Korean Air Skypass Changes

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Korean Air SKYPASS Announced Changes: a Trial of Cash and Miles Redemption from November 2020, and Earning and Redemption Based on Flight Distance from April 2021.

Changes to elite frequent flyer qualification will also debut in February 2022. See the announcement.

SKYPASS used to be a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, but that ended August 25, 2018 (see Ultimate Rewards Ends Transfers to Korean SKYPASS). Still, many people transferred points to the program before the partnership ended, since SKYPASS miles only expire 10 years after the date they were earned.

Korean Air SKYPASS Cash and Miles (November 2020)

Starting in November 2020, SKYPASS will permit members to redeem a combination of miles and cash for an award ticket, an advantage for members who don't have a lot of SKYPASS miles. Since Korean Air refers to this as a trial, there's no guarantee that this option will persist, so those interested in using a small or orphaned stash of Korean Air miles may want to redeem soon after this is unveiled in November 2020.

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Changes to Korean Air SKYPASS Earning and Award Charts (April 2021)

If the Korean Air trial of Cash and Miles redemption is good news, the changes to earning and redemption is more mixed, and likely to be bad news for those redeeming for Korean Air First Class and Korean Air Business Class.

SKYPASS mileage earning will be revenue based, so that will favor more expensive tickets: good for those flying premium cabins paid for by their company, since those will earn increased bonuses of up to 300% for first class and up to 200% for business class, and bad for those flying cheap fares. The devil is in the details, and we don't yet know what the actual accrual rates will be, but I'll be surprised if it remains possible to earn as many Korean miles from, for example, Hawaiian Airlines flights, which currently earn 100% of the mileage flown for even cheap interisland and many of the economy class fare codes (see Where to Credit Miles for Hawaiian Airlines Flights).

The new SKYPASS award charts will be based on flight distance and grouped into zones, similar to JAL Mileage Bank, instead of the current SKYPASS award chart based on regions.

It's revealing that the only SKYPASS examples given are with economy awards: Seoul to Taipei in economy will cost 25,000 miles instead of 30,000 miles, and 51% of routes will require less mileage for economy class tickets, vs. 39% of routes requiring more mileage for economy class tickets, and 10% of routes staying the same in terms of mileage required.

Since no examples are provided of business class or first class awards, it's reasonable to assume the optics will be worse, and redemption rates are likely to go up for a higher percentage of those routes.

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SKYPASS Frequent Flyer Elite Qualification

This is likely to be less relevant for most U.S. based clients and readers who don't have regular travel to Korea. There will be 4 levels, instead of the current 3: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Requirements will be lowered to attain the lowest level Silver membership: 10,000 miles or 10 flights within the previous year.

Finally, elite member qualification requirements will be significantly lowered. Members will need to earn either 10,000 miles or take 10 flights in the previous year to qualify for elite membership (down from the current 50,000 or more miles on Korean Air or 40 qualifying flights or 50,000 miles on Korean Air and SKYPASS partners, of which at least 30,000 on Korean Air). The revised SKYPASS frequent flyer program will offer 20% to 80% mileage accrual rates, complimentary seat upgrades, and elite member level transfers to family members.

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Bottom Line: It's great to see a cash and miles option debuting in November 2020, but personally, I plan to redeem our SKYPASS miles before the new award charts take effect in April 2021 and advise clients to do the same, as I anticipate higher redemption rates for premium cabin awards.

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