Use Korean Air SKYPASS to piece together low-level Delta award availability

In April I wrote a post trying to figure out what kind of award space Delta makes available to their partners, since the space they make to their own members is priced so inconsistently, not to say erratically. In the comments to that post, Frequent Miler asked:

"Sometimes Delta has saver award space for married segments but not for the individual segments. I've seen this frequently with gso-dtw-buf. I'm curious whether Skypass sees the individual segments. I'll try it, but curious if you came across this already?"

A year ago I wrote about being able to piece together low-level Alaska redemptions on Delta by entering segments individually in a multi-city search, so I knew that it used to be possible, at least with that one partner. The question is whether it's still possible in general and still possible with Korean Air in particular.

The good news is, it is.

Use SKYPASS multi-city search to piece together low-level Delta legs

On October 6, the best connection between Greensboro and Buffalo costs 20,000 SkyMiles:

The first leg, between Greensboro and Detroit, is just 12,5000 SkyMiles:

As is the second leg, between Detroit and Buffalo:

Using Korean Air SKYPASS's multi-city search function, I am able to input the first leg, second leg, and then a return flight (SkyPass doesn't offer one-way partner redemptions), and select each leg individually. Such an itinerary prices out correctly at 25,000 SKYPASS miles:

As was the case in my post last May about using Alaska's multi-city search tool, you do have to use the Korean Air multi-city search tool — a simple roundtrip search did not return the desired routing.

Amazingly, you can do this in both directions

If the route you're flying is one targeted by Delta for price gouging, you'll naturally want to know if you can piece together segments in both directions in order to secure low-level space and your preferred routing on the entire trip.

The answer is, yes, you can. Here is a Korean Air SKYPASS routing I constructed using the multi-search function to specify each flight I wanted:

As hoped, the entire itinerary priced out at 25,000 SKYPASS miles:

Korean Air's award routing rules seem to be written in machine-translated Korean, so I don't have a firm grasp of whether a stopover is allowed in each direction and the manually selected segments use up that stopover, or whether the connections are so short that they don't count as stopovers, meaning you could also add one or two stopovers. This would be extremely valuable if you lived in Detroit or another Delta hub, since it would mean you could get up to 4 unrelated one-way flights to and from your home airport for the price of one roundtrip.

Again, I just don't know if that's the case or not, but if you have experience piecing together such itineraries, be sure to let me and other readers know in the comments!

Fun with Delta partner award space

Like anyone who does a fair amount of paid and award travel on Delta, I've been annoyed by their "flexible" award prices, which are generally calibrated to ensure you don't get too much value from your SkyMiles. On the other hand, if you keep a variety of points currencies around you always have the option of redeeming the one best suited for the flights you have in mind.

The real trouble comes about when trying to get value from one of Delta's partner award programs, like AeroMexico, Korean Air SKYPASS, or Air France/KLM Flying Blue. We used to say that airlines typically make "low-level" award space available to their partners. But with Delta's "what you see is what you get" pricing, that terminology doesn't make much sense. In fact, Delta awards at a variety of price points show in award searches as what used to be low-level "N" award seats.

What we'd really like to know is what kind of partner award space Delta makes available to their SkyTeam partners. Fortunately, Korean Air SKYPASS now shows Delta award availability online. I've been fiddling around with a variety of search terms and have a few preliminary observations.

Partner award space generally corresponds to "low-level" space

Drew at Travel is Free put together a sort of brute force Delta award chart based on an algorithm running award searches. If you can find flights at those prices then they'll typically be bookable as partner awards.

If you're using Korean Air SKYPASS you can only book roundtrip awards (although open jaws and stopovers are allowed), and I believe you can only search single-cabin awards online, but if you can find roundtrip award availability in the same cabin, there are good values on Delta. For example, a roundtrip on one of Delta's transcontinental Delta One flights costs 80,000 SkyMiles, but just 45,000 SKYPASS miles. Likewise roundtrip flights from the continental United States to Alaska and Hawaii cost just 25,000 SKYPASS miles in economy and 45,000 miles in first class.

I stumbled over a few tricks to keep in mind when booking Delta flights with SKYPASS miles. When searching for SkyTeam awards on the Korean Air website, you have to select "Economy Class," "Prestige Class," or "First Class." For flights in Delta's domestic first class cabins, you select "First Class," but flights in Delta One are coded as business class partner awards, which corresponds to "Prestige Class." There's no difference in cost for flights within North America including Hawaii and Alaska.

