Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM. The reward program is very popular in Europe and has some interesting opportunities for travelers in North America. You can book all Skyteam Alliance members with FlyingBlue points.
- Very good reward availability.
- Economy rewards are competitively priced.
- Has "sweet spot" economy awards to Hawaii.
- Offers monthly promotional rewards with 25% to 50% point discounts.
- One-way ticketing at no additional cost.
- One stopover permitted on round trip tickets - (Rescinded 7/1/2017 without formal notice)
- Rewards are easy to book with a nicely designed website.
- Very reasonable change and cancellation policies / fees.
- Makes partner rewards readily available.
- Allows for connections using Delta as the North American carrier.
- If international travel in one direction is not available, will route the opposite way if available.
- Has a reasonable round the world reward.
- Surcharges applicable to most reward tickets including Air France and KLM flights.
- Business Class rewards are priced higher when factoring in surcharges to most destinations.
- First class rewards are only available to elite members and are significantly more expensive.
- Program points expire rapidly and can only be extended by taking AF/KLM flights.
- Multi-city reward tickets are not allowed.
- Inconsistencies on surcharges for same itineraries.
The FlyingBlue program offers two types of rewards like most frequent flyer programs. Their "Classic" program is the saver reward program and the one we are interested in. The "Flex" program is their standard program that requires significantly more points. The program is region based and not mile based which is usually a positive for reward pricing.
Air France and KLM fly to all corners of the earth. Combined they are truly a global airline. However they do not publish a reward chart that specifies the number of points from any origin to any destination. The only reward chart they publish uses Europe as the origin and all other regions as the destination. This is referred to as a long haul chart because when traveling inside Europe they have multiple mini regions, which offer some excellent opportunities.
If you are interested in a specific route, you can use their mileage calculator to determine the reward points required.
This is a table of reward pricing for flight originating from North America. North America includes the United States (minus Hawaii), Canada and Mexico.
Promo rewards are special fares for select destinations. The destinations are updated each month. The number of points needed for each reward is reduced by 25% or 50%. This is a sample of the Promo rewards for the Middle East.
Promo Rewards do not get priced in to routes other than what is specified, even if your itinerary includes the promo route. Lets say you want to go from New York to Doha. The Classic Business Class fare is 100,000 points one way and routes you through Amsterdam then on KLM to Doha. Combining a Classic and Promo reward in this scenario would be;
Classic: New York to Amsterdam: 62,500 points +
Promo : Amsterdam to Doha: 25,000 points =
97,500 points or a savings of 2,500 points.
Unfortunately the search engine does not price this reward ticket out in that manner. So you would need 2 separate tickets to realize the savings.
This is the standard chart FlyingBlue calls the Flex Chart. It only applies to Air France, KLM, Kenya Airways and Tarom. They are no cancellation or change fees on these rewards. Whereas many frequent flyer programs price out their standard rewards as double the saver reward, FlyingBlue's are triple the amount. So Business Class to Europe is 62,500 * 3 or 187,500 points. On top of that, Business Class is only available to FlyingBlue Elite members.
For those that want to fly Air France First Class on a reward ticket, this is the only way. But you must be an Elite member of Flying Blue as well and a one way ticket from JFK to CDG will set you back 200,000 points. Lufthansa First Class using UA 110,000 points now seems like a steal.
Round the World
FlyingBlue offers a round the world reward. Economy class is 140,000 or 280,000 points depending on booking class which probably means some premium economy mixed in. Business Class is 350,000 points. This is probably middle tier expensive. The rules:
- Maximum 6 stopovers with 3 on the same continent.
- Travel on way, east or west without back track other than in same continent.
- Feeder flights included in same continent.
- Must cross Atlantic and Pacific one time.
So you could do something like:
- Depart from a US city like Miami to Paris for a stopover. (Air France)
- Depart from Paris to Madrid for a stopover. (Air France)
- Depart from Madrid to Rome for a stopover. (Alitalia)
- Depart from Rome to Ho Chi Minh City for a stopover. (Vietnam Airliines)
- Depart from Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei for a stopover. (China Airlines)
- Depart Taipei to Seoul for a stopover. (China Airlines)
- Return to the US from Seoul. (Korean Airlines, Delta)
This itinerary is 6 stopovers using multiple Skyteam members going east over both oceans with a maximum 3 stopover in Europe. Flight miles is 22,000. Many round the world programs only allow 5 stopovers so the extra one is a benefit.
The big issue with FlyingBlue, in my opinion, are the surcharges. This is the table of Air France / KLM imposed surcharges or reward tickets.
Shown in Euro's, the surcharge, not including taxes and fees, from North America to Europe is about $200.00 for a Business Class one way ticket.
In addition they charge Partner surcharge fees on these reward tickets.
