A week ago Air France KLM’s Flying Blue was added as a Chase transfer partner. Flying Blue is now one of only two programs — along with Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer — which lets you transfer in points from all the major US transferrable points currencies.
Flying Blue has unique partnerships, routing rules, and region definitions that you can really take advantage of if you know about the opportunities. But there are some things to watch out for.
You can transfer points to Air France Flying Blue from:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which lets you earn a 50,000 point signup bonus (after $4000 spend within 3 months, and 5000 more for adding an authorized user and making a purchase in the same time period) and then earns double points on travel and dining
- Citi ThankYou Rewards: the Citi Prestige Card which lets you earn 50,000 points as a signup bonus after $3000 spend within 3 months, and earns triple points on air and hotel and double points on restaurants and entertainment; and Citi ThankYou Premier whose triple points category is ‘travel including gas’. (Offer expired)
- American Express Membership Rewards: Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express which gives you triple points for airfare purchased directly from airlines and double points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets.
- Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express gives you 5000 bonus miles when transferring points into 20,000 miles. So you effectively earn 1.25 miles with the airline of your choice of over 30 airlines.
I learned last week that Flying Blue actually agreed to become a Chase transfer partner a year ago but it took until now to put the partnership into place because Chase insisted that points transferred to Flying Blue post instantly (the way they do with American Express Membership Rewards) so substantial IT work had to be done before the partnership could go live.
Unique Benefits of the Flying Blue Program
The biggest benefit to the Flying Blue program is that they make far more award space available on Air France and KLM to their own members than they do to partners. I find really good space between the US and Europe, even on West Coast routes.
Los Angeles – Paris for 2 Passengers in Business Class
They also have some unique partnerships, and allow online booking for unique partners. You can search availability and book online at AirFrance.us for Air France; KLM; Delta; Alitalia; Czech; TAROM; Aeroflot; Aeromexico; Kenya Airways; Air Europa; Saudia; Korean; China Airlines; Vietnam Airlines; Middle East Airlines; Garuda Indonesia; China Southern; China Eastern.
They also partner with Air Mauritius, Aircalin, Air Corsica, Bangkok Airways, and Ukraine International Airlines.
Flying Blue will allow you to put awards on hold, generally for 48 hours, even without miles in your account.
Like many international programs, their award regions make sense for customers in their home market but can be advantageous for US customers. Let’s take a look at some of the quirks of Flying Blue’s award regions, starting with “Europe 1/2/3” which are:
- Europe 1: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom
- Europe 2: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden
- Europe 3: Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Canary Islands, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Western Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine.
Notice that Tel Aviv is part of Europe. Not only do you get to book them for the US-Europe price, but Flying Blue’s current Boston promo award lets you book business class for less than 50,000 miles each way. The normal price is 25,000 miles each way in economy and 62,500 in business.
US-Hawaii is just 15,000 miles each way, even from the East Coast of the US. Oddly, Hawaii to the Caribbean is just 12,500 miles — continuing on from say Atlanta (or throwing away a segment beyond Atlanta) saves miles. Mexico is the same region as the US, so it’s the same cost to fly to these places as an award within the 48 US states.
Also note that a stopover is permitted on a roundtrip award (but cannot be booked online). An open jaw is permitted as well but must be within the same region (so you can fly into Paris and out of Amsterdam, but cannot fly into Paris and out of Africa).
Challenges With the Flying Blue Program
Downsides to the Flying Blue program include fuel surcharges (which are frequently quite moderate for economy awards), phantom award space sometimes showing on the Flying Blue website (especially for Kenya Airways), challenging phone agents, and fraud procedures.
Flying Blue doesn’t permit ‘mixed cabin’ redemptions, such as an economy domestic flight in the US connecting to a business class international flight. In the past I was able to book by phone and fax in an authorization letter, informing Flying Blue that I was accepting a voluntary downgrade, but I haven’t been given this option recently.
You can also only book travel 10 months in advance, not 331 (or 355) days out like with many airlines. You can book awards up to 24 hours prior to departure for long haul travel, and up to 3 hours before departure for short haul.
Last year Flying Blue was causing problems for some customers transferring points into their accounts. The most common problem, a fraud prevention measure, was online award bookings erroring out for some members at the payment stage and requiring customers to issue tickets in person at the airport. The requirement to issue tickets at the airport has long also been a common issue for awards for travel originating in Africa.
I spoke with Flying Blue’s Strategic Manager at a conference in Philadelphia last week. He hadn’t heard recent stories of problems faced by members transferring points in from programs like Mmebership Rewards or ThankYou Rewards. I haven’t heard any recent stories either. (Please share any recent experiences in the comments.)
Nonetheless, I recommend creating a Flying Blue account now, since it costs you nothing to do so. Then you’ll have a more aged account to use later rather than a brand new one you transfer points into right away which could reduce risk even further.