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Crediting Delta Flights to Air France/KLM Flying Blue

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Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at the partnership between Delta and Air France/KLM Flying Blue, and why you might want to credit the mileage from your Delta flights to the airline’s major European SkyTeam partner.

Given the massive changes to Delta’s SkyMiles program in recent years — including a changeover to revenue-based earning, a series of award chart devaluations and the addition of spending requirements for elite status (which have been raised!) — many flyers might be looking for alternative frequent-flyer programs.

As a SkyTeam partner of Delta, Air France/KLM might just be the best alternative. That’s partly due to the fact that the earning rates are somewhat decent, but also because the airlines’ Flying Blue program is a 1:1 transfer partner of all four major transferable points programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Time to consider Air France/KLM Flying Blue instead.
Time to consider Air France/KLM Flying Blue instead.

Even if you haven’t flown Air France or KLM (or the other airlines for which Flying Blue is the mileage program, like Kenya Airways, Air Europa and TAROM) or credited any flights to them in the past, having the option of transferring miles in from all four programs means it’s easy top up your Flying Blue account.

I don’t want to completely whitewash it. Flying Blue does penalize you for buying discounted fares with lower earning rates. Its site doesn’t always pull up accurate partner award space, and dealing with phone agents can be a colossal waste of time. But Delta’s partnership with the program, and some compelling redemption rates (especially in economy) mean Flying Blue deserves a close look.

Let’s go over both the earning and redeeming sides of the equation.

EARNING

Here’s a breakdown of how you earn award miles from Delta flights with each of the two programs.

Delta: Delta was the first of the three major US legacy carriers to go revenue-based when it came to earning award miles. SkyMiles members earn award miles based on the airfare and their Medallion (elite) status. Here is how earning breaks down.

  • 5 miles per US dollar — Member
  • 7 miles per US dollar — Silver Medallion
  • 8 miles per US dollar — Gold Medallion
  • 9 miles per US dollar – Platinum Medallion
  • 11 miles per US dollar – Diamond Platinum

SkyMiles never expire, so you don’t have to worry about keeping your account active within set time frames.

How you earn Delta elite status.
How you earn Delta elite status.

Elite status: Here’s how many miles, segments and dollars it takes to achieve each tier.

  • Silver Medallion: 25,000 miles OR 30 segments AND $3,000
  • Gold Medallion: 50,000 miles OR 60 segments AND $6,000
  • Platinum Medallion: 75,000 miles OR 90 segments AND $9,000
  • Diamond Medallion: 125,000 miles OR 120 segments AND $15,000

The spending requirements are waived if you make $25,000 or more in eligible purchases in a year with a Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express, such as the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express or the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express.

Here’s how many Medallion Qualifying Miles you earn based on each fare class:

  • Full-fare First/Business F, J: 200%
  • Discounted First/Business P, A, G, C, D, I, Z: 150%
  • Premium Economy W: 150%
  • Delta Comfort+ W: 100%
  • Full-Fare Economy Y, B: 150%
  • Discounted Economy M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X, V, E: 100%

For more details on Delta Medallion status and benefits, check out this post.

Flying Blue: With Air France/KLM Flying Blue, you still earn miles based on the fare class of the ticket you purchase and the distance you fly. For Delta flights, this is the earnings breakdown for award miles.

Flying Blue earn Delta

  • First Class F, P: 200% miles flown
  • First Class A: 175% miles flown
  • First Class G: 125% miles flown
  • Business Class J, C: 175% miles flown
  • Business Class D, I: 150% miles flown
  • Business Class Z: 125% miles flwon
  • Premium Economy W: 125% miles flown
  • Economy Y, B, M, S: 100% miles flown
  • Economy H: 75% miles flown
  • Economy Q, K, L: 50% miles flown
  • Discount Economy U, T, X, V, E: 25% miles flown

Just as Delta’s earning formula is weighted toward flyers purchasing expensive tickets, Flying Blue favors flyers buying those full-fare economy, business and first fares, though distance flown is also a big factor. You can check potential earning using Flying Blue’s mileage calculator.

Flying Blue miles expire 20 months after your last account activity.

