Should You Speculatively Transfer Chase Points To Korean Air?

Yesterday Tiffany shared the sad news that Chase Ultimate Rewards and Korean Air SkyPass will be cutting ties as of August 25, 2018.

Why are Chase and Korean Air cutting ties?

Chase and Korean Air say that this was a “mutual decision.” Ultimately we’ll never really know why they’re really ending their partnership. My guess is simply that there wasn’t much in this partnership for Korean Air.

With how these partnerships work, the company running the transferrable points currency typically pays a fixed amount per point when you transfer over points. It’s my understanding that the amounts they pay partners varies, so I’m not sure if the two companies couldn’t agree on a new price, or if Korean Air just generally wasn’t open to extending their partnership.

Some frequent flyer programs, like Avianca LifeMiles, United MileagePlus, etc., are run like independent businesses, where they’re profitable in and of themselves.

That’s not really the case at Korean Air SkyPass, which is run like more of a traditional loyalty program. Korean Air has been such a valuable program thanks to the ability to redeem miles for first class travel on Korean Air and some other SkyTeam partners.

Chase paying them around 1.5 cents per point when most people were likely redeeming for international first class was probably something they didn’t find to be worthwhile.


Korean Air SkyPass is the best program for booking Saudia first class

Why I’m especially bummed about this partnership ending

I recently wrote about my take on the three major transferable points currencies. As I explained, Korean Air SkyPass is in my opinion one of the most valuable transfer partners for Chase, and along with World of Hyatt, it’s why I value Chase points so much.

With Chase and Korean Air cutting ties, their only unique and valuable transfer partners are World of Hyatt and United MileagePlus, and I’d argue United’s program isn’t actually that great.

So this is a big blow to the value of Ultimate Rewards points, especially when you consider that they don’t ever offer transfer bonuses, unlike Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou.


Korean Air has an excellent business class product

Should you speculatively transfer points to Korean Air?

This is something I’m asking myself right now. I have a sizable balance of Ultimate Rewards points, and I really value Korean Air as a partner.

On one hand, a large part of the value you get from transferable points comes from their flexibility, and when you transfer them to one partner, you lose that flexibility.

On the other hand, Korean Air SkyPass allows some unique redemptions, they’re excellent about providing advance notice of program changes, and their miles are valid for 10 years. So if you do have to transfer miles to a specific program, Korean Air SkyPass is about as reliable as frequent flyer programs get.

One of the major restrictions with Korean Air SkyPass is that you can only redeem miles for immediate family members, which includes “spouses, children, parents, siblings, parents-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandparents and grandchildren.”

So I guess the good news is that Ford and I are soon getting married (I knew there was a benefit to that!). It seems like they require the following documentation:

For other nationals, legal documents such as family registers, resident registration, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. that indicate birth dates and family relations of applicable members.

I’m curious, though — has any same sex couple gone through the process of registering a family account with Korean Air? I assume a marriage certificate is a marriage certificate, but I’m not sure Korea views it the same way.

So yeah, personally I’m very tempted to transfer some points to Korean Air for future redemptions in first class, given their excellent award availability and solid first class product.

The issue is that I don’t know how many points to transfer, and I feel like I need to be pretty exact with that, since I’ll have a hard time topping off an account efficiently once this partnership ends.


Korean Air 747-8 first class

Bottom line

Chase losing Korean Air SkyPass as a transfer partner is a huge loss. I really hope that Chase adds some more valuable transfer partners, given that they have fewer than Amex and Citi.

Personally I’m leaning towards speculatively transferring some points to Korean Air SkyPass. I’m not sure if I should transfer 160,000 (enough for two one-way first class tickets to parts of Asia), 320,000 (enough for two roundtrip first class tickets to parts of Asia, or even to the Middle East), or what.

Do you plan on transferring Chase points to Korean Air before this partnership ends?

Comments

  1. I transferred 83,000 which would cover the 3,000 mile cost of cancelling and redepositing a first class award.

  2. I registered my same-sex husband as spouse with Korean with no trouble. Just showed my US marriage certificate.

  3. I also registered my same sex spouse. I sent a scan of our marriage license. No questions asked by KE – he just popped up in my account after about a week.

  4. KE is also due for another award chart devaluation.
    I’d recommend not transferring too many points into your KE account, otherwise you’ll get burned big time.

