17 Tricks You Should Know About Korean Air SkyPass

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With US airlines regularly offering less value for their points, I’m putting together this series with background, tips, and tricks for frequent flyer programs programs whose points:

  • can be very useful to you
  • that you can earn easily by transferring in from bank rewards currencies.

I love flexible points far more than earning points in a single airline frequent flyer program. That helps me to diversify so I don’t get hurt as badly when one airline program devalues and that gives me the points I need, when I need them with the airline that has availability for the award that I want.

Here’s my tips for the outstanding Korean Air SkyPass program.

My Biggest Flexible Points Balance is With Chase Ultimate Rewards

A real go-to for the past 5 years has been the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It’s been reliably the most rewarding card for spend.

There’s a 50,000 point signup bonus (after $4000 spend within 3 months) and they’ll give you 5000 more points for adding a no fee authorized user to your account and making a purchase in those same 3 months. The card earns double points on travel and dining. So they start you off quickly with points, and you accumulate points quickly for your spending.

Chase points transfer to:

  • Airlines: United, Korean, Singapore, Air France KLM, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways
  • Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton

Korean Air Also Partners With Starwood

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express gives you 5000 bonus miles when transferring points into 20,000 miles. So you effectively earn 1.25 miles with the airline of your choice of over 30 airlines.

Korean Air was added as a Starwood transfer partner last summer. Points don’t transfer as quickly as with Chase but they transfer within a few days. And that’s usually ok, because Korean Air has generous award holds.

Important Tips, Tricks, and Cautions Using Korean Air SkyPass Miles

Here are 17 things a US-based frequent flyer should know about the Korean Air SkyPass program:

  1. Korean Air has the best first class award availability of any airline. They make great first class award space available to their members. Korean and Delta are partners, but since Delta SkyMiles members cannot redeem their miles for international first class (on any airline) there’s very little competition for the space.

    And not just one or two first class award seats either, I frequently see 4 seats on Los Angeles and New York JFK flights.

    No cherry picking, these were the first two dates I looked at and the same dates for both LAX and New York JFK:

    korean air skypass first class availability

    korean air skypass new york jfk seoul

  2. Korean Air award space is doubly useful because Korean flies to more US cities than any other Asian airline. They fly to Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Honolulu; Houston; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; New York JFK; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington Dulles. With all their US gateways you can almost always find award space to and from Asia.

  3. First class awards are less expensive than what United and American now charge. From the US to Japan, South Korea, and China (including Hong Kong) the price is 80,000 miles each way. Southeast Asia is 95,000 miles each way. If you want to travel all the way to Australia it’s 120,000 miles — expensive, but roughly market for first class and with great availability.

  4. Korean charges just 80,000 miles roundtrip for business class between the US and Europe. This means flying on their SkyTeam partner airlines like Delta, Air France and KLM. That’s a 36% savings on the 125,000 miles that Air France KLM Flying Blue charges and that Delta charges. You have access to the same saver award space that these airlines make available to their partners, too.

  5. Korean Air award space can be searched online. It used to be that Korean wouldn’t let you use their website to search for an award without having enough miles in your account. You could use ExpertFlyer, but while that shoes first class award space it doesn’t show very much business class space. Partner websites aren’t always reliable showing Korean Air business class inventory.

    However Korean Air SkyPass now lets you search award availability online and you do not even need to log into an account to do it.

  6. You can have a stopover on a one-way award. That’s only for Korean Air flights, since partner awards must be roundtrip. But it’s still a very generous and useful policy.

  7. There are almost no booking fees. There are currently no change fees and no redeposit fees. Starting August 2017 (and we were given more than a year’s notice of this change) they’re implementing very modest fees. Changing an international award will cost KRW30,000 (~ US$27).

    Cancelling and redepositing an international award ticket will cost 3000 miles — unless you book a ticket and then wait more than a year from when it’s issued to request the refund (hard to imagine!), in which case that goes up to 10,000 miles.

  8. Infant travel on Korean Air is cheap. For US domestic travel, lap infants (children under 2) are free. However internationally they’re charged. On a paid ticket, you’ll generally pay 10% of the adult fare for a child to ride in your lap (not to have their own seat). US frequent flyer programs will generally charge you 10% of the adult fare as well, which gets super expensive on business and first class tickets.

