This series of articles about credit cards, points and miles, and budgeting for travel is brought to you in partnership with The Points Guy.

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Between South Korea’s rich history and culture, vibrant foodie scene and outrageous natural features, there’s plenty to see and do here, no matter your style, personality or budget.

If you’re just getting started with points and miles, Seoul makes a fantastic point to begin your journey, with several flights available through a mix of major U.S. carriers and their many airline alliance counterparts. 

Once you get here, there are plenty of points hotels to choose from, all but guaranteeing a free night or two just by signing up for a new travel credit card and taking advantage of its lucrative welcome bonus.

Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to South Korea with points and miles — plus our favorite things to do there.

How to get started with travel points and airline miles

Seoullo 7017 skypark in central Seoul, South Korea
Seoullo 7017 skypark in central Seoul, South Korea © Nghia Khanh / Shutterstock

The cheapest award flights to South Korea

To reach South Korea from the U.S., you’ll likely fly into Incheon International Airport (ICN), just a 30-minute drive from Seoul.

We’re focusing on the best points-and-miles redemptions you can make from the West Coast and East Coast of the U.S., but it’s also possible to fly nonstop from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines, Korean Air or Asiana Airlines. 

  • Cheapest economy class ticket to South Korea: 45,000 (low), 55,000 (regular) or 60,000 (high) ANA Mileage Club miles round-trip
  • Cheapest business-class ticket to South Korea: 80,000 (low), 90,000 (regular) or 95,000 (high) ANA Mileage Club miles round-trip
  • Cheapest first-class ticket to South Korea: 160,000 Korean Air Skypass miles round-trip (off-peak)

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Korean Air SkyPass

The most direct way to fly from the U.S. to Seoul is on Korean Air from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, New York (JFK), San Francisco, Seattle or Washington DC. 

Korean Air has a seasonal award chart for redemptions made aboard its fleet, so check the website first to see the off-peak and peak dates.

In general, here’s how many Skypass miles you’ll need to fly from the U.S. to Seoul aboard Korean Air:

  • Economy Class: 70,000 (off-peak), 105,000 (peak) miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 125,000 (off-peak), 185,000 (peak) miles round-trip
  • First Class: 160,000 (off-peak), 240,000 (peak) miles round-trip

You can also use Skypass miles to redeem award flights on Korean Air’s SkyTeam partners, including Delta Air Lines, which offers nonstop flights from its hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle. 

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Here’s how many miles you’ll need to fly on Delta to Seoul from the U.S.:

  • Economy Class: 80,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 140,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 180,000 miles round-trip

Another under-the-radar tip is to use Emirates Skywards miles to fly to Seoul on Korean Air. Simply plug in your desired airports on Great Circle Mapper to calculate the distance, then consult Emirates’ partner award chart to see how many miles you’ll need to redeem. It’s easiest to search for award availability on Delta’s website and then call Emirates to confirm.

Here’s how many Skywards miles you’ll need to fly to Seoul, ranging from the West Coast to the East Coast:

  • Economy Class: 88,000 to 104,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 176,000 to 208,000 miles round-trip

To accumulate Korean Air Skypass miles quickly, Marriott Bonvoy is a great option as its only transferable points partner (3:1). Emirates Skywards miles are easier to accrue since they can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards (1:1) or Marriott Bonvoy (3:1).

  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months from account opening. Plus, earn up to 14X total points for every $1 spent at thousands of hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bevy™ American Express® Card*: Earn 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card*: Earn 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account.
  • Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account.
  • Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account.
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express*: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 within the first six months of opening your account.
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express*: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $20,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Should you book travel with cash or points?

All Nippon Airways. You can fly to Japan in the airline’s esteemed “The Room” business class from just 80.000 miles round-trip
All Nippon Airways. You can fly to Japan in the airline’s esteemed “The Room” business class from just 80.000 miles round-trip © Eric Rosen / The Points Guy

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

One of the best points-and-miles optimizations is redeeming ANA Mileage Club miles for flights with the carrier’s Star Alliance partners, like United and Asiana.

Note that ANA uses separate charts for flying aboard its own fleet via Tokyo and for redemptions made with any of its partner airlines. United operates one nonstop flight from San Francisco, while Asiana offers direct routes from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and New York (JFK).

