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As you know, I’m headed to Seoul this week and I’ve recently become adept at redeeming Korean SkyPass miles, so I got TPG editor Eric a one-way ticket on Korean’s A380 in their most up-to-date lie-flat Prestige business class to join me for 62,500 miles, which I transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards. Here’s his review of the flight. Although it initially looked like I would have to fly on Korean Air’s Flight 2 aboard an A330 that stopped in Tokyo Narita on the way to Seoul, when I called the airline to check award availability, it turned out there were seats aboard the airline’s nonstop A380 flight, so I chose that instead not only because of the convenience factor, but also because the aircraft features the airline’s latest business class product, the Prestige Sleeper seat. My award ticket required 62,500 miles + $170.10 one-way, or would have cost $3,200 – getting me a value of over 5 cents per mile/Chase Ultimate Reward point. Tom Bradley International Terminal is a bit of a mess at the moment (hopefully that will be fixed once they complete the upgrades), so getting to the Korean Air check-in was a bit of a production, but at least there was no line in the SkyPriority queue and I was checked in within a minute flat and given a pass to the Korean Air lounge. The Lounge The Korean Air lounge is on level 4 of Tom Bradley International Terminal, and to access it, you’ve got to pass through security and then take the single elevator that shuttles guests from the ground floor up to the SkyTeam, and Star Alliance lounges It can get a bit crowded since folks from the various SkyTeam airlines have access as well and there’s just a single lift.
Once there, guests are directed either to the small first class lounge or to the busier Prestige (business class) lounge. The lounge itself isn’t very big, with just one snack area up front. There are plates of fresh fruit and veggies, some finger sandwiches and snacks like pretzels. This area also had a big coffee machine, a refrigerator with soft drinks and beer, and a self-serve bar with some California wines and mid-level liquors like Absolut and Beefeater available.
The lounge was mainly just one big seating area with blue and beige armchairs separated by little wooden side tables with lamps, and a few flatscreens on the wall tuned to news and sports. There was also a small conference room where people were working around the table on computer. There weren’t a ton of outlets, so I chose a spot along one of the walls to plug my gadgets in and charge up for the flight. The bathrooms were nice and bright, and there were some shower suites for passengers who wanted to refresh before their flight or while in transit. Boarding Maybe it was because I took my time walking from the lounge to the gate (which was actually the entire length of one of the wings of the terminal, so it took a while), but by the time I boarded, everything was moving quickly along. Passengers in economy were in a neat, orderly line, and those with first or business class tickets were directed toward the SkyPriority line along one side of the gate area – it was handy that a few gate agents were waving a placard that said SkyPriority and were hustling people through. I boarded directly upstairs to the plane’s all-business-class top deck and walked to the middle cabin (there are smaller front and aft cabins) and was shown my seat.
The Seat The cabin looks pretty much exactly as it does on television and the airline’s website, with 94 seats arranged in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration with Korean Air’s signature teal fabric. I was in the middle row for direct aisle access since I was traveling alone and didn’t want to have to climb over anyone. In terms of dimensions each seat has 78 inches in pitch and is 21.6 inches wide. The seats each had universal adapter plugs for electronics as well as 2 USB ports, the usual three posture settings (upright, reclined and flatbed) and six other directional seating controls.
The 15.4-inch seatback-mounted television was actually a touchscreen, though also controlled by a detachable remote in the armrest and included dozens of Asian and Western movies, television shows, music, games, etc. The headsets weren’t impressive – just normal headphones rather than noise-canceling, but the sound quality was okay.
The overall look of the cabin is clean and reflects the blue sky and fluffy clouds outside the plane, making the space feel light and airy. The lighting effects in the cabin were also pretty cool, changing from a sort of sunset-hued orange-purple to dark blue, then lighting up gradually again for the second meal service and arrival.
Amenities The seatbacks contained gray Korean Air slippers so passengers could remove their shoes and walk around the cabin without getting their socks grimy. Before takeoff, the flight attendants passed out fabric amenity kits including a travel toothbrush and toothpaste set, a folding brush-comb and eye-mask as well as Davi skincare products including lip balm and eye cream. Unfortunately, no pajamas!