Sample booking: JFK-LAX, 6/1 - 7/17, Delta One: 80,000 SkyMiles, 65,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles, 45,000 SKYPASS miles.

Partners generally have access to sub-low-level space

While Delta's flexible redemption rates generally punish SkyMiles members by charging them more for more expensive flights, they also sometimes show flights that are cheaper than the "low" award rate. In those instances I was able to find the same flights with Korean Air SKYPASS, although Korean Air naturally charged the higher, standard rate.

Sample booking: JFK-PDX, 6/2 - 6/8, Main Cabin: 24,000 SkyMiles, 25,000 Mileage Plan miles, 25,000 SKYPASS miles.

Partners have more creative routing rules

One big problem with "what you see is what you get" pricing is that even though you may have found Delta partner award space on an itinerary, Delta might not price it out at the low level through their multi-city pricing tool due to their own award routing rules. For example, this is a perfectly legal SKYPASS redemption for 25,000 miles:

While there should be low-level SkyMiles award seats available for the entire route, Delta prices it out at 38,000 SkyMiles, instead:

I presume this is because Delta treats the overnight stay in Las Angeles as a domestic stopover and so prices the itinerary out as 3 separate legs, but since "what you see is what you get," I can't say for sure.

What this means is that while you might start your search by looking for Delta low-level award space between your origin and destination, before giving up hope you should also experiment with Korean Air's search tool to identify routings that Delta won't show you by default or will charge more for. Unfortunately SKYPASS searches are both fairly cumbersome and will return an error message if there's no availability on any one of your search legs, which makes it difficult to diagnose exactly where the error is originating.

Now, naturally many of these irregular routings won't be especially convenient (like the overnight stay in LA above), but that's the point: more flexible routing rules increase the likelihood of finding some routing that will allow you to redeem miles instead of spending cash.

Sample booking: DCA-AMS, 8/29 - 9/5, Main Cabin. Outbound: 3 low-level SkyMiles routings found, 30 low-level SKYPASS routings found. Inbound: 20 low-level SkyMiles routings, 30 low-level SKYPASS routings found.

That sample booking has the added bonus of revealing that there is a ton of award space available between JFK and Glasgow and Edinburgh this summer and fall. It's enough to make you want to visit Scotland!


The ease of earning Delta SkyMiles through transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, or putting spend on an American Express Delta Platinum or Reserve card, and earning Korean Air SKYPASS miles through Chase Ultimate Rewards transfers, creates the following curious situation:

  • where SkyTeam partner award space is available, it's best booked using Delta SkyMiles since (with a few exceptions) they don't pass along fuel surcharges;
  • when Delta makes premium cabin award space available, it should be booked using SKYPASS miles, since Delta doesn't charge fuel surcharges for SKYPASS to pass along!

Foreign airline co-branded credit cards issued by American banks, #3: SKYPASS by US Bank

Moving right along, today's foreign co-branded credit cards are the Korean Air SKYPASS credit cards issued by US Bank.

Korean Air SKYPASS by US Bank

US Bank issues 4 co-branded credit cards that earn Korean Air SKYPASS miles:

  • the SKYPASS Visa Signature Card has an annual fee of $80 that isn't waived the first year, has a 15,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after your first purchase and offers 2,000 annual anniversary bonus miles. It earns one SKYPASS mile per dollar spent on purchases.

  • the SKYPASS Visa small business credit card has an annual fee of $75, not waived the first year, a 10,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after your first purchase, and 2,000 annual anniversary bonus miles.

  • the SKYPASS Visa Classic Card charges an annual fee of $50, not waived the first year, has a 5,000 SKYPASS-mile signup bonus after first purchase, and offers 1,000 annual anniversary bonus miles. It earns one SKYPASS mile per dollar spent on purchases.

  • and the SkyBlue SKYPASS Visa Card has no annual fee, offers 5,000 SKYPASS miles after your first purchase, and earns one SKYPASS mile for each $2 spent on purchases.

Fortunately, Korean Air SKYPASS is also denominated in miles, so unlike the previous two entries in this series (AeroMexico and LANPASS) there's no need to convert between miles earned and kilometers redeemed for SKYPASS redemptions.

Morning Calm Club membership

In the description of the SKYPASS Visa Signature card, there's this potentially interesting bullet point: "SKYPASS Visa card purchases help you reach and maintain Morning Calm Club membership."

