According to One Mile at a Time, Flying Blue will be implementing several new changes to their loyalty program as of April 1, 2018. Sadly this does not appear to be a case of Poisson d’Avril. As the loyalty program for both Air France and KLM, Flying Blue has historically been a good place to transfer your points from Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Rewards, or Membership Rewards.
They have access to much of the same award space as Delta SkyMiles but don’t always charge the same price. It can also be more difficult to transfer points to SkyMiles if you don’t have enough already. Flying Blue also has monthly promo awards that can be 25% to 50% cheaper. (These promo awards will be sticking around.)
New earning rates will be based on the amount you spend (in euros) rather than the distance you fly. Higher status means a higher earning rate, and there are no bonuses for premium fares because — after all — premium fares cost more and will already earn more miles.
While similar to the cost-based methodology used by most U.S. carriers, the rates are substantially different. First, the rates are lower. U.S. carriers tend to award between 5 and 11 miles per dollar. On the flip side, the new rates are not such a horrible disadvantage.
Flying Blue previously awarded as few as 25% of the distance flown, while most U.S. carriers used to award 100% of the distance flown on discounted economy flights. In essence Flying Blue was 75% less generous. Now Flying Blue will start at 4 miles per dollar, or 25% less generous than the 5 miles per dollar you can get from a U.S. carrier. Progress?
Not really, since U.S. carriers have already made the switch and this is a false comparison. You still have the option to credit your Air France and KLM flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which will award between 20% and 150% of the distance flown.
It appears you will also continue to earn miles based on distance flown when you travel on a partner carrier and credit to Flying Blue. However, this could easily change in the future, and I would expect earning rates to adjust.
But earning rates are the only story. I’m perfectly happy earning fewer miles if the awards also cost less to redeem. And that’s …not happening.
Flying Blue seems to be adopting a fully revenue-based model similar to Southwest Rapid Rewards, where the cost of the ticket determines both how many miles you earn and how many miles you redeem. This is great for award availability, because just about any seat can be booked as long as you have enough miles.
The downside is that there are no more “good deals” because expensive tickets in business class that cost 5X more in dollars will also cost 5X more in miles; historically business class awards are only 50-100% more expensive. It works well for Southwest, an economy-only carrier. It will be interesting to see how Flying Blue implements the approach on legacy carriers like Air France and KLM.
Once again, it appears that Flying Blue will have a different path available for award travel on partner airlines. This may provide an out, with more favorable redemption rates on partner business class awards, but expect to face limited available inventory.
Miles & Cash Awards
Finally, Flying Blue is also introducing the option to part pay with miles and cash, in case you don’t have enough of either to cover the cost of your ticket. This is a natural extension of the program when you’re already determining the mileage cost based on price.
However, my experience with such deals is that they only make sense in economy class. Award space can be much more plentiful in the back cabin, and you might find it better to redeem miles from a partner like Delta if you plan on flying coach.
Overall, this is not good news for people who like to maximize their miles. It will make it easier to track how many miles you earn and redeem, and the amount of award inventory will increase. But making things simple almost always means taking away value elsewhere. It remains to be seen exactly how much change will take place in award redemptions, especially earning and redeeming miles with partner carriers, but in the absence of more information we probably need to wait until April 1 next year.
There are additional changes to how elite status can be earned with Flying Blue, which I have not discussed here since the majority of this blog’s readership focus on earning and redeeming award miles. Be sure to check out the program launch page for more information.