In Which I Give Delta Something of a Pass for its Lack of Award Availability on Air France

In mid-September Air France transatlantic business class award space mostly evaporated. And what did exist wasn’t bookable with Delta Skymiles, even though those Delta is a Skyteam partner of Air France.

I initially tried to parse who was responsible, something that’s a big deal because historically Air France business class availability has been really good — and Delta has had access to whatever Air France made available to its own members. It became a great outlet for burning Skymiles, which are in most cases tougher to use and worth less than miles with US Airways, United, and American.

I speculated that Delta was to blame, in part because they had withdrawn access to Air France inventory in the past when they decided it was costing their frequent flyer program too much money.

And also because what little inventory was showing up was — at least in anecdotal searches — still accessible by another Air France partner, Alaska Airlines. (Delta always seemed to be able to book Air France awards post June 2013 when this happened in September, and nothing prior to that, but I was still getting Alaska hits in the interim.)

A month later it became possible again to book Air France premium cabin awards using Delta miles. And they were even bookable at Delta.com.

Lucky does a nice job laying out where things stand today: Air France business class award space does exist for Delta Skymiles members — but it is not at all the same as what’s offered to Air France’s own Flying Blue members. In fact it’s barely even a subset.

You used to be able to search Expertflyer for the space, or go to the Air France website to find award space, and then grab those flights with Delta miles.

Now it’s frequently the case that Air France will offer its own members 9 or more business class award space on a given flight. And not a single one of those seats will be bookable by Delta.

But it doesn’t appear to be a Delta-specific issue, like Delta not wanting to pay for the seats or some kind of dispute between Delta and Air France over payment. Because Air France partner Alaska Airlines seems to have the same issue, Air France will show 9 business class award seats to their own members and no business class award seats will be bookable with Alaska miles.

You can still grab the seats with Flying Blue miles, which you can get through instant transfers from American Express Membership Rewards or by transferring in from other programs like Starwood Preferred Guest (and you’ll pay fuel surcharges when redeeming those miles for flights on Air France, and getting what is in my opinion an uncomfortable business class seat).

But the ‘new normal’ seems to be that partner access to Air France business class awards is much limited. And that it isn’t a restriction on only the ability of Delta Skymiles members to grab those seats. So presumably this isn’t Delta’s fault but rather a policy change on the part of Air France.

And in my view the severe limitation of partners redeeming award seats on your own flights (into award seats that you’re otherwise making available) is something that undermines the idea of the Skyteam alliance in a very real way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think it is an Air France issue/problem or just lack of respect with other programs. I mentioned at OneMileAtaTime that this is also happening with GOL Linhas Aereas here in Brazil. Their frequent flyer program Smiles is a partner of Air France-KLM and since couple of weeks ago AF award space simply vanished from Smiles website. Even though I’m able to see it whether from ExpertFlyer or from Air France’s website, it doesn’t seem to be released to partners anymore. Strange!

  2. I have been hoarding my Amex for transfers to Delta and then to use on AF to EU as that was wide open last year from IAD in the past on the A380; but now I will just transfer to aeroplan and then to US or ANA or any other.
    The only losers are AF – their planes will go out a bit more empty than in the past.

  3. The examples that lucky gives do actually show up on the Delta web site for me, with the same availability from AF and EF. I don’t doubt that there is still something going on, but the flights listed aren’t it.

  4. I think you guys complaining about the lack of availability of AF awards to Skymiles members is laughable.

    You do not seem to realize that DL does exactly the same to FB members.

    Try to book something on DL domestic that is not a hardcore route between hubs. Totally impossible.

    It’s like reciprocity Visa guys. Get over it.

  5. Cedric – don’t kid yourself. Delta does the same to their own members. What air france and other partners get is the same that nonelite skymiles members get. elites get a few extra coach seats.

    Impossible is dramatically overstating it, but availability is certainly not great and in some markets is essentially nonexistent.

  6. I strongly agree with what Matt said. Cedric: it is almost impossible to use miles on Delta metal at the low level. Thank god so many of Delta’s partners have availability, although all of this just goes to show how dismal Skyteam is as an alliance.

  7. The SkyTeam alliance is really a disappointment.

    Having recently blown the bulk of my SkyMiles for r/t J class tix to JNB, I don’t have a large number of SM left, just a tad more than 60K. I don’t want to waste the miles on a domestic ticket, yet I want to empty my DL account while the SM still have value. DL does have excellent availability to Lima, so if anyone is looking for an interesting destination for a moderate number of miles, a trip to Macchu Pichu might be in order.