Elite status: In general, you earn the same amount of elite miles as you would award miles considering the miles flown and fare-class bonuses but not any elite status bonuses. Flying Blue has three elite tiers, and this is how many points you’ll need to accumulate to achieve each:

Flying Blue tiers

  • Ivory: None, this is the basic level
  • Silver: 25,000 Level Miles (30,000 for members in France and Monaco) OR 15 qualifying flights
  • Gold: 40,000 Level Miles (60,000 for members in France and Monaco) OR 30 qualifying flights
  • Platinum: 70,000 Level Miles (90,000 for members in France and Monaco) OR 60 qualifying flights

You can have a look at the benefits of elite status here, but the two specific ones to note are the award mileage bonuses of 50%/75%/100% for Silver/Gold/Platinum respectively, and Gold/Platinum access to all SkyTeam lounges worldwide when traveling on or connecting to/from an international SkyTeam flight the same day. The other major difference is that there are no spending requirements for Flying Blue elite status.

EARNING COMPARISON

Let’s just take a look at a couple quick examples to see how your earning would stack up if crediting flights to Delta versus Flying Blue.

Short-haul economy: Here’s an example itinerary from Atlanta (ATL) to Tampa (TPA).

ATL TPA

The airfare is about $218 plus $44 in taxes and fees and books into the T/X code, so here’s how many miles you would earn with Delta:

  • Member: 1,090 award miles, 812 MQMs
  • Silver Medallion: 1,526 award miles, 812 MQMs
  • Gold Medallion: 1,744 award miles, 812 MQMs
  • Platinum Medallion: 1,962 award miles, 812 MQMs
  • Diamond Medallion: 2,398 award miles, 812 MQMs

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to Flying Blue:

  • Ivory: 250 award miles, 250 elite miles
  • Silver: 376 award miles, 250 elite miles
  • Gold: 438 award miles, 250 elite miles
  • Platinum: 500 award miles, 250 elite miles

Because of the short distance but relatively high airfare, you earn many more miles with Delta than Flying Blue.

Transcontinental economy: Here’s a sample round-trip itinerary from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) in July.

LAX JFK

The airfare is $344 plus $54 in taxes and fees and books into the Q code.

Here’s how many miles you would earn with Delta:

  • Member: 1,720 award miles, 4,950 MQMs
  • Silver Medallion: 2,408 award miles, 4,950 MQMs
  • Gold Medallion: 2,752 award miles, 4,950 MQMs
  • Platinum Medallion: 3,096 award miles, 4,950 MQMs
  • Diamond Medallion: 3,784 award miles, 4,950 MQMs

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to Flying Blue:

  • Ivory: 2,460 award miles, 2,460 elite miles
  • Silver: 3,690 award miles, 2,460 elite miles
  • Gold: 4,306 award miles, 2,460 elite miles
  • Platinum: 4,920 award miles, 2,460 elite miles

This is where it becomes interesting. Though Flying Blue penalizes you 50% of the mileage for flying a discounted economy fare, you can still come out ahead of SkyMiles in terms of award miles thanks to elite status bonuses, but you’re lagging in elite-qualifying miles.

Transcontinental business class: Let’s look at a similar itinerary, but in business class instead. There, the fare is $1,898 plus $171 in taxes/fees, and books into the I fare class both ways.

LAX JFK bus

Here’s how many miles you would earn with Delta:

  • Member: 9,490 award miles, 7,425 MQMs
  • Silver Medallion: 13,286 award miles, 7,425 MQMs
  • Gold Medallion: 15,184 award miles, 7,425 MQMs
  • Platinum Medallion: 17,082 award miles, 7,425 MQMs
  • Diamond Medallion: 20,878 award miles, 7,425 MQMs

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to Flying Blue:

  • Ivory: 7,378 award miles, 7,378 elite miles
  • Silver: 9,838 award miles, 7,378 elite miles
  • Gold: 11,066 award miles, 7,378 elite miles
  • Platinum: 12,296 award miles, 7,378 elite miles

Your award mileage earning is higher with Delta on this premium fare, but the elite mileage earning is pretty much even (it appears Flying Blue considers this flight slightly shorter than Delta).

