Delta & Korean Air Strengthen Their Partnership… Sort Of

Filed Under: Delta, Korean Air

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

Delta has just announced that they’ll be launching daily nonstop flights between Atlanta and Seoul Incheon as of June 3, 2017. They’ll operate the flight with a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, with the following schedule:

DL89 Atlanta to Incheon departing 1:05PM arriving 4:45PM (+1 day)
DL88 Incheon to Atlanta departing 6:30PM arriving 7:40PM

Interestingly Korean Air also operates a daily nonstop flight between Atlanta and Incheon, meaning there will be two daily nonstop flights in the market. Korean Air’s flight operates with the following schedule:

KE36 Atlanta to Incheon departing 12:20PM arriving 4:10PM (+1 day)
KE35 Incheon to Atlanta departing 9:20AM arriving 10:20AM

Korean Air 777-300ER

While the two airlines have similar schedules from Atlanta to Seoul, the frequencies from Seoul to Atlanta complement one another nicely.

The two airlines are marketing this new route as an expansion of the partnership between Delta and Korean Air, as they’re also increasing the routes on which they codeshare, as follows:

Korean will place its code on Delta’s Atlanta to Seoul service along with flights to 115 U.S. and Canada destinations beyond Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York City. Korean will also add its code to Delta’s Sao Paulo, Brazil flights from both Atlanta and New York City. Delta will expand its codeshare footprint to 32 Korean Air destinations beyond Seoul including new code to Taipei, Osaka, Singapore, Nagoya and Okinawa. The airline will also place its code on Korean flights from San Francisco and Houston to Seoul. Delta and Korean plan to launch the new codeshare in 4Q 2016, subject to government approvals.


Here’s what executives at both airlines have to say about the new route and expanded partnership:

“Delta and Korean Air are expanding a 20+ year trans-Pacific partnership, and we believe the new Delta service between Atlanta and Seoul in conjunction with an enhanced partnership with Korean solidifies our joint position as leading carriers in the U.S.-Asia market,” said Steve Sear, Delta’s President – International & Executive Vice President – Global Sales. “Incheon International Airport is one of the premier gateways to Asia and the strength of our combined hubs and flight offerings gives customers a significantly enhanced portfolio of destinations for travel.”

“Our expanded partnership with Delta allows our customers to travel more conveniently with more options between Asia and the Americas, strengthening our position as the world’s largest trans-Pacific airline, said Walter Cho, Korean Air’s C.O.O.  “Travelers will benefit from the combined network strength of Korean Air and Delta resulting in greater schedule flexibility and increased frequency.”

Seoul, South Korea

Boy, it sounds like the two airlines have a really close partnership, no? Well, here’s the crazy part. Despite the fact that the airlines are codesharing on many routes (including Delta’s new Atlanta to Seoul flight), the partnership between Delta and Korean Air is the weakest in all of SkyTeam.

Delta has four “levels” of airline partners, and Korean Air is the only SkyTeam airline to be a “Group 4 partner.” For example, you can’t earn Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualifying Dollars, or the Medallion mileage bonus for travel on Korean Air. At most you can earn 100% redeemable miles for Korean Air flights, even if you’re flying full fare first class.

Here’s the SkyMiles earnings chart for travel on Korean Air:


The stingy earnings rates date back to 2013, when Delta claimed that “each airline determines its level of participation in partnership with us.”

With the two airlines now codesharing on more routes than before, perhaps it’s time they rethink their frequent flyer program partnership?

  1. Lucky, I appreciate the news update but this feels like it was lifted completely from the thread started nearly a day ago, without credit, down to Group 4 EQM analysis.

  2. Without MQM, it’s a non-starter for me. I make the MQD with the Amex, but status needs to be a thing here.

  3. I’m hoping/wishing that DL will place KE back in group 1 of MQM earning (100% for all economy fare classes).

  4. @ keitherson — I can say with 100% certainty I didn’t see this on I follow Delta’s newsroom, and saw the press release come through. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the SkyMiles relationship between Delta and Korean Air.

  5. @keitherson : not just this article, but tons of other of his posts in the past 6 months. basically the moment there’s a thread on, it’ll miraculously appear as an OMAAT blog post within the next 12-24 hours, all without giving any single hat-tip or credit.

    but what exactly do you expect from someone whose moral compass is sharp enough to get banned by one of the US3 ?

