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How to Book Award Flights With Korean Air SKYPASS

Feb. 05, 2019
10 min read
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Among award travel enthusiasts, Korean Air’s SKYPASS frequent flyer program has a reputation for two things: offering some fantastic deals on its award chart and being difficult to book award tickets. This difficulty extends not only to the act of acquiring SKYPASS miles but also to the actual process for using those miles.

In order to learn exactly how to book these award tickets, and to take advantage of one of these incredible deals, I booked a family vacation to Hawaii using SKYPASS miles. In today’s post, I’ll share what I’ve learned so that you can benefit from my experience.

Earning SKYPASS Miles

Korean Air is a massive Asian carrier that serves nearly 130 destinations in more than 50 countries, and it’s the only carrier to use the Boeing 777, the 747-8 and the Airbus A380 in its fleet. It also operates the SKYPASS frequent flyer program with the motto “Beyond Your Imagination.” And while it appears to live up to this claim, it doesn’t do so in the way that it probably intended.

The SKYPASS program is a transfer partner of the Marriott Rewards program, soon to be called Marriott Bonvoy, which means you can earn Korean Air miles through spending on the following cards:

  • Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card (to be renamed the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card; from Chase)
  • Marriott Premier Plus Business Card (to be renamed the Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature Card from Chase and close to new applicants after 2/12/19)
  • The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card (closed to new applicants as of July 2018)

Points from Marriott transfer at a 3:1 ratio, and you'll enjoy a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer, so 60,000 Marriott points = 25,000 SKYPASS miles.

For more information on these cards and the transfer options, see:

Unfortunately, one of the biggest blows to earning miles in the SKYPASS program was dealt in August 2018 when Korean Air was dropped as a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. However, you can still earn SKYPASS miles by using one of the three Korean Air credit cards available from US Bank.

  • The SkyBlue SKYPASS Card has no annual fee but only offers 1 mile per every 2 dollars spent.
  • The SKYPASS Visa Signature Card has an $95 annual fee and offers 2 miles per dollar on purchases with Korean Air, at gas stations and hotels (1 mile per dollar on everything else). It also includes two Korean Air lounge passes per year.
  • The SKYPASS Select Visa Signature Card has a $450 annual fee and offers 2 miles per dollar spend on Korean Air purchases and other airlines, hotels and car rentals (1 mile per dollar on everything else). It also includes lounge passes, a TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee credit, a $100 Korean Air flight coupon and up to a $200 annual travel credit.

And of course, you earn miles by flying Korean Air or its partners and crediting your flight to the SKYPASS program. Since the carrier belongs to SkyTeam, you can credit flights on carriers like Delta, Air France and China Eastern to the program. Miles earned are based on the distance flown, but you can earn more or less than 100% of the miles flown depending on the fare class and class of service purchased.

Redeeming SKYPASS Miles

As noted above, Korean Airlines is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which includes AeroMexico, Air France, Delta, KLM and others. You can redeem SKYPASS miles for flights on Korean Air, SkyTeam members and non-alliance partners including:

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  • Alaska Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • GOL
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airlines (solely from South Korea-Japan)
  • Jet Airways
  • China Southern (now no longer a part of SkyTeam)

While there's a single award chart for SkyTeam-operated flights, each of these eight non-alliance partners has its own chart and set of restrictions, so be sure to study them closely if you plan to utilize these relationships for award ticket purposes.

So far, nothing mentioned here is too far “Beyond Your Imagination,” but we’re just getting started. First, keep in mind that you can only book awards with Korean Air by itself, exclusively on SkyTeam partners (including Korean Air) or exclusively on a single non-alliance partner. In other words, you can’t use your SKYPASS miles to book an award using a Delta flight to reach a domestic gateway and then connect to a Korean Air flight. Your award must either depart directly from an airport with a Korean flight or you must fly Delta for the entire journey.

Next, note that you can only book award tickets in the name of certain family members: your spouse, children, parents, siblings, parents-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandparents and grandchildren. This limitation is unique among the dozens of frequent flyer programs that I’ve studied, and it definitely limits the award travel you can book.

To make this even more complicated and time-consuming, you have to go through a multi-step process to register your family members and book award tickets in their name. And although you can use the website to book award flights operated by Korean Air, it’s a lengthy process to book SkyTeam and other partner awards.

