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A quick look at Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges

I actually scheduled this article to be posted while I visit Hong Kong next week, but since people are flipping out about Delta’s latest devaluation I moved it up the queue. When I wrote about Korean Air award holds the other day, I decided to poke around and test out some flights to Europe on Skyteam partner airlines. I found that Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges run much lower than I had thought. I’d argue that travel hackers should look more and more to using Korean Air miles.

I spent most of my time looking at fuel surcharges to Europe in business class, because that’s where the real sweet spot is. 80,000 Korean Air miles for round trip in Delta business class vs. 140,000 Delta miles for the same flights, IF the fuel surcharges are worth it. Before I get into my East Coast biased research (that’s not a joke), let me say that I’m just positing that you should consider Korean Air award tickets as an option, but by no means do I think they offer a slam dunk. Some things you should know before we get started.

  • Korean Air Skyteam awards must be booked for round trip travel
  • Virgin Atlantic can also book Delta flights (but not other Skyteam). 90K RT from select East Coast cities like Boston, 100K RT otherwise, no stopovers
  • Korean Air Skyteam awards allow one stopover
  • Like with all Korean Air awards, you can only book for family members in your family plan
  • You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air

Why Korean Air is worth considering

Straight up, Virgin Atlantic presents a better value than Korean Air for Delta flights to Europe. No fuel surcharges and it’s cheaper. When you decide between Korean Air and Delta miles, you need to ask yourself whether 60,000 Delta miles (the price difference) are worth the cash outlay for fuel surcharges. For Virgin Atlantic that difference in miles is as low as 10,000 miles, so in general you’re better off with Virgin Atlantic, since both KE and VS transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

However, you still should keep Korean Air in your arsenal. With Korean Air, you can get one stopover, you can’t get that with Virgin Atlantic so that might make it worth it. You also need to go through the regular decision making process – do you have a surplus of X currency lying around, can you get a better deal transferring MR to Virgin Atlantic instead, etc. etc. For this post I only used itineraries that you can’t book on VS, but tons of itineraries on VS exist so I suggest you seek them out.

So let’s not bury the lede here: in many instances paying the fuel surcharges on Korean Air might be worth it. Especially if you have a lap infant since they only cost 10% of the miles instead of 10% of the revenue fare (which could be $600-$1000). Now lots of this hinges on Delta availability, which can be great for Bostonians like myself, but not so great if you live in a small city. Still, Delta business class availability for four this July:

BOS-CDG (one way)

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

JFK-CDG (one way)

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

DTW-CDG (one way)

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

Award availability should be similarly good to cities like London. A lot of people live in those three cities and award availability is decent from others, so don’t let people tell you otherwise. Delta sucks because of unpredictability, but that doesn’t mean its award space sucks.

Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges to Europe on partners

So before I get into the numbers, I should address that I mostly focused on business class flights. That’s because the mileage difference is way more stark between Delta miles and Korean Air miles for business (140,000 vs. 80,000). In economy, a 10,000 mile difference (60,000 vs 50,000) presents much less value.

So let’s see what we got, starting with my hometown of Boston.

  Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think! Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

So this itinerary costs you 80,000 KE miles and $513.22. On Delta:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

On Delta it’ll cost you 140,000 miles and $139.76 (I chose the wrong flight for screenshot but the fuel surcharges should be the same). So the question to ask yourself: Are 60,000 Delta miles or Membership Rewards worth $373.46 cents to me? 

There’s no right answer to that question. Maybe you use Barclays Arrival points to pay the $373.46, that’s different than using cash, which, famously, is fungible. But that difference came out much smaller than I had expected.

Here’s Detroit-London:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

So Detroit to London in Delta business class using KE miles costs 80,000 miles and $546.59. Delta?

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

So Delta costs 140,000 miles and $260.66. So again, are 60,000 Delta miles/MR worth $285.93 to you?

To me, there’s no right or wrong answer here, but this definitely puts Korean Air on my radar in terms of options to Europe.

One Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharge example to Asia on partners

One award redemption that had Gary Leff downright chagrined was LAX-PVG. I didn’t search this route for my original post but I let curiosity get the best of me so I figured I’d share. Here’s LAX-PVG outbound on Delta:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

PVG-LAX return on Delta:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

I included both options since the rage revolves around how it costs 15,000 extra miles on partner airlines (justified rage). Anyway, this flight costs anywhere from 160,000 Delta miles and $220 to 190,000 Delta miles and $350.

On Korean Air:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

The equivalent flights on Delta would cost 175,000 miles and $220. So in this case, are 20,000 Delta miles worth $200 to you? Again, just presenting the data (though in this case I personally would go Delta. But if only partners were available, KE becomes very attractive).

One Korean Air stopover example

I did mention that Korean Air offered the stopover benefit, so I wanted to share one example of how great that can be. I took a look at BOS-CDG // CDG-LHR (stopover) / LHR-BOS. Basically, visiting both Paris and London.

The itinerary looks like this on Delta:

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

These flights cost 165,000 miles and $327.76. You need to pay an extra 25,000 for the business class leg between Paris and London since Delta no longer allows stopovers. Same itinerary on Korean Air?

Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

Booking the same flights on Korean Air cost 80,000 Korean Air miles and $701.24. So this time, we’re talking 85,000 Delta miles/Membership Rewards points for $373.48. A clear and present value? In my mind, yes, but do what works best for you and your family.

Final Thoughts

Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges really came out lower than I had expected. They are still at that level that would make me need to make some hard decisions, but it’s great to have another option to get to Europe, especially from the East Coast. Yes, Delta’s unpredictability sucks, but I find little use whining about it these days.

Instead, I encourage you to leverage their decent award space and book with other partners. I used to think that Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue were the only viably realistic ones, but looking at the sizable yet not exorbitant Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges, now I’ve got a third option. And so do you! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to write another post to schedule for vacation. Thanks for nothing, Delta!

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Korean Air has some great mileage deals - but here's what you will pay for Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges - which aren't as bad as you might think!

Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

7 thoughts on “A quick look at Korean Air award ticket fuel surcharges”

  1. Does Korean have different rules for flying on Skyteam carriers than flying only on Korean metal? I flew one way IAD to ICN earlier this year in Korean first. I assume you are correct but just want to confirm.

  2. Timely article as 1) I’m exploring a summer trip with our infant 2) I’m out of MSP (DL hub) 3) I have UR to burn that I can transfer to Korean. So as I search on DL for biz class award space that can be booked with Skypass miles 70.000 is the award level I should be looking for? If so, I’m having terrible luck finding many options from FCO, MXP, CDG, AMS, etc.

    1. I think if it’s partner awards (like Air France) it will show as 87.5K, they have that new dynamic award pricing for partners.

      What I’d suggest is creating your family accounts in Korean Air and searching on there. Whatever space they see on there you can book for sure. Don’t need to transfer miles until you find something you like. Another thing you can do is check from BOS, which generally has good space, or DTW which looked pretty good when I wrote this a few weeks ago. Then figure out a way to get there. Possibly you could still save money that way.

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