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Maximizing Flying Blue: Earning, Redeeming, Transfers & More

by on September 3, 2014 · 17 comments

in Air Europa, Air France, Award Charts, KLM, skyteam, TPG Contributors

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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.

Air France is the largest member of the Flying Blue program.

Air France is the largest member of the Flying Blue program.

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 actually the frequent flier program for several airlines.

Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program for several airlines.

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.

Redemption basics

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 Promo Awards are among the best bargains among all frequent flier programs.

Flying Blue Promo Awards are among the best bargains among all frequent flier programs.

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.

Fuel Surcharges

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.

Fuel surcharge and other fees for a flight between Los Angeles and Paris.

Fuel surcharge and other fees for a flight between Los Angeles and Paris.

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.

In economy class, about half the fees are fuel surcharges, and the rest are imposed by governments.

In economy class, about half the fees are fuel surcharges, and the rest are imposed by governments.

Zones

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.

Award flights to Antigua are a bargain, as Flying Blue considers it part of North America.

Award flights to Antigua are a bargain with Flying Blue, as the program considers it part of North America.

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.

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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  • Alan Thompson

    Is there a way to redeem First La Premiere using Flying Blues miles? It seems they don’t release any first seats for redemption… Which is odd!

  • http://www.LiveSmartNotHard.com/ Steve | LiveSmartNotHard.com

    i grabbed a promo award over to Germany for Oktoberfest. 50% off, not a bad deal!

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    It has to be a Flex Award (2-3x) classic AND the member has to have elite status with Flying Blue, so it’s pretty tough and not a great use of points, which is too bad.

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Sweet!

  • Patrick

    I see no flights to Curacao from North America on any partner airline. Only AA and JetBlue fly there. UAL flies via Copa. Am I wrong that Flying Blue cannot get you there?

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Delta used to fly there, but apparently not anymore. Your options would be Copa (a non-alliance partner), via Panama, but that would cross their central american region and probably be priced more. Otherwise, KLM offers service from Saint Maarten, so you could connect from there. I am not sure if they allow that though. Otherwise, this would be a benefit from Europeans flying there on KLM, but only paying for North America awards. Finally, Curacao is just 70 miles from Aruba, so I am sure there are some low cost flights or ferries if it comes to that.

  • Ian Macdougald

    I fly on KL to CPT every year and am a Delta platinum member. Can never get any awards on the KL flights with my DL skymiles. Would it be better to transfer from DL over to Flying Blue? Can Flying blue be used on DL flights in the US?

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    If transferring from SPG or Amex MR, I would compare mileage and fuel surcharges before transferring, but if you need a KLM flight that DL isn’t offering, clearly it is better to transfer to FB, than purchase a ticket with cash. If transferring from Citi ThankYou, it might be your only practical option.

  • Aaron

    Is it possible to use FB points on domestic US flights? When trying to book through the FB portal, I’m unable to find any results for US domestic routes.

  • Frequent Miler

    Great post. What are their rules about stopovers and open jaws?

  • Brian C. Lee

    Your problem there is probably DL not having any low-level availability.

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Thanks man! I should have mentioned that you get one stopover on a round trip award only, and one open jaw is permitted.

  • Bill

    Great article. Would love to snag a 25,000 point RT to Aruba, but I get no availability at all from Chicago, and I checked Air France’s route map and it shows no directs flights at all from the US. Any idea if Carribean flights from the US are strictly through partner airlines?

  • Brian C. Lee

    Of course you’re going to have to fly DL. It wouldn’t make much sense to fly from the US to Paris, and then on to Aruba, would it?

  • Frequent Miler

    Cool, so a free one-way should be possible then. Better than free one-way if we route continental us to Hawaii back and then to Caribbean. Right?

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    According to how I read their rules, that would be the case, and I haven’t found anything to contradict it.

  • wanderingnubian

    Recently flew KLM from Johannesburg to Amsterdam. Would like my points to be deposted towards my Alaskan Airways FF membership but was unable to do it online. Do you know if KLM allows this?

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