How I Booked Four First Class Tickets to Hawaii for 180,000 Miles

SkyTeam awards to North America include Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Europe in business class is also a bargain.

One of the best values among the various SKYPASS award charts is for tickets to Hawaii, since Korean Air considers our 50th state to be part of North America for the purpose of SkyTeam awards. This allows you to book award seats on Delta for just 25,000 SKYPASS miles round-trip in economy and a mere 45,000 miles in first class. Korean Air also considers Mexico, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to be part of the same North America Award zone, so it charges the same 25,000/45,000 miles for awards to these destinations. For more interesting award travel loopholes like this, see my post on Using Airline Geography to Find Award Chart Sweet Spots.

Round-trip awards to Hawaii, Mexico and Costa Rica on non-SkyTeam partners Alaska and Hawaiian are 30,000 miles in economy and 60,000 miles in first class, which are both still very good; they're just not quite as good as the SkyTeam chart.

To put this value in perspective, United charges 45,000 miles for a round-trip economy award to Hawaii and 80,000 miles for first class, while American charges 45,000 miles for economy and 80,000 miles for first. Delta no longer publishes its award chart, so you never know how many miles it might charge you. I found plenty of dates during the same travel time where first-class awards from Denver to Maui cost 165,000 miles round-trip!

Delta can charge 3-4 times the miles for first class to Hawaii.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Booking SkyTeam and Partner Flights

So how exactly do you go about booking award flights on partners through the SKYPASS program? Here's a step-by-step breakdown to help with your next award trip:

1. Join SKYPASS — The first step is to join the SKYPASS program. You'll also need to create separate online accounts for each family member traveling with you.

2. Find the award flights you need — Once you've done that, start searching for the award flights you want to book. Alaska’s site will show you awards for SKYPASS partner Emirates and (of course) Alaska itself, though unfortunately Delta no longer partners with Alaska. That leaves other SkyTeam websites, and unfortunately Flying Blue's has had issues displaying Delta award space. You may be left using Delta's own website and looking for the cheapest mileage rates or relying on ExpertFlyer.

Though Delta isn’t known for offering a generous amount of award space to its partners, I was able to find four first-class award seats available for my desired dates from Denver (DEN) to Kahului, Maui (OGG) via Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA).

3. Call SkyPass at (800) 438-5000 — Request to book a SkyTeam or other partner award, which they often refer to as a bonus ticket, and you’ll be promised a call back. It’s now also possible to book some partner awards online.

4. Hold the ticket — A day after requesting the callback, I received a call from a number in California, and the SKYPASS reservations agent to whom I spoke was quite helpful. She was able to see award seats that mostly corresponded with my findings (but not exactly). Nevertheless she was able to hold our four seats and even called me back at one point when we were disconnected. Reports indicate that Korean reps can still hold awards for 30 days.

Once you have the ticket held, this would is a good time to request both your SKYPASS reservation number as well as the confirmation numbers from all partner airlines. Use the partner airline’s confirmation number to double-check your flights and to reserve seat assignments on its website.

5. Complete the SKYPASS bonus redemption and family registration forms (warning: PDF links) — Email the forms, scans of your passports (or other acceptable identification) and your proof of relationship such as a marriage certificate to I used my smartphone to take pictures of all the forms and documents and attached them to an email in just a few minutes.

6. Ticket the reservation — Four days after sending the email, I received a reply confirming our SKYPASS family registration and giving us a ticket number. You should then transfer your Marriott Bonvoy points to SkyPass, if necessary, and then call back to ticket the reservation. Just note that it may take up to two days for the miles to arrive.

Bottom Line

This was far more work than I would have done to book partner awards with other carriers, which can usually be handled easily online or with a single phone call. Over the course of a week, I spent about an hour making this reservation, which included phone calls, creating accounts, filling out forms and emailing documents. However, was it worth spending this time for my family to travel to Hawaii in first class for 180,000 miles, more than 100,000 fewer than any alternative? You bet!

Keep in mind too that the hardest part is now over; since all of family members’ accounts have been created and linked, it will take me significantly less time to book a SKYPASS partner award in the future. And thankfully you can book awards on all Korean-operated flights online, and the airline is known for offering fantastic first-class award availability.

By patiently complying with the paperwork requirements of Korean Air’s SKYPASS program, you can use your Marriott Bonvoy points to book an award trip for fewer miles than you may have thought.

Have you booked an award flight with Korean Air? Share your experience in the comments below!