14 Reasons Korean Air Is a Powerhouse Airline

Korean Air SKYPASS is a solid program with a great hard product and a lot of other positives like flexible booking policies and reasonable redemption rates. Here’s a look at reasons why I love Korean Air SKYPASS and you should consider them.

1) Transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards

With Chase bringing the heat to competitors like American Express with the products like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ink Preferred, and Freedom Unlimited, it’s very easy (for someone under 5/24) to quickly accumulate a ton of Ultimate Rewards. In fact, with just two Chase cards, one could net over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards and have enough points to fly Korean Air first class to Asia or business class roundtrip to Europe.

Thus, being a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards is a true asset. (Korean Air is also a transfer of SPG.)

2) Korean Air has a decent co-branded card

Many foreign carriers have very average to straight up abysmal credit card offers. Korean Air on the other hand, has a decent to very good sign-up bonus offered on its co-branded card. The only problem is that the standard public offer right now is 15,000 miles but targeted offers often go out for 40,000 or 50,000 miles! The credit card is issued by US Bank, which can be a bit sensitive to a lot of inquiries at times.

3) You can book partner awards online

One of the biggest complaints with Korean Air for the longest time was that you couldn’t search or book partner awards online and had to go through a burdensome process of calling in and mailing forms in to make partner award bookings. Now, it has a new search function where you can book partner awards online. It still errors out from time to time with me, but it’s always convenient when you search and book partner awards online.

4) Cheap cancellations and changes 

Korean Air used to allow free cancellations and changes to award tickets but that changed in 2016. Still, the fees are only around $27, so that’s not bad at all, especially compared to what many other airlines like American charge.

korean air plane

Photo by My16SidedOffice via Flickr.

5) Flexible hold policy

One thing that is great about SKYPASS is that you can put your reservations on hold.

I’ve read reports of some being told that the limit for held reservations is 14 days, 30 days, and even longer. When I inquired with SKYPASS (two times), I was told that you can keep a reservation on hold up until 3 days before the departure. This means that, at least in theory, you could have a reservation on hold for months and months at a time.

I wouldn’t count on such long holds being allowed 100% of the time but you shouldn’t have to worry about putting reservations on hold for just a couple of weeks at a time. 

6) Stopovers one one ways

With Korean Air SKYPASS you can book stopovers on one way awards when flying with Korean Air.

7) Great first class availability

Korean Air is known for having superb first class availability. It’s usually very easy to find multiple award seats on transpacific flights. This is largely due to the SkyTeam policy that greatly restricts the ability for partners to book first class product. While this policy can be a pain at times, when it comes to using Korean miles to fly first on Korean Air, it obviously works out great.

And Korean Air flies to many US destinations (probably more than any other Asian carrier). According to Wiki, they fly to:

  • ATL
  • ORD
  • HNL
  • IAH
  • LAS
  • LAX
  • MIA
  • JFK
  • SFO
  • SEA
  • IAD

8) Great first class redemptions

Korean Air does not allow you to book one way awards with SkyTeam partners but you can still book one way awards on Korean Air’s own metal. If you can book during off-peak dates you would be looking at the following redemption rates from North America:

    • Japan: 80,000
    • Korea: 80,000
    • China/Northeast Asia: 80,000
    • Southeast Asia: 95,000

Aside from the ridiculously low priced first class tickets offered by Alaska miles, 80,000 miles to most of these destinations is very competitive.

9) Great first class product

In addition to having great availability for first class flights, Korean Air also has a terrific first class product known as its Kosmo suites. Depending on the aircraft you might be able to try out their fully enclosed suites or one of their other suite products that comes with a Celestial bar/lounge like on the A380!

Kosmo Suites 2.0. Image by Korean Air.

10) Cheap flights in economy and business class to Asia

Flying off-peak on Korean Air’s own metal to Asia is a great way to get to various places in Asia. The redemption rates aren’t the absolute cheapest that you can find out there but they are still very competitive and among the best. Here are just a couple of examples.

North America to Korea

      • 70,000 miles in economy
      • 125,000 miles in business class

North America to Japan

      • 70,000 miles in economy
      • 125,000 miles in business class

You can also take advantage of some great rates by using Korean Air SKYPASS miles to book awards on SkyTeam Alliance partners.

11) Cheap flights to Hawaii

North America to Hawaii

      • 25,000 miles in economy
      • 45,000 miles in business class

Korean Air offers possibly the best way to get to Hawaii with miles and points. With SKYPASS miles, you can depart from anywhere in the United States and always break up your flight with a stopover. (Read about Loophole Travel’s recent redemption to Hawaii for more on this sweet redemption.)

12) Cheap flights to South America

North America to South America 

      • 50,000 miles in economy
      • 110,000 miles in business class

110,000 miles for a business class round trip is not a bad deal at all if you’re heading to lower South American countries like Chile. (If you’re trying to get to upper South America, there are more worthwhile choices.) One of the advantages of using Korean Air miles to get down to South America is that you can avoid high fees by flying Delta. I’ve seen business class roundtrips with Delta with total fees under $100.

13) Cheap flights to Europe

North America to Europe

      • 50,000 miles in economy
      • 80,000 miles in business class

Korean Air even beats out ANA’s ridiculously low rates for business class to Europe at only 80,000 miles! That’s only 20,000 more miles than many other airlines require for economy to Europe.

The drawback is you’ll probably get slapped with some pretty high fuel surcharges. For example, even if you book a roundtrip with Delta to Europe, the surcharges will be around $480. Thus, while the mileage requirements are very low, if you’re averse to high fees, this sweet spot might not be that appealing. 

14) Open jaw and one stopover allowed

The one major drawback to Korean Air is that you have to book roundtrip tickets with partners. However, Korean Air allows you to book stopovers and allows one open jaw, so you’re allowed some pretty good flexibility with their rules.

Specifically, Korean Air offers the following rules for stopovers and open jaws. 

  • One stopover is permitted during the entire journey (this can be in the zone of departure or arrival).
  • Up to two transfers are permitted between city of departure and destination for each direction (for a total of three segments each way). 
  • One “surface segment” (open jaw) is permitted at the destination, and is not considered a stopover. 

Final word 

Korean Air definitely qualifies as a powerhouse airline in my book. They’ve got a great product, flexible routing and booking policies, superb premium cabin availability, and reasonable redemption rates to go along with all of that.

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