Is a $1700 First Class Seoul Roundtrip Ticket Even a Good Deal?

Matt at Saverocity penned an important post about whether or not a $1700 3-cabin first class roundtrip between Boston and Seoul is even a good deal.

He points out that my tweet included #ScreaminDeal #Hurry and wrote,

How about Hashtag #Bollocks #to #you?

The deal, that is, not the tweeter, he is just sharing what his readers want.

Let’s explore this, with a scenario. It assumes that you actually get off the plane, stay say 3 nights, and get out of your hotel room… of course you might just want to fly there and back which is just magical, and I wish you good speed….

And he goes on to posit that you’re going to spend ~ $2400 per person on the trip. That’s still a lot of money, and there are other things you can do with that money.


Matt’s post brings up for me something I’ve learned about the frequent flyer community over time, and that’s that it isn’t really one community, or rather one group of people all with the same set of goals.

There are people who like travel, people who like math games, and people who just like planes. Aviation junkies and travel nuts aren’t the same. Some people want to live as cheaply as possible and that’s why they chase a deal, and others want to get as many experiences as possible and deals let them do that in relative comfort.

That and that decision-making happens at the margin.

If you’re at a margin where $1700 x 2 tickets or a given getaway is the difference between funding an IRA and not, then it’s probably wise to scrap the discretionary trip and set aside money for retirement.

But if you’re already funding your retirement, and one of the things you do spend money on is travel, where you go may be influenced by where you can get the best deal. Should I go to Seoul next, if I haven’t been, or to Buenos Aires? Relative prices matter, whether you can do a long trip quickly because of the relative comfort matters (preferences, age factor here).

A quick search on ITA for BOS-ICN roundtrip in economy, 2-6 nights with a departure any time in August, shows lowest price trips ranging $1149 – $2033 depending on day you leave and length of trip.

The Seoul fare is not even close to FREE TRAVEL. But it compares well with the regular price for coach.

So let me say — unequivocably — from where I’m coming from, this was an absolutely fantastic deal.

If you’re going to take a trip outside the U.S., the fare meant a chance to do it in first class for about the price of coach.

And since it earns a 150% class of service bonus (ean 2.5x flown miles) you’re picking up about an extra 24,000 redeemable miles to boot. Plus the tickets are refundable. So it may be a better financial deal than buying coach, even aside from the inflight comfort (which is something I’ll pay a premium for).

That’s the sort of calculus you’re going to do, or should do — how does this stack up against what you would otherwise be doing? Again, at what margin? Factor in incremental price, tradeoffs, preferences.

Peoples’ tradeoffs are different, their goals and preferences are different. Where Matt — who challenges the idea that a $1700 first class fare (base fare that’s about 90% off the ‘regular’ price) is a good deal — is at, and where many people are in the community.. it doesn’t work for them. And it shouldn’t.

That’s also why there’s a good diversity of blogs, different people writing about similar subject matter from a different perspective.

You find the sites that speak best to you and your interests, or that challenge your thinking, and read those. And there’s enough diversity of voices to do that most of the time.

We often hear outrage! Outrage! At the opinions or advice of others. How could they say that?! Don’t they just realize that…

Not everyone you disagree with is evil or stupid of course, your position may be perfectly logical for maximizing what you value most .. you may be engaging in transcendent criticism where you differ on values, rather than immanent criticism where do differ on how to maximize the same values.

So yes — I think $1700 first class roundtrip US – Seoul is a fantastic deal. But it isn’t something that everyone should do. Given.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Man, you guys like to argue! I’m just here looking for some travel advice….

  2. @Matt

    I don’t understand your jabs at Gary’s credit card posts, particularly in the context of, “If you were financially free, you could post without affiliate links.”

    1. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on here: Those affiliate links bring him revenue above and beyond his day job, hopefully contributing to that specific financial independence you say he should strive for. But you seem to imply that he should NOT want to bring in multiple sources of somewhat passive income, which is a bit contradictory.