  8. Too bad Gary didn’t bother to look at the comments on Ben’s post, where any number of us have shown that the seats that show in EF can actually be found on delta.com. It’s bad enough when the blogosphere is just reposts of things that are true, but now we’re reposting misinformation with almost no new information added.

  9. @Mitch @Matt the specific example that ben uses isn’t the issue. the phenomenon that ben describes is correct. i wasn’t relying on ben’s post to learn this, it’s something that i discovered and face every day through my award booking service.

    try this one: january 1, paris – washington dulles. the air france website shows 8 business class award seats available. delta does not have access to any of the seats. and neither does alaska.

  10. Given DL has a TATL revenue-sharing JV with AF-KL, what does DL have to lose by AF-KL getting more fuel surcharge type of revenue on award tickets on routes where there is revenue-sharing? I doubt that DL management is unhappy that SkyMiles members have lost out on decent award availability on DL’s primary TATL flying partner company AF-KL.

  11. @Gary The phenomenon Ben describes is NOT correct. Ben writes “And ExpertFlyer confirms that, as they also show two business class award seats on that flight, so it’s worth noting that they’re pulling availability from Air France Flying Blue and not Delta SkyMiles.” However, I have yet to see an instance where ExpertFlyer shows Air France inventory that cannot be booked through SkyMiles. Yes, the FlyingBlue engine is now showing enhanced availability to FlyingBlue members. It seems that every alliance has at least one if not several carriers that do that, and I don’t have a problem with that. If anything, Delta brought this on themselves by forcing SkyMiles members to use partners for almost all award travel at low/saver prices.

    In the case of your CDG-IAD example, ExpertFlyer shows no O inventory on that flight, so I’m still waiting for an example of an Air France flight that has O inventory showing in ExpertFlyer but that isn’t available to partners. If you want to look into something (or complain about weird problems), look at some of the recent issues with KLM inventory that shows available on delta.com but that is always “Just sold out” when you try to book. Calling doesn’t even help, as KLM returns “sell denied” when the phone agents try to book it.

  12. My point was never about Expertflyer. It’s that there used to be massive amounts of partner award space on Air France. What Air France offered to their own members was available to Delta members and to Alaska members. And that’s no longer the case.

  13. If that was your point, you weaken it in two ways: by (positively) referencing Ben’s post which does focus on his mistaken impression that seats visible on ExpertFlyer are not available to Delta and by writing “You used to be able to search Expertflyer for the space, or go to the Air France website to find award space, and then grab those flights with Delta miles.” Yes, you can’t use the Air France site any more for accurate inventory, but ExpertFlyer still works.

  14. Gary, I’m not sure that trying to change the topic is particularly fruitful here. You endorsed what Lucky posted, plus explicitly mentioned Expertflyer. As Mitch mentions, these go a long way towards weakening your point.

    And if you want to talk about restricted seats undermining an alliance, why not talk about Singapore and most directly analogous in this case Lufthansa and Swiss?

  15. @Matt I guess since more than one person is reading me this way it’s possible it’s how I was coming off, but not my intention. I wasn’t making any claim about Expert Flyer inventory matching or not matching the Air France space that Delta can access. The point of my post is that Delta Skymiles members — and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members — no longer have access to the same business class award space that Flying Blue members have. I was pretty explicit about that.

    As for Singapore, Lufthansa, and Swiss award inventory, I’ve written extensively about the issue.

  16. @Mitch – I positively referenced Ben’s post for the point I took him to be making, when I read it Expertflyer was what he was using as an example but it was beside the point, I didn’t literally check his examples because the important point is completely sold and something I have experienced dozens of times recently in my award booking practice.

    Genuinely not sure why you want to focus on it, seems entirely tangential to me.

  17. Gary, I hate to keep digging this up, but to be honest the fact that you have experienced problems “dozens of times” recently (thousands of dollars of award bookings?) yet still post a fundamentally incorrect statement of what does and does not work to find AF award space bookable on Delta is a bit disturbing. Equally so is Ben completely missing the boat on this with his booking service (and recent statements that he was using Skymiles a lot TATL).

    Quite simply, if anyone should know what the situation is, it’s you. If you’re booking “dozens” of TATL awards where flying AF using Skymiles is at least under consideration, I would think it would be your responsibility to know how to search for the space, if nothing else for your clients’ sake.

    As far as how your statement comes off, I’m not sure the implication of the following is particularly vague:
    “You used to be able to search Expertflyer for the space”

    Sure you could weasel out with the claim that you didn’t mention anything about the current state, but that’d be more than a tad disingenuous.

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