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5 Things to Know About Korean Air SkyPass

Nov. 06, 2017
8 min read
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If you're relatively inexperienced in the points and miles world, you may have seen the title of this post and almost skipped it. Why should you even care about a program based in Korea, especially if you have no plans to visit the country?

When it comes to overlooked and underappreciated programs, Korean SkyPass is near the top. With generous partner award charts, incredible availability on Korean-operated flights and more, it's definitely worth getting to know — and you'll want to earn as many Korean SkyPass miles as possible. Today I'll tell you five things you need to know about the carrier's SkyPass program.

1. It's Relatively Easy to Earn Substantial Korean Miles

Korean SkyPass is a transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. The transfer ratio for both is 1:1, but with SPG you'll earn 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer. Remember not to transfer more than 60,000 Starpoints in a day if you want to maximize the 5,000-mile bonus — there's a 79,999 daily transfer limit, meaning you would be one point short of qualifying for another 5,000 bonus miles if you transferred the maximum. Chase Ultimate Rewards have transferred nearly instantaneously to Korean for me, and Starpoints have taken about four business days, though they can take even longer.

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In addition to using cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to earn SkyPass miles, you could also sign up for the SKYPASS Visa Signature Card from U.S. Bank. The card currently has a 15,000-mile sign-up bonus after the first purchase, but I've seen that bonus raise to 25,000 miles and have even seen targeted mailers for 50,000 miles.

2. You Can Hold Awards for Months With No Miles

Korean SkyPass has an incredibly generous hold policy for award bookings on Korean-operated flights. You can even put awards on hold with zero miles in your account. After a few phone calls to SkyPass, it's evident that there are no defined rules for allowed hold timelines; rather, there are some loose guidelines the agents operate underneath. I was able to put a Korean award flight from Atlanta to Seoul departing next August on hold with no miles in my account. I was told the hold would be good until March 1, 2018, at which point I'd need to call to ticket the reservation. FlyerTalk user Merlinrn reports that even once March 1 rolls around, it could be possible to call and request another month-long extension.

For flights operated by partner airlines, the hold time is considerably shorter. I found a Delta round-trip from Atlanta to Paris in economy for next February and was only able to get a five-day hold on the award seat, again with zero miles in my account.

3. Register Your Family Account Now

You can use your Korean miles to book award flights for four family members in addition to yourself, but must create a SkyPass Family Plan and add your family members. Family members may include the spouse, children, parents, siblings, parents-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandparents and grandchildren of the main account holder. Previously, you needed to fax in proof documents showing the family relationship, but you can now fill out an online form and upload scans of the documents.

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The site says it will take 1-2 weeks to process once you fill out the form. If you know which family members you'll be redeeming miles for, there's no reason to wait to register. Acceptable documents for showing family relationship include "certificates of marriage, certificates of birth, census registration and certificates of tax return issued within the last six months that state the family relation and the date of birth of the applicant and the family member to be registered." The documents must show birth dates or you'll need an additional document like a birth certificate that has birthdays, presumably so they can match the SkyPass account registration information.

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Family plans are especially important in the SkyPass program because of how great availability is on Korean's own flights. You can routinely find eight or nine economy and even business-class seats open on flights from the US, so make sure you register your family now.

4. You Can Book Non-SkyTeam Partners With Korean

Korean has several non-SkyTeam partnerships, including Emirates and Etihad, which allow you to use your SkyPass miles to book award flights. In addition to the two Middle East carriers, you can book Alaska, Gol, Hawaiian, Jet Airways and Japan Airlines flights (only three eligible JAL routes) with your SkyPass miles. Each partner has its own award chart, with some very attractive pricing.

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One of the most utilized partner awards is flying from the continental US to Hawaii, usually on partner Delta, which costs 25,000 round-trip and economy and 45,000 round-trip in business. For a slightly higher round-trip price of 30,000 miles in economy and 60,000 miles in first required for Delta-operated flights, you can book award tickets to Hawaii on both Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines. You can also book Etihad Apartments with Korean for as few as 120,000 miles round-trip from the UAE to either Paris or London, or fly Emirates business from the US to Europe (Milan or Athens) for only 125,000 miles round trip.

The two hang-ups with booking partner flights with Korean are that itineraries must be round-trip, and carrier imposed taxes and surcharges can be rather steep. However, when you're redeeming just 80,000 miles round-trip in business from the US to Europe on SkyTeam partners, it could be worth the steep surcharges (~$500) .

5. You Can Book SkyTeam Award Tickets Online

At the very end of 2016, Korean took a giant leap forward and introduced a online award booking engine for SkyTeam flights. While the SkyPass phone agents are some of the best for a foreign carrier, it's still nice to avoid the phone calls and see all your options at your finger tips.

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In order to see SkyTeam flights available for booking with SkyPass miles, the flights must be available for booking at the lowest level of miles within their own program. Several times a month, readers say they cannot see Delta first-class space from the US to Hawaii on the SkyPass engine. That's because you'll almost never find Delta first-class award seats to Hawaii available at the lowest level of SkyMiles.

All SkyTeam bookings must be round-trip, and SkyPass allows one stopover and one surface transfer at destination. (In this instance, a surface transfer is an open jaw in your destination region or in your originating region. You're responsible for travel arrangements covering the open jaw portion of your ticket.) Two transfers are allowed on each the outbound and inbound legs of the itinerary. You can book these stopovers at no additional charge with the online booking engine, but it's not always a smooth transaction. You need to search leg by leg, select each flight and then click the "calculate" button at the bottom of the search results. Here's an example of both a stopover and a surface sector round-trip from Europe to Africa:

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Paris to Entebbe round trip would be 70,000 SkyPass miles in economy. With the multi-city SkyTeam engine I built in a stopover in Amsterdam and surface sector from Entebbe to Nairobi — all for the same 70,000 required miles. You can also see the steep surcharges Korean adds on partner flights, but with certain routes and partners outside of Europe, you can lower these to a couple hundred dollars.

This means if you find SkyMiles availability all at the lowest level for each segment, you could do an itinerary like Atlanta - Seattle (stopover) Seattle-Honolulu (destination) Kona-Los Angeles-Atlanta all for 30,000 SkyPass miles and book it all online.

Bottom Line

If Korean dropped the significant fuel surcharges, SkyPass would be the first program I search with the majority of my award routings. Even with the charges, transatlantic flights with a stopover and open jaw in Europe for 80,000 round-trip in business is pretty fantastic. Make sure you register your family plan, continue earning Starpoints and Ultimate Rewards to boost your SkyPass balance and take advantage of the generous hold policies.

What award tickets have you booked with SkyPass miles?