Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at opportunities for maximizing award redemptions in Flying Blue, which is now a transfer partner of three out of four of the major points programs. Here’s his take on finding the sweet spots in their award chart.
Last week, Citi announced that Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program for Air France, KLM, and other carriers, would become the ninth airline transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards. Since Flying Blue is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, now seems like the right time to take a look at how to get the most from value Flying Blue miles.
Air France also released their latest Flying Blue Promo Awards which can book award flights for as little as 50% of the miles normally needed on certain routes and in specific cabins.
What is Flying Blue?
First, Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of not only Air France and KLM, but also the following airlines:
- Kenya Airways, the fourth largest carrier in Africa and a member of SkyTeam.
- Air Europa, a Spanish carrier that offers service to New York and Miami, as well as seasonal service to Las Vegas. Air Europa is a SkyTeam carrier.
- TAROM, Romania’s flag carrier and also part of the SkyTeam alliance.
- Aircalin, a small airline based in New Caledonia, which is a French territory in the South Pacific.
- HOP!, which is a regional subsidiary of Air France that has hubs in Lyon and Paris-Orly.
- TwinJet, which is a French regional carrier based in Marseille.
Flying Blue is a part of the SkyTeam alliance, and is also partnered with the following non-alliance carriers:
- Alaska Airlines, which is a huge advantage when booking award flights to Hawaii and parts of Alaska beyond Anchorage.
- Air Corsica, a small carrier that operates service to the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
- Air Mauritius, an international carrier based in Mauritius, which is an island in the Southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar.
- Bangkok Airways, which serves several cities in Asia.
- Chalair Aviation, a French regional carrier based in Caen.
- Comair Limited, a regional carrier in South Africa.
- Copa Airlines of Panama, which is a member of the Star Alliance.
- Jet Airways of India.
- TAAG, which accepts Flying Blue miles for flights between Paris and Luanda.
- Transavia, which offers charter service, and books awards by phone only.
- Ukraine International Airlines, which serves Europe, Asia, and even New York-JFK.
Like most frequent flyer programs, members can earn miles by flying a member airline or SkyTeam partner, booking hotels, and renting cars.
Flying Blue offers three different types of awards called Promo, Classic, and Flex.
- Flex are their highest mileage awards for flights operated by Air France, KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and TAROM. These awards cost 2-3 times the number of miles, but have the most availability and can be changed for no charge. The only way to book an international first class award is in Flex class, and even then Flex awards are only available for those who have elite status with Flying Blue.
- Classic awards are for any airline partner and can be booked one way or round-trip in economy, premium economy, or business class (first class awards are not available). Cancellations or changes cost 45 EUR.
- Promo awards are offered from select cities at reduced prices. For example, Promo awards are currently offered from Detroit, New York-JFK, and Washington-Dulles to Europe at rates between 25% – %50% off of the Classic rates, such as Detroit to Europe on Air France Economy for just 25,000 miles round-trip. New destinations are announced on the first of each month for travel two to three months in the future. Previously, these promo rates were offered for business class awards, but they are now mostly economy with some premium economy occasionally available.
Flying Blue does not publish a full award chart for most destinations; instead it has a single chart for flights to and from Europe, and an award calculator for awards that do not originate or terminate in Europe.
The Flying Blue program does impose fuel surcharges, but they’re not nearly as costly as those on some other airlines, such as British Airways. For example, in my search for a non-stop, business class ticket from Los Angeles to Paris, taxes and fuel surcharges added up to $260.67.
However, award flights operated by SkyTeam partner Delta incurred only $26.10 in TSA charges and other taxes, with no fuel surcharges.
In economy, the Air France charges were again $260 round-trip, with nearly half of that going to various mandatory government fees, and only about $132 being actual fuel surcharges.
One of the interesting things about Flying Blue is that its zone definitions differ from those of other programs. For example, it places Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria in its Europe zone. Hawaii is bundled with Central America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Russia is part of Asia. The Netherlands Antilles, which includes the Caribbean islands Saint Martin, Aruba, Bonair, and Curacao, is considered part of North America. That leads to some advantageous award booking opportunities, as described below.
Best uses for the Flying Blue program
Here are a few ideas for when you might want to transfer points to Flying Blue from Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, or ThankYou Rewards:
1. One way flights on any SkyTeam carrier. Until next year, Delta is unable to book one-way awards (that is, they will book one-way, but at the same rate as a round-trip award). However, you can easily circumvent this restriction by using Flying Blue to book a one-way award on Delta or any other SkyTeam or Flying Blue non-alliance partner.
2. Visiting Saint Maarten, Aruba, Bonair, and Curacao. Since these islands are considered part of North America, you can fly there from the U.S. for only 25,000 miles round-trip. In contrast, nearly every other frequent flyer program charges more miles for award flights to these Caribbean islands.
3. Award flights to Israel. The inclusion of Israel within Flying Blue awards to Europe is a huge plus for those looking for an award flight to Tel Aviv. Since most airlines include Tel Aviv within the Middle East, travelers often pay tens of thousands of miles more to travel just a few hundred miles beyond European destinations such as Turkey or Cyprus. From the U.S., Flying Blue awards to Israel are 50,000 miles in economy, 100,000 in premium economy, and 115,000 in business class round-trip.
4. Any Promo awards. Promo awards offer some of the best value among any frequent flyer programs, so it can be worth your effort to check their list every month, and even to find a positioning flight to one of the promo award gateways. For example, you could fly Southwest from Los Angeles to Detroit in November for about 14,600 miles round-trip, and then take advantage of the 25,000 mile promo award from Detroit to Europe.
5. Where Delta restricts availability. The Delta SkyMiles program is currently blocking award seats that Air France and KLM offer to other partners. To book these flights with miles, it’s often necessary to use the Flying Blue program.
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