It’s time to fly SkyTeam to Asia… but how?

Almost all of my travel to Asia is on either OneWorld (Cathay Pacific) or Star Alliance (Lufthansa/Swiss/Asiana/Thai) given that they offer the most “aspirational” award options to Asia. You can’t redeem Delta SkyMiles for travel in international first class on any of their partner airlines, which is why I’ve avoided them to Asia (and just about everywhere else) up until now.

That being said, I’m trying to review as many airline products as possible and I realize y’all just aren’t that excited about reading another Lufthansa first class trip report, so I promise to make every effort to book my next trip to Asia on SkyTeam.

There are two options that tempt me:

120,000 Delta SkyMiles for Korean Air/China Southern business class to Asia

Korean Air seems to have a fairly nice business class product on their Airbus 380, and aside from their blackout dates also has reasonably good business class award space. What spices up a potential business class award to Asia on SkyTeam is that China Southern is launching Airbus 380 service between Los Angeles and Guangzhou in a couple of months (as reported by Gary), and they seem to have a really nice business class product which is even nicer than Korean Air’s. So it’s incredibly tempting to book one direction in Korean Air business class and one direction in China Southern business class. Now, both partners do impose fuel surcharges, though they’re reasonably mild at ~$300 roundtrip (for Korean Air this is a recent “enhancement”).

Fortunately searching China Southern award availability is easy on ExpertFlyer (and there’s tons of business class award space), though sadly the same thing can’t be said for Korean Air business class, for which you have to call Delta SkyMiles to inquire about availability.

Nine business class award seats on China Southern

80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Korean Air Airbus 380 first class to Hong Kong

Chase Ultimate Rewards is transfer partners with Korean Air SkyPass. While you can’t redeem Delta SkyMiles for Korean Air first class, you can redeem Korean Air SkyPass miles for Korean Air first class, and it’s actually not too bad of a value.

Here’s Korean Air’s award chart, in part:

Korean Air award chart

Korean Air zones

One of the best values, in my opinion, is New York to Seoul Incheon to Hong Kong, the whole way in Korean Air Airbus 380 first class.

Korean Air even allows stopover on one-way awards, so we’re talking about a total of 80,000 miles for New York to Seoul Incheon in first class, and then Seoul Incheon to Hong Kong in first class.

Two first class award seats on Korean Air Airbus 380

Two first class award seats on Korean Air Airbus 380

Korean Air does also impose mild fuel surcharges on award redemptions booked through SkyPass, though the booking process is painless since you can find award space online.

So this raises the question, which would you rather do (or I suppose which would you rather read about) — Korean Air/China Southern business class using Delta SkyMiles, or a one-way award redemption in Korean Air first class using Chase Ultimate Rewards points? Let me know in the poll and/or comments section below!

[poll id=”17″]

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. @ Anonymous — Because it’s not so good of a deal that I’d want to do it roundtrip. I’d want to try it for the novelty of flying Korean Air first class, and not because it’s actually the best value out there. Would much rather use 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points for Lufthansa first class via Germany on the return.

  2. Why not redeem korean air on china southern a380 f? looks like they have nice f product. go one way china southern come back korean

  3. China Southern is pretty good, even on China domestic coach, if you are SkyTeam Elite or Elite Plus they come up before takeoff to personally welcome you and offer a cup of water. And they pulled all kinds of strings to zip me through CAN (actually the airport basement through luggage handling) one time when my PEK-CAN was delayed by weather, holding my CAN-KUL till I boarded, even though was in coach.

    Go ahead and sample different airlines!

  4. I really vote that you do both eventually, but I think that readers with SkyMiles would find the business class round trip experience very useful. There are so many things that can be done with UR points, but getting to Asia with SkyMiles is something people seem to think is inordinately difficult when in reality it can be done without too much pain and suffering. I think it’d be great if you did something that allowed you to leverage the stopover and open jaw allowances with DL and that includes medium-haul J on CZ/KE/VN/MU/FM/CI.

