Huge Changes Coming To Korean Air SkyPass

Filed Under: Korean Air

Some massive changes have just been announced to the Korean Air SkyPass frequent flyer program. Korean Air describes these changes as being implemented “to increase customer benefits.” I beg to differ.

Keep in mind that Delta now owns a stake in Korean Air and has a joint venture with them, and we know what Delta does to frequent flyer programs. šŸ˜‰

Why I Personally Care About Korean Air SkyPass

Korean Air SkyPass used to be a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and was one of my favorite transfer partners at that. SkyPass had excellent redemption rates for travel in Korean Air first class, and award space was generally readily available.

Unlike oneworld and Star Alliance, SkyTeam doesn’t have the same level of reciprocity of first class awards, so booking through SkyPass was the best way to redeem for Korean Air first class.

Before the partnership between Chase and Korean Air ended (in August 2018), I transferred hundreds of thousands of points, and I haven’t redeemed any of those yet. While speculatively transferring points may seem dumb, the values were that good, it was a unique currency, and Korean Air has historically provided plenty of advance notice of any program changes (and this is no different).

Korean Air SkyPass Changes

There are all kinds of things changing about Korean Air SkyPass, including mileage earning rates, mileage redemption rates, elite status qualification, and more. The catch is that in some cases they’ve given full details of the changes, while in other cases they’ve only teased. So let’s look at what we know so far.

New Distance Based Redemption Rates

Lets start with what I care most about, and what probably impacts OMAAT readers most.

As of April 2021, SkyPass will be introducing new mileage redemption rates. Korean Air says that the new pricing will be based on zones and categorized by flight distance. This will replace the current region-based award chart.

Korean Air highlights that economy and short haul awards will be getting significantly less expensive. They note:

  • Economy one-way awards between Incheon and Qingdao will decrease in cost from 30,000 miles to 20,000 miles (what a deal, I’ll take 14!)
  • It’s also noted that for Korean Air’s 125 international flight routes in economy, 64 will require less mileage, 49 will require more mileage, and 12 will require the same mileage

Unfortunately the changes to premium cabin redemption rates are awful. For context, here’s how much SkyPass currently charges for one-way first class awards in standard season between the US and select destinations:

  • North America to Korea, Japan, China, or Northeast Asia: 80,000 miles
  • North America to Southeast Asia: 95,000 miles
  • North America to Southwest Asia: 105,000 miles
  • North America to Oceania: 120,000 miles

Going forward, here’s first class redemption rates one-way on a per segment basis in standard season:

  • A distance of 500-999 miles costs 37,500 miles
  • A distance of 1,000-1,499 miles costs 45,000 miles
  • A distance of 1,500-1,999 miles costs 52,500 miles
  • A distance of 2,000-2,999 miles costs 67,500 miles
  • A distance of 3,000-3,999 miles costs 82,000 miles
  • A distance of 4,000-4,999 miles costs 97,500 miles
  • A distance of 5,000-6,499 miles costs 120,000 miles
  • A distance of 6,500-9,999 miles costs 135,000 miles

Ouch! In other words:

  • A one-way ticket from the US to Korea increases in cost from 80,000 miles to 120,000-135,000 miles
  • A one-way ticket from the US to Bangkok increases in cost from 95,000 miles to 187,500-195,000 miles

These changes are awful.

Korean Air 747-8 first class

New Mileage Earning Rates

As of April 2021, SkyPass will be introducing new mileage accrual rates. Korean Air says that these will “correspond to airfares” and will be “taking global standards and airfare levels into consideration.”

While the new rates haven’t yet been published, first class will earn up to 300% mileage, business class up to 200% mileage, and economy earnings rates will be “reorganized into four categories based on booking class.”

So it seems they’re following the industry trend here, and will award more miles for expensive tickets and fewer miles for cheaper tickets.

Korean Air 777-300ER

New Elite Levels

As of February 2022, SkyPass will be introducing new elite qualification requirements. Korean Air says that the requirements will be “significantly lowered,” and that members will need to earn either 10,000 miles or take 10 flights in the previous year to earn status.

The existing three levels of elite membership will be replaced by four levels — Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond.

Apparently the new system will provide greater benefits, such as 20-80% mileage accrual rates, free seat upgrades, and elite member level transfers to family members.

Of course I would be quite skeptical here about what this actually looks like, given the lack of details.

Korean Air A330 business class

New Cash & Miles Trial

As of November 2020, Korean Air will be testing a “cash & miles” payment option, allowing members to purchase flights with a combination of miles and cash. This is supposed to make mileage redemptions accessible to more passengers, who may not have enough miles for an outright award ticket.

I wouldn’t get too excited here if you’re looking to maximize value, since I can’t think of a single airline where this option consistently represents a good value.

Korean Air 787-9 business class

Bottom Line

The changes coming to Korean Air SkyPass are awful for those looking to maximize value, especially for those looking to redeem miles for first & business class.

While we don’t yet know all the details, we do know that the redemption rate increases are huge for first & business class travel. I have several hundred thousand Korean Air SkyPass miles that I’ll need to redeem before April 2021…

What do you make of these Korean Air SkyPass changes?

Comments
  1. “I canā€™t think of a single airline where this option consistently represents a good value”

    Well, LifeMiles does.

  2. In doing so, KE have demonstrated them as a quick learner and the cultural fit for their JV partner, if not being forced. #KeepClimbing #OurFutureOurFight just sayin’

  3. Glad I just redeemed 125,000 Skypass miles (for 2). Where are the Business class redemption rates? Most readers probably don’t have 100 credit card referrals a year to amass enough miles for first class.

