Ever since Air France/KLM Flying Blue became a transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, the program has become much more accessible. While the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard also made its debut in the recent past, the lack of a welcome bonus means that Amex MR is the primary gateway to the program.
Even though the 1:0.75 transfer ratio from Amex MR is lamentable, there are still certain redemptions that might make the most sense for travellers to book via Flying Blue instead of with other programs.
As always, it’s best to consider all of the different options at your disposal when planning out a trip, and Flying Blue provides good coverage for SkyTeam airlines that are otherwise difficult to access on points.
In this article, let’s take a closer look at some unique redemption possibilities that the Flying Blue program brings to the table.
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Air France/KLM Flying Blue: Key Things to Know
There are a few particularities about the Flying Blue program that we should go over before we delve into the sweet spots.
First of all, Flying Blue doesn’t have the most transparent award pricing. It uses a dynamic pricing model, with different price points for each route, and there is no published award chart.
On the plus side, that means that every last seat on flights operated by Air France or KLM can be booked with Flying Blue miles. On the downside, the dynamic pricing model allows the mileage rates to fluctuate in unpredictable ways.
The Flying Blue program’s Miles Estimator may come in useful for guidance on costs, but it isn’t always helpful. For example, it only shows “starting from” pricing for each route, which may be difficult or impossible to find.
The program recently added the ability to add a free stopover on award bookings. You can book a stopover of between 24 hours and a year, and there’s no additional cost in miles or cash to add a stopover, which is a great deal.
However, one downside to the program is that you’ll have to shell out some cash for taxes, fees, and surcharges, usually to the tune of around $300 (CAD) for a transatlantic flight.
Here, we’ll focus on sweet spots where Flying Blue represents the best way to book despite the program’s quirks, and we’ll leave other redemptions for better-suited award programs.
For example, even though Flying Blue can book domestic WestJet flights within Canada, the award rates aren’t really optimal upon factoring in the transfer ratio – so we’ll gloss over such options in this article.
The most well-known Flying Blue sweet spot is its monthly Promo Rewards feature, which offers 20–50% discounts on select Air France or KLM routes on a rotating basis.
These discounts span economy, premium economy, and business class, and historically we’ve seen fairly strong coverage for Air France and KLM’s Canadian routes on Promo Rewards.
In fact, we’ve seen recent Promo Rewards offer a 50% discount on business class flights from Montreal to Europe, which priced out at just 27,500 miles.
Another great Promo Reward was for a 50% discount on economy flights between Montreal and Europe, which priced out at just 7,500 miles.
Promo Rewards are released at the beginning of every month, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them in case there are any deals you can snag.
Note one major restriction of Promo Rewards: they cannot be cancelled or refunded, given their generous discounts.
2. Edmonton to Amsterdam
When you’re planning out a trip to Europe, you’ll want to weigh out the pros and cons of booking with different programs. Air France/KLM Flying Blue is unique in that it offers direct flights to Europe from some Canadian cities that don’t have any other direct options.
One example is if you live in Edmonton, where neither Air Canada nor WestJet currently offers direct flights to Europe, but KLM does.
You can book the direct flight to Amsterdam for 65,000 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 86,667 MR points) plus a few hundred dollars in taxes, fees, and surcharges.
At this price point, some travellers might indeed prefer to take the connection via Toronto, Montreal, or the United States, but those who prioritize convenience above all else will be glad to have a direct way to cross the pond on points at their fingertips. The same is true for residents of Ottawa and Quebec City, who can also benefit from direct flights to Europe with Air France.
Even if you live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, where Air Canada and Star Alliance options may be aplenty, it’s useful to keep the Air France and KLM services in the back of your mind in case Aeroplan’s dynamic pricing is off the charts.
3. French Overseas Regions
Many travellers think of SkyTeam as lagging behind Star Alliance and Oneworld in terms of premium cabins and aspirational awards. However, there are some destinations around the world that are served only by SkyTeam airlines, and that’s where things get interesting in terms of new ways to redeem points to get to these places.
Take, for example, some of the French overseas departments and regions. Air France is the only major mainline carrier to serve the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, so if you’re interested in travelling there on points, then redeeming Flying Blue miles on an Air France flight would be the best way to get there.
Similarly, consider the territory of French Guiana in South America, which borders Suriname and Brazil.
Flying Blue is once again the only meaningful way to book a flight to Cayenne, its capital – you could book a direct flight from Paris–Orly, or take an “island hopper” routing on Air France Flight 600 from Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe via Fort-de-France on Martinique.
A one-way flight in economy class on any of these legs starts at 35,000 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 46,667 Amex MR points) and around $50 (CAD) in taxes and fees.
4. Air France Business Class to Bora Bora
While there are alternative ways to book business class to Bora Bora, redeeming Flying Blue miles for Air France’s flight from Los Angeles to Pape’ete tends to give you the most availability if you’re booking in advance.
