Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France-KLM. They share it with some partners: Kenya Airways, Tarom, Aircalin, and Transavia. It is one of Europe’s major frequent flyer programs, along with Executive Club (British Airways) and Miles&More (Lufthansa group).
The program, while it retains some interesting features, has lost a lot of its value over several years. Some of you may recall the brutal devaluation for earning rates in what was dubbed as April’s Fool (it went into effect on April 1, 2009) – bringing most economy booking classes to earnings as low as 25% on paid fares, often from 100%. Several other devaluations followed, the most recent being the unannounced, unpublicized disappearance of the stopover benefit on awards–previously, you could have one free stopover on award tickets, but that benefit is now gone.
The program still has value though, even if the lack of notice on the change did frustrate program members. In light of this, it’s a good time to analyze the current state of the program and its value.
In a way, this is where Flying Blue shines: a mere 15 segments per calendar year will get you Silver (SkyTeam Elite), while 30 segments will get you Gold (SkyTeam Elite Plus, with lounge access); 60 segments get you Platinum. The published benefits for Platinum are marginal compared to Gold, with the exception of free Economy Comfort on KLM and some Delta flights, but if you actually fly Air France/KLM, the crew will take remarkable care of you. You will also be truly prioritized and well treated in case of irregular operations.
It can be really good or really bad depending on your flying patterns. Earning is quite decent if you fly in paid premium cabins, but can be as low as 20% for some deep-discounted economy flights. The upside is that all Air France and KLM flights will earn miles (and thus status qualifying segments), including their version of basic economy (MiNi).
However, it is actually really hard to keep track exactly of your earnings as the system is quite unbelievably complicated for Air France in particular: there are different earning tables for intercontinental, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, European, and domestic flights – and three different levels of earning for a given booking class in Europe depending on the fare type (that’s overall 67 different possibilities for Air France alone).
For partners, note that all Delta fares accrue miles on Flying Blue. Not all partners will accrue miles in all fare classes, and only SkyTeam partners count towards status.
Miles don’t expire if you take at least one qualifying flight (i.e. that earns status miles) every two years. Unfortunately, miles earned through credit card spend or transferring miles will not extend the expiration date of your miles.
Credit card partners
It is really easy to top up your Flying Blue balance as the program is a transfer partner of all major card issuers (American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou) and Starwood Preferred Guest.
The good part: availability for Flying Blue’s own members is usually quite good, and much better than what Delta can access. There are multiple levels of awards: classic (that’s what we will be focusing on) and flex (which usually cost double the price of classic awards and aren’t a good deal unless you need to get on a specific flight). Classic awards ca be cancelled or modified with a €45 fee.
There again, whether Flying Blue makes sense for you really depends on your flying patterns. Generally, economy awards are priced decently, but you have to keep in mind that Flying Blue has some “sweet spots” and some horrendous rates. Transatlantic is on par with or better than other airlines at 25,000 miles each way in economy to Europe, Israel and North Africa, and business is a reasonable 62,500 miles. Continental US-Hawaii are also nicely priced at 30,000 miles each way in business class.
Business class to/from Oceania, on the other hand, can have simply insane pricing (unless you are flying within Oceania with Aircalin): Bangkok-Sydney would cost you 100,000 miles one-way in business.
However, keep in mind that Flying Blue does have higher than average fuel surcharges, which you’ll want to watch out for especially on those business class awards.
What about the true aspirational product, Air France’s La Première First class? There again, nothing too exciting. Unfortunately, not only are these awards reserved to Elite members, their shocking price does definitely deter from ever redeeming miles for it. For example, between Paris and New York City, a one-way would coast 200,000 miles!
Finally, the real gem: Promo Awards. Every month, a list of destinations is published. It includes a number of destinations that you can book (usually two or three months in advance) at a reduced mileage amounts (between 25-50% off). You can therefore occasionally get a business class seat to/from Europe for 31,250 miles – which is hard to beat! Unlike Classic and Flex awards, Promo Awards are non-refundable, non-changeable.
It is possible to transfer miles to anyone, and the transfer cost is €3 per 250 miles. A maximum of 50,000 miles per transfer can be shared per transaction, and you may transfer or receive a maximum of 250,000 award miles per year.
In other news, if you wish to top-up your Flying Blue account, they are currently running their biggest discount ever on mileage purchase: if you purchase more than 4,000 miles, you can get a 100% bonus. If you have Elite status, you may purchase up to 100,000 miles, which means you would receive 200,000 miles with the bonus, at a cost of EUR 2,750. General members may only purchase up to 75,000 (150,000 with the bonus). You have to factor in the carrier surcharge, but it may be a reasonable option if you can use them for Promo Awards in Business class.
Overall, Flying Blue definitely still holds value for some even after taking away stopovers. It’s best to use your miles rather than save them though, because we don’t know when Flying Blue will make another unannounced devaluation.