Guide to Korean Air SKYPASS Award Miles

Korean Air SKYPASS is a quality frequent flyer program with some great sweet spots serving different places around the globe. The program requires a bit of extra effort to proceed with booking alliance partner awards, but that little bit of extra work definitely pays off in the end. Here’s a guide to booking awards with Korean Air SKYPASS miles on SkyTeam alliance partners with a look at some of the best redemptions available. 

What is SKYPASS?

KOREAN AIRLINES LOGO

SKYPASS is Korean Air’s frequent flier program. Korean Air is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance so you can use SKYPASS to book award flights on SkyTeam Alliance partners in addition to several non-alliance partners. 

SkyTeam Alliance Partners

SKY TEAM ALLIANCE PARTNERS
The SkyTeam Alliance

Non-SkyTeam Alliance Partners

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Hawaiian

How to get SKYPASS miles?

There are three ways to get SKYPASS miles with major credit cards: 

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests (1:1)
  • SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Ultimate Rewards

For Ultimate Rewards, you can go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® and earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first three months of opening up your account or you can go with the Chase Ink Plus® and earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 within the first three months of opening up your account. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000

Starwood Preferred Guests

You can also go with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which offers 25,000 to 35,000 points for its sign-up bonus. Keep in mind that when SPG points are transferred to programs like SKYPASS, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer. 

SKYPASS Visa Signature Card

Finally, you can look into the SKYPASS Visa Signature Cards issued by US Bank. They have both a personal and a business version where you can earn up to 30,000 SKYPASS miles relatively easy with only a $2,000 minimum spend. [offer expired]

SKYPASS VISA SIGNATURE CREDIT CARD

The annual fees for both cards aren’t waived but are reasonable coming under $100. If you’re looking for a way to jump start your earnings or cap-off your SKYPASS miles these cards are definitely decent options. Just be aware that US Bank can issue you the lesser “Classic” card if they don’t deem you credit-worthy and that card comes with a very low bonus of only 5,000 miles, so consider that when applying.

Booking policies

The only real drawback to Korean Air is that booking partner awards requires a bit more effort than some other airlines, as they have some unique policies and hurdles you’ll have to clear in order to finalize your booking.

Redeeming Korean Air SKYPASS miles for family members

Korean Air allows its members to make bookings for immediate family members (up to 5) through its “family plan” but you’ve got to jump through a few hoops first and through the registration process. Family members that qualify for this include: Grandparents, parents, spouse, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, parents-in law, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

You’ll have to send in the application online (emailing to engskypass@koreanair.com is the preferred method), or via fax/snail mail and if you’re a non-resident of Korea, you’ll have to include a copy of some form of identity verification, such as family registers, resident registration, birth certificates,marriage certificates, etc.

Expect about 48 to 72 hours to process the application but make sure that you have a hand-written signature on the form and not a digital version because they won’t accept that!

Tip: If you don’t want to bother with this process (or don’t have the necessary documentation), you can always consider transferring points from individual Ultimate Rewards/SPG accounts into separate SKYPASS accounts and just complete separate bookings. 

Booking award flights

Update: you can now search and book partner awards online! 

Booking award flights with partner airlines on Korean Air SKYPASS is a bit of a painful process. Here’s why: 

  • First, to book an award flight with a partner airline you must call in to book.
  • Second, the Korean Air website will normally not show you partner availability so you should search on other websites, such as Delta’s to find the availability. 
  • Third, to make matters even worse, when you finally do find the availability you are looking for you will be required to send in the application for booking award tickets along with a copy of the passport of each passenger. 

Although this process is a little lengthy and a little weird, I really think the bit of extra effort it requires is still worth it given the great redemption rates of Korean Air.

Put reservations on hold 

One thing that is great about SKYPASS is that you can put your reservations on hold. I’ve read reports of some being told that the limit for held reservations is 14 days, 30 days, and even longer. When I inquired with SKYPASS (two times), I was told that you can keep a reservation on hold up until 3 days before the departure. This means that, at least in theory, you could have a reservation on hold for months and months at a time.

I wouldn’t count on such long holds being allowed 100% of the time and you’ll always have to contend with fluctuating taxes, but in any event, you shouldn’t have to worry about putting reservations on hold for just a couple of weeks at a time. 