    2. As he also says, not everyone wants to quit their jobs. If I were financially free, I would still have to do something with my time. My job is a relatively unstressful, 40-hour a week gig where I can choose how and when I put my hours in. It pays well, or well enough anyway, and I kinda like it. I don’t go to work every day praying for the day I can quit my job. I get 4 weeks of paid vacation, which will bump until 5 in a few years. I can flex my time, so I can get the random three-day weekend without having to take PTO, or for that matter, even so much as ask my boss.

    Are you advocating that I were financially free, that I could take *two* one-month vacations each year? Would you believe me if I told you that really isn’t much of an incentive, and I’m happy with what I’ve got?

    3. Don’t forget when you do all of these TVM calculations about what $1700 saved for 30 years will be worth, that you properly discount inflation to give an accurate NPV. It’s misleading to talk about what that money will be worth in 2045 without talking about what things are going to cost. If I assume a 7% return on my investments and 2.7% rate of inflation, then I get a multiplier on today’s dollars, 30 years from now, of 3.5. IOW, that $1700 if I don’t spend it, will be worth about %6000. That’s not a number big enough to get my attention.

    4. I’m a fan of *conscious* spending. If you (the general you) know what you’re spending your money and why, that’s good enough for me. I will take points away if you follow that up with “but I don’t know why my credit card balances keep getting larger.”

    5. I’m lucky that my job requires my brain and that’s it. Even if I were a quadriplegic, I can still do my job. You can bet that if I needed a healthy body to support myself, that my views on this would be different.

  3. 1. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on here: Those affiliate links bring him revenue above and beyond his day job, hopefully contributing to that specific financial independence you say he should strive for. But you seem to imply that he should NOT want to bring in multiple sources of somewhat passive income, which is a bit contradictory.

    Both Gary and I have the same comp models. We have affiliate links and CPM (pageviews)you don’t need to write affiliate driven content to receive compensation from the blog.

    My goal is to build my CPM to a point where it covers expenses (my monthly total outflows), and if someone decides to consciously find my affiliate links (that I don’t put into a post) I appreciate it. The links don’t drive the content, and I am ‘free’ to talk.

    Hope that makes sense?

    2. If you were financially free you could quit, take 10 years off, not quit – doesn’t matter. It’s very hard to build a case against that 🙂

    3. Saying that your money will be worth less in the future due to inflation is valid, but it shouldn’t stop you from saving, in fact it should make you want to save more!

    4. Yes! Be aware- that’s the point of me being a whiny old crouch 🙂

    5. I don’t know.. I can do my job with my brain too, but I can’t live the life I do now with it. I currently put about 10-15hrs a week into a physical hobby, and I love the learning from it. Life is more than a job, which is why I promote financial independence, so we can separate ourselves from that.

  4. You.seth matt are closet homosexuals with beards.Come out of the closet already.

  5. +1 @ Steve

    Holy unnecessary critique and response Batman! Are there really people who see a deal and rush off to buy it just because some guy on the internet said so? Travel bloggers/writers have always appeared to me to be a great resource for deals I may not otherwise hear about, but at the end of the day, I get to decide if a particular deal works for me or not.

    I had to click over to Matt’s site to read the article because I didn’t want to come off as critical without having seen for myself what prompted this LENGTHY exchange, but as someone who views travel purely as a leisure, entirely discretionary expense, it doesn’t seem to me that this discussion was even worth having.

    Of course there are other ways this money could be spent and the suggested alternatives are perfectly lovely, but the snark in the post combined with the cheap shots over here seem so obviously attention seeking, I have to commend you, Gary, for bothering to get this much into it.

    Kee-rist. Some people just really effing love travel and are prepared to make certain sacrifices for it–assuming that’s even an issue for them, which, for this particular audience, might be a big damn assumption. You want to advise people on how you think they can best spend their money, by all means do, but I can’t see any other reason to frame the point so aggressively and drag wholly unrelated people into it other than to tap an audience that is currently lacking.

    Anyway, thanks for the links on home ownership, fellas. At least this hullabaloo was good for something.

  6. I respect both Gary and Matt so can we just get back to the topic of this $1700 fare. It was a very, very good price but — as with many other price mistakes/deals — it doesn’t mean that everyone should’ve jumped on it.
    It’s pretty self-explanatory 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.