I had literally never heard of Morning Calm Club, so my digital ears perked up. Turns out it's Korean Air's pretty crummy elite status program. Like the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass, partner transactions count towards Morning Calm Club status, apparently including miles earned with the SKYPASS Visa cards.

Unfortunately, to earn Morning Calm Club status, you also need to earn 30,000 of the 50,000 miles required for qualification on Korean Air flights. Requalification requires 30,000 miles, 20,000 of which have to be earned on Korean Air flights.

Earning SKYPASS miles

Since the SKYPASS credit cards don't offer any bonus earning categories (except Korean Air flights), I don't see any point in putting any spend on any of these cards after triggering the signup bonus. That's because unbonused spend on a Chase Freedom Unlimited card earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred on a 1000:1000 basis to SKYPASS from any flexible Ultimate Rewards account.

Redeeming SKYPASS miles

Korean Air is a SkyTeam member, and SKYPASS miles can be redeemed online for award flights on most SkyTeam member airlines (I wasn't able to pull up availability on AeroMexico, Alitalia, or Aerolineas Argentinas). As a reminder:

  • SKYPASS charges fuel surcharges on award tickets;
  • award tickets can only be booked for a very restrictive set of family members;
  • but SKYPASS award zones are unusually generous.

The best opportunities to redeem SKYPASS miles are on routes with few or no fuel surcharges, like domestic US flights on Delta, especially to Hawaii, which is treated as a part of North America, flights on Delta to destinations like Japan and Peru, and flights on China Airlines to Taiwan. However, SKYPASS miles may still be worth redeeming on routes with higher fuel surcharges if cash rates are particularly expensive or if your alternative booking channels also pass along fuel surcharges.

You can read my more comprehensive rundown of SkyTeam fuel surcharges here.

Is it worth it?

This is where I'm supposed to tell you that this is a terrible credit card no one should sign up for. But I like to think every card is special and has its own role to play in our great human drama. Here are some fairly good reasons someone might sign up for a US Bank SKYPASS credit card:

  • Increased signup bonuses. According to Frequent Miler's Best Signup Bonus page, until recently the SKYPASS Visa Signature card offered a $150 statement credit after spending $1,500 in addition to the 15,000 miles it currently offers after first purchase, and in 2016 the signup bonus was raised to 40,000 SKYPASS miles. If your primary means of earning SKYPASS miles is transfers from Ultimate Rewards, then every mile you earn with an increased signup bonus is one more Ultimate Rewards point you can transfer to a more lucrative program.
  • Shut down by Chase and American Express. Flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards cards are easy ways to earn SKYPASS miles, but not everyone has or can get Chase credit cards. Likewise American Express issues Delta SkyMile-earning credit cards, but some people don't have or can't get American Express cards. In that way, the mere fact that SKYPASS credit cards are issued by US Bank is a mark in their favor. After all, if you want to book award travel on a SkyTeam carrier, you need some SkyTeam award miles!

What are HawaiianMiles worth?

Hawaiian Airlines is a traditional US carrier that flies between the Hawaiian islands and between Hawaii and the Western United States as well as New York's JFK airport, and from Hawaii to Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Tahiti, Japan, Korea and China.

They have a co-branded credit card with an $89 annual fee and 35,000-mile signup bonus. The card doesn't have much value unless you fly a lot on Hawaiian metal, but if that's the case you get access to discounted flight awards and no blackout dates for award tickets. The card also gives 5,000 bonus miles each anniversary if you spend $10,000 on the card, but the card doesn't earn bonus points in any interesting categories of spend so that's unlikely to be the best place to direct your unbonused spend.

All of this raises the obvious question, "why are we talking about HawaiianMiles?" Good question! The reason we're talking about HawaiianMiles is, first, that they are historically very easy to earn. Long after, for example, was removed from airline and hotel shopping portals it remained on the HawaiianMiles marketplace, allowing you to earn HawaiianMiles for all your purchases. For heavy users of, that might mean tens of thousands of HawaiianMiles per year.

The second reason to look at HawaiianMiles is their travel partners. While you might not be interested in flying on Hawaiian metal between North America and Hawaii or the Pacific rim, you might be more interested in flying on their partner airlines. Since they have a fairly eclectic mix of revenue-based, distance-based, and zone-based travel partners, I had the idea of comparing HawaiianMiles redemptions on each partner with redemptions of that partner's own rewards currency.

