Last week I saw a flood of posts about Korean Air adding the ability to search and book SkyTeam partner awards online (for example). Since Korean Air SKYPASS is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, it's worth checking to see if there are any good values on their SkyTeam partners now that it can be done easily online.
The three most important things people know about Korean Air SKYPASS are:
- You can only book awards for yourself and a very tightly defined group of family members;
- SKYPASS awards pass along fuel surcharges;
- Korean Air's award "zone" definitions are unusually generous, with Hawaii located in North America and South America being treated as a single zone.
Being a literal-minded sort of person, I decided to see how bad those fuel surcharges are on all of the SkyTeam carriers departing from the United States.
Here's what I found.
Not bookable online
While I was able to find award space on these SkyTeam airlines using Delta's search engine, I couldn't pull up the same flights using SKYPASS:
- Aeromexico to Latin America;
- Alitalia to Italy;
- Aerolineas Argentinas to Argentina.
The functionality may be added in the future, but for now I don't believe SkyTeam awards are bookable online using SKYPASS on those carriers.
Low fuel surcharges
Carriers that charge low fuel surcharges are the likeliest to be worth redeeming SKYPASS miles on, since you can take advantage of Korean's generous award chart without suffering the drawback of paying a high cash co-pay. On these low-fuel-surcharge routes you're likely to save money whether you choose to fly in economy, business, or first class.
For each airline I've given a sample route and the cost in SKYPASS miles for an economy ticket, and I've separated out the taxes and fees and the fuel surcharges. In all cases these prices are roundtrip, since Korean requires SkyTeam awards to be booked as roundtrips.
- Delta to Peru, ATL-LIM. 50,000 SKYPASS miles, $103.40 in taxes and fees, $0 in fuel surcharges.
- Delta to Japan, SEA-NRT. 80,000 SKYPASS miles, $80.04 in taxes and fees, $0 in fuel surcharges.
- Aeroflot to Russia, JFK-SVO. 50,000 SKYPASS miles, $252.12 in taxes and fees, $0 in fuel surcharges.
- China Eastern to China, LAX-PVG. 90,000 SKYPASS miles, $420.60 in taxes and fees, $8 in fuel surcharges.
- China Airlines to Taiwan, HNL-TPE. 90,000 SKYPASS miles, $73.15 in taxes and fees, $0 in fuel surcharges.
Medium fuel surcharges
These routes charge less than $500 in fuel surcharges, and might be worth considering in premium cabins or if you find award space on dates with particularly expensive cash fares.
- Delta to China, SEA-PEK. 90,000 SKYPASS miles, $70.60 in taxes and fees, $282 in fuel surcharges.
- Delta to South Africa, ATL-JNB. 80,000 SKYPASS miles, $99.95 in taxes and fees, $390 in fuel surcharges.
- China Southern to China, LAX-CAN. 90,000 SKYPASS miles, $70.60 in taxes and fees, $208 in fuel surcharges.
High fuel surcharges
These are the routes where high fuel surcharges mean economy award tickets are likely to cost the same or more than economy tickets, while premium cabin award tickets may cost the same as an economy ticket paid for with cash.
- Delta to Europe, JFK-BCN. 50,000 SKYPASS miles, $81.25 in taxes and fees, $556 in fuel surcharges.
- Air France to Europe, JFK-CDG. 50,000 SKYPASS miles, $113.16 in taxes and fees, $576 in fuel surcharges.
- KLM to Europe, JFK-AMS. 50,000 SKYPASS miles, $82.26 in taxes and fees, $576 in fuel surcharges.
Those flights would cost just 80,000 SKYPASS miles roundtrip in business class, for a total cost of $1437.25 - $1489.16 if you value transferred Ultimate Rewards points at their cash value of 1 cent each. Unfortunately business class space on SkyTeam across the Atlantic is very poor so you're unlikely to be able to take much advantage of these price points.
The basic routing rules for SkyTeam awards are pretty simple, although there are a host of exceptions: you can have three segments in each direction between your origin and destination, one stopover per itinerary, and one open jaw at your destination (which does not consume your stopover).
Drew at Travel is Free wrote a more detailed guide to Korean's routing rules, but I don't know if there's much point in trying to intellectualize their rules and restrictions. Basically, you can do a lot of things, within reason, and you can do some things beyond reason, if you use Korean-operated flights. For example, a LAX-PVG-NRT-PVG-JFK itinerary will not price out entirely on China Eastern, but if you make it LAX-PVG-NRT/NRT-ICN-JFK with the return operated by Korean, it'll happily price out. This may also have to do with a Maximum Permitted Mileage restriction — the point is there's no substitute for getting in and playing around with the search engine to see if it'll accept your particular crazy idea.
For example, the engine happily priced out LAX-HNL(stopover)-NRT(destination)-HNL(transfer)-LAX for 80,000 SKYPASS miles and $87.84 total in taxes, fees, and surcharges. While a roundtrip to Hawaii for 25,000 miles is a good deal, a roundtrip to Japan with a stopover in Hawaii for 80,000 miles is a great deal.