Air France makes booking first-class awards even harder

Oct 9, 2019

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Air France’s La Première has long been one of the hardest first-class products to book with miles, which is a real shame as it’s also one of the world’s most luxurious and well rounded first-class experiences — at least on the Boeing 777-300ER, less so on the Airbus A380.

Historically, only elite members of Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue loyalty program have even had the ability to book La Première awards, albeit at astronomical rates. However, Air France has now added additional restrictions to La Première award bookings as well as significantly raised the price on many routes.

Related: The ultimate guide to Air France’s “La Première” 777-300ER first class

Moving forward, only Flying Blue Gold and Platinum elites will be able to book La Première awards. This means that Flying Blue Silver elites, general members and travelers looking to redeem miles from a SkyTeam partner airline are out of luck, and won’t be able to book awards above business class.

Instead of the elite-qualifying miles that most American flyers are used to, Flying Blue members accrue “XP” to qualify for elite status. If you earn 180 XP in a year you’ll reach Gold, while 300 XP will net you Platinum status. XP accrual is based on the chart below, and unfortunately even frequent business travelers might find it hard to qualify for Gold elite status.

In addition to limiting the pool of travelers who even have the option to book La Première awards, Air France also raised the cost on most routes. Previously, one-way first-class awards between the U.S. and Europe cost a flat 200,000 Flying Blue miles (worth $2,400 based on TPG’s valuations). Now, award rates vary more based on the specific destination city, with flights to New York-JFK pricing at 220,000 miles and flights to Los Angeles (LAX) pricing at 230,000 miles, a 10% and 15% price increase respectively.

If you still have your heart set on trying out La Première and you’re willing to stomach these sky-high prices, the good news is that Flying Blue miles are among the easiest to earn. You can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards. You can also transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio from Capital One, and a 3:1 ratio from Marriott with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

Related: Flight review: Air France (777-300ER) first class from Paris to New York

Bottom line

An award seat on Air France’s chic La Première cabin was out of reach for most people already, and these changes just move the goalposts farther away. While the price increases are frustrating, what’s even worse is the further restriction on which tiers of Flying Blue elite members can access La Première award space. Frequent travelers could have made a dedicated effort to qualify for Silver status in the quest to fly La Première, but Gold poses a much bigger challenge.

Featured photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy.

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