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I’m a huge fan of Flying Blue, the loyalty program for European airlines Air France and KLM. Because the program is not US-based and because Air France and KLM only serve large North American cities, it’s often overlooked even though it can get you great value for your miles. Today I’ll lay out a “top five” list of the things you need to know about maximizing Flying Blue — the first post in a new series on airline loyalty programs to help you find cheap awards, learn routing rules and highlight areas where the program stands out among the rest.

1. It’s Easy to Get A Ton of Miles

With Chase Ultimate Rewards adding Flying Blue as a transfer partner last spring, the program is now one of only three that allow transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Chase Ultimate Rewards (Singapore KrisFlyer and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club being the other two).

If you received the (now expired) 100,000-point sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Reserve, a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (no longer available) from the Platinum Card from American Express and a (no longer available) 40,000-point sign-up bonus from the Citi Prestige, you’d be able to combine them all into Flying Blue points and get quite a few award tickets to destinations around the world.

Fly the new KLM Dreamliner between San Francisco and Amsterdam.

You can also credit paid Delta or other SkyTeam member flights to your Flying Blue account. While Delta flights may only earn as little as 25% of the flown miles if credited to Flying Blue, given the alternative of earning Delta miles based on what you paid for the ticket, you may still come out ahead by crediting your Delta flight to Flying Blue.

2. It’s the Best Tool for Finding SkyTeam Award Seats

Booking SkyTeam award tickets online with any program is more difficult than booking awards for the other two alliances, and for that reason many people steer clear of collecting or transferring to any SkyTeam member airline. Apart from Flying Blue, Delta and Korean Air are the only SkyTeam members that have relatively easy-to-use, helpful award search engines. Korean recently added the ability to book partner flights online, and in my experience, Delta.com does not see all the partner award seats and routes actually available.

The Flying Blue award search engine (found not on FlyingBlue.com, but on AirFrance or KLM’s websites) is by far the best online tool to find and book SkyTeam award seats. The monthly award seat calendar is very useful, and the available award seat inventory from most (but not all) SkyTeam and non-alliance Flying Blue partners is searchable and bookable online.

3. You Can Book Awards to Remote Parts of the World

In addition to easily booking SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas, China Airlines, China Eastern and China Southern, you can book awards on Flying Blue partner airlines such as Aircalin, Air Mauritius, Malaysia Airlines, Japan Airlines, Bangkok Airways and Ukraine International Airlines. The wide array of partners allows you to use miles to visit places like Wallis Island (IATA Code: WLS) in the South Pacific and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Plenty of dates in the fall have two seats available for the nonstop from Paris Orly to St. Denis, Réunion for only 30,000 miles per passenger.

If you’re after adventure, for only 37,500 miles and just under $200 you can fly Aircalin business class from Sydney to Noumea overnight, and then Noumea to Wallis Island and explore some of the most remote land on Earth.

4. Air France/KLM Availability Is Great

Flying Blue makes plenty of seats available on Air France- and KLM-operated flights. Fuel surcharges can still be a little tough to swallow for premium cabins, but they’re minimal on economy seats. If you’re using miles for Promo Awards, the low mileage cost and great availability are tough to beat.

There is low level availability on almost every single date with KLM operated flights.

In fact, if you have a large family and you’re looking to fly nonstop to Europe or any KLM/Air France international destination, Flying Blue is especially fantastic. Here’s the award calendar for Atlanta to Paris in economy when searching for six seats on a flight:

Every day except one has six award seats available. Not many other programs can match 300,000 miles and ~$700 (Paris departure taxes are $91 per person) to get a family of six on flights to and from Europe.

5. A Few Enigmas Can Trip You Up

Before you dive head-first into Flying Blue, you need to be aware of a few peculiarities that have the potential to spoil your day:

  • Mixed cabin awards are not available.
  • The online award search engine shows phantom award space. Click all the way through to booking or call and confirm space is available before transferring points into the program.
  • Only Flying Blue elites can redeem miles for Air France La Premiere (first class).
  • Phone agents are challenging to work with and typically not able to piece together awards not shown online.
  • Flying Blue phone agents have the ability to put awards on hold for 48 hours, even with no miles in your account. Some will say it’s not possible, but hang up and call again to do this. This is a great way to confirm space is actually available and save a seat while you wait for your transferred miles to show up, which is typically, but not always, instant.

Bottom Line

There are some additional, really fantastic strategies you can utilize with Flying Blue once you become familiar with how the online engine will route you to and from certain destinations. If you’re strategic in how you route and if your schedule is flexible, you can save a significant amount of miles, too.

Don’t forget a few other Flying Blue basics TPG has covered extensively, like 30,000 miles round-trip to Hawaii and certain Caribbean destinations from the continental US. If you aren’t utilizing the program, or considering crediting your paid Delta flights to Flying Blue, you really should be!

Do you have any other tips to share for maximizing Flying Blue?

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