My enrollment in the Korean Air Skypass program started in 2012 with the infamous RGN mistake fare. My primary frequent flyer program at the time was United and I had yet to stumble onto the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program, so I needed a Skyteam program to credit the flight miles to.
Unimpressed with Delta’s mileage redemption chart, I did the most logical thing and just credited them into Korean Air’s Skypass program. I wasn’t worried since as a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, I knew that I’d be able to easily add miles to my account at any point in time.
Since then I’ve also flown Korean Air to the Maldives, and as impressed as I am with Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan program, I’d argue that the Korean Air Skypass program is just as good, albeit with slightly different strengths.
Here are 10 reasons why you should also be using Korean Air Skypass:
1. Amazing Premium Cabin Award Availability
I’m pretty sure that Korean Air offers the best premium cabin award availability of all frequent flyer programs in existence today, especially for First Class redemptions since those are not available to partners, and reserved for bookings using Korean Air Skypass miles.
For example, here’s a random search I did in mid-March for the Los Angeles to Seoul-ICN route. Of the 7 days, every single flight has at least 1 First Class seat available. Even better, all but one of the days has a flight with at least 2 First Class seats available, and as many as 6 seats open in some cases.
Again, this is a random search for dates 2 months out, which is typically among the hardest period of time to find availability. Availability is just as good for close-in and far-out bookings.
2. 1 + 1 Actually Equals 2
If you need to make a booking that requires 70,000 miles and have 40,000 miles in one person’s account and 30,000 miles in another’s, how many miles do you really have? The answer is not enough.
Korean Air let’s you link up to 5 family members, which include spouses, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, grandparents, and grandchildren into a ‘Family Plan’. Once the family account is created, all miles are pooled together and can be used for redemptions for any of the registered family members. This is a HUGE benefit that few frequent flyer programs (e.g. British Airways, ANA) provide.
Now, a lot has been made about the process to register family members. Even beyond that, some people find Korean Air’s reservation and ticketing process extremely cumbersome and annoying.
I’ll admit that it’s not the most seamless, and does require a few extra steps beyond a simple online reservation. But given that this is the same group of people who will spend hours driving around town to buy gift cards, take an extra flight connection, or hang-up call back multiple times until they get the answer they want, I find that all a bit hypocritical.
Here’s my experience – the sum total of time that was required to register my spouse (scan and email our marriage certificate), make the reservation (call-in due to stopover), and then ticket (call-in again and enter credit card information into automated phone system) was roughly 30-45 minutes. And every Korean Air agent I spoke to was both knowledgeable and most importantly friendly.
3. No Cancellations Or Changes Fees On Award Tickets
The title says it all – you can change or cancel award tickets with no fees, even if you have no status, which is a very rare benefit to find these days.
4. Hold Reservations Without Required Miles, Up To 3 Days Prior To Departure
While some may find the reservation process clunky, here’s something to ease the pain. Korean Air allows you to make and hold reservations until days before departure without the required number of miles already in your account. It’s really as good as it gets, since you can take advantage of open award availability at any time even if you need more time to accrue the necessary number of miles. You are required to confirm and finalize the ticketing process at least 3 days prior to departure, or the reservation will automatically be cancelled.
5. Free Stopovers Even On One-Way Award Tickets
Not quite as generous as Alaska’s program which allows stopovers at any point en route to your final destination, but Korean Air does permit free stopovers at Seoul-ICN airport.
6. Miles Don’t Expire For 10 Years
That’s right, 10 years! It’s effectively as good as no expiration, since if you can’t find a good use for your miles within 10 years, then they deserve to expire.
7. Earn And Redeem Miles For Both Etihad and Emirates
While there are ways to redeem miles for Etihad (AA) and Emirates (Alaska) flights, it’s certainly more difficult since neither is a member of an alliance. To be able to redeem miles for either is a huge plus that I don’t believe is available with any other airline program. In addition, you can earn Korean Air Skypass miles for Etihad and Emirates flights, which is great for those who were able to score one of the many recent Etihad mistake fares.
8. Use Miles To Fly To Exotic Locations
A few of the hardest-to-redeem destinations to use miles, especially in premium cabins, are the Maldives, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. Good news – Korean Air flies to all of them, and First Class availability is great.
For example, for the same week as the one above, multiple dates with 2 First Class seats available to Auckland, New Zealand:
As well as the Maldives, albeit a bit more limited for that particular week at least:
9. Fly Korean Air To South America
One of the more random routes out there is Korean Air’s LAX-GRU flight, which is probably one of the best products you can take to South America and has excellent award availability.
10. Rack Up Korean Air Skypass Miles Easily
OK, I admit that #10 has taken a bit of a hit recently with Korean Air’s withdrawal with no advance notice from the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program. But it’s been reported that this is just temporary, and transfers will once again be available toward the end of January 2015.
This has certainly been a hit to Korean Air’s credibility as a long-term partner of Chase UR, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now. Of course, it’s certainly a risk to put all your eggs in one basket if you’re racking up Chase UR solely for the purpose of transferring to Korean Air. Personally, I’ve begun diversifying by transferring some points to Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer program.
Even if Korean Air does drop from Chase UR’s program in the future, other than flying of course, there is another way to earn miles through Korean Air’s branded credit card issued by US Bank. The current sign-up bonus is only 15,000 miles, but I’ve received targeted bonus offers in the past as high as 40,000 miles.
So there it is – 10 reasons why you should give Korean Air’s Skypass program a try. I’m honestly a bit perplexed as to why it hasn’t become more mainstream, and my guess is the booking process which according to many people is as painful as a root canal. Perhaps that perception is a good thing, since that just leaves more First Class seats for me!