Zones

SKYPASS has different zone charts for bookings on Korean Air, Star Alliance Partners, and non-alliance partners. Since I’m just focusing on booking SkyTeam Alliance flights with Korean Air right now, below are the award charts for bookings made on Star Alliance Partners. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.06.28 AM

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.04.56 AM

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 11.07.05 AM

Certain routes have their own rates which are a little cheaper. You can take a closer look on their website to see what routes offer these discounted rates.  

Stopover and open jaw rules 

Korean Air offers flexible rules for stopovers and open jaws. 

  • One stopover is permitted during the entire journey (this can be in the zone of departure or arrival).
  • Up to two transfers are permitted between city of departure and destination for each direction (for a total of three segments each way). 
  • One “surface segment” (open jaw) is permitted at the destination, and is not considered a stopover. 

These rules allow you to maximize the value of your bookings by essentially offering you ways to stop over in certain destinations free of charge.

You can only book roundtrips

  • SkyTeam Bonus is valid only for round-trip and same amount of mileage will be redeemed for one-way trip. 

So basically, it’s a waste to book one-way awards.

Cancellations

There are no fees to cancel or modify your bookings.

Update: Korean Air now will charge roughly $27 for cancelled bookings.

I asked what the latest date possible would be to cancel a booking and was told that “it depends” on the reasoning. It sounded as if one could cancel a booking last minute without penalty but I’m sure that YMMV on that.

Once you cancel your booking, your miles should be redeposited back into your account within 48 to 72 hours and the taxes and fees will be refunded no later than 4 to 6 weeks. 

Surcharges

You can get around surcharges by booking your award flights with the right partners. Most of the partners like that fly to and from North and South America (Delta, AeroMexico, etc.) will have surcharges of next-to-nothing. However, when flying to and from Europe or Asia you might have to deal with more surcharges. (I’ll try to write up more on surcharges later.)

Sweet spots

In an effort to keep this article at a reasonable length, I’m only going to focus on SkyTeam Alliance partner sweet spots from North America to various destinations around the world with SKYPASS and I will follow up with additional sweet spots on a later article.

Here are the summaries for the sweet spots: 

  • North America to Hawaii
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
    • 25,000 miles in economy
    • 45,000 miles in business class
  • North America to Europe
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 80,000 miles in business class
  • North America to South America 
    • 50,000 miles in economy
    • 110,000 miles in business class
It’s all about the sweet spots!

1) North America to Hawaii

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Korean Air offers possibly the best way to get to Hawaii with miles and points. One of the only other programs that allows for such low redemption to Hawaii is British Airways, but you’re limited to departing off the West Coast. With SKYPASS miles, you can depart from anywhere in the United States and always break up your flight with a stopover.

For example, you could depart from the middle of the United States, stop over in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then be on your way to Hawaii and come back all for only 25,000 miles. That means with just hitting the sign-up bonus on card like the Sapphire Preferred® you and a partner could have airfare covered roundtrip to Hawaii. (Read about Loophole Travel’s recent redemption to Hawaii for more on this sweet redemption.)   

Compare SKYPASS to other programs:

  • Aeroplan: 45,000
  • American Airlines: 45,000
  • British Airways Avios: 25,000 Avios (from the West Coast)
  • ANA Partner: 40,000
  • Delta: 45,000
  • United: 45,000
  • Singapore Airlines: 35,000 

The business class redemption to Hawaii for 45,000 miles is pretty exceptional as well. In fact, that’s the same amount of miles required by United, American Airlines, Delta, and Aeroplan just to get to Hawaii in North America in economy roundtrip, as you can see above. 

2) North America to Mexico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon 

  • 25,000 miles in economy
  • 45,000 miles in business class

Getting to Mexico and a few other destinations like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with Korean Air SKYPASS is also a bargain. Since they are also a part of North America, the mileage requirements are the same for Hawaii. 

Compare SKYPASS to other requirements for getting to Mexico:

  • Aeroplan: 40,000
  • American Airlines: 30,000
  • ANA Partner: 30,000
  • Delta: 35,000
  • Flying Blue: 25,000 miles
  • United: 35,000

3) North America to Europe 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 80,000 miles in business class

Korean Air SKYPASS has some of the cheapest redemptions from North America to Europe in economy at 50,000 round trip.

