Maximizing Membership Rewards for Business Class: Flying Blue [Part 4]

This is the fourth installment for Maximizing Membership Rewards for Business Class. These articles will show you some great ways to utilize your American Express points for business class. You can read other installments to this series here:

For part three, I’m going to be focusing on SkyTeam partner: Flying Blue (Air France and KLM)

Flying Blue has a number of great sweet spots in economy class but unfortunately isn’t the most lucrative reward program for business class flights because many of these flights are on the higher side of redemptions and many redemptions also come with high fees. However, there is some value to be had in this program, you’ve just got to know where to look.

Flying Blue 

A major draw to Flying Blue is that it’s a transfer partner of all four of the major rewards programs:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (new)
  • Starwood Preferred Guests
  • Citi Thankyou Points

In my opinion, this somewhat makes up for the higher redemption rates since it’s so easy to accumulate points for the program.

Zones

Flying Blue does not release a full reward chart. Because of that, I ultimately suggest just playing around with the Flying Blue mileage calculator to figure out mile requirements. However, if you want to get a general idea on the different zones, see below:

  • Middle East, Central Asia, Central Russia
  • North America, Netherlands Antilles, Mexico
  • Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, Bermuda
  • Africa 1 (Central, East & West Africa)
  • Africa 2 (South Africa, Indian Ocean)
  • Indian subcontinent
  • Latin America 1 (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela)
  • Latin America 2 (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay)
  • Asia 1 (China, South Korea, Japan, East Russia, Mongolia)
  • Asia 2 (Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwain, Thailand)
  • Pacific 1 (New Caledonia, French Polynesia)
  • Pacific 2 (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Guam)

Europe is a bit confusing. It is apparently divided into three zones and one zone includes countries from Africa and even one from the Middle East:

Europe 1

  • Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg

Europe 2

  • Austria, Denmark, Spain, Balearic Islands, Finland, Italy, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Sweden

Europe 3 (+North Africa & Israel)

  • Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Canary Islands, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, IsraelLibya, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, West Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine.

Different types of awards

There are three different rates that Flying Blue charges for their award tickets

  • Flex – These offer you the most flexibility, hence their name. You can change them without cost and they often have more availability. The issue is that they usually cost two to three times more than Classic awards to redeem.
  • Classic – These are the standard award fares and while fairly consistent, they can vary depending on certain factors.
  • Promo rates – These are offered temporarily and can reduce the redemption rates from 25 to 50%. Some of them can be absolute steals if the timing is right for you.

Routing rules

Flying Blue offers the following routing options:

  • Allowed an open jaw on your destination so long as you remain in the destination zone
  • Allowed one stopover (you must book over the phone)
    • Stopover must be different from country of departure
    • Maximum of three segments allowed to get to destination

An advantage that Flying Blue has over many of the other “cheaper” programs like ANA and Korean Air is that it allows for one-way bookings on partner awards.

In addition, Flying Blue has some interesting zones that are different from a lot of other programs and often offer some great redemption rates. I highly suggest you read my article covering the Flying Blue program to learn more about other important features of the program.

Always check for better options 

Most of the Flying Blue redemptions below are easily beat out by other Membership Rewards partners, such as ANA, Aeroplan, and Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. Heck, even British Airways or Iberia Avios often has Flying Blue outmatched. So keep in mind when looking at these rates that there are probably better deals you can utilize with your Membership Rewards.

Note about Korean Air/Chase Ultimate Rewards

While this series is about maximizing business class awards with Membership Rewards, it’s logical that many might be tempted to transfer other points like Chase Ultimate Rewards to Flying Blue since they are also partners.

But it’s important to note that if you were thinking about transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to Flying Blue, chances are you could save many miles by transferring them to Korean Air and booking SkyTeam partners like Delta with Korean miles. So just keep that in mind….

North America to Europe

  •  Business Class: 125,000 roundtrip

125,000 for a roundtrip business class ticket isn’t horrible, although it’s slightly higher than many other programs. The biggest limitation to this redemption is that you can face some serious fees.

Take a look at this sample booking from New York to Paris (JFK -> CDG) with Air France.

This business class route with Air France requires $575 in total fees!

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.39.33 AM
Air France charges $575 in total fees

But take a look at the same route but flying Delta instead… only $164 in total fees.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.42.51 AM
Delta charges $164 in total fees

That’s a $411 difference and so it really helps to utilize SkyTeam partner Delta to mitigate fees as much as possible.