Let's take a look!

All Nippon Airways

ANA is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so their points are relatively easy to earn for folks with American Express cards that earn flexible Membership Rewards points.

Unfortunately, HawaiianMiles can't be redeemed for ANA flights between North America and Japan. Instead, there are two kinds of awards you can book: roundtrips between Hawaii and Haneda, in economy or business class; and roundtrips between Haneda and domestic Japanese destinations, in economy only.

There's no other way to say it: ANA's award chart for flights on their own metal is nuts. Here's Scott Mackenzie doing his best to explain it. However, we're just focused on the conversion rate between HawaiianMiles and ANA Mileage Club miles, which isn't too hard.

  • Roundtrip domestic ANA flights up to 600 miles cost between 10,000 and 15,000 ANA miles depending on season, and 18,000 HawaiianMiles year-round, for a conversion rate of between 1.2 and 1.8 HawaiianMiles per ANA Mileage Club mile;
  • Roundtrip domestic ANA flights over 600 miles cost between 12,000 and 23,000 ANA miles depending on distance and season. However, there are no eligible cities farther than 2,000 miles from Haneda airport so the equivalent ANA chart actually tops out at 21,000 ANA miles during high season. These flights cost 22,500 HawaiianMiles year-round, for a conversion rate of between 1.07 and 1.88 HawaiianMiles per ANA Mileage Club mile.
  • Roundtrip ANA flights between Haneda and Hawaii cost between 35,000 and 43,000 ANA miles in economy, depending on season, and 90,000 HawaiianMiles, for a conversion rate between 2.09 and 2.57 HawaiianMiles per ANA Mileage Club mile.
  • Roundtrip ANA flights between Haneda and Hawaii cost between 60,000 and 68,000 ANA miles in business, depending on season, and 155,000 HawaiianMiles, for a conversion rate between 2.28 and 2.58 HawaiianMiles per ANA Mileage Club mile.

HawaiianMiles are worth between 0.39 and 0.94 ANA miles.


JetBlue's TrueBlue loyalty program is revenue based, although the dollar value you get per TrueBlue point varies depending on, well, it varies. On a random search I found 6 different conversion rates, between 0.91 cents per TrueBlue point and 1.39 cents per TrueBlue point, with an average of 1.11 cents per TrueBlue point.

HawaiianMile redemptions on JetBlue are also revenue based, although the conversion rate comes with the stern warning: "Miles required for redemption will vary based on ticket value. Chart above shows ESTIMATED mileage redemption amounts."

Nonetheless, it's possible to calculate the minimum and maximum dollar value per HawaiianMile, and arrive at an average redemption value of 0.81 cents per HawaiianMile. Compared to the average of 1.11 cents per TrueBlue point, one HawaiianMiles is worth about 0.73 TrueBlue points

Korean Air

Korean Air SKYPASS miles are easy to earn through transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards, but of course Ultimate Rewards points are valuable for all sorts of redemptions, so you might prefer to redeem a less flexible and less valuable rewards currency like HawaiianMiles instead.

There are three kinds of HawaiianMiles redemptions on Korean Air: roundtrips within South Korea, roundtrips within "Asia," and roundtrips between Korea and the United States. Flights can be booked in coach and business class. To the best of my knowledge Korean Air does not make partner awards available during their "peak" travel season, so HawaiianMiles can only be used for Korean Air redemptions during SKYPASS's "off" season (if you know otherwise let me know and I'll update this post).

  • Coach roundtrips within Korea cost 10,000 SKYPASS miles or 15,000 HawaiianMiles, for a conversion rate of 1.5 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS mile;
  • Business roundtrips within Korea cost 12,000 SKYPASS miles or 30,000 HawaiianMiles, for a conversion rate of 2.5 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS mile;
  • Korean Air has three different zones in Asia, while HawaiianMiles has only a single zone. SKYPASS charges between 30,000 and 50,000 miles for coach tickets depending on zone, while Hawaiian charges 30,000 HawaiianMiles, for a conversion rate of between 0.6 and 1 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS mile. In other words, HawaiianMiles are 40% more valuable than SKYPASS miles when redeemed for Korean Air flights to Southwest Asia;
  • In business class between Korea and Asian destinations, SKYPASS charges between 45,000 and 90,000 miles while HawaiianMiles charges 60,000 miles, for a conversion rate between 0.67 and 1.33 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS miles;
  • Finally, between Korea and the United States SKYPASS charges 70,000 miles in coach and 125,000 miles in business, while HawaiianMiles charges 100,000 miles in coach and 200,000 miles in business, for a conversion rate of 1.43 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS mile in coach and 1.6 HawaiianMiles per SKYPASS mile in business.

