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In light of the news that you can now transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to the Flying Blue program, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr walks you through some of the best redemption options.
Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM and other carriers, was recently announced as a new transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Though it was already a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, many of you may not be familiar with this program. Today, I’ll share some example redemptions and a few strategies to leverage your miles.
Before you initiate an Ultimate Rewards transfer to Flying Blue, I recommend you familiarize yourself with the program and review the following list of tips when looking to redeem Flying Blue miles for award flights:
- Click all the way through to the confirmation page of an award booking before believing award space. The calendar view of the award chart, even with the new interface, often displays phantom award space until you click all the way through to the booking screen.
- Only call Flying Blue for award redemptions if it’s absolutely necessary. Most partners are available for booking online, but a few, like Japan Airlines, require you to call for bookings. The agents can be difficult to deal with; the availability they see doesn’t match Flying Blue’s own website; and there’s little flexibility compared to some of the creative routings the online booking engine allows (more on that later). Look here to see which partners are available for online vs. phone bookings.
- Flying Blue allows one stopover and one open jaw (section 3.12 of the program’s T&C) inside the same award zone as the destination or origin. This is great news, but there are a few problems: Flying Blue’s award zone definitions are vague, and you have to book stopovers on the phone, facing the above-mentioned frustrations and agents who are not aware of the stopover and open jaw allowance.
- Research all of the Flying Blue partner airlines, specifically those outside of the SkyTeam alliance, to realize all of the possibilities and destinations for using the program’s miles
- I have a conspiracy theory that using the Dutch or French websites of KLM or Air France yields better award availability than using the US version of the website. I have not yet compiled solid data to back up my claim, but I always use one of the European websites when searching flights.
I recently came across the below award chart for flights from Europe, something I’ve actually never seen before or been able to find on the Flying Blue website until now. For other regions, use the Flying Blue award calculator to find how many miles your route will require. As mentioned, the award zone definitions are not all-inclusive — something we can use to our benefit.
I studied the award chart, mainly to decipher region definitions, and spent a few hours with the new award search engine to find the following redemption options which put your miles to smart use.
North America to Hawaii
Probably the most well-known Flying Blue sweet spot is North America to Hawaii for only 15,000 miles and $23.60 one-way. Availability is decent, and this beats the price of fellow Ultimate Rewards transfer partners Singapore and United (and British Airways from the central/eastern US) for award flights to Hawaii.
Fly one-way in Asia for 20,000 miles in economy or 50,000 miles in business. These are pretty good prices, especially once you investigate what Flying Blue considers to be in Asia. You can fly nine hours from NRT-DEL for 20,000 miles; fly NRT-DPS nonstop on Garuda Indonesia for 20,000 miles; or ICN-KUL with a connection and possible stopover in Taipei or Shanghai on a round-trip ticket for 40,000 miles.
Don’t forget Japan Airlines is also a Flying Blue partner, though you have to call to book JAL flights. Fuel surcharges for intra-Asia awards vary wildly depending on which partner you’re flying and your routing, so search the calendar view every time to find the best deal.
North America to the Caribbean/Central America
Flying from North America to the Caribbean and Central America will cost 15,000 miles and roughly $25 one-way if you’re flying on a Delta-operated flight, compared to 17,500 for low-level awards booked through Delta or United. Flights to Mexico from the US cost the same as domestic routes at 12,500 miles one-way, coming in cheaper than Delta and United awards. Only Southwest may cost fewer Ultimate Rewards for flights to Mexico — depending on the revenue fare.
Headquartered in Noumea, New Caledonia, Aircalin represents a unique opportunity to use miles. One of the most expensive destinations in the world, New Caledonia sits north of Australia and is relatively untouched. Visit Wallis and Futuna (WLS) from Sydney for 15,000 miles one-way and $180 in taxes and fees, seemingly a steep price for such a short trip until you see that flights run $1,500 round-trip.
