Korean Air Eliminating First Class on 27 Routes

I’m a big fan of Korean Air SkyPass both for its reasonable award chart and for the availability of first class on its own aircraft. While availability isn’t as great as it once was, and Korean Air is no longer a Chase transfer partner, I have plenty of Korean Air points still to work with thanks to pre-emptive transfers I made prior to the end of that relationship.

Korean Air remains a Marriott transfer partner, and credit card earning is possible in the US via their US Bank co-brand partnership.

While Korean Air’s first class lags in quality behind many other Asian carriers, I’ve especially liked that I could fly to Asia in first class and connect onward in first class as well because much of their intra-Asia route network offered a first class cabin. That’s being scaled back.

  • Currently Korean Air offers first class to more than half of the destinations they serve.

  • They’re dropping first class from 27 routes, however, leaving it on just 35 routes or about a third of their route network.

No doubt this makes sense, first class isn’t likely to be sold on intra-Asia routes and competitors rarely offer international first on short- and medium-haul routes so competitive concerns don’t dictate offering the product to connecting passengers beyond Seoul.

Indeed on my last Korean Air trip I was alone in (old) first class for my connecting segment to Singapore.

We can expect first class to remain on long haul services to Europe and North America. And fortunately some Asian destinations will keep a first class cabin as well,

Currently, the air carrier does not offer a first-class option on most of its short-distance flights bound for cities in China, Japan and Southeast Asian countries.

For short-distance flights, Korean Air said it will offer first-class seats only on major routes such as those to Beijing, Osaka, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta and Hanoi.

The specific routes losing a first class cabin haven’t been released.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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  1. Forgot about those odd intra Asia 3 cabin planes with first seats that are more like biz class

  2. For short hops within asia i’m not soo concerned with being in F, J is good enough and depending on the airline sometimes J isnt mmj uch different than economy.

  3. I flew GMP-KIX in F two weeks ago as the second leg after JFK-ICN and a stay in Seoul (Korean’s one-way stayover rule ftw). While there were 9 out of 12 seats occupied on the JFK-ICN flight, with three of those taken by Brie Larson and her entourage on the way to the Endgame press tour, first class GMP-KIX was just me and my wife. So this announcement does not surprise me at all.

  4. Based on my own tickets, I am guessing that Phnom Penh got the chop and Ho Chi Minh did not.

  5. On A330s, Korean Air used to designate the first row of Apex Suites as first class. That was a cruel joke because those are the very same seats as business (Prestige) class. The service was also not worthy of being called first class.

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