Flying Blue to add free stopovers: Here's why this could make your miles a lot more valuable
There's big news from Flying Blue, the loyalty program for Air France and KLM. Flying Blue will be adding free stopovers to award tickets on Air France and KLM metal in the coming days, as first reported by One Mile at a Time.
The news was announced Monday in a webinar by Flying Blue's Ben Lipsey, senior vice president of customer loyalty. "Now, you're able stop over for no additional charge for up to a year."
Presently, suppose you are booking an itinerary from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO) via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). In that case, Flying Blue's layover rules allow you to stay for a maximum of 23 hours and 59 minutes in Amsterdam. If you want to stay in Amsterdam for longer, you have to book two one-way tickets: LAX to AMS and then AMS to FCO.
The free stopover will allow you to stay in Amsterdam for up to 12 months at no additional cost. Per the webinar, Flying Blue's free stopover will be valid on flights connecting Air France to Air France, KLM to KLM, Air France to KLM and KLM to Air France metal.
For example, if you're traveling from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) on Air France, passengers will be able to stop for up to 12 months in Singapore before continuing on KLM's fifth-freedom flight from Singapore to Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS). In theory, this itinerary would cost the same number of miles as traveling directly from Paris to Bali.
Likewise, you could fly from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on KLM, stay for a few days, and then continue to Prague Václav Havel Airport (PRG) for the same price as a ticket from New York to Prague.
Lipsey also said that, as of now, the free stopover offer will only apply to flights on Air France and KLM metal, so customers who are connecting from Delta to KLM, for instance, will not be able to take advantage of the free stopover.
TPG's favorite programs that currently allow stopovers are Air Canada Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Each of these programs has a different take on stopovers. Aeroplan charges 5,000 miles per stopover, but you can add stopovers to partner tickets. Meanwhile, Alaska lets you add a stopover on partner tickets, but you cannot mix partners and can only stop over in the airline's hub. Singapore only allows stopovers on its own tickets.
Related: The complete guide to maximizing stopovers and open jaws on award tickets
What free Flying Blue stopovers could mean for travelers
In the webinar, Lipsey confirmed that the free Flying Blue stopovers will allow customers to stay for up to 12 months on a stopover before continuing to their final destination.
Paris and Amsterdam are likely the two cities that will see the most stopovers, as almost all of Air France's and KLM's flights originate or terminate in their hubs. Free stopovers will give tourists another city to visit at no additional miles or allow you to break up two long flights with a 24-hour-plus hiatus.
When traveling from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to South Africa earlier this year, a couple of days in Amsterdam or Paris would have been ideal for breaking up the two back-to-back 10-hour red-eyes and acclimating to the time zone.
With up to 12 months to break up layovers, travelers can be strategic about how they want to book their connecting flights. For example, students studying abroad in Europe can book Amsterdam or Paris as a stopover city and another European city as a final destination for a couple of weeks down the road. That's the perfect case for a weekend trip.
Of course, many questions remain. Will free stopovers be valid on one-way tickets? How about inter-Europe short-haul flights? While we haven't been given the details yet, we'll be sure to keep you posted when we learn more.
Related: Doors, wireless charging and 4K video: A first look at Air France's new Boeing 777 business class
But website improvements need to be made first
We love the idea of Flying Blue adding stopovers, but there will be hurdles that Flying Blue needs to overcome in regard to its website.
Right now, both Air France and KLM have difficult-to-use websites, particularly when it comes to searching for award availability.
To check for award availability, you have to go to either airline's website and log in to your Flying Blue account. After selecting "Book with miles," you can enter your origin, destination, travel dates, number of passengers and desired cabin. You'll see a preview of a week's worth of dates and their respective mileage prices. In our tests, the preview prices don't always match the actual prices when you click on a given date.
But most frustratingly, after that first search, Air France and KLM both have a technical glitch that doesn't allow you to run another search in that session. If you want to check another city pair or adjust the number of travelers, you'll need to close your tab, clear your cookies and log back in before entering all your search details for another search.
These issues make Flying Blue awards time-consuming and difficult to search for. Frankly, it's hard to imagine adding a stopover online would be a pleasant experience if these issues persist, so we'd like to see Flying Blue dedicate its resources to a stable booking tool first.
Related: The ultimate guide to earning and redeeming with Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Ultimately, we're very excited to see Flying Blue launch free stopovers, and we'll be sure to keep you posted on ways to maximize them. Although the program uses a volatile dynamic pricing model, we are optimistic that free stopovers will increase Flying Blue's customer value proposition.
As a reminder, Flying Blue miles are transferrable at a 1:1 ratio from American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One miles, Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.