Long-haul economy: Now let’s take a long-haul example from Atlanta to Amsterdam on Delta.

ATL AMS

The taxes and fees are $90 and the fare itself is $1,025 and books into the V code.

Here’s how many SkyMiles Delta flyers would earn:

  • Member: 5,125 award miles, 8,800 MQMs
  • Silver Medallion: 7,175 award miles, 8,800 MQMs
  • Gold Medallion: 8,200 award miles, 8,800 MQMs
  • Platinum Medallion: 9,225 award miles, 8,800 MQMs
  • Diamond Medallion: 11,275 award miles, 8,800 MQMs

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to Flying Blue.

  • Ivory: 2,200 award miles, 2,200 elite miles
  • Silver: 3,300 award miles, 2,200 elite miles
  • Gold: 3,850 award miles, 2,200 elite miles
  • Platinum: 4,400 award miles, 2,200 elite miles

The contrast here is quite stark. Although you’d think you would earn more miles with a distance-based program like Flying Blue, because of its earning restrictions on discount fares, SkyMiles pulls way ahead.

Long-haul business: Let’s take one final example by looking at one of Delta’s transpacific flights in business class from Seattle to Hong Kong.

SEA HKG bus

The fare is $4,246 plus $78 in taxes and fees, and books into Z class.

Here’s how many SkyMiles Delta flyers would earn:

  • Member: 21,320 award miles, 19,500 MQMs
  • Silver Medallion: 29,722 award miles, 19,500 MQMs
  • Gold Medallion: 33,968 award miles, 19,500 MQMs
  • Platinum Medallion: 38,214 award miles, 19,500 MQMs
  • Diamond Medallion: 46,706 award miles, 19,500 MQMs

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to Flying Blue:

  • Ivory: 16,228 award miles, 16,228 elite miles
  • Silver: 22,720 award miles, 16,228 elite miles
  • Gold: 25,964 award miles, 16,228 elite miles
  • Platinum: 29,210 award miles, 16,228 elite miles

So in this case, Delta beats Flying Blue on both the award and elite mileage-earning sides. The discrepancy here is because Delta gives flyers a 50% bonus on Z fares whereas Flying Blue only awards a 25% bonus.

Overall, you’re going to have to pick and choose rather carefully when it comes to where to credit those flights. It would be a clearer picture if Flying Blue was simply a distance-based program. But because it awards miles based on the fare class purchased – and at very much lower rates for discount classes of service – you have to pay special attention to what kind of ticket you purchase in order to maximize your earning.

REDEEMING

Likewise, it bears paying close attention to the awards you want to book in order to figure out which airline offers better options.

Routing rules: In terms of routing rules, Delta has switched its rules from allowing stopovers and open jaws to letting customers book one-way awards instead. Flying Blue also allows one-way awards, or one stopover and one open jaw on round-trip awards. That means you can really maximize your routing to get a few different stops into a single trip. For more on routing rules, check out our recent post on Delta’s, as well as this post on maximizing Flying Blue awards.

Delta has discontinued publishing its award charts, so it can be hard to predict the number of miles you’ll need for specific itineraries, especially with the advent of various tiers from Saver- to full-level awards where the mileage can vary widely.

However, Delta has recently offered some discounted awards starting at just 5,500 SkyMiles each way for domestic flights and discounted business-class awards to Europe for as few as 105,000 miles round-trip.

For its part, Flying Blue only publishes a single award chart from Europe to the rest of the world, though its requirements for other awards are also out in the open and remain consistent (though there have been devaluations in the past). On the positive side, the program’s monthly Promo Awards can be a great deal for getting from various US cities to Europe at mileage discounts of up to 50% in economy, premium economy and business class (though many awards tend to be just 25% off).

One final thing to note is that Flying Blue does impose fuel surcharges on some awards that can be much higher than those charged by Delta, so it’s something to keep in mind when searching for awards.

Both airlines are members of SkyTeam.
Both airlines are members of SkyTeam.

