Frequent flyers travelling on a Skypass International Award Ticket or who have redeemed a seat upgrade with Korean Air will be hit with a penalty if they request a refund within 90 days of their scheduled departure, with the new rules coming into effect on January 21.

The penalties apply to all unused international award tickets and upgrade awards, including partner airline bonuses, and vary depending on when the request is made. Refunds sought within the 90-day period prior to departure will incur a penalty of 3,000 miles, while those made after the ticket has expired will be hit with a 10,000-mile penalty.

It is still possible to get reimbursed for an award ticket you no longer intend to use without incurring an additional fee, provided it is sought well enough in advance. Refunds requested up to 91 days before departure will incur no additional charges.

Korean Air has been ramping up its penalties for flight cancellations, notably expanding its no-show penalty system to include an additional 200,000 won (US$178) charge for passengers who cancel their flights after entering the departure area.

The new policy was designed to combat passengers using low-penalty and penalty-exempt bookings to enter airport lounges, and in some cases even boarding their plane, before cancelling their tickets and disembarking. A New York Times report noted that this was a growing practice among Korean music fans who wished to get a closer look at their favourite K-pop stars.

Korean Air documented 35 such cases at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport alone in 2018, the airline said in a statement published on its website, with the number amounting to “hundreds if all airlines are included”.

In instances where a passenger voluntarily deplanes, all other passengers are then required to disembark as well and go through security checks again for security reasons.