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With US airlines regularly offering less value for their points, I’m putting together this series with background, tips, and tricks for frequent flyer programs programs whose points:
- can be very useful to you
- that you can earn easily by transferring in from bank rewards currencies.
I love flexible points far more than earning points in a single airline frequent flyer program. That helps me to diversify so I don’t get hurt as badly when one airline program devalues and that gives me the points I need, when I need them with the airline that has availability for the award that I want.
Here’s my tips for the Air France KLM Flying Blue program.
My Biggest Flexible Points Balance is With Chase Ultimate Rewards
A real go-to for the past 5 years has been the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It’s been reliably the most rewarding card for spend.
There’s a 50,000 point signup bonus (after $4000 spend within 3 months) and they’ll give you 5000 more points for adding a no fee authorized user to your account and making a purchase in those same 3 months. The card earns double points on travel and dining. So they start you off quickly with points, and you accumulate points quickly for your spending.
Chase points transfer to:
- Airlines: United, Korean, Singapore, Air France KLM, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways
- Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton
Air France KLM Actually Partners With Everyone
Air France KLM Flying Blue also partners with Citibank, American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest. So you’ve got all the major transferrable points currencies covered, and it’s a place that you can pool your points from several different cards.
The Citi Prestige Card earns triple points on air and hotel and double points on restaurants and entertainment.
The 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.
Important Tips, Tricks, and Cautions Using Air France KLM Flying Blue Miles
Here are 17 things a US-based frequent flyer should know about the Air France KLM Flying Blue program:
- Great award availability. They make far more award space available on Air France and KLM flights 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
- Unique partners. And they allow online booking for most 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.
- Award holds are permitted. Flying Blue will allow you to put awards on hold, generally for 48 hours, even without miles in your account.
- You can take advantage of anomalies in their award regions. Europe is split up into 3 regions (“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. You get to book Israel awards for the US-Europe price.
- Monthly discounted awards. Flying Blue offers promo awards each month, discounting certain markets 20% – 50%.
The current promo awards let you book travel between Vancouver (West Coast!) and anywhere Air France flies in Europe for 31,250 miles each way in business class — that’s 50% off. So you could fly between North America and Israel in business for 62,500 roundtrip.
- US-Hawaii is just 15,000 miles each way in economy, even from the East Coast of the US. Oddly, Hawaii to the Caribbean is just 12,500 miles — so 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 Mexico as an award within the 48 US states.
- 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).
- Flying Blue adds fuel surcharges to award tickets. These can be high for US-Europe (or anywhere – Europe) but are discounted for economy award tickets.
- Phantom award space sometimes showing on the Flying Blue website (especially for Kenya Airways) so if you’re booking partner awards, don’t just rely on what AirFrance.us says about availability. You may want to call (and put an award on hold!) before transferring points.
- Flying Blue has challenging phone agents. They don’t all know the rules, or seem to want to be helpful, so you do find yourself hanging up and calling back.
- It’s important to open a Flying Blue account NOW if you don’t have one rather than waiting until you need to actually transfer points into an account. That’s because of Flying Blue’s fraud procedures. 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.
Create 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.
- 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. Air France and KLM will publish award inventory farther out, so partner frequent flyer programs may be redeeming Air France space when Air France’s own cannot.
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.
- Miles expire after 20 months, and the only way to extend them is to credit a flight. So only transfer in the points you need. Chase transfers are instantaneous and so are American Express transfers, so you can find the seats you want and then transfer.
- First class awards are only for Flying Blue elite members and there are only extra miles awards (no saver awards) for first class. So use Flying Blue for business and economy, unfortunately you won’t get into Air France first class unless you have elite status with them and the extra miles awards probably aren’t worth it anyway if business class is available.
- Fees are reasonable. There are no close-in redemption fees, and changes cost 45 euros before departure of first segment for saver awards (Flex awards can be changed at no fee). Cancelling and redepositing miles is $70 for US members.
The bottom-line I think is that Air France’s miles are best used for Air France and KLM business class awards when partners like Delta and Alaska aren’t offering space. And the program is strategically useful for its oddball airline partners, promo awards (especially to Israel), and oddball discounted routes that match your travel needs.