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SRQ: Which Should Be My Primary Skyteam Airline, Delta or Korean?

by on February 17, 2013 · 4 comments

in Delta Air Lines, Korean Air, skyteam, Sunday Reader Questions, Ultimate Rewards

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TPG reader Eric is putting together a new Skyteam mileage strategy based on upcoming travel and the credit cards he currently has, and is wondering which would be a better choice to be his primary airline frequent flyer program, Delta or Korean Air. Here’s his question:

“SkyTeam is the only alliance within which I don’t have a frequent flyer account and I’m looking to add one because I have upcoming flights on both Alitalia and Vietnam Airlines for work. I have a Sapphire Preferred card, so do you think that Korean would be a better option than Delta because it is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards? Are there any advantages that Delta would provide me that Korean couldn’t? Again, this is more to ‘catch’ some miles that I’d otherwise consider ‘excess’ because I normally fly within Star Alliance or on Alaska, which tend to be most convenient in Northern California, where I’m based.”

Korean Airlines has a quirky mileage program and you can read about my Experience Booking Award Tickets On Korean Air Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points as well as Upgrading on Korean Air Using Ultimate Rewards Points.

When it comes to earning miles on Korean – which is what you’re concerned about – it all depends on the fare class that you buy since you can earn between 70-200% of the flown miles based on which class you’re ticket is coded into. Check out Korean’s earning rates here, and have a quick look at them below.

Korean's earning structure.

Korean’s earning structure.

You also earn Delta SkyMiles based on what fare class your ticket is in, but the earning and redemption rules tend to be a bit  more straightforward.

Since you asked about Alitalia and Vietnam Airlines in particular, here are the charts for those two airlines.

Earning Delta miles on Alitalia.

Earning Delta miles on Alitalia.

So here you’re earning 100% base miles on any class of service, a 50% bonus on premium economy and business, and up to 200% elite-qualifying MQM’s depending on your fare in a pretty generous bonus structure based on your fare.

With Vietnam Airlines, the miles-earning looks like this:

Delta's miles-earning chart for Vietnam Airlines.

Delta’s miles-earning chart for Vietnam Airlines.

So the earning opportunity is much less here at between just 75-100% of base miles just a 25% bonus for business class and only between 50-75% of MQM’s – I guess Delta doesn’t esteem Vietnam Airlines much in terms of elite status!

Now, looking at the fact that you’re based in the US Northwest as well as the difference in accrual rates and elite-qualifying rates, I would say that Delta is probably your airline of choice.

First, not only is the mileage-accrual more generous than Korean’s on the carriers you mentioned, unless you’re buying the most expensive fare classes, but the elite-qualifying miles accrual is much better as well, which will make a big difference if you achieve status after a few flights on either or both partner airlines as you start to get new benefits like priority check-in, boarding and still more miles-earning bonuses. However, keep in mind that the Medallion program is changing as of now for 2014 qualification based on how much you spend on Delta airfares, so you will need to spend a certain amount to keep up your status. In general, I value US based elite status more than accruing in a foreign program- mostly because you forego domestic elite upgrades if you choose to bank with a foreign program.

This might shift your entire frequent flyer strategy, especially if you’re considering flying Delta more thanks to your upcoming trips on its partners, or unique facets of the Medallion program that other airlines don’t match, such as elite upgrades on award tickets.

In addition, Delta recently announced an expanded relationship with Alaska, which will impact the travel in your part of the world since Alaska’s a big player there and if you fly the airline you could consider banking more of your miles to Delta.

You mention you have the Sapphire Preferred card, which is one of my all-time top travel credit cards thanks, in part, to its partnership with Korean Air. However, I tend to transfer the Ultimate Rewards points I earn with it to United or Hyatt instead since both these partners present a lot more high-value redemptions and Korean Air’s redemption process is rather byzantine and involves faxing at certain points.

I will admit that redeeming Delta SkyMiles can be complex, exhausting and even fruitless at times, but with a little patience and knowing where to search, you can find some great redemptions with them and if you’re just starting out with Skyteam as a US-based flyer, going with Delta is a good way to get your bearings and start a powerful points-earning strategy.

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  • James

    Just answered my exact question TPG; thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.brennan.3597 Joe Brennan

    Have been very happy with my Korean Air SkyPass experience. No problem with upgrades and great seats and service in the air. Have bought both economy and BC fares and very satisfied with the experience. Incheon Airport is also great for layovers. Most of my travel is from Honolulu to Hanoi/Bangkok/Phnom Penh.

  • fede flyer

    DO you guys know a way to transfer my miles points from Flying blue to Delta frequent flyer program? It could be interesting for me..thanks!

  • http://www.nomadcapitalist.com/ Nomad Capitalist

    Can’t do it.

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