  5. @mark

    I added my step father. I showed my birth certificate so my mother is added and then I uploaded their marriage certificate. No problem at all

    btw all 3 of us have different last names

  6. How many UR points do I need to transfer to Skypass to book TWO roundtrip business class tickets on Korean Airlines/their partners – from the US to Asia like Japan, Korea, Vietnam? Thank you

  7. Darin – how did you register a domestic partner? I’d like to do the same but don’t see the option, and with no marriage certificate available, what did they require for documentation?

  8. I wonder if Korean will be a new AMEX MR transfer partner?? After all, they just signed a shiny new JV with Delta, and Delta is all in with AMEX.

    This is totally plausible.

  9. I’m trying to decide too. I’ve been hoarding UR points and as I have been evaluating the remaining UR partners, I am realizing KE is my #1 or 2 redemption (for RT to Hawaii, I live in a DL hub). My issue is that we’ve got a family of four, so do I transfer 0, 100 or 200k? Or do I just focus on SW, BA, and SQ redemptions? I’ve got about 500k UR (and a ton in United and SW already). The big concern as has been stated is a KE devaluation, but with many less Americans redeeming KE moving forward, does it even make sense for them to devalue the Hawaii sweetspot?

  10. Yes I plan on transferring UR points to KE. After all, their miles expire after 10 years and I know I’ll be redeeming flights within that time period.
    Out of the transferable points currencies out there, I find UR the easiest to collect out of all of them so even if I transfer 300k UR points to KE, I know I’ll be able to earn another 300k UR points quite easily in the near future.

  11. @Andy H I was wondering the same thing. I doubt Korean would go it alone without any credit card partners. I wonder if they may appear as an Amex transfer partner somewhere down the road and this might be why this was a “mutual decision.”

    Their US Bank cards (and I have both of them) are hardly competitive, maybe they are thinking of overhauling their entire portfolio.

    My wife’s family is from Seoul and so I’ve been hoarding UR points to fly JFK-ICN. Guess I’ll transfer enough for 3 biz class tickets and call it a day.

  12. Just beware the peak and off-peak award costs when doing a speculative transfer so you won’t find yourself short on miles if you need to travel during summer or winter holidays.

  13. I just wanted to say, I think it’s absolutely hilarious that THIS is the way you announce to your readers that you and Ford are getting married soon.

    (I guess you did discuss engagement earlier)

    Congratulations again!

  14. I think this decision is more to do with US Bank getting rights for the Korean Air visa than anything else. Chase airline partner list well behind Amex and Citi now

  15. “I’d argue United’s program isn’t actually that great.”

    You could, but you would still be just as wrong as all the times you have made the claim, because it is all YMMV, unless one’s idea of a “world-class” FF program is Skymiles or the dAAk side. BTW, I am still waiting for the name of that supposedly (“world-class”) better overall FF program than UA MileagePlus…

    Since the claim was elicited by the demise of Korean Air as a Chase UR transfer partner, in my view, SkyPass is gone but the sky has not fallen. I get tons of value out of Chase UR + UA MP. I am now sitting on more redeemable miles/points than ever before, since I wrote a piece almost exactly 2 years ago about how the pairing of the CSR and UA MP could do wonders for one’s points balance [1]. I Just redeemed UA miles + UR points to criss cross the Asian continent at the end of the year for 4 weeks, flying almost exclusively in premium cabins, and I barely made a dent to my stash of points/miles, where I used to almost completely deplete the bank. Because award costs will not always be as cheap as we want them to be, one has to adapt by boosting one’s earning of redeemable miles/points…I was thus ahead of the demise of Korean Air’s cheap premium awards.

    YMMV is the name of the game, which makes many of the claims unwarranted generalizations…

    G’day.

    [1] “UA MileagePlus and the Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa: The Loyalty Game’s One-Stop Shop” [cut and paste the title in a search engine to get the link to the piece].

  16. I think you should transfer at least 1/2 your Chase balance if you regularly fly to asia. Only really good partner left is Hyatt. Big loss for Chase. Big win for Amex points in general as they just became much higher priority for a lot of asia travelers. I personally value Amex at 1.5x Chase value now. I often find myself choosing to picking up 2 Amex points instead of 3 Chase points even…..

    You wont be able to get more KE miles, but you will be able to get UR pts….

  17. Like other posters, I also added my same-sex partner/husband just by sending our marriage certificate. No issues. No questions.

  18. Don’t forget SkyPass remains a Starriott transfer partner (hopefully they continue to be for some time, too!)

  19. @Lucky you would think KE doesn’t get anything out of this partnership?? When was the last time you ever see premium cabin full on the A380. There is a reason for the abundant award inventory. If KE tighten up the 77W award space I see no reason KE is losing in this deal.

