In a surprising move with little notice, Chase will no longer partner with Korean Air SkyPass effective August 25th, 2018. You can still transfer to SkyPass until August 24th, but after that you will no longer be able to transfer Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air.
Korean has long been a terrific Ultimate Rewards transfer partner for getting to and from Asia since Korean flies from many US gateways and offers a lot more availability in premium cabins to SkyPass members than to partners. Redemption rates are also very reasonable, with first class available for just 80K one-way between Korea or Japan and the US during off-peak periods (with a free stopover in Korea); business class on the same route is just 62.5K each way. Here’s a link to the Korean Air award chart.
Furthermore, now that partner awards can be booked online via Korean Air’s website, it has become easier to book round trip flights from the mainland US to Hawaii for just 25K round trip in economy class or 45K in business class. SkyTeam awards to Europe and Africa can also be an excellent deal with Korean Air.
In short, this development is certainly disappointing. It is not generally advisable to transfer points speculatively. That said, Korean does have a reputation for making more premium cabin seats available to members, and with many fewer members having access to SkyPass miles after August 24th, it may become easier than ever to score seats on Korean. Still, I don’t think I’ll be giving up the flexibility of Ultimate Rewards to lock them in — though I’ll be pretty disappointed to miss out on Korean’s sweet spots. Furthermore, Air France / KLM Flying Blue will be the only SkyTeam members in the Chase transfer partners stable. With variable pricing in full swing there, it will certianly be more difficult to get a good deal on SkyTeam awards.
If you do transfer miles, be aware of Korean’s strict policies on booking tickets for others — you can only book tickets for immediate family members, which they define without ambiguity and they will require proof of relation. You would not, for example, be able to book for a boyfriend/girlfriend/nanny/etc. Look before you leap.
This is likely related to the fact that Korean introduced a horrible premium credit card through US Bank this year and must have faced some pressure to make their relationship more exclusive. Still, I’m surprised that they are willing to give up on what must have been a pretty decent revenue stream from Chase.
Personally, I’m pretty disappointed to see this development as Korean had been one of my backup plans for getting to and from the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020. Now that there will be a lot less competition for those seats, maybe I should speculatively transfer after all . . .