In sum, one HawaiianMile is worth between 0.4 SKYPASS miles (on domestic business class flights) and 1.66 SKYPASS miles (on coach flights to Southwest Asia).

Virgin America

Like JetBlue, Virgin America's Elevate program is revenue based. Unlike JetBlue, however, HawaiianMiles redemptions on Virgin America are distance-based, with three distance bands: under 750 miles, between 750 and 2,000 miles, and more than 2,000 miles. Virgin America Elevate doesn't black out award space to their own members (since the program is revenue based), but they do limit award availability made available to partners.

Until recently, there was no good way of checking Virgin America partner award availability, but since Alaska acquired Virgin America, it's now possible to search for partner award seats using the Alaska search engine. Look for dates where the lowest level award seats are available.

I can't think of any useful metric to convert a distance-based award chart into a revenue-based program. Elevate miles are worth "about" 2.2 cents each, so that's as good a benchmark as any when deciding whether to redeem HawaiianMiles on Virgin America flights.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club breaks out award prices for each of their destinations individually, while HawaiianMiles consolidates them into geographic areas. That means HawaiianMiles charges the same price for destinations that Virgin Atlantic charges different amounts for. Here's the HawaiianMile award chart for redemptions on Virgin Atlantic, helpfully annotated with the amount charged by Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:

The key takeaway is that while redemptions always require more HawaiianMiles than Flying Club miles, the difference narrows on Upper Class redemptions since HawaiianMiles awards don't accelerate in price the way Flying Club awards do. So while HawaiianMiles are worth between 0.25 and 0.42 Flying Club miles for economy redemptions, they're worth up to 0.92 Flying Club miles on Upper Class redemptions between, for example, the UK and Johannesburg.

Note that all redemptions on Virgin Atlantic will have carrier surcharges, which you can get a sense of on the Flying Club website.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia's Velocity program is only open to residents of Australia and a few other countries in the Pacific, so you're unlikely to ever actually redeem Velocity miles for a Virgin Australia flights.

HawaiianMiles and Virgin Australia Velocity both use distance-based award charts, although they use different distance bands (Velocity has more, smaller bands). Here's the HawaiianMiles award chart, with the corresponding cost in Virgin Australia Velocity miles:

Note that Australia is very far from the other continents so unless you're flying around the South Pacific all international redemptions will fall in the "Over 4,000 Miles" distance band, where HawaiianMiles are worth between 0.28 and 0.6 Velocity miles each in economy and between 0.3 and 0.64 Velocity miles in business.


Now that we've reached the end of the exercise, what kinds of conclusions can we draw? First, it's worth reiterating that HawaiianMiles are not very valuable, so you certainly shouldn't be going out of your way to earn them.

However, if you have access to cheap and plentiful HawaiianMiles, it's possible to redeem them for real value:

  • If you live in a city served by JetBlue, HawaiianMiles are worth an average of 0.81 cents towards those flights. It would take a lot of HawaiianMiles before you could redeem for a cross-country flight in their Mint business class product, but if that's the flight I wanted to take I'd much rather redeem HawaiianMiles than pay cash!
  • If you can find partner award space on Virgin America, short roundtrip flights cost as little as 20,000 in economy, and the longest flights in first class top out at just 90,000 HawaiianMiles roundtrip.
  • If you can find Korean Air partner award space, HawaiianMiles can be redeemed for first class travel between the United States and Korea, or within Asia, at relatively reasonable rates.

If you don't have the patience or inclination to book travel on Hawaiian's partner airlines, HawaiianMiles can be transferred to Hilton HHonors points at a rate of 1.5 HHonors points per HawaiianMile. HHonors points are also not very valuable, but they're much easier to redeem than HawaiianMiles.

Finally, HawaiianMiles can be redeemed for about half a cent each in rental car gift certificates, or even gift certificates to Foodland, a Hawaiian supermarket chain.

Fuel surcharges on Korean's SkyTeam partners

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:

  1. You can only book awards for yourself and a very tightly defined group of family members;
  2. SKYPASS awards pass along fuel surcharges;
  3. 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.