Compare these rates to the following airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000 to 75,000 
  • American Airlines: 45,000 to 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000 
  • British Airways: 34,000 (Departing Northeast to northwest Europe; surcharges likely)
  • Delta: 60,000 to 82,000 
  • Singapore Airlines: 34,000 (from IAH/East Coast to western Europe and with online 15% discount; heavy surcharges likely) 
  • United: 60,000 

While British Airways and Singapore Airlines offer lower redemption rates, keep in mind that those rates are restricted geographically and will usually incur much higher taxes and fuel surcharges than booking a partner airline like Delta with Korean Air. With Korean Air, you can depart from anywhere in the U.S. and arrive anywhere in Europe for the flat rate of 50,000. That’s what makes it such a great sweet spot.  

The sweet spot gets even sweeter for business class, as Korean Air even beats out ANA’s ridiculously low rates for business class to Europe and only requires 80,000 miles! That’s only 20,000 more miles than many other airlines require for economy to Europe.

Compare this SKYPASS redemption to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000
  • ANA Partner: 88,000
  • Delta: 125,000
  • United: 115,000 miles (140,000 miles if booked with alliance partner)

4) North America to South America 

  • 50,000 miles in economy
  • 110,000 miles in business class

The redemptions are among the best for getting to southern South America. For example, take a look at the mileage requirements for getting from North America to Santiago, Chile. Only 50,000 miles are required!    

Compare SKYPASS to other airlines:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 60,000
  • ANA Partner: 55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 50,000
  • United: 60,000

Just note that for some airlines that divide South America into two regions (usually “North” and “South”), you might be better off booking with another award program. For example, take a look at the rates for going from North America to a destination (Lima, Peru) typically included in the northern portion of South America:

  • Aeroplan: 60,000
  • American Airlines: 35,000
  • ANA Partner:  55,000
  • Delta: 60,000
  • Flying Blue: 35,000
  • United: 40,000

The 50,000 SKYPASS redemption from North America to a place like Lima, Peru isn’t that bad but it’s definitely not the best redemption you can find. Thus, if you’re headed to northern South America, you might not want to go with Korean Air and save yourself a good 10-15,000 points. 

The business class redemptions aren’t bad for getting to “lower” South America, though. For example, it will only require 110,000 miles to get to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in business class with SKYPASS. 

Compare this to other requirements for getting from North America to Rio De Janeiro:

  • Aeroplan: 110,000 miles
  • American Airlines: 115,000 miles
  • ANA Partner: 88,000 miles 
  • Delta: 150,000 miles
  • United: 110,000 miles

While it’s not the lowest redemption (I don’t think many, if any, airlines can compete with ANA on this redemption), it’s still among the best for the major airlines. 

Final Word

Korean Air SKYPASS is a great way to redeem miles for SkyTeam partner airlines. There are some rich sweet spots that are among the best out there and while you might have to jump through a few extra hoops to take advantage of some of these, it can definitely be worth it when you’re saving tens of thousands of points. 

Cover photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

6 comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the detailed steps, it helps Novice Travel hackers like me 🙂

    I would like to point that -The Family Registration email address is incorrect, please update it to engskypass@koreanair.com. I had my email bounce back

  2. Short of calling in, is there a way to estimate fuel surcharges that would be encountered for a RT flight on Delta from North America to Europe? I’ve seen conflicting accounts that either say they’ve seen ~$1,000 in fuel surcharges, or like yours that recommend choosing Delta for the least fuel surcharges for this trip.

    1. Unfortunately I don’t know a way to estimate surcharges without calling (and even then the agents sometimes can’t tell you). I think the break on surcharges with Delta depends on the route but I still haven’t gotten around to adding an article on surcharges with Korean Air so I can’t say I know that with 100% certainty. I’ll try to get back with you on that issue.

      1. Were you able to find a way to estimate the fuel surcharges? Still having this issue and would like to hear if you ever found an answer.

        1. Hi, luckily you can now search and book partner awards on Korean’s website! I took a look at the fuel surcharges for Delta to Europe and they were around $480. That’s not as bad as they can be with partners like Air France but not as low as they can be with partners like Aeroflot. They don’t impose fuel surcharges on Delta flights to Hawaii and total fees for Delta flights to other locations like South America can be under $100, so it often depends on where your route.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *