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A few months ago, Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM and Air Europa, announced some major (negative) changes to award redemptions including higher award ticket redemption mileage requirements and some reduced surcharges on Economy and Premium Economy awards that will affect intercontinental award ticket starting in this month.
One other aspect of the new changes is that previously, even if you had the miles to do book a La Premiere (first class) award on Air France, you had to be either a Silver, Gold and Platinum elite Flying Blue member to do so. That is no longer the case, as non-elites may start redeeming for La Premiere class 50% off promo awards (none on North American routes unfortunately) and I suspect that the elite status restriction will be lifted from regular La Premiere awards in the future, though the redemption rates can be staggering- especially compared to other, better, first class products.
For a quick comparison, here is the new award redemption chart:
And for reference, here is what tickets from North America to Europe used to cost versus what they cost now:
Before: 50,000 miles + approximately 180 euros ($235) each way
After: 62,500 miles + approximately 180 euros ($235) each way
100,000 miles + approximately 180 euros ($235) each way
162,500 miles + approximately 180 euros ($235) each way
So if you’re sitting on a ton of miles (or Amex Membership Rewards points since Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner), the good news is that first is bookable. The bad news is that award availability found through AirFrance.us doesn’t align with ExpertFlyer’s Flex First availability, so it seems to be a new fare bucket for first class awards has been made. Normally promo awards just pull from the regular Classic award availability, so I don’t suspect that will change. However, maybe Air France will only be releasing Classic award space via these limited rotating promo awards.
Here is an example of a La Premiere Promo Award shown below from Paris to Shanghai for 260,000 miles roundtrip and over $500 in taxes and fees round-trip. In comparison, British Airways would charge 180,000 Avios and ~$900 roundtrip for a similar London to Shanghai first class roundtrip (which would only be 134,000 Amex points with the current 35% bonus). To buy these same flights outright, it would cost $15,272.16, giving you a 5.68 cents per mile value on this redemption on the face value of the ticket (actual value varies on what you value that ticket at, which I don’t get into here).
I tried to search from New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG) and saw plenty of availability in ExpertFlyer, so thought I’d try and find some awards on the Air France site.
However, when I tried to search on Air France, I got the error “There is no seat available in La Premiere for your request; we propose Business”, so it seems like some of the kinks might still need to be worked out.
However even for business class from New York-Paris, you can see how outrageous some of the awards are. For a Flex award, the airline would charge you 300,000 miles roundtrip – no thank you! Even the low-level awards are now 125,000 miles instead of the 100,000 they used to require.
I decided to try some other continents and found plenty of availability from Paris to Johannesburg, South Africa for 97,500 Miles miles each way. The total cost for a round-trip La Premiere award to South Africa was 195,000 miles and $632.65 in taxes and fees. To buy these same flights outright, it would cost $9,837.07, giving you a 4.7 cents per mile value on this redemption on the value of the ticket.
Although it doesn’t seem to have opened up yet, because first class awards are already available on Air France’s other intercontinental routes, I suspect we’ll start seeing La Premiere award space on North American routes before too long – not that it will matter to a lot of people because the prices of these tickets are outrageous in terms of both miles and carrier-imposed charges.
Flying Blue awards are also bookable one-way, so if you need flexibility in your award, even with the high surcharges, booking it with miles is still better than having to pay for first class outright. At least it’s another option to have and at least you no longer have to be a Flying Blue elite to experience the airline’s first class product.