Starwood Points Just Got More Valuable With Addition of New Airline Transfer Partner

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Starwood’s Starpoints are already the most valuable loyalty program currency.

They have the most airline transfer partners where points transfer 1:1 and of course when you move Starwood points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. That gets you effectively a 1:1.25 transfer ratio with most airline partners.

Now, Starwood has added a new transfer partner and it’s a really useful one: Korean Air Skypass.

I’ve long written that Korean Air has the easiest first class award availability in the world. It’s the most generous program if you want to redeem first class awards for a family and not just for two passengers.

The caveat on Korean Air is that you can only redeem miles from your account for eligible family members, and Korean Air Skypass will insist on documenting the relationship.

This partnership is a big deal because to date it’s really only the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which gets you points transferrable to Korean’s miles (along with the Sapphire Preferred’s business counterpart, Ink Plus). A real boost to Starwood and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

Here are my 3 favorite uses for Korean Air’s miles:

  1. Korean Air First Class

    There are two things that combine to make Korean Air first class award availability amazing. First, Korean flies to more US destinations than any other Asian airline and they’re generous with award space. They fly to:

    • Atlanta
    • Chicago
    • Dallas
    • Honolulu
    • Houston
    • Las Vegas
    • Los Angeles
    • New York JFK
    • San Francisco
    • Seattle
    • Washington Dulles

    Second, their primary US partner is Delta — and Delta miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class. They also partner with Alaska Airlines, and Alaska miles can’t be used for Korean Air first class.

    As a result when you have Chase points, which transfer to Korean miles, you’re really not competing against that many people for the seats. With great availability, little competition, and so many flights you can usually find Korean Air award space. I had no problem booking them a couple of months out for the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

    What’s more, Korean is unique in operating many intra-Asian routes with first class cabins. That means in addition to flying US – Seoul, your flights beyond Seoul to your final destination will often have a first class as well.

    When I stopped in the Korean Air first class lounge in Seoul, by the way, they even engraved custom-made metal luggage tags for me complimentary.

  2. Korean Air for business class to Europe for 80,000 Miles

    You can fly Skyteam airlines between the US and Europe for just 40,000 miles each way in business class. Compare that to 70,000 United miles one-way to fly a Star Alliance partner airline to Europe.

    You pay fuel surcharges, the amount that would apply to a given paid ticket on the same itinerary. With the mileage savings, you’re basically spending a cash co-pay to make your miles go farther, sometimes essentially buying back miles at a discount.

    And Korean Air has access to Air France award seats on the same level as other partners, without blocking, which in my experience means better availability than you can get using Delta SkyMiles.

  3. Korean Air for Hawaii awards

    Korean partners with both Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines and offers exceptional value awards on both (with no fuel surcharges).

    You have to book roundtrip, and fly only one airline, so you can’t fly Alaska one way and Hawaiian the other.

    There’s no change to routing after departure of first flight. Once travel begins you can change only dates/times.

    You cannot use ‘family pooling’ of miles (combining miles from more than one family member’s account) to claim a partner award. All of the miles have to come from one account.

    Korean allows a stopover on domestic US awards on Alaska Airlines.

    Roundtrip US domestic coach is 20,000 miles, and roundtrip first class is 40,000 miles.

    Hawaii and Mexico are 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first. This is one of the best first class awards to Hawaii there is.

    For short-haul non-stops, such as Seattle, Portland, or Los Angeles along the West Coast, you’d do better transferring points to British Airways to redeem flights on Alaska. But for connecting flights or cross-country flights you’ll do better with Korean. And indeed Korean’s award prices for travel on Alaska are cheaper than Alaska’s own prices for the same flights.

    For West Coast non-stops to Hawaii In coach you may do better using British Airways Avios at 25,000 miles roundtrip. But from the East Coast, with connections, or in first class Korean is the superior partner to use.

    Award availability on Alaska matches what you’ll see on Alaska’s own website (for redemptions at the low/saver level).

    Awards between the US and Hawaii on Hawaiian are similarly 30,000 miles roundtrip in coach and 60,000 in first.

    However, unlike with Alaska, these awards do not include connecting flights, which are charged at extra mileage. So New York JFK – Honolulu – Maui – Honolulu – New York JFK would be 40,000 miles roundtrip in coach (since Honolulu – Maui is 10,000 miles roundtrip in coach and the pricing is additive).

(HT: Shelly H.)

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, 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. looking at their award chart is it 110 RT from North America to Buenos Aires??? I’d be able to book on aerolineas correct?


  2. Perhaps I am confused. One can transfer Ultimate Rewards into Korean then book onto Delta/AF/KLM business class for TATL for 40,000 points? What’s the catch(besides YQ)?

  3. Is there YQ added for awards in Korean F for LAX-ICN for example? And if so, what would the YQ look like for that flight? Thanks.

  4. Great news. I recently started looking at booking a flight with them.Good to know I won’t have to deplete my UR to do it now.

  5. Gary, in your Hawaii comments, you left out that you can use Korean miles to fly Delta RT to Hawaii for 25k each if you can find availability, as Hawaii is simply part of “North America” on the Skyteam awards chart.

  6. Thanks Gary! Any idea what the fuel surcharges/taxes would be on that for North America to Buenos Aires in Business? Seems look a good alternative to burning my AA miles in coach..

  7. @jeremy generally US-south america won’t involve fuel surcharges, but it’s of course routing-dependent (you pay what the surcharge would have been for your exact paid itinerary).

  8. Get ready for 1980s booking process when using KE miles. The juice is certainly worth the squeeze, but consider:
    * You can’t directly call the award booking center. You talk to a general agent and provide your info and the award specialists call you back. If you miss the call, you have to call the general area back, and they will queue you up for another callback from an award specialist. This can go on and on…
    * You must fill out an award redemption form with signatures from each passenger. Fortunately, they accept the form by email.
    * You can only redeem miles for family members, and you must provide proof of familial relationship before you can redeem for any specific family member. This process takes “up to 2 weeks,” though they completed mine within a few days. But you can have tickets on hold for you and family members prior to linking family members with documentation. That just has to be completed prior to ticketing.
    * You have to keep on them to get the process completed and ticket issued. If the flight date is far out, they don’t consider it a priority. This leads to…

    * KE seemingly has never-ending holds. It seems you can call and start the award booking process and wait to finalize the transaction until days before flight date, if that’s how you roll.
    * No fee for changes within the same season and cabin. This may be a distinction without a difference, as there is also no fee for cancellation and redeposit prior to departure.
    * As Gary’s post laid out, low price points for many regions, with reasonable fuel surcharges on KE metal.

  9. Shucks! After watching my starpoints grow very slowly @ 1/$ on my SPG AMEX to a grand total 12K over 2-3 years (it means I spent $12K), I just decided to put them to good use and booked a one-night cash+points award that cost me 5K starpoints + US$75 at Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel in a couple of weeks — a really great “value”.

    I guess I will have to regrow my stash of starpoints @ 1/$ for the next few years before I can have enough to redeem for an award ticket with this new exciting transfer partner 😉

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