Korean Air Announces Changes to SKYPASS Program

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Korean Air has announced significant changes to its SKYPASS frequent flyer program. The press release states that the program update is intended to “increase customer benefits.” Unfortunately, it appears the number of members who will experience any increased benefits will be rather limited.

More importantly, premium award redemptions to and from the U.S., which are currently a highlight of the program, are going to see substantial price increases. The English press release was notably vague on these details, but the full Korean version paints a bleak picture for the future of redeeming Korean miles.

Key Takeaways

Shift from a region-based award chart to a distance-based award chart — Instead of grouping geographical regions together to calculate award prices (for instance, North America to Southeast Asia), Korean Air will now base award prices on the total distance traveled. The changes go into effect in April 2021, and the new award chart will read as follows:

New Korean Air Skypass Redemption Chart

One-way flights from the western U.S. to Korea fall squarely in the 5,000 – 6,499 mile bracket. That means that first-class redemptions that previously cost 80,000 miles in off-peak season will now cost 120,000 miles year-round. A 50% price increase. East Coast passengers fare even worse, as they will soon fall in the 6,500 – 9,999 mile bracket. First-class redemptions to Korea were previously the same 80,000 miles during off-peak season. Now they will cost a whopping 135,000 miles per passenger. An almost 70% increase in price! No wonder Korean Air didn't include this in the English release.

If that weren't bad enough, Korean Air will also start calculating the distance on a per-segment basis. That means that a first-class redemption from New York to Bali (which involves one segment from New York to Korea, and one segment from Korea to Bali) will now cost… wait for it… 217,500 miles! That's right. A 142% price increase from the 90,000 miles it currently requires in off-peak season.

Hanging out at Korean Air's swanky A380 on-board bar is going to become a lot more expensive in 2021.
Hanging out at Korean Air's swanky A380 on-board bar is going to become a lot more expensive in 2021.

Cash & Miles fare options will be available — Effective November 2020, Korean Air will begin a “test run” in allowing people to book tickets with a combination of cash and miles. This would mean that if you don't have enough miles to book a full award ticket, you will be able to make up the difference with cash. Additional flexibility with your miles could potentially be a good thing. However, it's unknown how much value Korean Air will place on the miles you have to spend. That makes it impossible to predict how much value this option will actually present.

Updates to Korean Air Frequent Flyer Earnings & Status — In an effort to “take global standards and airfare levels into consideration,” Korean Air announced plans to update the mileage earning structure for frequent flyers, effective April 2021. Passengers flying in paid ‘Prestige' (business) or first-class will now accrue up to 200% and 300% redeemable miles for each mile flown, respectively. Economy accrual rates will be organized into four subcategories based on the booking class purchased.

Korean Air also announced changes to their Elite Status Program. Instead of a three-tiered program, they will shift to a four-tiered program. The new status levels will be named “Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond.” The lowest-tier (Silver) will now only require “10,000 miles or 10 flights in the previous year” to qualify.

These changes only affect those who frequently fly Korean Air on cash tickets so that they will have a limited effect on U.S.-based travelers.

Interesting Timing

If you are like us, you may have felt some familiarity with the soon-to-be-implemented changes to the SKYPASS program:

Interestingly, these are all similar attributes to the Delta SkyMiles Program. While there doesn't appear to be anything directly linking Delta's influence to these changes, it comes right on the heels of Delta's recent 10% acquisition of Korean Air. Is this just a coincidence? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Our Take

Thanks to its reasonable award rates and abundant award availability, Korean Air has historically been one of our favorite programs. This took a hit when they ended their relationship with Chase in 2018, but it was still a viable option for those looking to travel from North America to Korea or other parts of Asia. With these changes, it seems one of our favorite programs may become more of a “last resort” kind of program.

Thankfully, Korean Air has given us a full year-and-a-half heads-up. The award price increases won't take effect until April 2021. It would be an excellent idea to have all your SKYPASS award redemptions finalized by then.

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Comments

  • “Increase customer benefits” is another ridiculous phrase companies use to try to present devaluations in a good light. Along with “to serve you better” and “you asked and we delivered”. They really think we are not going to notice the bad parts if they use positive words? Ha! Thanks for the great article, as always.

  • I’m still reeling from Chase cutoff😢

  • If this is Delta’s influence, hopefully they don’t acquire any more airlines

  • At least there is over a year to use up any Korean air miles.

  • This almost certainly has to do with the Delta investment, but isn’t nearly as disappointing a change as the loss of Chase as a transfer partner. I used UR points to pay for my biz class flights to the Brazilian World Cup (back when Korean had direct LAX-GRU flights). So I have no idea what to do with my small number of remaining miles, but I’ll definitely find one before this change 🙂

  • Award price increases are never good news…

  • Bad, unsurprising news, but at least they are giving advanced warning before changes take effect.

  • The concept of basing awards points or miles on total distance travelled is kind of a no-brainer. All programs should follow that idea.

  • It Korean Skypass participants should liquidate quickly as possible. Will these now be known as Skypass pesos?

  • So they are now going to be another horrible Avios program.

  • Great article, agree this is not good news but the notice period is substantial.

  • Is the distance award chart the future for awards? 🙁

  • Owch! That’s gonna be a big change!

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    the news seems bad almost all the time.

  • I am nervous about using Asian carriers. I have heard of issues when people have gotten to the counter of them not having tickets or they can’t find the reservation, etc. I don’t mind the changes. I am finding that most airlines are making changes though, not necessarily for the better, but something did have to change. I’m hoping that Alaska doesn’t change too much and American finally gets on with a credit card for transferring points.

  • Ugh. I get tying it to distance rather than region, but adding per-segment is a double-whammy and doesn’t even make logic sense: cash tickets are almost never priced by segment. And doing a positioning flight on another carrier adds stress and time.

  • First Korean leases Chase as a transfer partner, and now they gut the program… 50% and beyond increase on premium cabin awards, I’m looking at you… Similar to DL already, next year Korean will be largely dead to me. Unfortunate, as they were a useful too to have in the tool chest.

  • The increase is ridiculous. A good reminder not to hoard miles.

    • Yes, these devaluation decisions play right into the hands of the credit cards programs at the expense of the airlines specific loyalty programs.

  • Yikes, that’s a bit rough, regardless of the generous heads up.

  • THanks. I would be curious as to what other’s in this forum might think programs might be to use for a better value for 1st class on Korean once the changes go into effect?

  • The published Skypass award chart is different from the unpublished Skymiles award categories, no?

  • I think both Virgin and Korean manage their own FFPs with little influence from Delta.

  • Whoa, this rate increase really hurts this time. I wonder what’s in store for Korean Air’s future.

  • OMG this is a truly horrible devaluation!
    First class redemption is going to be out of reach…so disappointed in KE now.

  • Juan Ignacio says:

    Delta was here! By the way, all airlines are changing their mileage policies obviously who ends up being harmed is the passenger.

  • beginning of the end… too many folks getting in on awards

  • Changes in frequent flyer programme means some devaluation in general.
    In this case the changes are quite bad.

  • The increases don’t increase my interest in them

  • Appreciate the heads up. Will have to keep the final date in mind.

  • Delta-inspired no doubt. Expected.

  • Since Chase dropped them as a xfer partner, this doesn’t matter much anymore 🙁

  • Hope the change will benefit more flyers.

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