Airline partners: Both airlines are members of SkyTeam, including the following partners:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • MEA
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • TAROM
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air

Each has its own individual partners as well, though. Delta’s are:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska
  • GOL
  • Great Lakes
  • Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island only)
  • Mandarin Airlines
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Flying Blue’s include:

  • Air Calin
  • Air Corsica
  • Air Mauritius
  • Alaska (also)
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Chalair Aviation
  • Comair Limited
  • Copa Airlines
  • GOL (also)
  • Japan Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • TAAG
  • Transavia
  • Ukraine International Airlines
You can use Delta miles to fly Virgin Australia, but not Flying Blue miles.
You can use Delta miles to fly Virgin Australia, but not Flying Blue miles.

There are a few things to consider here. Both programs partner with Alaska, which is a big bonus for folks looking to take advantage of Alaska’s extensive domestic route network. Delta SkyMiles are a bit more versatile for getting to Tahiti since you can use them on both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France’s flights there from the US. Delta also partners with both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, adding a lot of other great international award options crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific.

For its part, Flying Blue’s partnerships with Japan Airlines and Jet Airways make getting around Asia a bit easier, while its Comair partnership makes connecting from that airline’s hubs in South Africa more convenient.

Here are a couple of awards you might want to consider where Flying Blue has the advantage.

Flying Blue's promo awards can be a phenomenal deal.
Flying Blue’s promo awards can be a phenomenal deal.

1. Promo Awards: As I mentioned, every month, Flying Blue releases a list of cities from which it offers discounted awards for the following two months. As of writing, the two cities in North America from which lower rates are offered are Montreal on KLM in business class and Boston on Air France in business class. The discounts are just 25% this time (sometimes they’re up to 50% off), which means tickets are 46,875 miles each way rather than the usual 62,500.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 3.48.24 PM

However, as you can see from the calendar above of an award search from Boston to Paris, almost every day has promo-level availability, so these awards can be great ways to save a lot of miles. They’re only available using Flying Blue’s own miles, not Delta’s, so that’s a big plus for Flying Blue right there.

AIr France Premium Economy. Image courtesy of Air France.
Air France Premium Economy. Image courtesy of Air France.

2. Premium Economy: If you want to fly Air France’s premium economy cabin on an award ticket, you’ll have to use Flying Blue miles to do so since Delta does not offer award redemptions for that class of service. Is it worth racking up Flying Blue miles specifically to do so? Not really, but it’s still a nice additional choice to have, and sometimes you’ll find flights where there are premium economy awards available but not economy ones, so that can be a nice option. Delta plans to have premium economy on its forthcoming A350s, but we don’t have details yet about booking it with miles.

3. Flights from North America to Hawaii: Economy flights from the US to Hawaii on Delta can be a particularly good deal because Flying Blue requires just 15,000 miles each way, like on this sample round-trip itinerary from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

LAX HNL FB

By contrast, Delta would charge you 45,000 miles for the same round-trip!

LAX HNL DL

So you’re saving a third of your miles by booking through Flying Blue instead.

4. Flights from North America to Caribbean: Unfortunately, it’s not all of the Caribbean. But Flying Blue considers the islands of Aruba, Bonair, Curaçao and Saint Maarten to be part of North America. That means economy awards are just 25,000 miles round-trip compared to the 30,000 Delta would charge you.

ATL AUA

5. More Availability on Air France/KLM Flights: The other great thing about using Flying Blue miles for Air France/KLM flights specifically is that the program seems to release many more awards on its own flights to its own members. That, or Delta blocks this award space from SkyMiles members. Whatever the reason, if you’re using Flying Blue miles, you have much more Saver-level award options in both economy and business class. In this example, Delta is showing a single Delta flight available with Saver-level economy awards from Paris to New York.

CDG JFK Delta

But the same day, Flying Blue shows three of its own Air France flights with Saver-level availability in economy and premium economy, and one of them has Saver-level business-class seats as well.

CDG JFK FB

6. Round-the-World Awards: Delta discontinued the option to let flyers book round-the-world awards using SkyMiles. However, you can still use Flying Blue miles to do so on SkyTeam carriers. It doesn’t seem like the most popular option since economy requires between 140,000-280,000 miles and business class requires a whopping 350,000 miles. However, it’s still worth noting that it’s possible.

Have you been considering alternatives for crediting your Delta flights? Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments below!

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