Delta & Korean Air To Announce A Joint Venture Soon

Filed Under: Delta, Korean Air

Update: Delta has now bought a 4.3% stake in Korean Air, which they hope to increase to 10%.

Well this has the potential to be interesting…

Bloomberg is reporting that Korean Air’s president hinted that a joint venture was coming between Delta and Korean Air, though for now he refused to elaborate. If we were to see a joint venture, we’d likely see more route and pricing coordination, expanded frequent flyer benefits between the two airlines, and perhaps even more Delta service to Incheon.

While Delta and Korean Air have slowly been warming up to one another, the two airlines have made a point of not working with one another up until now.


Delta & Korean Air’s weak relationship up until now

Logically you’d think Delta and Korean Air would have a strong partnership, given that transpacific service offered by both airlines, and the connection opportunities that opens up within North America and within Asia.

As a clear sign of this, in 2013 Delta placed their various airline partners into groups. These ranged from Group 1 to Group 4, with airlines being categorized based on the importance of their relationship with Delta (and as a result, frequent flyers got more benefits on Group 1 airlines than Group 4 airlines).

Korean Air got put into Group 4, along with Alaska, Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian, and WestJet. Ouch… that means Korean Air was the only SkyTeam airline to get put in the last group.


This means that it hasn’t been possible to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualifying Dollars, or Medallion elite mileage bonuses for travel on Korean Air, which is sort of absurd.


Delta & Korean Air have slowly been getting closer

In September Delta and Korean Air announced an expanded codeshare agreement, which was their first step at strengthening their relationship in a long time. As part of this, Delta and Korean Air began codesharing on their flights between Atlanta and Incheon, as well as many flights within North America and within Asia. It was certainly the first step towards expanded cooperation, though doesn’t change the fact that mileage earning opportunities are limited between the two airlines.


The interesting twist

Keep in mind that Delta owns an equity stake in China Eastern. So understandably they’ve been trying to route people through China Eastern’s Shanghai hub, and use that as a jumping off point for Asia.

However, Asia is a big region, and presumably there’s room for two strong partnerships to give passengers optimal schedules, options, etc.

Nonetheless I imagine that China Eastern isn’t especially happy about Delta and Korean Air expanding their partnership (not that they can do much about it).

China-Eastern-Business-Class-777 - 103

Bottom line

Delta and Korean Air have certainly been on the road to strengthening their relationship, and it looks like the next step of that will be a full-on joint venture. I look forward to seeing the details, and for Korean Air to hopefully get moved up to a Group 1 partner for Delta SkyMiles.

  1. “However, Asia is a big region, and presumably there’s room for two strong partnerships to give passengers optimal schedules, options, etc”

    That and a lot of people have no interest in connecting in China or on a Chinese airline.

  2. As Justin said many people just hate having to transfer through Chinese airports.
    Depending on how good terminal 2 at ICN will be it could make for a very pleasant stopover to places in Southeast Asia (They even fly to Haneda *wink wink*). Considering Delta is shifting away from their hub in Narita this could be interesting.

  3. Man I’d love to see JAL move to skyteam, and it would make sense for delta, since they are trying to move from narita to haneda. And honestly, since they joined one world there have been no major partnerships with AA, BA, or CX, and AF/KL could also benefit from a haneda/Kansai partner hub

  4. Great news. Since they did away with JFK-NRT, I’d love more one-stop options to Asia from JFK. And not on China Eastern. YAY

  5. @anon

    It’s odd to me that KE has more US gateways than any other US airline and yet their list doesn’t include the second (DTW) or third (MSP) largest DL hubs

  6. I love Korean Air and ICN. Oddly enough all Korean Air flights to date are via Delta miles. And unfortunately I am out of Delta miles and have no future prospects of delta miles.

  7. This makes sense. Recent trip to china had me looking at AA/JL or UA/NH. I couldn’t connect at a Chinese airport. The ICN options from delta/KE were double the price.

  8. A bigest downside transit throught China is their entry requirement. If the connection flight to 3rd country is through domestic flight, you will not be covered under 144hour transit visa excempt.

    I rather much stop through ICN over any Chinese airport for that matter.

  9. As announced in The Chosun Ilbo newspaper today, The new terminal (opening in October) at ICN is exclusively KE, DL, AF and KL if that adds any fuel to the fire….

  10. AA can’t get a slot at PEK, but it’s DL that had a meeting with CAAC.
    After that, MU is willing to give DL a slot for its LAX-PEK flight.

  11. So wait, you couldn’t earn MQM’s or MQD’s on KE despite them both being SkyTeam Airlines!? I always knew SkyTeam was kind of the black sheep of the airline alliances, but if policies like that are allowed then it’s struggling to be an alliance at all.

  12. Even in China, China Southern has been been the closer partner of Korean thus far. Look at the Korean Air partner awards chart, you can see Korean only allowing mile upgrades on a few Skyteam partners, including China Southern, China Airlines and Delta but not China Eastern (I suspect Delta is a late addition, since I haven’t noticed them on the chart before).

  13. I do hope more routes to US via ICN is coming from this proposed partnership then. I prefer routing through Incheon than Shanghai.

  14. How these joint ventures are not anti competition are beyond me. They are trying to share cost to innovate, like tech companies do. They are sharing cost to reduce competition and hence drive up ticket prices.

    The only thing worse than a capitalist society is a capitalist society with most participants too stupid and a handful very smart.

  15. China Eastern is a HORRIBLE airline which I only use because i earn full MQM’s. Shanghai Pudong airport is a horrible airport with lounges that aren’t very comfortable. And worse, don’t ever even try to make a domestic connection within China on China Southern. One time I flew from Manila to Dubai, with stops in Shanghai and Kunming. I had to pick up my bags at both stops, and no one spoke English so I was confused as hell. Oh yeah, you can’t use your phone on China Southern EVEN IF it is on airplane mode!!!

    Korean Air, on the other hand, is a GREAT airline and transiting through Incheon is a breeze. I really hope Korean Air goes back to Group 1 so I can bank some MQM’s. It’s a better flight experience than China Eastern, by a long shot!

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