Routing rules

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.

Excited about Ultimate Rewards transfers to Flying Blue? Let's talk about it

In case you've been staying in a buddhist travel hacker monastery for the last week, the big news to come out of the loyalty world this week was the unannounced addition of Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France and KLM, as a transfer partner for "flexible" Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

This post is going to come across as a bit cynical, so in the hopes of heading off sniping in the comments, let me first explain why this is phenomenal news.

Korean Airlines is not a great Skyteam program

While it's true that Ultimate Rewards already had transfer partners in oneworld (British Airways), Star Alliance (United), and Skyteam (Korean Airlines), Korean Airlines SKYPASS is a notoriously complex program to work with, with the gaping drawback that you can only book award tickets for relatives — and if you take them at their word, that even excludes stepchildren!

By contrast, Flying Blue has an online award search engine that allows you to book award tickets for anyone you like (as long as you don't get caught in one of their fraud traps).

Ultimate Rewards is a vibrant and growing program

Any expansion of a loyalty program to include new ways to earn or redeem points is an objective positive. If I never book a Flying Blue award ticket, I'll still be glad to know that it's someone's job at Chase to hunt down loyalty programs, negotiate transfer agreements, and implement the technology required to expand our Ultimate Rewards redemption options. To me that's a sign that the program still has a degree of vibrancy and is not yet ready to stagnate, like American Express Membership Rewards.

With that out of the way, let's talk about Flying Blue redemptions.

Delta makes life as hard as possible for their partners

To understand how difficult it is to redeem Flying Blue miles on Delta, it's important to understand how Delta makes award space available to its own members and to partners.

Delta dynamically prices awards for its own members. It's no longer rare to find cases where the constituent flights on a connecting award ticket are more or less expensive than the complete itinerary. Here's an itinerary connecting in Minneapolis that's more expensive than either of the constituent flights on their own:

The constituent flights price at 12,500 SkyMiles:

And 11,500 SkyMiles:

Unrelated to SkyMiles pricing for their own members, Delta makes some seats on some flights available to partners for awards.

Let's see those same three searches using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Here's the first leg (it's 25,000 instead of 12,500 because I'm searching for one-way flights):

Here's the second leg:

Here's the catch: Delta doesn't make that complete itinerary available to partners, which we can only surmise is because it prices higher at the 15,500-mile level. Here are the only options Alaska shows when doing a one-way search between BWI and MSO on September 19:

Fortunately, Alaska allows you to construct your own Delta routing as a "Multi-city" flight search. By feeding Alaska the flights I know have award space (because I checked earlier), I can easily produce my desired award:

It's important to understand exactly what's happening here: Delta is making its cheapest award space available to its own members and to partners on individual segments, but charging its own members more on the complete itinerary and not making that complete itinerary available to partners. The reason the Alaska workaround works is that Alaska is willing to search for each leg individually in a multi-city search, and then price the entire itinerary according to its own routing rules, which make it a valid one-way itinerary.

Flying Blue does not allow multi-city awards to be booked online

This is what Flying Blue's multi-city search engine looks like:

Flying Blue doesn't let you construct Delta itineraries online because your final destination must be your originating airport.

I assume you could construct this itinerary over the phone

Good luck with that.

Conclusion: how I'll be using Flying Blue

So Flying Blue isn't the key to unlimited cheap flights on Delta. That doesn't mean it's useless! On the contrary, it's going to be one of my first stops along with Alaska, British Airways, and United, each time I start planning a new trip. The search engine makes it easy to see at a glance whether there are award seats available, and if there are, they will usually be among the cheapest, not because of their great award chart or their low fuel surcharges (on the contrary, they have a fairly standard award chart and pass along fuel surcharges to customers), but because the miles themselves are so cheap when transferred from a Chase Ultimate Rewards account.

To make the same point another way, a redemption of 12,500 SkyMiles manufactured with a Delta Platinum American Express card costs $188 in opportunity cost ($8,929 manufactured on a 2.105% cash back card), while a 12,500-mile Flying Blue redemption costs just $125 in Ultimate Rewards points: a 33.5% discount.

I don't expect those redemption to be very frequent — but I do expect to make them each and every time the opportunity presents itself!

The single best award redemption, by transfer partner: Chase Ultimate Rewards

As my regular readers know, I don't chase "aspirational" redemptions; I earn the miles and points I need to pay for the trips I want to take as cheaply as possible.