    Korean Air SkyPass charges only 10% of the mileage for a lap infant traveling on Korean Air. So a one-way first class ticket between the US and Hong Kong for 80,000 miles will cost you an additional 8000 miles for a lap infant — rather than, say, $700 (10% of a $7000 fare) plus tax.

  9. Korean offers super generous holds on reservations. You don’t need the miles in your account to put an award on hold. For partner awards you get ~ 5 days (depending on time zone).

    With Korean Air SkyPass holds can even serve as a backup plan — create a Korean award and only transfer points and ticket if the award you really wanted in another frequent flyer program didn’t open up. That’s because holds for travel on Korean Air can last a month or more, and even up until a few days prior to travel.

  10. US-Hawaii awards are a great value. 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.

    Flights between the US mainland and Hawaii (or Mexico) are 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first. A stopover is permitted.

    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).

  11. Domestic US awards on Alaska Airlines permit a stopover. Korean’s award prices for cross country travel on Alaska are cheaper than Alaska’s own prices for the same flights.

  12. Many other fantastic values in the award chart. SkyTeam awards between the US and the Mideast or Africa are 120,000 miles in business class. Business class between the US and South America is just 110,000 miles roundtrip.

    USA-Tahiti awards on SkyTeam partner Air France are just 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class. However this is just a single three-times weekly flight and award availability can be spotty. In the past I’ve seen reports of Korean Air SkyPass agents that have been confused on the pricing requiring hanging up and calling back but I haven’t experienced that myself.

    Korean partners with both Emirates and Etihad, with business class pricing for US-Europe and US-Dubai reasonable on Emirates and a little higher on Etihad. They charge separately for travel beyond the cities listed in their award charts.

  13. Korean Air SkyPass has higher-priced peak demand dates when using SkyPass miles for travel on their own flights. This is in lieu of blackout dates. (Partner airlines generally black out dates entirely that Korean charges their own members more for.)

    From North America to Seoul, these dates are May 12 through June 30, 2017 and December 8 through December 25, 2017.

    For Seoul to North America, they are January 1; January 26 through 31; July 14 through August 19; September 30 through October 10; and December 21 through December 31.

  14. Korean Air SkyPass adds fuel surcharges to award tickets (but for travel on Korean Air they’re quite low). US-Seoul has no fuel surcharge. For US-Hong Kong it’s $1.80 on a roundtrip. Bangkok is about $64. Fuel surcharges to Europe can be high but Korean Air awards are cheap enough that’s like buying back miles at a discount.

  15. You can only book awards for family members. Korean does enforce redemption for direct relatives only, and they can require proof. You cannot redeem miles from your own Korean account for a girlfriend or boyfriend, for instance. That’s a drawback.

  16. You can pool miles from family member accounts for most awards. If you don’t have enough miles in your account you can combine your miles with those of up to 4 other family members. Some partner awards do not allow for family pooling.

  17. Korean Air SkyPass is a great program to save up miles in, because miles only expire after 10 years. They do expire 10 years from when they are earned, meaning you cannot extend the life of miles. You need to redeem eventually or you will lose them.

    Up until 2008 Korean Air SkyPass miles didn’t expire at all. They planned to implement 5 year expiration but got too much pushback from the government if I recall correctly. South Korean airlines simply don’t make drastic changes without notice, either.

Korean Air SkyPass is an incredible program for US members because of access to fantastic award availability, low change fees, generous award holds, and great partner awards.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

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Comments

  1. Do you have to call to put a hold on tickets for which you don’t yet have the miles? I don’t see how to put tickets on hold using the website.

  2. Gary,

    What’s the trick to seeing the US cities to Hawaii flight from KAL’s website?
    I’ve tried but could never get the partner flights Hawaiian nor Alaska flights to show up.

  3. Thanks for the tips !
    How can I search award ticket availability for US and EUROPE business round trip using Korean Air 80,000 miles with Delta, Air France and KLM?
    80K miles for business sounds great !

