10 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Korean Air Skypass

a blue airplane with a blue tail fin

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.

korean air first class availability

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:

korean air new zealand

As well as the Maldives, albeit a bit more limited for that particular week at least:

korean air maldives

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!


  1. There are at least three additional reasons more people don’t use KE: fuel surcharges, abysmal domestic availability for positioning, and the blackout/peak date calendar.

    1. You definitely have valid points – as a SFO-based flyer I have direct access and can easily the other West-coast airports (SEA/LAX) if needed. The peak award calendar also hasn’t been an issue for me since I typically don’t travel much during those summer/holiday times. And the reality is that fuel surcharges are becoming the norm with most programs.

      The program has worked really well for my needs but that certainly won’t be the case for all.

    2. Their fuel surcharges are fairly minimal compared to many foreign carriers, especially BA. I flew RT biz class LAX-GRU for the World Cup and paid about $300 and the required miles for a lie-flat seat and great service that I was able to book nearly a year in advance with 1000 miles in my account and then amassed the remainder through CC sign-ups and spend. The ticketing process was quite simple too, despite all prior warnings to the contrary. I’m flying them again in a few weeks, LAX-AKL, though I used Delta SkyMiles for this trip, but it was also an easy booking. They may supplant Asiana as my Asian airline of choice if they keep it up.

  2. I think by far the biggest negative, and the primary reason the program is not more popular, is the requirement for round trip travel (excluding Korean Air metal). No significant program outside the US has reached the real mainstream with this hurdle in place. Milemiglia’s redemption rates would make it popular without the rule, and ANA remains relatively niche while having some huge ancillary advantages (3 stopovers, along with a bit of a workaround for the round trip rule). Without the round-trip rule, Skypass could easily be a first-tier strategic program alongside the likes of Avios, Aeroplan, Krisflyer, Flying Blue, etc. With it in place they’ll always just be too inconvenient to be a go-to option, and their rule is getting pretty unique with Delta’s recent rule change and US Airways going away soon.

    1. Thanks for the insight, and I completely agree. As pleased as I am with the Korean Air program, its only been in the context of using miles for Korean Air metal. The round-trip rule is basically a deal-breaker for me to use with Skyteam partners and Gulf carriers.

  3. I just hope Korean Skypass does not cap the amount of points you can transfer from Chase when they reinstate the option later this month.

  4. #7 is a joke, right? Emirates and Etihad flights can be booked with Alaskan and AA miles, respectively.

    Besides the negatives already mentioned, the retarded booking process requiring faxing paperwork is a major roadblock when trying to book quickly changing inventory.

  5. 1. not transfer award ticket except family
    2. require higher miles than other airlines
    (KE need KorJpn 30000miles, all other airlines need only 15000miles)
    3. should pay expensive fual charge even if award ticket
    4. so much black out date
    5. manymany accident veryvery dangerous, sometimes ramp return because nuts

  6. Why don’t you consider switching to Asiana from United then?
    Being the direct competitor to Korean Air that shares the same hub ICN, Asiana’s FFP is quite similar to Korean Air’s and even better in many points including one of the easiest to achieve (lifetime) elite status.

    And the redeem rate is simply fantastic. (80k for any trans-Atlantic roundtrip in business)

    As a sidenote, if you achieve SA Gold on Asiana, you are granted access to domestic UA lounges which is a huge plus for the most frequent UA flyer ironically.

    1. Hi Jake, thanks for the comment. It’s nice to get some perspective on the Asiana FFP program since its not one of the more mainstreams ones that’s talked about.

      For me I think there are a couple reasons – first Asiana doesn’t offer First Class out of my home base (SFO) so would need to connect down to LAX which isn’t ideal.

      Also Korean Air is a Chase UR transfer partner which makes it easy to get enough miles for redemptions.

      But sounds like there are some great redemptions out of that program and will certainly keep an eye out in the future.

      1. I was suggesting replacing MileagePlus with AsianaClub.

        The BoA Asiana VISA Signature credit card gives you 10k OZ miles every year in addition to the 30k signup bonus.
        And 2 miles per dollar spent at groceries and gas stations are really fantastic for everyday use.

        Combined with the family plan, you can accrue lots of miles in no time if your family members cooperate.

        And please, it doesn’t always have to be first class.
        You aren’t forced to take roundtrip on partner metals, too.

        How about SFO-IST-TBI in TK business for your next vacation? The longest roundtrip for 80k, no fuel surcharge on TK.

        Try that route on your UA miles. Isn’t it 300k?

        And how about 230k for RTW in business?

        Nothing beats OZ in StarAlliance in redeeming.

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