A one-way flight in business class will cost 110,000 Flying Blue miles, equivalent to 146,667 Amex MR points. Not cheap, but then again, the very ability to kickstart your dream trip to Bora Bora in business class is quite precious in the first place.
Award space can be plentiful if looking far in advance – remember, Air France makes every last seat bookable on miles, and you should be able to find multiple award seats at the lowest price level if you are able to plan accordingly.
5. Island Hopping with Aircalin
If you’re headed all the way to French Polynesia, why not continue the island-hopping journey deeper into the South Pacific? One of Air France’s unique airline partners is Aircalin, the airline of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, which operates some very interesting routes in the region.
You could fly between Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, and Tahiti for 29,000 or 65,000 Flying Blue miles in economy or business (equivalent to 38,667 or 86,667 Amex MR points), respectively.
You could continue your island-hopping with a trip to, say, Vanuatu for 9,000 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 12,000 Amex MR points)…
…or even Wallis and Futuna, yet another overseas French territory, for 26,500 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 35,333 Amex MR points).
You could conclude your journey over in New Zealand for a few thousand miles less…
…or you could fly Aircalin’s flagship route from Nouméa to Tokyo on the Airbus A330-900neo for 43,500 or 97,500 Flying Blue miles in economy or business (equivalent to 58,000 or 130,000 Amex MR points), respectively.
Island-hopping in the South Pacific strikes me as the most attractive sweet spot here. However, keep in mind that Aircalin’s cash fares are also fairly reasonable by South Pacific standards, and it may end up being a better deal to pay cash than redeem miles via Flying Blue – even in business class.
6. Air France La Première
Business class is all well and good, but for the true aspirational traveller, First Class is the real prize.
Unfortunately, members of the SkyTeam alliance generally block off First Class award redemptions from partner airlines within the alliance, so you wouldn’t be able to redeem Flying Blue miles for, say, Korean Air First Class or Saudia First Class. Instead, each airline’s First Class product is generally reserved for members of the airline’s own loyalty program to book.
So that leaves us with the famous Air France La Première on the Boeing 777. Is it possible book one of the world’s best First Class experiences – complete with a private curtained suite in an intimate cabin of four, incredible onboard dining, and a world-class ground experience with a luxury car tarmac transfer – using Flying Blue miles?
Air France La Première
The answer is yes, and there are actually two ways to go about it.
The first isn’t a completely reliable method, but it’s actually possible to use a combination of cash and miles to get yourself into La Première.
Begin by booking a business class award ticket on an Air France flight that features the La Première cabin. Many people use flights between Paris and Dubai or Mexico City.
Next, you’ll want to monitor the availability of seats in the La Première cabin, using a tool such as ExpertFlyer. The important part is determining whether or not there are unsold La Première seats on your flight in the days leading up to your trip.
At 30 hours prior to departure, you can check in for your flight. During the check-in procedure, you might see an option to pay cash for an upgrade to La Première on your flight.
If you’re lucky enough to see this option, you can score a seat in La Première at a steep discount from the cash price. Some reports suggest that the upgrade costs around $1,000 (USD) to Dubai and around €1,000 to Mexico City.
For the other method, you’ll need to be a Flying Blue Gold or Platinum elite member to be eligible to book these awards, and even then, the award cost is exorbitant.
To rack up Flying Blue Gold status, you’ll need to earn 280 “XP” by crediting paid flights on Air France and its partner airlines to the Flying Blue program (100 XP gets you to Silver, and then 180 XP gets you to Gold). Just an easy 14 round-trip flights from Toronto to Paris in economy class, or 10 round-trips in business class, should do the trick.
Then, a one-way redemption in La Première will cost 220,000 Flying Blue miles between Paris and New York JFK, which is equivalent to a whopping 293,333 Amex MR points. For the shortest and cheapest La Première route between Paris and Dubai, it’ll be 175,000 Flying Blue miles, equivalent to 233,333 Amex MR points.
That’s a lot of effort to go through for a single one-way flight, but hey, if you want to experience one of the world’s most coveted First Class cabins for yourself, it’s the most sure-fire method to book outside of hunting for mistake fares or chancing it with an upgrade.
Even though its optimal uses are rather limited at the end of the day, Air France/KLM Flying Blue still has pockets of value for the savvy traveller. As the program keeps adding new features, it’s becoming more and more attractive, which is rare in a space that’s defined by devaluations.
For most practical purposes, Flying Blue’s main value proposition revolves around its monthly rotating Promo Rewards, especially if they throw in a few discounted business class redemptions from North American gateway airports.
Here’s hoping we’ll also see some regular transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards to Flying Blue, or maybe even a 1:1 transfer ratio, in the future to make these unique sweet spots just a little sweeter.
Appeared first on: princeoftravel.com