a decent number of KAL miles; however, upon searching Korean Airlines award bookings (off-peak, economy), I’m seeing outrageous fees. Curious if you could recommend a way to minimize taxes&fees. I’m planning to stay in Seoul for ~3 weeks, Osaka for ~1 week, then head back to IAD. Thanks in advance.
    (1-way) IAD-ICN: 35k miles + ~$180
    (round trip) IAD-ICN, ICN-IAD: 70k miles + ~$396

    Reply

    • Hi Jimbo,

      These fees are unavoidable when redeeming Korean Air miles. If you are only interested in redeeming Korean Air miles, there’s no way to reduce it besides changing your route entirely to start in a country like Mexico.

      You can redeem Delta SkyMiles to avoid these taxes and fees if you have a pile of them sitting around.

      Reply

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

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