ANA redemptions can only be booked round-trip and just for yourself or family members (not friends). Check for award availability on United’s website, then confirm it with ANA to finalize your booking.

Here’s how many Mileage Club miles you’ll need to fly ANA (check the website for low, regular and high season dates):

  • Economy Class: 45,000 (low), 55,000 (regular) or 60,000 (high) miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 80,000 (low), 90,000 (regular) or 95,000 (high) miles round-trip
  • First Class: 165,000 (low and regular) or 180,000 (high) miles round-trip

Here’s how many you’ll need to fly with one of ANA’s Star Alliance partners: 

  • Economy Class: 60,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 95,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 180,000 miles round-trip

ANA Mileage Club miles can be accrued quickly by transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy (3:1) or American Express Membership Rewards (1:1).

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Avianca LifeMiles

Another great points-and-miles sweet spot is using Avianca LifeMiles to fly with its Star Alliance partners. For award flights between the U.S. and South Korea, United and Asiana are your best bets.

United offers one nonstop route from San Francisco, while Asiana flies from New York (JFK), Honolulu, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For more connections, consider flying with Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, or EVA Air, also part of Star Alliance.

Here’s how many Avianca LifeMiles you’ll need to fly to Seoul from the U.S.:

  • Economy Class: 70,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 150,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 180,000 miles round-trip

Accumulate Avianca LifeMiles quickly by transferring points over from Capital One Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Bilt Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards (1:1) or Marriott Bonvoy (3:1).

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Air Canada's Boeing 777-300-77W business class
Air Canada's Boeing 777-300-77W business class © Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Air Canada Aeroplan

For travelers based near Toronto or Vancouver, Air Canada provides two ways to redeem points and miles for award flights — by flying its own fleet from those two Canadian airports or with any of its Star Alliance partners.

Air Canada uses a distance-based award chart, so you’ll need to check how many miles you’ll fly on Great Circle Mapper first.

If you’re not based anywhere near Toronto or Vancouver, it might be worth budgeting enough miles for a repositioning flight (throughout Aeroplan or another points program) if it means you’ll end up saving more by flying through there versus another U.S. airport.

Here’s how many Aeroplan points you’ll need to fly nonstop to Seoul from Vancouver or Toronto on Air Canada's fleet:

  • Economy Class: 90,000 to 180,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 150,000 to 350,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 220,000 to 500,000 miles round-trip

Here’s how many Aeroplan points you’ll need to fly to Seoul aboard one of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners (from anywhere in the U.S.):

  • Economy Class: 100,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 150,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 220,000 miles round-trip

Top up your balance by transferring points over from Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards (1:1) or Marriott Bonvoy (3:1)

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Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

In the points-and-miles universe, Mileage Plan miles are an extremely valuable currency, as they can be used to fly with any of Alaska Airlines’ Oneworld partners, including American Airlines and Cathay Pacific. They can also redeemed for award flights on Korean Air, another non-alliance partner.

American Airlines offers one nonstop route from its base in Dallas, while flights on Cathay Pacific require a stop in Hong Kong. Korean Air flies nonstop from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York (JFK), San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.

Alaska Airlines switched to a new award chart in 2024, so you’ll need to calculate the distance between the airports on Great Circle Mapper first.

Here’s how many Mileage Plan miles you’ll need to fly to Seoul from the U.S.:

  • Economy Class: 75,000 miles round-trip
  • Business Class: 150,000 miles round-trip
  • First Class: 210,000 miles round-trip

Bump up your balance by transferring points over from Marriott Bonvoy (3:1). Otherwise, signing up for one of the airline’s cobranded credit cards would allow you to take advantage of its lucrative welcome bonus. 

  • Alaska Airlines Visa® card: 70,000 bonus miles plus Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account..
  • Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card: Earn 50,000 bonus miles, plus Alaska’s $99 Companion Fare (fare plus taxes and fees from $23), after spending $3,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first six months from account opening. Plus, earn up to 14X total points for every $1 spent at thousands of hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bevy™ American Express® Card*: Earn 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card*: Earn 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

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South Korea hotels you can book with points

Points hotels abound in South Korea, whether you’re staying in Seoul or venturing out to other exciting locales like Busan and Jeju Island. Using points to stay at properties that are connected to IHG One Rewards, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt or Marriott Bonvoy will only help you save.

