Will new Delta – Korean JV partnership mean KE moves to GROUP 1 earning partner? What else does this mean for us?

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rene from Delta Points trying to get into the Korean Air lounge LAX Skyteam

Welcome to our Group 4 partner!

For a number of years now Delta has relegated Korean Airlines (KE) to the bottom of the earnings barrel aka Group 4 with those they really don’t like very much like Alaska, Hawaiian and Westjet.

will ke become group 1 partner

Click and you will be depressed

This has been an embarrassment since KE is a founding member of Skyteam and relegating them to the basement of earnings compared to the other “cool kids” in the Skyteam has been really frustrating.

group 1 delta partners earnings chart

We like these airlines!

The result has been surprising to many because they have gone and purchased tickets, that were often much cheaper on the KE website, and then credited those flights to Delta and then they see their points end up like this:

ke earnings if not a code-share flight is NO NO NO

What part of NO don’t you get?

Zeros across the board. Now the workaround to this was to always book on Delta.com KE flights as a Delta code-share and then you would earn full points. The downside was you were often times paying a MUCH higher price for the ticket this way than booking either on KE or on an OTA.

Well now in a photo opp and with a long press release that is slim on facts and details we learn in part that:

Highlights of the agreement, subject to regulatory approvals, include:

The intent to create a fully integrated trans-Pacific joint venture arrangement, with both airlines sharing the costs and revenues on flights and coordinating schedules for seamless, convenient connections.
A combined network, serving more than 290 destinations in the Americas and more than 80 in Asia, providing customers of both airlines with more travel choices than ever before.
Enhanced frequent flyer benefits, providing customers of both airlines the ability to earn and redeem miles on Delta’s Sky Miles and Korean Air’s SKYPASS programs.

“This agreement deepens our longstanding partnership with Korean Air and will provide the global access and seamless service our customers demand,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “We look forward to providing customers of both carriers with industry-leading service between the U.S. and Asia.” – Delta News Hub (bold mine)

There is that word we hate so much again i.e. “enhanced”. What exactly does this mean? I have reached out to Delta and asked will this in fact mean a move back to Group 1 partner from the basement of Group 4? When will this move (if they do move) happen? What about tickets we already have purchased will they earn full points as a Delta flyer.

I will be sure to update this post when I get more info back but let’s hope this announcement is more than just fluff.

As a personal take, knowing how rough Delta plays with it’s friends and enemies, I’m guessing if all the moves are positive ones for us as frequent flyers it means KE is finally paying Delta what they have demanded for years. If so it could be many good changes for both earning and burning and even maybe Global Upgrades on KE are on the way (we can hope)! Time will tell. – René


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  1. I am pretty sure this will be the end of cheaper flights on Korean. As you mentioned in your post booking flights on Korean were usually cheaper than booking as Delta. I believe those days are gone now.

  2. Hi Rene;

    I don’t know anything about the history between Delta and Korean Airline and how Korean ended up as group 4.

    What you do mean by “…it means KE is finally paying Delta what they have demanded for years.”?


  3. @MW – If you look at prices on KLM or AF (dot com) you will see they (mostly) match up with Delta. However, if you search for tickets on KE website you will see prices often MUCH cheaper than on DL website. Thus Delta made the change to not reward flyers for booking on KE vs on DL (and using your SkyMiles number on the ticket to get credit). My guess is that will soon change and as Santastico highlights the cheaper tickets on KE site will go away and match the prices on Delta.com

  4. @John the Wanderer – Yes! Time will tell. My Delta PR contact says no updates on those questions for now. We must wait! 🙁

  5. My gut tells me this will be the end of Delta’s intra-Asia presence at Tokyo. Korean already flies to everywhere Delta does in Asia out of NRT.

  6. Rene – when booking with a partner airline within Europe (Alitalia or Air France), how do you get credited with Delta miles?

    Also, I’m wondering if the timing of a new deal with KE has anything to do with the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. I’m sure Delta would love people to blow all of their miles to get there and back. With that sad, I’m really hoping we’ll be able to earn MQMs by then since I’m anticipating flying on KE to get there

  7. @Matt – Just make sure your SkyMiles number is in the record and the fare class is one of the approved ones on Delta.com

  8. Good news from DL for a change. I’m very happy the jv is with KE and not MU. ICN is much better than PVG for connections and lounges ( priority pass) among other things.

    Since DL is scaling back its Asian service, being able to use GUCs on KE is a must. It would also be great if DL got access to gates at the ICN main terminal.

    I think it could be a mistake for DL to abandon NRT especially if it could not reestablish routes from Japan in the future.

  9. Hey @Rene-
    Newbie Question: Does status help someone score an upgrade on an international flight, or are upgrades only on domestic flights?

  10. @Todd – Yes if the flight is oversold in coach they will, before they bump people, do what is called an OP-UP or operational upgrade starting with Diamonds then down the list. This is only international as domestic all the upgrades are done the std. way.

  11. Regarding the price for flights on Korean Air, I think KE will have problems if it does away with cheaper flights to Korea. There are large Korean-American communities in some US cities, including Atlanta, who count on these fares for travel to Korea. That’s one reason why KE flies A380s to ATL. Making the Korean-American community pay sky high Delta prices could have a big backlash or drive them to other airlines like Asiana and others.

  12. Has delta announced with the JV more award space will open on KE? Most of the time I only see 1 seat available in J. There also seems to be backouts.

  13. @Evan – As mentioned in the post all this was, was a photo op. This thing is light on ANY details and specifics. We wait to see what (if any) good comes out of this latest “enhancement” to the programs. 😉

  14. @rene question for you — I need to book a SFO-ICN trip for end of june and need to decide whether to book the KE direct flight or not. KE as of this writing is still a group 4 carrier, so I have the following question:

    If I were to book the flight today, and between now and departure date KE is moved to group 1, do you think that change would still reflect for my ticket?

    Also, any new insights from your sources as to when this might happen? 😉

  15. @Olivier – It is a long way off and rules at time of booking is what matters for revenue tickets anyway.

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