Korean Air business class upgrade guide

By Chris C., October 19 2016
Korean Air business class upgrade guide

If you’re booked to fly in economy with Korean Air, why not upgrade to business class using frequent flyer miles (points) from the airline’s Skypass loyalty program?

Between Seoul and either Sydney or Brisbane, 40,000 Skypass miles can land you that bump to ‘Prestige Class’, while just 67,500 Skypass miles gets an upgrade to business class from Australia right through to Europe.

Wherever you’re headed, here’s what you need to know about switching that economy class seat for a business class bed on your next Korean Air flight.

Korean Air business class (Prestige Class) upgrades: the basics

As with many airlines, upgrades on Korean Air are all one-class – so while you can upgrade from economy to business class, you can’t upgrade from economy straight to first class, or indeed from economy to business and then again from business to first class on the same flight.

You’ll also need to be booked on a Korean Air flight with a KE flight number: booking a codeshare flight, even if Korean Air is the airline physically flying you from A to B, will make you unable to upgrade.

Korean Air also restricts mileage-based upgrades to the most expensive economy tickets: namely, those of the Y, B and M ‘fare buckets’ as shown on your ticket.

That means you’ll need to be booked on the most flexible fares to even have a chance at upgrading – so while there may be less-expensive fares available on the same flight, booking them means you’ll be kept in economy.

Want to fly in business class? Then make sure you book your flight direct with Korean Air.

Upgrades are also subject to availability which can vary from flight to flight, but should an upgrade be available and you’re booked in the correct fare class, you’ll be able to lock it in immediately.

Korean Air business class (Prestige Class) upgrades: how many miles to you need?

In addition to varying based on where you fly, the number of Korean Air Skypass miles you’ll need for an upgrade also differs based on when you fly, with one cost for ‘peak’ travel and another for ‘off-peak’ travel.

For instance, on those flights from Australia to Seoul, 40,000 Skypass miles can get you upgraded during off-peak periods, but you’d need a higher 60,000 Skypass miles for the same upgraded during the peak season.

From Australia through to the UK and Europe, you’d part with 67,500 Skypass miles for a one-way, off-peak upgrade, or an even 100,000 Skypass miles for the same at peak times.

Peak and off-peak times also vary by destination and from one year to the next, but for Aussies heading to either Korea or Europe/UK, here’s when you’ll find the upcoming peak periods during which those higher mileage costs apply:

  • December 21 2016 until January 1 2017
  • January 26-31 2017
  • July 14 until August 19 2017
  • September 30 until October 10 2017
  • December 21-31 2017

Fly at any other time and you’ll instead enjoy the lower off-peak rates to upgrade.

Korean Air business class (Prestige Class) upgrades: more information

Despite the otherwise-restrictive upgrade policies for economy passengers, Korean Air is more generous when it comes to upgrading journeys that include stopovers in the middle – that’s where you break the trip to stay in Seoul for a night or more rather than flying straight through.

Many other airlines would charge you for two upgrades in this instance: one from Australia to Korea and another from Korea to Europe when you travel again, for example, but Korean Air allows this to be booked as a single ‘Australia to Europe’ upgrade, saving you miles.

Provided that upgrades are available on both of your flights, you’d spend either 67,500 (off-peak) or 100,000 (peak) Skypass miles on the upgrade, rather than 80,000 (off-peak) or 120,000 (peak) Skypass miles by upgrading each flight separately.

Note also that if you’re perusing Korean Air’s upgrade award chart yourself to find the upgrade cost on other routes, ‘Oceania’ includes Australia, ‘Europe’ still includes the United Kingdom (London) and ‘Prestige’ is Korean Air parlance for business class.

The figures shown in the table are also for return trips – so if your upgrade is only one-way such as Sydney-Seoul rather than Sydney-Seoul-Sydney, your upgrade will cost half as many miles shown.

Korean Air business class (Prestige Class): finding and booking your upgrade

As we indicated earlier, upgrades are all subject to availability – and just because the airline is still selling business class tickets on your flight doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to snag an upgrade.

But there’s an easy way to check what’s available before you book: ExpertFlyer subscribers can use the ‘Awards and Upgrades’ search to hunt for upgrade availability on their desired Korean Air flights in much the same way as we’ve covered with Qantas:

Read: ExpertFlyer: your secret weapon for finding frequent flyer award flights

Simply select ‘Korean Air’ from the airline list, enter your preferred route and date, click ‘Business – Upgrade (Z)’ and hit ‘search’. The number shown in the ‘seats’ column indicates how many upgrades are available on that particular flight, and if the number reads 0, there are no upgrades for the taking:

Travellers without an ExpertFlyer subscription instead can contact Korean Air directly to check for upgrade availability. Upgrades are also secured over the phone (and can’t be booked via ExpertFlyer), so all Skypass members can call 02 9262 6000 within Australia to request these.

In some circumstances it’s also possible to upgrade to Korean Air business class using miles from a small number of SkyTeam airline frequent flyer programs such as Aeroflot Bonus and Air France Flying Blue, although this isn’t possible at all during the peak periods above.

The availability of these upgrades, the types of tickets you’ll need to book to secure one and the number of miles needed for the same also differ between programs, so contact your SkyTeam frequent flyer program to ask if you’re eligible and for more information.

However you upgrade, the mileage you’ll earn from your flight will be as per the ticket you originally paid for, not at the higher business class rates.

Also read: Korean Air flies Airbus A380 to Sydney from October


Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

14 Nov 2015

Total posts 41

Chris any advice as to how one can easily acquire Skypass miles? Only way I'm aware of for Aus residents (other than flying) is a card that earns points transferable to SPG. Then transfer on to Korean. This is poor value.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2472

They're a lot harder to earn in Australia than other miles. There's no local credit card partner for direct transfers: your best bet would be to look at the Diners Club personal charge card with the companion MasterCard, where you can earn 1.5 SPG points per $1 on Diners and 0.625 SPG/$1 via MasterCard, which could then be on-transferred to Skypass with SPG's 25% bonus, giving you 1.875 Skypass miles per $1 spent via Diners and 0.78125/$1 via MasterCard.

Otherwise, the usual ways: flying Korean Air and SkyTeam (plus a group of other partners including AA, Emirates and Etihad, among others), staying in partner hotels, hiring cars etc.

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