  20. So now i am considering saying screw it to 5/24. I had been waiting but with this change i dunno anymore.

  21. Ben, if you could get Chase to add any single partner, what would it be (assume transfering at 1:1 rates or something equivalent)?

  22. @Jed Yea Avianca would be interesting… I took advantage of a Citi transfer to Avianca right after it was added… really nice cheap biz options to Europe.

    It seems like a very Aeroplan move to come up with a new transfer agreement with its entire future uncertain, though I’m not sure that would be attractive for Chase.

  23. All of this speculative transfer conversation assumes there will be no good way to accumulate Korean Air miles in the future. I don’t believe that’s true — KE would be passing on too much revenue. I think we’ll either see US Bank ramp up their offerings further, or KE will become a partner of one of the other transferable currencies (I have no idea which one).

    I know KE is a bit of a different animal than many other airlines, but I don’t see how they can forgo so much revenue, especially when their 12-seat F cabin on the a380 seems to always be mostly empty.

  24. I agree that KE was getting something out of the deal if the seats were just going to go out empty anyway.

    This is definitely a dilemma since we don’t know if UR plans to add any partners. Glad I recently transferred points and booked an F class trip to BKK. I only have about 80K UR points right now. But it is somewhat tempting to dump them into my Skypass account for future use. It would be enough for a business class one way to SE Asia or an F class flight to N Asia. But it is one of those cases where I wouldn’t necessarily have a way to add any more to my account unless another partner comes along.

    I guess there’s always UA, but the miles are less worthwhile all the time. Guess I’ll concentrate on MR and TY points now for a while. And will need to decide if it’s worth the effective $150 CSR annual fee. So much to think about

  25. Wrong title for this post. It should be “Help ME decide if I Should Speculatively Transfer Chase Points To Korean Air”

    This post is about you and for you, not for your readers.

    Unless your readers are ALL part of an unmarried same-sex couple who are thinking about getting married soon, this post is all but useless. It doesn’t contain any information. This post is not intended to offer any helpful info to others. This post is about you, period. You’re trying to decide what YOU should do, not trying to help answer the question for others.

    This is the most self-serving post I’ve read here for a long time (and that’s quite a yardstick, since most posts there are just thinly-veiled commercials for your credit card referral links, but lets not go there).

  26. I’m considering transferring 375k for 3 round trip biz tickets to Asia. Are their cancel, change and/or redeposit fees pay by cash or by miles, and what are they per ticket? I’ve been hoarding UR for Korean so this sucks. Are there still 3 first class seats readily available per flight if I were to redeem for first class instead of business?

  27. @raksiam sez: “I guess there’s always UA, but the miles are less worthwhile all the time.”

    Can you actually prove that UA miles are “less worthwhile all the time” (in relationship to any other program’s), or are you simply regurgitating claims that you read somewhere but never bothered to substantiate for yourself?

    The following — from a June 27, 2018, piece in the WSJ — is among features of United MileagePlus that allow one to get great value out of UA miles and/or UR points transferred to UA miles:

    “When European carriers introduced [carrier-imposed] charges in about 2008, as oil prices jumped, Scott Nason, then a pricing executive at American Airlines , recalls discussing the idea and rejecting it as unethical. “We made a firm decision not to go there,” he says. “It is a mechanism that the European carriers devised to charge cash on ‘free tickets,’ ” says Mr. Nason, president of SDN TT&H Consulting, based in the Dallas area.

    American, United and Delta have refrained from adding a cash price to most international award tickets beyond real taxes and government fees, but American and Delta collect when their partners impose a surcharge. *** United does not pass on partner surcharges when award tickets on partners are booked through United. ***”

    Delta is now imposing substantial fees for award travel that start overseas…

    And that is not all. Neither DL nor the dAArk side allows stopovers on award travel, while UA allows stopovers in the form an excursion perks, which can be put to great use by those who know what they are doing.