But many of you do chase aspirational redemptions! That gets me into hot water whenever I point out that a Chase Ultimate Rewards point is worth 1 penny (its cash redemption value), or that American Express Membership Rewards points are hard to redeem for cash.

So in the spirit of reconciliation, I though it would be fun to put together a list of the absolute best redemption values for the transfer partners of each flexible rewards currency. Since I'm most familiar with Ultimate Rewards points, let's start there.

Airline Partners

As a reminder, here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners:

  • United MileagePlus
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Korean Airlines SKYPASS
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

United MileagePlus

Two of the best international first class products, Lufthansa and Singapore, belong to the Star Alliance, and United MileagePlus miles can be redeemed for first class on either airline at their partner award prices. But which is the better redemption?

One-way award seats in Lufthansa first class between New York and Frankfurt cost 110,000 MileagePlus miles, plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. Unless you're a MileagePlus elite, you'll also pay a $75 close-in ticketing fee, since Lufthansa first class seats are generally made available to United only a few days or weeks before departure.

At the time of writing, Lufthansa first class seats between New York and Frankfurt cost $11,049 on October 10, a date Lufthansa first class award seats are also available. Less the $80.60 in taxes and fees, that gives a redemption value of just about 10 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.

We can actually do a hair better than this by flying not to Frankfurt, but to Tokyo's Haneda airport via Frankfurt. This itinerary also costs 110,000 MileagePlus miles, but retails for $952 more, at $12,001, giving us 10.8 cents per MileagePlus mile:

By comparison, Singapore's JFK-Frankfurt flight costs a mere $7,108. In any case, since Singapore Air is also a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, Lufthansa walks away with an easy victory here.

British Airways Executive Club

A safe choice for best British Airways redemption is a 4,500-Avios American Airlines short-haul flight like Norfolk, VA, to Charlotte, NC, which can get you about 9.9 cents per Ultimate Rewards points.

Knowing that Brazil forbids airlines from adding fuel and passenger surcharges to tickets, I was hopeful that a route like Sao Paulo — London would generate an astronomical value per Avios. But it turns out those flights don't get more expensive by distance in the way that Avios redemptions do! A first class seat from Sao Paulo to London costs just $5,783, which at 120,000 Avios gives a piddling 4.8 cents per point.

You're better off moving to Norfolk.

Korean Airlines SKYPASS

A popular use of SKYPASS is to book cheaper award tickets from the US mainland to Hawaii than those available on domestic US carriers. So, for example, while a Delta Skymiles award ticket to Hawaii from the continental 48 costs a minimum of 45,000 miles roundtrip, a SKYPASS award ticket costs just 35,000 miles.

Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta to Honolulu, so let's use that as our basis for comparison. A roundtrip departing March 8 and returning March 16, on which there's low-level award availability, costs $1,134. Less $11.20 in taxes and fees, that returns a SKYPASS redemption value of 3.24 cents each. That's not bad for SKYPASS miles, but it's not the best.

That's because Korean Airlines SKYPASS miles can also be redeemed for first class on Korean. On April 4, 2016, a first class flight from New York JFK to Seoul Incheon costs $10,032, but just 80,000 SKYPASS miles plus $104.20 in taxes and fees, giving 12.4 cents per SKYPASS mile, the highest transfer value for Ultimate Rewards we've seen yet!

It should be possible to kick that up another few cents per point by booking a single first class award from New York to Sydney for 120,000 SKYPASS miles, but I cannot for the life of me get the Korean Airlines website to price out such an award.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Remember the disappointing, $7,108 New York - Frankfurt flight operated by Singapore that I mentioned above? The good news is that it costs just 57,375 KrisFlyer miles (after their 15% online booking discount) and $203.30 in taxes and fees, or just over 12 cents per KrisFlyer mile.

There are more expensive Singapore Airlines routes, but they cost many more KrisFlyer miles such that you're unlikely to do better than the above. For example, it costs $984 to continue in first class to Singapore from Frankfurt, but 36,125 more KrisFlyer miles. At 2.7 cents per mile, that's a pretty good redemption in its own right, but it drags down the overall redemption value significantly.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Since Southwest is a revenue-based program, you're not doing to do better than 1.6-1.7 cents per Rapid Rewards point unless you have the Companion Pass. If you do, congratulations, you can get up to 3.2-3.4 cents per Rapid Rewards point when booking Wanna Get Away fares.