  6. @ henry LAX — Seriously? I know this might come as a shock, but it’s not some incredible coincidence that my stuff appears around the same time it shows up in other places? Airlines put out press releases (most of which I get emailed directly), and those are covered in more than one place. Just because multiple sources see the same press release doesn’t mean anyone is stealing info from anyone. I tip the hat to sources *all the time*.

    I get Delta press releases by email, so I’m not sure why you think I’d “steal” the information from elsewhere when I’m getting it directly?

    But you’re free to believe what you’d like.

  7. When Delta tweeted this yesterday, I immediately replied asking them to stop stiffing us on MQMs and MQDs. Late last year I had to get to Korea for work, and was looking for a refundable business fare. The real travesty — beyond getting 0 MQMs (for J!) and no bonus — is that J fares on Delta metal were (and likely still are) exorbitantly more expensive than on Korean metal. Really grinds my gears!

  8. @keitherson Anyone who follows Delta on Twitter would have seen this yesterday. It’s news. Lucky’s reporting it. Others will, too.

  9. @lucky – case in point : thread reply 36 : “although it’s really cheap to earn just 100% award miles even for full fare international first class”

    above, you wrote : “At most you can earn 100% redeemable miles for Korean Air flights, even if you’re flying full fare first class.”

  10. @ henry LAX — OMG. I was making an extremely obvious observation. I swear on my life I didn’t see the thread. What a ridiculous witch hunt you’re on…

  11. @lucky – I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time, but I will call you out in the future if similar “coincidences” happen.

  12. @ henry LAX — Yes, please keep me honest the next time there’s breaking news from an airline and it’s covered in more than one place. Much appreciated.

  13. @henryLAX
    Just my 2 cents.

    When Lucky said “At most you can”. I think he is just stating some facts.

    When said “… it’s really cheap …”. They are stating am opinion about the miles.
    I am not sure how you can say Lucky was copying from just this sentence.

    In addition, Lucky is putting out 5 or 6 blogs a day while traveling. In addition, to reading press releases and twitter feeds, you really think he has time to monitor and copy other blogs who basically get information from the same source? I can’t imagine actually has a journalist who interview the airline and scoop exclusive stories.

    You read a blog because you like how the blogger writes not because he is a journalist who breaks exclusives! Just give it a rest. It is just a freaking blog.

  14. If you price out a trip on it appears that you earn full MQMs and MQDs as long as the Korean Air flight you’re booking has a DL code on it.

  15. Lucky you are misleading readers. While you do not earn full mqms on tickets booked with Korean Air directly, codeshare flights booked on DL tickets earn full mqms as if they were a delta flight on delta medal.

    So while I agree that booking a Korean Air flight separately sucks for your delta mqms (unlike booking KLM/AF where you can actually get more mqms based on distance), the fact is that this announcement means you will be able codeshare on Korean and receive MQMs and MQDs.

    This is great news as Korean has an amazing business class.

    My one complaint is that it’s from ATL and not NYC.

  16. Tony …. unfortunately booking the nonstop A380 typically costs 2-3x other flights (when booked on

  17. If someone is going to make such a strong and demeaning accusation about Lucky- to claim he stole someone else’s words- then you better damn sure have some rock solid evidence to support such a harmful and otherwise defamatory claim. Instead, what was presented here was so weak, that the accuser is bordering on committing an act of libel.

    Keep up the good work Lucky and don’t let the few troublemakers overshadow the great majority of us who love and appreciate your work!

  18. Interesting to consider, especially with some of Delta’s changes and declining presence at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I wonder if this is a hint of something more to come. I note Delta’s codeshare extends to Korean’s Seoul-Singapore flight, which could theoretically eliminate the once-a-day Narita-Singapore Delta flight. And what about Guam? Korea is a huge market for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands tourism-wise. Perhaps this is another sign that Delta will end its NRT-GUM service.

  19. Why are there no flights to ICN that would get there earlier in the day? Both KE and DL arrive in the afternoon. Would be nice to have an earlier flight that would allow one to make connections without staying overnight

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