Avios are usually the go-to currency for flights within Europe, but the fuel surcharges can sometimes make them a bad deal. I found Flying Blue award flights for 8,500-12,500 miles one-way and taxes and fees around $35. Fly CDG-TXL for 8,500 miles; CDG-FCO for 10,500 miles; and DUB-IST for 12,500 miles. Air France, Alitalia and KLM cover the continent well, and Flying Blue has several European regional airlines like AirEuropa, Hop! and Transavia.
With plenty of low-cost carriers operating in Europe, check the prices of airlines like Vueling, Ryanair, and Easy Jet. Still, redeeming miles can be worth it if you want to avoid the LCC experience.
US Domestic Awards
Flying Blue has two main things going for it when it comes to booking US domestic flights: There are no close-in booking fees, and one-way flights always cost 12,500 miles. This makes the program competitive with both Delta and United low-level awards, assuming you can find availability. I’ve used this option several times to save both miles and money when booking last-minute domestic US tickets.
Considered one of the most exotic locations with the best beaches, the island of Mauritius off the east coast of Africa is easy to reach with Flying Blue either through Air France or partner airline Air Mauritius. You can fly Air France ORY-RUN (on nearby Réunion island) for 30,000 miles and $89.45, and then arrange travel to MRU — the main airport for Mauritius island and hub to Air Mauritius, flying as far away as London Heathrow. Note that Air Mauritius flights are not bookable online.
1. Visit Several Destinations for as Little as 45,000 Miles
From my own research and the one published award chart, Hawaii, Central America and parts of the Caribbean are all in the same zone for Flying Blue. This means you can complete a routing like HNL-JFK(Stopover)-SJU(destination)(open-jaw)STT-JFK-LAX-HNL for a minuscule 45,000 Flying Blue miles.
Transfer 12,500 more Ultimate Rewards to British Airways and fly Alaska Airlines or American from the West Coast to Hawaii for 12,500 Avios one-way. That means you can do the West Coast, Hawaii, New York City, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Hawaii and back to the West Coast for 70,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards. With the current sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card at 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months (plus another 5,000 points for adding an authorized user who makes a purchase in the first three months), you could quickly earn enough miles for this dream vacation.
2. Tokyo to Delhi via Paris
Flying Blue sometimes has a tendency to route you in strange ways. You can fly from Tokyo to Delhi for 20,000 miles one-way in economy, but with a connection in Paris.
3. Singapore to Paris with a Side Trip to Mauritius
Fly Singapore to Paris for 40,000 miles— not a bad deal in its own right. You can then add on a trip to Mauritius for zero extra miles.
4. Los Angeles to Sydney for Less
Los Angeles to Sydney is 50,000 Flying Blue miles on a Delta-operated flight. If you add a flight to Noumea on Aircalin to your LAX-SYD flight, you drop the price of the entire itinerary to 30,000 miles.
These examples are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unique routings and possibilities with the Flying Blue program.
Now that you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Flying Blue, this program is more accessible with transferable points than ever. This also means it’s harder than even to decide which frequent flyer program you should utilize given a certain route. When it comes to transferring Ultimate Rewards, you should consider whether it will cost you less points to book your awards via United, British Airways, Southwest or Flying Blue if you want to stick with flights easily bookable online.
If you have plenty of American Express Membership Rewards points and want to fly on a SkyTeam carrier, you should research whether it costs less Delta SkyMiles than Flying Blue miles to book your routing. Don’t forget that transferring Membership Rewards points to Flying Blue will also avoid the pesky excise tax Amex charges when transferring to a domestic airline.
Overall, the addition of Flying Blue is a definite value boost to the Ultimate Rewards program. Just a few weeks ago I was looking to book my sister from IAH-DCA last-minute, and Flying Blue turned out to be the best option given availability. Now I can worry less about using my low balance of Amex points and instead redeem my plentiful Ultimate Rewards points to book her ticket!
What are your favorite uses of Flying Blue miles?
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards