Asiana vs. Korean Air: Which Is Best?

There's no clear winner, but soon you won't have to choose — the airlines are merging, pending regulatory approval.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Asiana Airlines and Korean Air are the two largest international airlines based in South Korea. And these two airlines might soon become one. In November 2020, Korean Air announced that it would acquire Asiana Airlines. The combined airline would be named Korean Air and become the seventh-largest airline in the world. However, at the time of writing, regulators are still holding up the deal.

For now, the two are operating as separate airlines. If you're considering flying to — or through — South Korea, here's our analysis of Asiana versus Korean Air.

Where they’re based and where they fly

Winner: Korean Air

Korean Air operates flights to many more destinations, including more than double the number of U.S. routes that Asiana Airlines operates.

Asiana Airlines

Founded in 1988, Seoul-based Asiana Airlines operates flights to 74 cities across 22 countries.

It operates a fleet of 73 aircraft, — including one regional Airbus A320 and four gigantic double-decker Airbus A380 aircraft.

Asiana Airlines currently operates flights to five U.S. cities:

  1. Honolulu.

  2. Los Angeles.

  3. New York-John F. Kennedy.

  4. San Francisco.

  5. Seattle.

Korean Air

Also based in Seoul, Korean Air currently operates a fleet of 156 aircraft that flies to 120 cities in 43 countries. That includes flights to 11 U.S. airports:

  1. Atlanta.

  2. Boston.

  3. Chicago-O'Hare.

  4. Dallas-Fort Worth.

  5. Honolulu.

  6. Las Vegas.

  7. Los Angeles.

  8. New York-JFK.

  9. San Francisco.

  10. Seattle.

  11. Washington-Dulles.

Like Asiana, Korean Air operates a wide variety of aircraft, from 10 140-seat Airbus A220 to 10 407-seat Airbus A380 aircraft.

Travel credit card availability

Winner: Korean Air

Asiana Airlines no longer offers credit cards to U.S.-based credit cardholders. Meanwhile, Korean Air offers three options with a range of benefits.

Asiana Airlines credit cards

Asiana Airlines previously offered two credit cards to U.S. travelers via Bank of America:

  • Asiana Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card.

  • Asiana Airlines Visa Business Card.

However, neither credit card is currently available to new cardholders.

Korean Air credit cards

U.S.-based travelers can apply for one of three Korean SkyPass-branded credit cards:

  • SkyPass Visa Signature Card ($95 annual fee).

  • SkyPass Select Visa Signature Card ($450 annual fee).

  • SkyPass Visa Signature Business Card ($95 annual fee).

All three cards currently offer 30,000 bonus Korean SkyPass miles for spending $3,000 in net purchases in the first 90 days after account opening.

Airline loyalty programs

Winner: Asiana Airlines

Both Asiana and Korean Air offer spectacular redemption rates. However, neither is a transfer partner of any major U.S. bank program, which makes it hard to earn a lot of miles with either program. Asiana Airlines gets the slight edge as Korean Air's valuable partner award chart expires in March 2023.

Asiana Airlines loyalty program

Asiana Club miles are some of the most valuable yet hardest miles to earn. The only major transferable points program that transfers to Asiana is Marriott Bonvoy. You'll get 1 Asiana Club mile per 3 Marriott Bonvoy points transferred. Plus, you can get a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring at least 60,000 Bonvoy points.

For U.S.-based travelers, the excellent redemption rates include:

  • Southern South America for 35,000 miles each way in business class.

  • Business class to Europe from 40,000 miles each way.

  • First class to Europe for just 50,000 miles each way.

  • Africa for 60,000 Asiana miles each way in business class.

Korean Air loyalty program

Like Asiana, Korean Air offers many valuable redemptions but is only a transfer partner of one major transferable points program: Marriott Bonvoy. Get 1 Korean SkyPass mile per 3 Bonvoy points transferred.

Note that Korean SkyPass was previously a Chase Ultimate Rewards® transfer partner. However, that partnership ended in August 2018.

Korean SkyPass offers many similar award redemption rates as Asiana Club. You can fly anywhere in North America in economy for 25,000 miles round-trip, to Europe in business class for 80,000 miles round-trip or to Africa or the Middle East in business class for 120,000 miles round-trip.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Korean Air is increasing award redemption rates as of April 1, 2023. Instead of a region-based award chart, Korean Air is switching to a distance-based award chart that increases the rates on most redemptions.

Extra fees

Winner: Asiana Airlines

Both Asiana and Korean Air include many things that other airlines now charge extra for, including checked bags and free seat selection. However, Korean Air's lack of free seat selection on its cheapest economy tickets gives the a slight edge to Asiana.

Asiana Airlines

On flights between South Korea and the United States, all passengers get two free checked bags of up to 23 kilograms (50 pounds) each. Business class passengers still get two checked bags each, but the weight limit is increased to 32 kilograms (70 pounds) each. Economy passengers need to pay $100 extra to check an overweight bag (up to 70 pounds) and $200 to check an extra standard-sized bag.

Standard economy seat selection is free. However, you'll need to pay extra for front zone seats, duo seats, extra legroom seats and Economy Smartium seats.

You can save 5% on these preferred seat assignments by booking online more than 48 hours in advance.

Korean Air

Like Asiana, Korean Air offers economy passengers two checked bags each of up to 23 kilograms (50 pounds). An extra checked bag costs $200 and overweight bags cost $100 each. Business class passengers get two checked bags of up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) each. That's slightly less than what Asiana offers its business class passengers.

Korean Air provides free standard seat selection for almost all economy passengers. Passengers in more expensive fare classes even get free extra legroom and preferred seat selection. However, passengers on promotional fares (booking code N or T) will have to pay for standard seat selection and cannot purchase extra legroom seats.

In-flight experience

Winner: Tie

Both Asiana and Korean Air provide top-notch in-flight experience on flights, even in economy class. Economy seats are spacious and provide extras not found on most other airlines, from complimentary coat checks to slippers.

Asiana Airlines

(Photo courtesy of Asiana Airlines)

Asiana boasts a spacious economy seat with 34 inches of pitch and a large 11-inch in-flight entertainment screen. The food is high quality with meals recognized by the International Travel Catering Association. Asiana even provides economy passengers amenities like slippers and a toothbrush set on routes to the U.S., Europe and Australia.

Korean Air

(Photo courtesy of Korean Air)

Even in economy, Korean Air boasts an experience "full of comfort and diverse enjoyment beyond comparison." While that might be overstating it, Korean Air economy does offer some unique features. Passengers can store a winter coat at the airport for free for up to five days. And even economy passengers can request an onboard wakeup.

In addition to standard perks like priority check-in and lounge access, Korean Air business class passengers can enjoy an onboard lounge on the Airbus A380 and take a shower upon arrival in Seoul.

Asiana vs. Korean Air, recapped

So which airline is better: Korean Air or Asiana?

In the competition of Asiana versus Korean Air, there isn't a clear winner. Both of these Korean airlines provide a superior experience in each cabin, free checked bags and free standard seat selection on most flights.

In short, you can't go wrong flying either Asiana or Korean Air.

Both airline programs offer valuable award charts, although Korean Air is devaluing its partner award chart in April 2023. However, Korean Air does offer a superior route network and travel credit cards to U.S. travelers.

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