Korean Air Announces Huge Award Devaluation and Other Program Changes

Korean Air says they’re making significant changes to their frequent flyer program, but only giving us the briefest sketches of what that might be. A new distance-based award chart is available in Korean and pricing for premium cabin awards, especially long distance premium cabin awards, because much more expensive.

Korean says they’ll be testing cash and miles awards, shifting to more revenue-based mileage-earning and distance-based redemptions, and revamping the elite program. That distance-based redemption chart is what I’m disappointed in.

Cash & Miles Will Be Tested Starting November 2020

Paying part cash part miles will be offered as a ‘test’ rather than a permanent feature of the program. There’s nothing negative here to the extent that it’s an option, but we don’t know whether this is valuable or not until we know the tradeoff between miles and money. It could be a decent deal or a poor one.

More Revenue-Based Mileage-Earning Starting April 2021

Earning miles will still be based on distance, but more miles rewarded for premium tickets and presumably fewer for coach tickets. The nod to ‘global standards and airfare levels’ seem to point in this direction.

[N]ew mileage accrual rates that correspond to airfares will be implemented. Taking global standards and airfare levels into consideration, passengers taking first or prestige classes will be able to enjoy increased accrual rates of up to 300% and 200%, respectively. Economy class ticket accrual rates will be reorganized into four categories based on booking class.

New Distance-Based Award Chart Coming April 2021

Korean is going to be adopting new distance-based award pricing starting with tickets issued in April 2021. Redemption rates will be “based on zones categorized by flight distance” rather than by region. There will be a “significant markdown of mileage redemption on short-distance routes” such that “economy class awards for one-way tickets to Qingdao and Taipei with only 20,000 and 25,000 miles respectively, compared to the previous 30,000 miles.”

Here’s the new chart. Prices are one-way and each segment is priced separately.

Coach Business First  Upgrade
Domestic S. Korea            5,000            10,000            15,000            5,000
Less Thank 500 mi          10,000            20,000            30,000          10,000
500 – 999          12,500            25,000            37,500          12,500
1000 – 1499          15,000            30,000            45,000          15,000
1500 – 1999          17,500            35,000            52,500          22,500
2000 – 2999          22,500            45,000            67,500          30,000
3000 – 3999          27,500            55,000            82,500          37,500
4000 – 4999          32,500            65,000            97,500          45,000
5000 – 6499          40,000            80,000          120,000          55,000
6500 – 9999          45,000            90,000          135,000          62,500
10,000+          60,000          120,000          180,000          85,000

High season redemptions come at a 50% premium to the distance-based chart above.

Flying one way New York JFK in first class and on to Singapore in business class should cost 180,000 miles (when not in high season), nearly doubling the current price. As in all distance-based charts there will be some values, as you find flights whose distance is at the top of each distance band.

The partner award chart will become more expensive as well. Flights will be priced one way, and structured the same way, with slightly higher mileage pricing for travel on partners than on Korean (ranging from an extra 1000 miles for the shortest coach flights to an extra 15,000 miles for the longest first class flights) as detailed here.

New Elite Levels Coming February 2022

A fourth elite level will be added (silver, gold, platinum and diamond). The lowest elite level will be achievable with just 10,000 miles or 10 flights. There will be mileage bonuses between 20% – 80%, elite upgrades, and Diamonds will be able to nominate a silver.

Time To Bail Out of Korean Air SKypass?

Full details of the changes in Korean are available. Google translate does a pretty good job deciphering what’s going on.

With Korean Air a Delta joint venture partner, and Delta a part owner of the airline, this seems like Delta’s influence. Perhaps it’s influenced as well by weakness at Asiana, Korean feels they don’t need to offer as lucrative a mileage program.

I should be burning the miles I transferred in from Chase before Korean dropped out as an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, or I’ll regret it (since the only reason I transferred was for long distance premium cabin awards).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just ouch.

    And I was wondering why KE doesn’t try and pair up with another transferrable point currency (Citi, Cap One, etc.). Now there’s hardly any reason.

  2. I was looking to use those miles for DC to Hawaii partner with Delta , guess j got to rush now. Wish finding availability wasn’t such a pain.

  3. @Bob I’m scrambling to do the exact same. Have you ever had any luck finding lowest level space with Delta?

  4. @JK Yes I have. I just did calendar view for delta and find the cheapest award and see if i can find those in korean air.

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