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Korean SKYPASS announces major changes to program, award rates increasing as much as 110%

Dec. 13, 2019
8 min read
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Early Friday morning — fittingly on a Friday the 13th — Korean Air's SKYPASS announced major changes to its program. Thankfully, there aren't any immediate changes, and we are getting plenty of notice before the first changes kick in starting November 2020.

The changes fall into four major categories:

Adding a "Cash and Miles" redemption option

The first change will be a new "cash and miles" payment option with a "test-run period from November 2020." However, details are nonexistent, with Korean only saying that the "cash and miles option is expected to make mileage more accessible as members will be able to use small amounts towards flight tickets."

If other airline cash-and-miles options are any indication, it's very likely that this option will provide less than TPG's valuation of 1.7 cents per SkyPass mile in value.

Changes to SkyPass accrual rates

Starting in April 2021, SkyPass is "taking global standards and airfare levels into consideration" and changing its mileage accrual charts.

Korean points out that passengers taking first or prestige classes "will be able to enjoy increased accrual rates of up to 300% and 200%, respectively." But, when it comes to economy class accrual rates, SkyPass is much less specific, merely noting that they "will be reorganized into four categories based on booking class." This is a trend we've seen across airlines: offering lower mileage-earning potential on cheaper tickets and higher earning potential on premium-class fares.

New SKYPASS award chart

First class in the nose of Korean Air's 747-8 feels like flying in a private jet. Photo by the author
Award tickets in Korean's first-class cabins will be significantly more expensive as of April 2021. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points Guy)

The worst news by far is the changes to SkyPass' mileage award charts starting April 2021. Instead of a reasonable, region-based award chart like the one currently in effect, the new mileage redemption rates for award tickets will be based on zones categorized by flight distance.

Again, it's telling which details SkyPass shares in its press release and which details aren't shared. Korean notes that there will be a "significant markdown of mileage redemption on short-distance routes." The only examples given are flights between Seoul and Qingdao or Taipei, which will only cost 20,000 and 25,000 miles, respectively, compared to the current rate of 30,000 miles.

However, that's not illustrative of the overall changes.

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Economy: There are no changes to economy class redemptions within Korea. Across its 125 international economy routes, Korean SkyPass says that "64 routes will require less mileage, 49 routes more mileage and 12 routes the same amount."

First/business class: Korean isn't sharing any details of its new first and business class redemption rates in its press release. And there's a reason for that: it's brutal. According to a Korean-language webpage, the new distance-based award chart is the following:

Flight miles (one-way, per segment)EconomyPrestigeFirstOne-cabin upgrade
Domestic5,00010,000n/a5,000
<50010,00020,00030,00010,000
500-99912,50025,00037,50012,500
1,000-1,49915,00030,00045,00015,000
1,500-1,99917,50035,00052,50022,500
2,000-2,99922,50045,00067,50030,000
3,000-3,99927,50055,00082,50037,500
4,000-4,99932,50065,00097,50045,000
5,000-6,49940,00080,000120,00055,000
6,500-9,99945,00090,000135,00062,500
10,000+60,000120,000180,00085,000

For reference, the current award chart is:

North America to:EconomyPrestigeFirst
Korea, Japan, China,
Northeast Asia
35,00062,50080,000
Southeast Asia42,50075,00095,000
Southwest Asia47,50085,000105,000
Oceania55,00097,500120,000
South America
(on partners)
30,00052,50070,000

That means nonstop flight awards between the US and Seoul are increasing up to 69%:

Miles (one-way)Prestige ClassFirst Class
Between Seoul (ICN) and:CurrentNew% increaseCurrentNew% increase
Seattle (SEA)62,50080,00028%80,000120,00050%
San Francisco (SFO062,50080,00028%80,000120,00050%
Los Angeles (LAX)62,50080,00028%80,000120,00050%
Las Vegas (LAS)62,50080,00028%80,000120,00050%
Chicago (ORD)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%
Boston (BOS)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%
Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%
New York Kennedy (JFK)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%
Washington Dulles (IAD)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%
Atlanta (ATL)62,50090,00044%80,000135,00069%

And that's just for nonstop flights between the US and South Korea. The new award chart will price awards by segment. That means one-way first class awards between North America and Southeast Asia that currently price at 95,000 miles will increase to as much as 202,500 miles one-way (135,000 US-Korea + 67,500 Korea-Southeast Asia flights over 2,000 miles).

The only silver lining is that these changes won't take effect until April 2021, so we're being given almost a year and half to finalize awards before the new rates are implemented.

Changes to elite qualifications

The last element being announced today is changes to elite member qualification starting in 2022. SkyPass is reporting that "elite member qualification requirements will be significantly lowered" and flyers will only need to "earn either 10,000 miles or take 10 flights in the previous year to qualify for elite membership." In addition to lower requirements, there will be "greater benefits such as 20% to 80% mileage accrual rates, free seat upgrades and elite member level transfers to family members."

SKYPASS will also expand its current three-tier elite membership with four tiers — with names that will sound awfully familiar to Delta flyers: Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond.

Other than that, we don't know exactly what this will look like, so we'll just have to wait until details are announced to determine how positive these changes will be.

Who's affected by these changes

These changes are going to have a limited impact on most points and miles collectors. While Korean SkyPass was a valuable transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, that partnership ended in August 2018.

That only leaves a few groups of readers that are going to have to worry about these changes: those who plan to transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to Korean (3:1 ratio with 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 60,000 points), flyers that credit miles to Korean SKYPASS or if you transferred Chase points to Korean before August 2018 but haven't spent them yet.

Featured image by (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)