  4. Would you share in another post some ways to maximise the values of SkyPass(Pesos)? I also have some but don’t fancy KE or DL metal. Is there any other carriers or creative routing? TIA

  5. perhaps good news locally for Asiana, although being star alliance they’re already very united-esque when i try and book. i’ve only ever paid for my business class on korean air but was hoping to fly F eventually transferring a bunch of bonvoy points.

    I know you used to be able to book korean air through alaska but i’m guessing that is either going to be gone or going through the roof?

  6. Sounds very much like DL is trying to get their partners (the ones that they have significant investments or JV) to align their programs to have very similar foundations as SkyMiles and then they can start standardizing the award earn and redemption rates. In other words, if KE has a similar structure then they can report earnings based on $$ across both programs eliminating the distance based earning chart.

    Then down the road as they move award flights from distance based to $$ based with a similar structure it will be almost as easy as flicking the switch.

    A trend we have all predicted for quite some time – just that now we are close to the transition from the individual airline phase to the phase that involves partners. We are seeing a similar trend with UA/LH as well as they aligned elite status qualifications.

  7. I have a significant amount of skypass miles too (transferred from UR a few years ago) that I’ll need to redeem before 2021. On the bright side, I’m glad Skypass is giving us a heads up on when these changes will occur.

  8. At least Korean Air gives some advance warning about this devaluation, unlike Qatar Airways did back in May 2018.

  9. I wonder how this will impact redemptions on KE through DL. I’m currently seeing one-way business class redemptions at 85k from the US, so I hope this doesn’t increase when the KE changes become effective

  10. That’s why we should remind readers that for a lot of people hoarding miles & points is not a good financial strategy unless you earn & burn often. Otherwise, cash is king.

  11. Looks like it is time to get a ride in First on their 747-8 sooner rather than later! I fly USA to Bangkok often…looks like Korean wonā€™t be much of an option going forward. Sad to see!

  12. Sad to see but very much appreciate the long notice. I also did a speculative transfer from Chase to Korean and have several trips planned to Asia over the next year. Now one of them is going to be on Korean even if routing is slightly less than optimal.

  13. I also transferred miles before Chase pulled the plug. Luckily I have a trip booked for February to use them and will end up orphaning about 10,000 points in two accounts, but oh well.

    I thought the surcharges on my redemption were on the high side as well. Higher than I remember from a few years ago. Wonder if they are going to change those.

  14. I too have a bunch of UR points I transferred there before the cutoff.

    Finding first class space is hard. What are the new rates for BUSINESS CLASS redemptions?

  15. I have a love-hate relationship with KE.

    Their airplanes are gorgeous. Their service is impeccable. Their food is delicious.

    And they have no wifi. Seriously. Well, the whole IFE thing leaves a *lot* to be desired. Plus, they have all kinds of weird restrictions on awards. Like, for J and above, only awards through their program can get infant ticket. Like, WTF? Or, on Alaska miles, only round trip can be booked, but apparently it’s still doable if you do the other direction with some other program (it’s really bonker).

    I really wish KE gets its act together. It’s a nice airlines, just please do things more rationally.

  16. Korean Air currently has the weirdest elite levels I have ever seen. The entry elite level is achieved by 50K miles or 40 flight segments, which sounds OK but the next one is 500K miles for life time elite plus. The coming four-tier level is common and normal.

  17. Lucky, you misread the sentence presented by KE.
    KE means a one way ticket from ICN to TAO will cost 20,000 KE miles while one way ticket from ICN to TPE will cost 25,000 KE miles, not one way ticket from TAO-TPE will cost 20,000 KE miles (Although CI does have 2 weekly flight sfrom TAO to TPE).

  18. Does this apply for travel after April 2021 or for bookings made after April 2021 (ie travel up to early 2022)?

  19. I’m a Korean reader and all details have been released in Korean. Looks like the details are not released in English yet. Will send you the details of new Skypass program in English.
    One more word : Korean frequent flyers in panic.

  20. Thanks for the update! Burnt most of my miles from the UR transfer taking family to NRT via ICN and then TPE again via ICN and return to SFO via ICN all in F. Still have 47k left….

  21. One plus point is being able to redeem for partners one-way now. Whether there are any sweet spots in that new award chart I’d love to know…

  22. In the past, we could only book roundtrip tickets with Korean, both with cash or award miles. Seems like it’s now possible to book one-way trips as well.

  23. @Lucky — I’m in a similar situation as you are. We transferred tons of Chase Ultimate Rewards points over to SkyPass before the partnership ended. I would love hear any follow-up posts on best value routes for business/first from US to Asia. Thanks for the heads-ups!

  24. You bloggers all advocate against speculative miles buys and transfers, yet you moved hundreds of thousands of miles to KE?

  25. The Korean page mentions the details of the levels. Basically the lowest level, silver is 10,000 qualifying miles a year and that gets you current Morning Calm status benefits. The higher levels have things like ā€œgifted silver statusā€ and such that are almost the same as Delta. The highest level, I believe, is 40,000 miles a year. I can translate more in detail if you like.

  26. I guess it isn’t surprising that as it becomes easier and easier to get miles, airlines need to up the cost of redemption. It’s a liability on their balance sheet, so they can reduce the liability by raising redemption rates. You can’t have one without the other.

  27. This sucks tremendously. Frequent ICN-USA and back business mileage ticket traveler and will now have to look elsewhere. Praying that Asiana doesn’t follow this. Korean Air has one of the best programs in the world, now they won’t. See ya…

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