Carriers they always charge:
- Aerolineas Argentinas (To/From Europe only)
- Air Corsica
- Air Europa
- Air Mauritius
- Bangkok Airlines
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Czech Airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
- Jet Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Middle East Airlines
- Ukraine International
- Vietnam Airlines
When departing from Europe you will have a surcharge added that is around $350. One-way tickets arriving in Europe do not have this charge added, only departures. Therefore round trip tickets and one way out of Europe will have the surcharge imposed on the following carriers:
Finally the Flying Blue and Partner carriers that no surcharge is levied to reward redemptions are:
- Alaska Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Xiamen Airlines
FlyingBlue has a very reasonable policy regarding these fees. For only 45 Euros, ($50USD) you may change or cancel a Classic reward ticket. Most other programs are in excess of $100 to cancel a reward, so this is a generous benefit. (Note: The KLM website states the fee is $23.00.) However Promo Rewards can not be canceled and are NON-REFUNDABLE. Flex Rewards have the fees waived.
You must use your FlyingBlue points within 20 months of earning them. While many program have a similar time expiration, they allow extensions if you have account activity, like earning points with a credit card or using points for rewards, etc. The criteria for extending the 20 month time frame on FlyingBlue is you must earn more points by flying.
Classic and Flex Reward tickets are valid for 12 months from the initial date of issue. Promo tickets are valid for the "fly by" promotional date. In addition, Promo Reward tickets CAN NOT be cancelled or refunded.
Who can fly on reward tickets
This is another liberal FlyingBlue policy for their members. They may use their points to provide a reward ticket for anyone they choose. (Sections 1.4.7 and 1.4.8 of the Terms and Conditions explicitly prohibit the sale or barter of reward tickets.)
Terms and Conditions states that reward tickets are issued "following the most direct route in both journey directions". So basically you are going to get the route the search engine gives you. If that includes a transfer or route different that what you might expect, like going east to Asia, that is the route they have determined you get and price it accordingly. There is not much flexibility in creating FlyingBlue routes.
Update 7/1/17: Without notice Flying Blue is not allowing stopovers on reward redemptions: Stopovers (more than 24 hours) are not allowed on one way Classic reward tickets. However if you book a round trip ticket you are allowed one stopover. So for example if you fly round trip New York to Rome, you could take a stopover in a connecting city like Paris (Air France) or Amsterdam (KLM). The stopover can be on either the outbound or inbound journey and can not be in the country of origin. To insert a stopover in your itinerary you must contact the reservation desk.
Changes to reward tickets may be made by contacting the FlyingBlue Service Center. Other than Promo rewards you may change:
- Before departure the route (must be in same region), date, time or Skyteam airline. Differences in points/fees apply.
- Before return the date, flight number or Skyteam airline.
Ticketing on-line does not incur a charge. However to have the Reservation Center book the ticket you will face a $70 fee according to the Administrative Fee structure KLM provides.
Reward tickets can be booked up to 24 hours before flight departure for international flights and 3 hours for shorter flights. Reward inventory is made available 10 months in advance.
Infants (under 2) and solo travelers younger than 15 years of age can not be booked on-line. You must contact the Flying Blue Service Center.
In order to search for FlyingBlue reward tickets you must be a FlyingBlue member and log on. You can search from Air France website, KLM website or the FlyingBlue website. The screen for entering your city pairs and dates is straightforward and nicely designed. Highlight the button "Round trip" or "One-Way", enter the cities, dates, check to look for a flight around your dates, select number of passengers (9 really?) and cabin class.
This flight search happened to be one of the Promo fares. Surprisingly multiple days came back with reward availability. The search engine returns a full month's worth of options with the ability to show earlier or later dates by clicking on those prompts below the calendar.
Select the dates you want to travel to see the routing, aircraft and flight times. If you are satisfied simply continue and you will be charged the points and pay the fees for your electronic ticket.
Thinking this was a way to piece together an itinerary, I set out to test the routing rules. The only problem was the Multi-destination tab isn't for that. The "2nd leg arriving at" is always to complete a round trip. The Multi-destination tab is used to create an open jaw ticket. And what is interesting is the search engine will only allow departures from cities in the region that you first arrived in.
In the example below on the right, I made the destination Cape Town. The drop down list of cities I could depart from on a multi-destination open jaw reward were only cities in the Cape Town region. Because this trip would require a connection is Amsterdam on KLM you could add a stopover on one leg.
An anomaly was noticed when searching various flights, partner rewards, etc. In this case the route was from Hong Kong to Chicago. Two options were given, both at the same 100,000 point fare and one with $73.57 in fees and the other $227.46 in fees. What made this unusual was they were the SAME flights. The only difference was one flight was a codeshare (FM) on Shanghai Airlines which is a subsidiary of China Eastern that operated the flight and charged the lower fees on their flight number. It pays to be thorough in examination of the options you have.
Classic Reward fares are fairly competitive on a point basis. However once you calculate in the surcharge you can probably find better opportunities unless of course you fly a Skyteam member like Delta without surcharges. Then it probably is easier to use Delta's Skymiles program.