    A concrete case of what I am talking about is my upcoming 2018 Year-end Escapade(tm), which have already fully booked:

    To get there: I do,

    LGA-ORD-NRT-SIN: a mileage run on a UA Polaris Business revenue ticket to requalify for 1K ,

    then free travel starts:

    _____________________________________

    — SIN-MNL [stop]: SQ, First-class award ticket using SQ awards

    — MNL-TPE-PVG [stop]: BR (Eva Air), Business-class award ticket using UA miles

    — PVG – CTU [stop]: CA, Economy-class award ticket (no C or F offered) using UA miles

    — CTU-BKK-BOM: TG, Business-class award ticket using UA miles

    — BOM-BKK: TG, Business-class award ticket using UA miles

    — BKK-VTE-BKK: TG, round-trip Economy-class award tickets (1hr hop each way) using UA miles

    [Here, I spend a week, including New Year, on the beach and a quick hop to Siem Reap for a couple of days on cheap a Bangkok Airways ticket]

    — BKK-HKG: TG, Business-class ticket using UA miles.

    _____________________________________

    Lastly, I return home 4 weeks later:

    HKG – ORD – LGA: UA, W ticket waitlisted for Polaris Business with a GPU.

    How much did the award travel part of the Escapade cost me?

    116K UA miles + 50K UR points + 30KSQ Miles = 196K Miles,

    That is it and it is a HUGE value, considering the number of segments, destinations and premium award tickets.

    The details that I will present will show that I saved 40K miles thanks to a judicious use “Excursion Perks” (i.e., stopovers), and that, after subtracting out of pocket cash, I saved about ~$16K on a large “air+hotel package” that also included redeeming award stays at 2 Waldorf Astorias, 2 Conrads, and 2 Park Hyatts. Stay tuned for a full dissection of the anatomy of what will be another big-time redemption!

    The notion that “UA miles are less worthwhile all the time” or that “United’s program isn’t actually that great” is, to be blunt, pure hogwash. Ever heard of airline alliances, which make award travel not only seamless but also make each individual program’s award miles worth a lot more?

    G’day.

  28. Lucky,
    This is a timely topic, however not sure the discussion is complete without mentioning two other widely available options for booking KE – the SPG/Marriott transfer and booking via Alaska MP.

  29. @DCS: “When European carriers introduced [carrier-imposed] charges in about 2008, as oil prices jumped, Scott Nason, then a pricing executive at American Airlines , recalls discussing the idea and rejecting it as unethical.”

    Oh, that won’t stop the US carriers from doing it as well. They’ve been in a rapid race to the bottom for a long time, and eventually they will run out of ways to get customers to fork over money to avoid misery. At that point they will reconsider the idea of fuel surcharges on award tickets. In fact, the article points out that Delta has already done that for some tickets. Wellm so much for “it’s unethical” being their main reason for not doing it.

    No, the main reason is that they’d hear a lot of screeching from some of their loyal customers. If all the main carriers make this change at about the same time, their customers can screech all they want, but will have to accept it – there would be nowhere to go. The only thing the carriers need to figure out is the opportune time for making that change.

  30. Wow. I actually agree with @DCS. But what would a Lucky article be if there wasn’t a jab at United in there somewhere… 🙂

    I also find the United program to be very valuable. Its very rare that I CAN’T find a premium saver level redemption to the places I want to go through it. However, I’ve been sitting on 190,000 AAmerican miles because I can never find availability unless it’s through BA with astronomical surcharges.

  31. Think I’ll transfer 240k UR points to KE, that’ll get me DL awards to Hawaii (6 RT econ for the family, 2 RT F for another Hawaii trip for me and wife). Family had a great time in Hawaii this year, was planning another trip next year.

  32. @snic — Considering how they have been socking it to the traveler on other ancillary fees, I agree that ‘ethical concerns’ are not the reason why the US Big Three have taken their in embracing carrier-imposed charges on award tickets. It’s more like uncertainty as to whether travelers, or even the US government, would let them get away with the practice. As the article did indicates, DL is already going there:

    “The U.S. restraint is shifting, however. Delta has started adding its carrier-imposed international surcharge on frequent-flier trips that originate outside the U.S., though not on trips that begin from the U.S.” [1]

    My point for quoting the piece, however, was not to expound on the decency of the US Big Three, but to emphasize how the much-maligned UA FF program has been the only one that’s not passing on to MileagePlus members the ridiculous and, at times exorbitant, European or Asian *A carrier-imposed charges. The avoidance of that fee alone makes UA MileagePlus a good place to transfer UR points to get great value. I should know because I have been for years…

    [1] If you are interested in the WSJ article mentioned here, which is interesting, below is the title. Just paste it in a search box to get there. It is free (at least, it still is now):

    Title: “The Airline Fee That Exists for No Apparent Reason”
    Subtitle: “Beware ‘carrier-imposed fees’ on international flights when searching for frequent-flier award tickets; why hide a fare as a fee?”