Start by signing up for your preferred brand’s loyalty program, which you can do for free, to earn points toward future stays. Applying for its hotel rewards credit card also lets you use the welcome bonus to your benefit.

Certain cobranded cards offer even more perks for frequent visitors. For instance, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire offers cardholders $200 in statement credits that can be used to “erase” resort fees and other charges made during stays at Hilton properties worldwide.

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A food vendor at a market in Seoul
A food vendor at a market in Seoul © AFP via Getty Images

Seoul

You’ll find several Hilton Honors properties around the bustling capital city, including the Conrad Seoul, which has rooms from 70,000 points per night. 

Discover Seoul’s local neighborhoods by staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Seoul Gangnam (nightly rates from 39,000 points) or DoubleTree by Hilton Seoul Pangyo (nightly rates from 28,000).

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card’s welcome bonus provides enough points to cover two nights at the Conrad, four nights at the Hilton Garden Inn or six nights at the DoubleTree. 

The welcome bonus from The Platinum Card® from American Express offers enough rewards points to take care of one night at the Conrad or two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn or the DoubleTree.

Still short on points? Transfer some over from American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:2 ratio to ensure that next free night.

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Jagalchi Seafood Market, Busan
Jagalchi Seafood Market, Busan © PixHound / Shutterstock

Busan

Located about a four-hour drive from Seoul, Busan is a beautiful city by the sea, home to a historic fish market and the popular Haeundae Beach. Take a hike, unwind by the water, hit the spa, learn about the region’s history and culture and feast on some of the most unique food in the country.

After a big day of sightseeing, treat yourself to a few nights of luxury at the Park Hyatt Busan, which has nightly rates from 21,000 points per night.

The welcome bonus from the World of Hyatt Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve awards enough points for two free nights at the Park Hyatt Busan. To score three free nights, top up your balance by transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1).

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Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju
Seongsan Ilchulbong, Jeju © Getty

Jeju Island

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a relaxing trip to nearby Jeju Island, a tropical paradise where you can hike on a dormant volcano, enjoy scenic walks in nature and feast on local favorites like barbecued black pork and haemul tang, a hearty seafood hot pot dish.

Choose from several Marriott Bonvoy properties, including the new JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa and the Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort, which each offer award redemptions from 30,000 points per night.

The Marriott Bonvoy Bevy's welcome bonus provides enough points for one free night at either hotel. To earn three free nights, transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards (1:1).

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The famous Korean Barbecue with thick slabs of pork belly and a variety of side dishes, Jeju Island
The famous Korean Barbecue with thick slabs of pork belly and a variety of side dishes, Jeju Island © Lingxiao Xie / Getty

Activities and ground transportation

Driving is done on the right side of the road from the left side of the car here, and renting one is a great way to get around the country or make some day trips from Seoul if you’re short on time.

Otherwise, getting around Seoul and the rest of South Korea is pretty easy, thanks to a top-notch public transportation system that includes high-speed rail, buses and boats. Subways, taxis and bike-sharing services are popular budget-friendly options within the major cities, while you will need to catch a short flight or a ferry to reach the popular Jeju Island.

Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders should check the Chase Travel℠ portal for deals on guided tours and car rentals. 

Depending on which card you have, Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.25 cents per point or 1.5 cents per point, which could result in greater savings.

Some travel credit cards go the extra mile to help you save. The Chase Sapphire Reserve includes a $300 annual credit toward recent travel-related charges. Others, like the Capital One Venture and Capital One Venture X allow cardholders to redeem miles toward travel expenses at a rate of one cent per mile.

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A Seoul street scene at night
A Seoul street scene at night © Diego Mariottini / Getty

Bottom line

There’s no reason a South Korea trip can’t be budget-friendly, especially if you’re maximizing travel rewards whenever possible, paying attention to airline alliances and strategically using welcome bonuses in your favor. 

By using points and miles to cover your flights, hotels, car rentals and guided tours, you’ll be able to save some major money on this trip and rack up even more rewards to put toward your next one, whether it’s to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand or beyond.

* Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

This article was first published Jan 19, 2024 and updated Jan 27, 2024.

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