  5. @ Phil — Wow, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, and China Southern has a TON of first class award space. Is it as straightforward as booking a Korean award?

  6. @lucky, @Phil: I’d be very curious to find out if you can redeem KE miles for CZ F. Partner F redemptions within SkyTeam seem nearly impossible, given that DL doesn’t allow you to redeem for F and AF makes F accessible only to FlyingBlue elites.

  7. @Mitch:

    The reason it is so hard to redeem F is because DL doesn’t have something comparable to offer in return. My understanding is that the carriers with F allow the others with F to redeem since the reciprocity is there.

  8. How much are the fuel surcharges on KE? I tried to book my trip to KUL last may, but the connection times sucked out of ICN.

  9. I agree that you should try both. That way your readers would have a good report of your experiences with both airlines, and not just one.

  10. @Wandering Aramean: I guess the other F-having ST program I’m familiar with is FlyingBlue, which can’t redeem for F on other ST carriers to the best of my knowledge. I suppose the lack of reciprocity would apply there as well, since AF restricts F awards to their elites.

  11. Hi Lucky, like your other readers, I would love for you to try both plus other SkyTeam partners (i.e. Vietnam, etc). I have mostly Delta miles and always have a tough time finding SkyTeam Business trip reports (aside from Air France and Korean Air now). Thanks for soliciting our input!!

  12. Heck I have 0 Delta miles and in Canada (no Chase rewards here) but for “ordinary” people a Business Class is more reachable than First Class (sorry, I’d rather not see LH F trip report unless it’s “new” like 747-8)

    Plus, I know China Southern A380 is International now but its C/J sucks according to what I read on domestic trip reports.
    Still, lucky, you can document the “progress” of Chinese airlines with this opportunity

    btw, Air China (CA) C/J sucks big time as well.. so if you don’t want to suffer, maybe KE Business one-way, and KE FIRST one-way?

  13. @ Jerry — The only issue is that Delta charges just as much for one-way awards as they charge for roundtrip awards, so I wouldn’t be able to use SkyMiles for the one-way in business class. And it does seem like a big waste to redeem Ultimate Rewards points for Korean Air business class, no?

  14. As someone who is a DL elite and has a bunch of Skymiles sitting around (for the rare opportunity that I find low-level for a trip I want to take), I think the business class round-trip report would be the more useful one.

    With the RGN fares, I’m sure we’ll see a bunch of people flying KE A380 F.

  15. If this is a scouting trip, you really ought to throw a leg of Vietnam Airlines in there, as well. I’d definitely recommend it for a stopover, too – VERY interesting.

  16. It would be nice of you to check out the Prestige and Prestige Sleeper seats! Those looks like a good alternative use of Chase points compared to booking biz class through United.

  17. On the return, how about 9W F using UR to UA? Idk if they have F Asia to India, but if not, you could just take 9W, OZ, NH, TG, or if you’re lucky( well I guess you are all the time) SQ biz to India. no one ever seems to do this,

  18. Let’s go all out and make this the SkyTeam Asia mega-route!:



    Satisfies the MPM for LAX-SGN and BKK-LAX and uses all eight allowed segments with seven different carriers.

  19. If 9W F doesn’t work, you could also return with these other non alliance options.

    EK F through JAL and SPG, or AS and SPG.

    HA biz, can’t you do it withHHonors or something?

    or 9W J, they have dom

  20. Is this going to be followed by a Europe trip including AZ new magnifica AF F and KL and CSA intra Europe?

  21. I’d like to see the business class review. They are less commonly talked about redemption of SkyMiles, but generally have good availability to Asia and also USA-Australia via Asia. I wasn’t aware of the new CZ business class product, which looks great (very similar to AZ’s new biz class).

    KE first looks great and the value is good with UR points, but there are a lot less people who would take advantage of it. The biz class redemption is applicable to all DL fliers.