  33. Ben-

    To help answer your question (and possibly others that are in the same boat), can you list what the Business Class rates are from North America to Japan and/or Korea for other transfer partners? Korean Air is 80 OW/160 RT. Singapore? United (own metal, not SA)? Possibly Virgin with ANA Booking? I have a ton of UR and while I’m mainly a United Mileage Plus guy, I’d be interested in utilizing other UR airlines such as Korean. Thanks for the intel.

    Matt

  34. @SSSS – Note that the segment involving Vientiane is a round-trip:

    BKK – VTE – BKK

    which means that “here” in the side note referred to what I’ll do after returning to BKK from VTE; but if you must know, I will take a cab from BKK to return to Pattaya Beach (60 min away), because I had a lot of fun there the last couple of times, in addition to keeping a promise to return…

    Speaking of Vientiane and Mekong, I did book a ‘Deluxe Mekong View’ room at Crowne Plaza Vientiane. So, yes, the Mekong will be in the picture…somewhat 🙂

  35. @Matthewsf injects a healthy dose of reality into the matter by asking: “To help answer your question (and possibly others that are in the same boat), can you list what the Business Class rates are from North America to Japan and/or Korea for other transfer partners? Korean Air is 80 OW/160 RT. Singapore? United (own metal, not SA)? Possibly Virgin with ANA Booking?”

    In general, it is easier to get “saver” awards on *A partners than on a carrier’s own metal. *A awards are almost always of the “saver” kind, which is why I make a killing every year redeeming UA miles on Asian *A carriers.

    So, 80K UA miles or 80K UR points transferred to UA miles will get you from NYC to ICN in OZ (Asiana) Business every weekday (availability is that good). So, it is the same as the number of OW miles needed for the same TPAC award trip on KE.

    The big fuss that’s being made here is because one could get **First class** awards for 80K KE miles (or 80K UR points) on KE. However, it is unclear how much longer that sweet spot would have lasted considering the trend toward two-class (Y, J) international cabins. It could also be that KE F-awards were so cheap that Chase decided the partnership was not worth it. Heck, KE might have decided that it was no longer worth it and pulled the plug themselves.

    This is where YMMV, literally, comes in: I would be perfectly happy to travel from NYC to ICN or NRT on an 80K Biz award on OZ, using UA miles or UR points transferred to UA miles. Thousands who have no UA miles or UR points already spend 80K OW miles to fly in KE Biz! That is why claims that UA miles are “less worthwhile” or that the “program is not that good” are just nonsensel.

  36. @DCS-thanks, point we’ll taken. I did some research and I see that their Business/Prestige Class is actually a bit less at the saver lever…and less than United or Singapore.

    Lucky: Any (easy) way to ‘top off’ a Sky Pass account if additional miles are needed after a transfer? I was thinking of moving enough for 3x business seats but I see that on many flights I can easily get 2x Business and 1x First (on a 777-300). Didn’t want to do 3x First and potentially have too many leftover if I can’t use.

  37. Lucky! Can you please give me your opinion? I have 200,000 Chase Sapphire Reserve points. I was hoping to get to 220,000 and use it transfer to Korean Air and fly business class with the around the world trip!

    Should I transfer this now? Does Korean Air still have that deal around the world with SkyPass points?

  38. @ John — That’s a toughie. If you have a strategy for getting the last 20K points (maybe by getting a Korean Air credit card) it could make sense, but otherwise transferring an amount that isn’t correct for what you’re looking for probably isn’t ideal.

  39. @DCS
    UA miles are “less valuable” in the sense that they have been devalued by UA upping the number of miles needed. And in the sense that they charge more miles for partner awards. And certainly they charge more miles than KE.

  40. @LKS
    @Darin

    I’m not 100% sure how Darin did it, but since the wording on KE’s website is something like:
    “For other nationals, legal documents such as family registers, resident registration, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. that indicate birth dates and family relations of applicable members.”

    the “…marriage certificates, etc.” may be how it’s done.
    It used to be (not sure if it’s still available) in New York State, you could get a Domestic Partnership certificate/license.

    Although I’m not sure if KE would consider that or not.

  41. @Darin
    @LKS

    I did contact Korean Air. If you live in a state where a Domestic Partnership license/certificate is available, they will accept that.

    At least they said they would accept the New York State Domestic Partnership documentation.

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