Delta Skymiles vs. Flying Blue for Skyteam Awards – Which is Better?

by on February 18, 2011 · 20 comments

in Air France, Delta, Flying Blue

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Delta and Air France/KLM have a very close relationship. As founding members of the Skyteam alliance, they also have a tight-knit joint venture that allows them to own a huge portion of transatlantic travel. While this relationship continues to grow (I sometimes hear, “Thank you for calling the Delta, Air France, and KLM elite line, how many I help you?” when I call Delta), their frequent flyer programs are quite different. And since they are both 1:1 transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards, I often get asked which airline is best for booking Skyteam awards. In short, it’s usually Delta, but there can be a few exceptions. I’ll explain below.

The Delta Skymiles program is often criticized for making it hard to redeem low level awards (like 25,000 round-trip domestic coach seats or 100,000 US-Europe business class awards), but it can be very generous – especially when it comes to Skyteam awards because they are always at the low level.

The other main advantages of Delta are:

1) Much lower fees. I pulled up a sample Washington DC – Paris roundtrip in coach and Delta’s price was 60,000 miles and $84.30. Air France’s award came in at 50,000 miles, but cost a shocking $476.86 in fees.

2) Delta is much more generous with miles. They award 100% accrual on most fare classes whereas Flying Blue awards are as low as 0% for cheap fares. Delta also has partnerships with a multitude of non-air partners, like shopping malls, hotels and dining programs.

3) Delta allows awards to be booked 11 months in advance, where Air France only allows 10 months. So basically Delta frequent flyers get to book Flying Blue awards before Flying Blue members. Seems a little backwards, right? Check out these screenshots for an example – I can currently book a Paris – NY flight on January 2nd using Delta miles, but not with Air France’s own Flying Blue miles:

4) American Express runs frequent transfer bonuses to Delta like the current 30% and 50% and 25,000 MQM offers.

Flying Blue does have a couple unique advantages.
1) The ability to book one way awards. If you wanted LAX-CDG in coach one way, you’d pay 25,000 Flying Blue miles versus 60,000 Delta miles.
2) They run crazy 50% off awards, which can be incredible values – especially for longhaul premium class travel.

As always, the best choice for you is the one that best aligns with your travel plans. For instance, I’m currently helping clients book an award trip to Africa and British Airways makes the most sense on the outbound, but they will return on Air France. Since they have American Express Membership Rewards points, I advised them to transfer miles to both programs and leverage one-way awards.

I still think the most standout advantage between programs is that millions of Delta Skymiles members have access to Flying Blue awards before Flying Blue members. This is a huge benefit – especially when booking high demand awards like LAX- PPT (Papeete, Tahiti).

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • MattRob

    I am pretty sure you can book 11 months in advance by calling helpdesk. I am actually quite disappointed about the 25% award miles with KLM/AF, so was doubting, even though I am Gold with them, to step over to Delta. Thanks for the above-mentioned, this makes me go to Delta for my next Skyteam flights.

  • The Points Guy

    Delta is very generous with elite and Skymiles for even the cheapest flights. If you struggle to maintain status with Flying Blue Delta may be a good option- especially if you can get 50,000 elite miles a year, you’ll get SKyteam lounge access and a bunch of other benefits (like upgrades on Delta flights)

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  • MattRob

    I am Corporate Gold Elite with Flying Blue, so I will stay that level even without flying any Miles. So I will get the Gold Elite benefits (showing my Flying Blue Gold membership card) but will start saving Miles with Delta as from now. Thanks again.

    Just to reconfirm, you can book award flights with Flying Blue 11months in advance; not online but you have to call the helpdesk. I did that for flights AMS – LAX this summer, 11months in advance !

  • Hope Vee

    I want to know the best card for getting Flying Blue miles to fly on Air France. If it’s AMEX , which amex card.

  • Eric Fauque

    this site is great! lots of usefull info!

    I have miles with delta skymiles and I am also a member of Flying blue, but have no points there yet.
    On my next trip to Amsterdam, should I register my points with my skymiles card or with my flying blue card?
    Could I use (combine) miles from both accounts to get a free ticket?
    Do you get the same amount of reward miles with both?

    Thanks for any info

  • James Ward

    I live in the UK and have been collecting FlyingBlue miles. However, I recently realised that Delta SkyMiles gives 100% of miles for deeply discounted fares vs. 25% – 50% of miles in FlyingBlue.

    However – one benefit of FB is that you can achieve Elite status with just 15 segments vs. 30 in SM. This enabled me to achieve Silver status last year even though I hadn’t flown 25,000 miles.

    I just persuaded Delta to match my status so I am now Silver in SM too – lucky, as I’ll be visiting the States a lot over the next couple of years and the waived baggage and occasional comp upgrade will be useful.

    Not only that, but the rollover miles mean that I’ll probably achieve Gold next year too.

  • The Points Guy

    You should check to see which program earns the most miles. If you buy cheap fares, Flying Blue may only give you 25% of miles flown whereas Delta gives 100%

  • Andrew Fielding

    If booking with a partner will Delta let you book a one way if the partner allows it?

  • The Points Guy

    @Andrew- Nope

  • Michelle

    Found a flight JFK-BIO operated by AirFrance. When I looked into booking through Flying Blue it was going to cost 75,000 miles plus $568 in taxes and fees. I thought, I’ll just book it through Delta (it comes up as a codeshare), but I’m not able to find the same flight on Delta Skymiles–why??

  • Laura

    Hi James,
    Laura here. I’m a Silver statue Flying Blue member but just realized the same thing as you regarding the sky miles program. After spending hours on the phone with Delta (to no avail) I’m wondering how you managed to persuade Delta t match your status?? I’ve been trying to do that and would love any tips you may have.


  • MJLouise

    If you have FB miles, can you redeem on Delta? If so do they charge large fuel fees?

  • Greg

    I have an upcoming flight from Atlanta to Madrid on Air France. can I just have them award me Delta Skymiles directly without converting from FB? If so, how do I do that? Thanks in advance.

  • Deep

    Delta Skymiles website is much better and easier to manage. Flying Blue website is so backward.
    Another big disadvantage of KLM Flying Blue is the expiry date, which doesn’t give you any notice before expiration. Delta also has much more options to spend the miles other than travel.

  • SD

    KLM’s Flying Blue awards are pretty much useless for travel from Europe to the US. I’m trying to find my mother a flight and there are no flights available past the US main hub. The selection available from hub (Europe) to hub (US) are very limited also.
    The final nail in the coffin is the ridiculous fuel surcharge which with KLM is not part of the ticket.

    I just flew Green Bay to Humberside, England via Detroit and Amsterdam on an award for $200, for my mother to fly Humberside to Detroit (I can’t get a flight to Green Bay) KLM want over $700 of which $500 is the fuel surcharge. Ridiculous

  • YL

    Looking for a flight from Malaysia to Japan. Flying Blue has availablility with Vietnam Airlines and China Southern for the entire month at the lowest 20k miles. Delta has nothing! I called Delta 3 times just to confirm and they couldn’t find any flights. Skymiles haven’t been much useful in Asia.

  • Mlcurie

    Can I transfer my AF miles to Delta ?

  • Zaf

    on China Southern, cheap fare classes E & B, Flying Blue gives 25%, Delta gives nothing.

  • Sabin

    Skyteam sucks…star alliance is way better on on regards mentioned above. Trying to get a flight for next day flying blue nothing but star alliance got me a ticket…and cheap too

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