  22. I voted for the usage of Delta Skymiles- would love to see how lovely the experience is with trying to redeem Skymiles on partners. That and I’m really interested in seeing how another Chinese airline stacks up- my experience with Air China having been less than spectacular.

    Since you can transfer UR points to Korean Air, it makes me wonder why don’t more people use that for Skyteam redemptions rather than Delta. Would love to see an eval of international frequent flyer programs…

  23. @Lucky “Delta charges just as much for one-way awards as they charge for roundtrip awards”

    The trick here is to price the return as low level coach. Then you pay 90k for one-way business instead of 120k (which is what you would be charged for a roundtrip or if you put in no return at all.. the coach return brings down the mileage cost compared to no return, funny huh?).

  24. Would like to see combination of Korea, china southern, and Vietnam business. Lucky, I see a lot of comments want to see the sky team option but your result is listing the ur point as having more votes. Are the vote and result links reversed by any chance?

  25. Lucky, I agree with Euro that evaluations of FF programs of international airlines would be interesting to see.

    @Valerie, maybe more people are voting in the poll than commenting.

  26. Don’t sell yourself short coins! If you can get on MU’s 33E you’ll get a fantastic flat bed – a hard product that beats KE’s J IMHO.

    Excellent ferragamo amenity kit plus you’ll get to wear another pair of PJ’s in the lounge of your choice.

    I had to take MU due to DL blackout dates so KE wasn’t an option and I was blown away. YQ is fairly minimal as well.

    P.S. – For Europe trips don’t forget about AZ’s flat bed 777 retrofit flying LAX-FCO with good availability. Nice value there for your Skymiles stash as well.

  27. I’d be curious about china souther and Korean air business class since I am a skymiles member and diamond so try have me by the ba{ls. I am thinking of going to Phuket either on china souther or Korean air ( depending on space availability) so hard to figure it out.

  28. Perhaps not the most straightforward route, but how about AF/KL through AMS? You can just as easily transfer points to Flying Blue and redeem Business class to Asia. Or if you have status with FB, for First on Air France.

  29. That’s very interesting seeing that HKG is at only 80,000. I’ve never flown KE First class, but would love to see a trip report!

  30. Have you considered China Airlines (CI) ? they have some pretty decent product and very wide network intra-China if thats what you want.

  31. @ Valerie — Hah, I can promise the poll isn’t rigged!

    @ Mac — Ah, so that’s the mystery airline! Which route did you fly them on?

    Also, didn’t realize the AZ 777s are already reconfigured. Very tempting, in that case…

  32. @ Xandrios — Only the fuel surcharges would be VERY high, and AF/KL don’t have flat bed seating, so not all that tempted, frankly.

    @ B950222 — Hadn’t previously considered it, but am now!

  33. @ Pablo — IF it’s possible, booking through Korean Air would be the way to go. Investigating it right now…

  34. @Lucky

    PVG-HNL (2x weekly service) tons of award space.

    I believe the new birds are also on YVR-PVG but availability in J is much harder to find. Sadly not to LAX or JFK yet as those are still MU’s dumpy 346’s to my knowledge.

    You can find the new plane on MU’s site. When pricing out an itin ’33E’ designates new plane & J flat bed product.

    BTW 80k Skymiles in J r/t HNL to anywhere in SE Asia + getting flat beds is a fantastic deal. We did HNL-ICN-DPS (KE), dest, DPS-SIN (KL), SIN-NRT (DL reconfig 747), stop NRT-PVG-HNL (MU). Awesome value.

  35. @lucky I quite enjoyed KE J on the 388 from ICN-JFK (KE81). The walk-up bar was pretty cool, and so was the duty-free downstairs. I’ve heard mixed things about KE F from the hoards on the RGN mistake. Could still be fun though šŸ™‚

    If it were up to me, I’d save the UR points, and get rid of the SkyMiles on KE/CZ.

  36. How does one book reward travel on china southern? I know KE you have to call Delta to do it, but wasn’t sure how for China Southern. Thanks!

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