There are some situations that FlyingBlue offers some really good value. These are in Economy Class. If you are traveling inside Europe you can do so for 10,000 points between many cities, and there aren't any surcharges. But for the North American flyer one Economy reward really stands out.
Hawaii. Using FlyingBlue points you can fly on Delta round trip from North America to Hawaii for 30,000 points total and $11.20 in fees. When American, United, Alaska and Delta are 45,000, that's a huge savings. Even better availability at the time I checked, a few months out was pretty good. Business class wasn't but Economy was wide open during this time.
There are also good opportunities to use FlyingBlue points for trips to the Caribbean for 15K one way, inside US or to Canada or Mexico for 12.5K one way. This program is like British Airways Avios program. The best use of the points are domestically, not internationally.
The Promo Rewards can be great opportunities to use FlyingBlue points. We've looked at two of the Promo Rewards available at the time of this writing. Let's take a closer look.
Amsterdam to Doha is a 50% discount Promo reward. Comparing this Promo and a Skymiles reward from Delta to the same destination on the same aircraft saves you $437.50:
- FlyingBlue: 25,000 points plus $200.55 in fees equals an $825.00 value based on 2.5 cents per point.
- Skymiles: 42,500 points plus 175 Euro ($200) equals a $1,262.50 flight
Now comparing a 25% discount Promo Reward with surcharges to a Skymiles reward on Delta and their random pricing without surcharges, just the typical expensive European taxes/fees looks like this:
- FlyingBlue: 93,750 points and $575 in surcharges/fees: $2,918.75 at 2.5 cents per point.
- Skymiles: 142,500 points and $161 in fees: $3,723.50 at 2.5 cents per point.
The 25% Promo Reward is better by $800! (Note: Even if Skymiles had this trip at 125,000 points the Promo deal is still better by over $350.00.)
Upgrades are allowed on certain booking classes for Air France, KLM and some other Skyteam partners. The exact number of points required is not published and the mileage calculator won't work if you don't have a minimum number of points in your account. These examples are posted on their site.
For Air France and KLM flights you can upgrade from Economy to Business on the following booking codes:
On Air France you can upgrade from to Premium Economy from those fares as well as upgrade to Business on W/S booking code fares.
This tables shows all partners and codes:
You must contact the FlyingBlue service center to request an upgrade. One issue that is not clear is the surcharge. The samples shown suggest 15,000 points for an upgrade to Business Class from Economy on a New York to Paris ticket.
Using an advance purchase for Economy fare of $932, a Business Class fare for the same flight of $3,700, 15,000 points to upgrade and the Classic Reward numbers for both Economy and Business class it looks like an upgrade is the better opportunity. While an Economy Classic reward is a poor choice as well as the Business Class Classic reward not offering much better value when calculating points at 2.5 cents each. If you value them at 1.5 cents then the Business reward is a good value but the Economy reward is not as 50,000 points at 1.5 cents is $750.
If considering an upgrade using FlyingBlue points contact the reservation desk to verify the requirements.
Note: FlyingBlue has announced points will be earned on a complete revenue basis beginning in April 2018.
You can earn FlyingBlue points on all Skyteam flights. The chart below is mileage based. The mileage calculator also determines the accrual.
If your flight is on another Skyteam member here is a link to their mileage accrual charts.
FlyingBlue does not have any US based credit cards that allow for point accumulation. American Express has a full line of FlyingBlue branded cards, but you must have a European bank account to apply.
Credit Card Transfer
Good opportunities are available to transfer miles to your FlyingBlue account. They are transfer partners with AMEX Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You and Starwood Preferred Guest. All transfers are 1:1 with the SPG 25% bonus applying.
In addition to the credit card transfers, FlyingBlue is transfer partners with e-Reward (4:1), IHG Rewards (5:1), Le Club Accor 2:1 and Hilton Honors (10:1).
FlyingBlue points can be earned on hotel stay, car rentals as well as hotel booking sites. Use this link to their FlyingBlue list. Popular chains are:
- Best Western
You can accumulate Flying Blue points when booking hotels on these sites:
Flying Blue allows the purchase, transfer and gifting of points through Points.com. Sold in blocks of 2,000 the price is 55 Euros, or about $62. This is a fairly standard airline offering of 3 to 3.5 cents each, which is not a good deal. See the transfers partners for better opportunities. Flying Blue Ivory members (entry level) are limited to purchasing 75,000 points annually, while Elite members can purchase an unlimited number of Reward points.
FlyingBlue offers some unique opportunities, especially with their Promo Rewards. North American economy rewards are also a good opportunity to maximize value of reward points. If traveling to Europe and you are willing to look at a fare purchase with point upgrade, FlyingBlue might be worth the time to investigate. In the example provided it was clearly the best use of FlyingBlue points.
FlyingBlue consistently does well at the Freddie Awards (frequent flyer program Oscar awards). Recently they were voted the Best Program as well as having Best Customer Service, Best Availability along with some other awards. The important step is to take the analysis of value including the surcharges to see if this program fits your travel needs the best.