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Starwood’s Starpoints are already the most valuable loyalty program currency.
They have the most airline transfer partners where points transfer 1:1 and of course when you move Starwood points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. That gets you effectively a 1:1.25 transfer ratio with most airline partners.
Now, Starwood has added a new transfer partner and it’s a really useful one: Korean Air Skypass.
I’ve long written that Korean Air has the easiest first class award availability in the world. It’s the most generous program if you want to redeem first class awards for a family and not just for two passengers.
The caveat on Korean Air is that you can only redeem miles from your account for eligible family members, and Korean Air Skypass will insist on documenting the relationship.
This partnership is a big deal because to date it’s really only the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which gets you points transferrable to Korean’s miles (along with the Sapphire Preferred’s business counterpart, Ink Plus). A real boost to Starwood and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.
Here are my 3 favorite uses for Korean Air’s miles:
- Korean Air First Class
There are two things that combine to make Korean Air first class award availability amazing. First, Korean flies to more US destinations than any other Asian airline and they’re generous with award space. They fly to:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New York JFK
- San Francisco
- Washington Dulles
Second, their primary US partner is Delta — and Delta miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class. They also partner with Alaska Airlines, and Alaska miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class.
As a result when you have Chase points, which transfer to Korean miles, you’re really not competing against that many people for the seats. With great availability, little competition, and so many flights you can usually find Korean Air award space. I had no problem booking them a couple of months out for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
What’s more, Korean is unique in operating many intra-Asian routes with first class cabins. That means in addition to flying US – Seoul, your flights beyond Seoul to your final destination will often have a first class as well.
When I stopped in the Korean Air first class lounge in Seoul, by the way, they even engraved custom-made metal luggage tags for me complimentary.
- Korean Air for business class to Europe for 80,000 Miles
You can fly Skyteam airlines between the US and Europe for just 40,000 miles each way in business class. Compare that to 70,000 United miles one-way to fly a Star Alliance partner airline to Europe.
You pay fuel surcharges, the amount that would apply to a given paid ticket on the same itinerary. With the mileage savings, you’re basically spending a cash co-pay to make your miles go farther, sometimes essentially buying back miles at a discount.
And Korean Air has access to Air France award seats on the same level as other partners, without blocking, which in my experience means better availability than you can get using Delta SkyMiles.
- Korean Air for Hawaii awards
Korean partners with both Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines and offers exceptional value awards on both (with no fuel surcharges).
You have to book roundtrip, and fly only one airline, so you can’t fly Alaska one way and Hawaiian the other.
There’s no change to routing after departure of first flight. Once travel begins you can change only dates/times.
You cannot use ‘family pooling’ of miles (combining miles from more than one family member’s account) to claim a partner award. All of the miles have to come from one account.
Korean allows a stopover on domestic US awards on Alaska Airlines.
Roundtrip US domestic coach is 20,000 miles, and roundtrip first class is 40,000 miles.
Hawaii and Mexico are 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first. This is one of the best first class awards to Hawaii there is.
For short-haul non-stops, such as Seattle, Portland, or Los Angeles along the West Coast, you’d do better transferring points to British Airways to redeem flights on Alaska. But for connecting flights or cross-country flights you’ll do better with Korean. And indeed Korean’s award prices for travel on Alaska are cheaper than Alaska’s own prices for the same flights.
For West Coast non-stops to Hawaii In coach you may do better using British Airways Avios at 25,000 miles roundtrip. But from the East Coast, with connections, or in first class Korean is the superior partner to use.
Award availability on Alaska matches what you’ll see on Alaska’s own website (for redemptions at the low/saver level).
Awards between the US and Hawaii on Hawaiian are similarly 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first.
However, unlike with Alaska, these awards do not include connecting flights, which are charged at extra mileage. So New York JFK – Honolulu – Maui – Honolulu – New York JFK would be 40,000 miles roundtrip in coach (since Honolulu – Maui is 10,000 miles roundtrip in coach and the pricing is additive).
(HT: Shelly H.)