  4. Korean’s website shows only Korean’s own flights. You do not see partner flights and routes. So you can check partner websites for space and then call…

  5. Any idea on how they treat married gay couples when it comes to booking awards for family members? Can my husband and I use our miles to book for each other and count as family? We have a marriage certificate we can send, but I’m not sure how gay friendly they are.

  6. @Michael

    You can call…. or chat! I recently put a Korean award on hold via their “Cyber Chat” and it was great. No need to worry about accents or poor phone audio quality. You can precisely type what you want to put on hold without having to recite it. And you can even be working on something else with the chat window open while the agent is doing their thing.

  7. Gary, on free stopover, is it not pretty much limited to Seoul? If I flew from the US to SE Asia for example on KE metal, I have to stop at ICN. Even if I want PEK or TYO as my stopover, when I were ready to proceed, I still had to continue through ICN and I am not sure if that’s allowed as a single ticket redemption.

    We fly to SE Asia on their new Prestige Suite btw and it was the best business class seat IMO even better than reverse herringbone.

  8. Thanks for the info. This could have been very useful for an upcoming trip to Asia in May, which unfortunately is peak season. 120k miles one way isnt horrible, but i will save my miles for another airline….

  9. I tried to see availability in February and March 2017 of Honolulu to Chicago , using the link you gave us — said there was no schedule, but your example shows flights in May of 2017.

  10. Hi, I’m JUST getting into figuring out the whole points world and now need to book a flight from NYC to Hawaii for mid-March for a wedding. I’d like to run through what I’ve learned and my plan and if you could tell me if it makes sense it would be much appreciated. Here goes.

    Goal: NYC to SFO for weekend layover. SFO to LIH (Kauai). HNL to NYC. Chase UR points booked through Korean for use on Delta.

    Assumptions: Korean allows one 24+ stopover (my long weekend stay in SFO) and one open-jaw (?) which covers flying into LIH but flying out of HNL. Key assumption is that so long as Delta makes points eligible flights available to a partner, it’s made available to all partners, and will cost 25,000 points for coach through Korean, no matter what it shows on the partner search pages. For example, I created an itinerary based on the above and used Air France to search for Delta points eligible flights, which I’ll use to phone in to Korean.

    Questions: The flights from SFO to Hawaii and Hawaii back to New York have a connection in LAX. Does that effectively cancel out my planned extended stopover in SFO? Lastly, is my assumption correct that even if my itinerary shows that it costs, say 200,000 points, so long as my flights show as eligible for points to partner airlines, my itinerary will cost 25,000 booked through Korean (so long as I got my Korean rules assumptions right)?

    Thank you so much for helping out this newbie!

  11. If you fly on Delta using Korean miles and fly inter island on Hawaiin airlines, you can’t check your luggage through from Hawaiin to Delta because they are not partners, so make sure you leave enough time to get your luggage from baggage claim and to check into Delta.

  12. I am not a sky pass member but have flown a couple of times last yr to Korea from us and back. I am due to fly again and have used my usual credit card. How can I avail myself of these precious mileage points? Appreciate your help!

  13. I have 28,000 miles with the Korean Air Skypass. Can I convert these miles to Delta miles? I was very confused when I inquired about this at the Incheon Airport in Seoul.

  14. Thanks Gary! So if I want to redeem these miles do I call Korean Air directly then? Can I use these miles accrued with my Skypass for travel in the US/CANADA?

  15. @Alana you call or go on to the korean website to redeem korean miles, and you can redeem for travel on delta or alaska within the us and canada (and hawaiian between the mainland us and hawaii)

  16. Hello! Wondering what the fuel surcharges are like booking Business or First on Emirates or Etihad through Korean Airlines? Any idea?

  17. Can I book
    A award tkt for my gf and myself on one PNR or does KE not allow me to use miles for other than me or family? Thank you.

  18. Hi Gary, what is Korean Air business class availability like?

    I just did a quick search scanning for about 8 months departing Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Las Vegas in business to Korea, from September through to June and couldn’t find a single date with 2 seats in business. Not sure if I am just having bad luck or what, but I don’t think business class availability is too good.

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