The one thing that was really missing was ear plugs – an essential when trying to get some sleep on a long flight. Luckily, the flight attendants had disposable pairs to hand out on request, so I was able to snag some, but I don’t know why they’re not standard with the amenities kits. Food and Drink As is typical with Asian airlines, each of the meals (lunch and dinner) included both Eastern and Western options. Lunch started with a roasted zucchini and eggplant rolled with cream cheese and an appetizer of seared tuna with sesame dressing or tomato cream soup. For a main, I chose the typical Korean bibimbap with minced beef, seasonal vegetables, sesame oil and Gochujang hot pepper paste. The Western choices were either grilled beef tenderloin with thyme-red wine sauce, or roasted cod with chive cream sauce over angel hair. Next came the cheese tray and then lemon tart and ice cream for dessert.
Mid-flight, the attendants put out snacks in the galley areas and served ramen soup bowls to those who asked as well as fresh-baked cookies. A couple hours before landing, dinner was served. It included a light garden salad with Italian dressing, main course choices of braised chicken bulgogi, seafood linguini with herb-cream sauce or pork and shrimp wonton noodle soup, with seasonal fresh fruit to finish. Just a side note: they brightened the cabin for this meal service and then made it dark again afterwards. It was slightly jarring since it was bright as day for about an hour there and dark otherwise. My suggestion would be if you want to sleep through the flight, to ask them not to disturb you and to wear your eye mask and ear plugs. For my flight it was fine since I didn’t want to sleep too much and end up jet lagged. The wine list was decent but not remarkable. The onboard champagne was Laurent-Perrier while the white wines included a white Bordeaux Chateau Saint Genes 2010 and Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc. The red wines were Chateau Haut Bages Monpelou 2007 from Bordeaux and Robert Mondavi Privatre Selection 2010 Merlot from California. The interesting thing was, the glasses were tiny Schott Zwiesel glasses the size of thimbles, so flight attendants had to constantly pour and repour. Cocktails and other spirits included Chivas Regal 18 Year Old Rare, Glenfiddich 15-Year, Absolut, Beefeater and Bacardi as well as Tio Pepe Dry Sherry and Sandeman’s Founders Reserve Port. Though the service was at times brusque – I think this had more to do with the language barrier, though most of the ladies on my flight spoke English quite well. Overall, the flight attendants were very efficient and friendly, smiling, stopping to chat and make sure passengers were comfortable. Several even taught me some Korean words and phrases.
The aft bar area of the top deck is called Celestial Bar & Lounge and is actually a collaboration between Korean Air and Absolut vodka. Between and after meal services, there is a bartender on duty (one of the flight attendants) who mixes signature cocktails from a special menu for passengers. The lounge was designed with special, shimmery wallpaper with swirls of clouds, vines and Absolute bottles. The lounge also has a small bookshelf with art and travel books for passengers to flip through. The crew put out little snacks like candy, sandwiches and canapés to nibble on as well, and because this was a day flight, there were several passengers hanging out at any given time. The downside is, there’s nothing else to drink there – it’s all Absolut cocktails all the time. Still, the one with champagne and ice wine with an orange twist was delicious, and passengers could always venture to the front snack bar to find other goodies.
You can also wander down the aft staircase to the small duty free showcase where a flight attendant is on duty to spritz you with various perfumes and try to sell you liquor, but it’s pretty neat to have a fancy little boutique onboard the plane. I had high expectations for Korean Air given their sleek marketing and the mileage requirement for an award ticket, and I have to say, my expectations were met. The cabin was spotless, the service was diligent (and I love the uniforms), the food was tasty enough for an airplane, the entertainment was good and the ride was smooth. All in all, I had a great experience. If you want to book Korean awards, you can now search and book at Delta.com and use your SkyMiles at 120,000 miles roundtrip for business class to Asia and 80,000 for economy (Delta does not permit Korean First Class awards).
With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
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