For example, with the Companion Pass you could fly two passengers from Baltimore, Maryland to Aruba for 11,620 Rapid Rewards points and $31.20 in taxes and fees, a $407.60 value, giving you 3.24 cents per Rapid Rewards point.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic has a number of partner airlines that could potentially offer some value, like South African Airways. Their website even contains this mysterious language:

"Economy Class Mileage* 40,000
Business Class Mileage* 50,000
Between Dakar and New York***"

Mysterious because South African Airways does not fly from Dakar to New York, although it's possible to book itineraries connecting in Washington Dulles. Maybe that's what they mean?

Virgin Atlantic does partner with Delta, which basically makes it a poor man's Skyteam partner. You can fly from the US to Europe for 100,000 Flying Club miles roundtrip, as long as you can find Delta low-level availability, compared to 125,000 Skymiles for the same awards. You can fly anywhere in Africa for 120,000 Flying Club miles roundtrip in business class, compared to 140,000 Skymiles to northern Africa and 160,000 Skymiles to South Africa (I think — no award charts, remember?).

I couldn't find any low-level availability on Delta metal to Johannesburg, but a roundtrip business class flight with award availability between New York and Dakar priced out at $3,375. Assuming Virgin Atlantic charges the same taxes and fees as Delta, $127.60, you could get about 2.7 cents per Flying Club mile on such an award.

Hotel Partners

Here are the Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel transfer partners:

  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Marriott Rewards/Ritz Carlton Rewards
  • IHG Rewards Club

Hyatt Gold Passport

There are two places you can look for the highest redemption values in a program like Hyatt Gold Passport. You can look at properties in the highest categories during the property's high season (after all, they're there because they're expensive!), or you can look at properties in the lowest categories during major events. So, which approach yields the highest redemption value?

I looked at a range of top-tier properties, and the best I could do was at everyone's favorite aspirational beach resort, the Category 6 Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, where rates go up to $2027 in early January, or 8.1 cents per point. Then Grant pointed to a May 29, 2016, stay at the Park Hyatt Milan, when the Hyatt Daily Rate is $4577 — and rooms are still available for 30,000 Gold Passport points, or 15.26 cents per point.

Other top-tier properties offer fine redemptions, but nothing like that: the Category 7 Park Hyatt Sydney charges about $814 on January 25 (the day before Australia Day), or 30,000 Gold Passport points, for about 2.7 cents per point.

What about on the low end? During CES in Las Vegas, you can book the Hyatt Place Las Vegas for 8,000 Gold Passport points or $338, about 4.2 cents per point. My main problem searching for these low-end redemptions is that enough people have obviously had the same idea that room rates are extremely difficult to find during the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, and other high-profile events! So if you want to secure an outsized value during those events, book as early as possible!

Marriott Rewards

Obviously the best Marriott Rewards redemption will involve a Hotel + Air Package, which allows you to buy much more valuable airline miles at a deep discount. Since we've already established that 110,000 MileagePlus miles are worth 10.8 cents each ($11,880), let's use that as our baseline and figure out where to redeem our 7, Category 5 nights.

The most expensive Category 5 Marriott Rewards property I found is the Courtyard Paris Saint Denis, where you can redeem your 7 nights for a stay that costs $3,027, bringing your total return on 250,000 Marriott Rewards points to $14,907, or 5.96 cents per point. That's true, however, If and only if you begin your 7-night stay on July 4, 2016.

Award rooms are not available for those dates. Marriott Rewards is a terrible program.

IHG Rewards Club

IHG Rewards properties get so exorbitantly expensive in points, so fast, that the best awards will invariably be on their PointsBreaks list. I've spent a couple lovely summers in Brno, Czech Republic, so I was pleased to see that I could get 3.6 cents per IHG Rewards point at the Holiday Inn Brno on October 13, which would otherwise go for $180.12.

The best rates found on Hotel Hustle's Hot Rates page top out at 1.94 cents per point (exclusive of taxes), so if you're looking for outsized value from your Ultimate Rewards points, stick to the PointsBreaks list (or look elsewhere).


When I started writing this post I thought this would be an easy and fun exercise. It turned out to be difficult, time-consuming, and boring, which I hope speaks to my basic point: seeking the "best" value from your miles and points is a thankless chore.

You'll always be better off redeeming your miles and points for the trips you actually want to take, rather than the ones some blogger tells you are the best.