I’d say that this redemption with Delta and the redemptions with Delta to Hawaii (discussed below) are some of the best value you can get from Flying Blue in business class.

North America to Israel and North Africa

  • Business Class: 125,000 miles roundtrip

Israel and North Africa are lumped in with Europe for Flying Blue so you get the same redemption rate with these locations, too. 125,000 roundtrip to Israel is a steal and only a few other programs like JAL, ANA, Singapore, Korean, and Cathay Pacific compete with this rate. The $135 in total fees is a great grab, too.  

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 10.48.41 AM
Business class via Alitalia and Delta.

Remember, other African countries fall into the same Europe category, so tickets from North America to Algeria, Libya, Morroco, and Tunisia, should all also fall into the same redemption rate. For example, New York to Casablanca, Morocco, would also go for 125,000 miles, too.

Mainland to Hawaii 

  •  Business Class: 60,000 roundtrip

Flying Blue offers one of the best ways to get to Hawaii in both economy and business class. You can book your flight on Delta and pay minimal fees. The biggest limitation with this redemption is the availability. As opposed to economy where you might find 6 award seats on a single flight, there’s a dearth of availability on Delta in business class. I searched long and hard for award seats on Delta and had no luck but this could also just be a matter of bad timing.

North America to “Australia” 

  •  Business Class: 150,000 roundtrip/ 75,000 one way

This is a true “travel hack” that’s available with Flying Blue. The normal rate for a business class flight to Australia from North America is an exorbitant 250,000 miles, which is one of the most expensive business class redemptions to Australia.

However, the redemption rate to “Pacific 1” (French Polynesia) is only 150,000 miles roundtrip and the only route to Noumea (the capital city of the French special collectivity of New Caledonia) routes through Sydney. So, if you just so happen to miss your flight onward to New Caledonia, you’d have a redemption award to Sydney for only 75,000 one way.

That’s not a bad redemption rate and is cheaper than most airlines like American, Delta, Aeroplan, etc. However, fees can set you back a few hundred bucks so you have to take that into consideration.

Intra-continental flights around Asia 

If you’re trying to get around Asia, especially if you’re only looking to book one way shots, Flying Blue can be a great option.

For example, the route from Hong Kong to Bangkok is often considered flying into two separate zones but Flying Blue lumps them together so a one way business class redemption is only 25,000 miles, which is highly competitive.

And you can get away with some very low fees, like the below flight on Kenya Airways (a straight shot) for only $43 in total fees. 

Or take this example from Dehli to Tokyo for only 50,000 miles. That rate is also pretty competitive and beats out Singapore Airlines and United. Furthermore, you can get away with low fees like the Air France flight below that routes through Paris for only $108 in fees.

North America to South America 

You can find some decent redemption rates to South America but best of all you can minimize the fees by flying on SkyTeam partners, such as Delta or AeroMexico. The flight below shows a 62,500 miles redemption to Santiago, Chile from New York for 62,500 miles and only $24 in fees. 62,500 miles is fairly competitive and not a horrible option to go for on a one way flight to South America.

Flying Blue Promo Awards 

These are special promotions offered on specific routes at the beginning of each month and can reduce the redemption rates from 25% to 50%. Unfortunately, it’s less common for business class fares to be found in these promotions these days but they sometimes do appear.

For example right now in March 2017, there’s a promo on business class fares from Chicago to Europe.

The problem with these is that you still have to pay Air France/Flying Blue fees, which really cuts into the savings. For example, even a one way award would have $325 in fees!

For that reason, I don’t get too excited about these fares sometimes.

But check out that rate for a one way business class ticket from AMS to XMN (Xiamen, China). It’s only 50,000 miles (50% off) and comes with more manageable fees at $183 for a one way business class ticket. This would make it the cheapest redemption out of any airline (25,000 miles cheaper than United or American) for business class on this route. (Fees are about $20 cheaper flying from XMN to AMS.)

Final word

Unfortunately, Flying Blue doesn’t have a tremendous amount of deals to offer in business class. There are so many other options that are cheaper with both miles and fees, that it’s often hard to justify using Flying Blue for long-haul business class fights. Still, if you’re looking to book one-way business class awards to various places around the globe or can catch award seats at the right time, Flying Blue can actually offer some very competitive redemptions.

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