Major Air France Flying Blue devaluation coming June 2013

Flying Blue announced some pretty major changes to their program today. On the whole they’re bad for anyone looking at making premium cabin redemptions, though there are some benefits for those that like to redeem their miles for coach travel (yes, those people do exist).

The changes are kind of complicated, so let’s tackle them by cabin.

So the good news involves coach awards (and savor it, because it’s all the good news you’ll get). Fuel surcharges for longhaul coach redemptions are going down substantially to €50 one-way for most routes. For example, New York to Paris one-way presently comes with a €137 fuel surcharges, so those will be nice savings and may at times make coach redemptions through Flying Blue worthwhile.

For premium economy they’re lowering the fuel surcharges (for transatlantic flights to €110 one-way), though they’re substantially increasing the mileage requirements. For example, a one-way premium economy award between New York and Paris used to cost 37,500 miles, while it will now cost 50,000 miles, the same cost that business class used to be. Ouch.

It’s business class awards that are most negatively impacted. There’s no reduction in fuel surcharges for longhaul flights and an across the board increase in the number of miles required. You can see the mileage requirements for all regions and routes here.

For example, between the US and Europe the mileage requirement goes from 50,000 miles each way to 62,500 miles each way.

All these changes kick in this June, though apparently you’ll be able to continue to make bookings by phone at the old rates through the end of the year (though truthfully Flying Blue’s call center is so horrible that I think I may just prefer spending an extra 25,000 miles).

In the past I wouldn’t have personally cared about this, because up until last year I had never redeemed Flying Blue miles (for my clients or for my own travels). However, several months ago Air France began releasing only a subset of their award inventory to their partner airlines. So while previously I’d make all Air France bookings through Delta to avoid the fuel surcharges, as of late I’ve been booking a lot of people through Flying Blue. That’s because they actually have decent award availability over peak dates where you otherwise don’t see much award space. It wasn’t too bad of a deal given that you would pay 100,000 miles roundtrip through either Delta or Air France, and the only difference was the fuel surcharges one has to pay through Flying Blue. While nobody likes paying fuel surcharges, paying a ~$400 premium in order to be able to snag flights that otherwise aren’t available isn’t a bad value. Now having to pay an additional 25,000 miles on top of that sucks…

Comments

  1. How’s the business class availability LAC- CDG on Air Tahiti Nui? That would be an alternative, but not sure if they charge significant taxes/fees and if that flight has their new business class seats.

  2. You clearly didn’t notice that according to the new award chart, First Class is now available as a “Classic Award” rather than a “Flex Award.” This should mean, theoretically, that F awards are now bookable by anyone who wants to waste 162,500 miles (o/w).

  3. Thanks for this update. But why do you call the surcharges “fuel” surcharges when they have nothing to do with fuel, and when the carrier does not even use the word “fuel”?

  4. Well, as one of “those” people who would redeem miles for coach travel, this is great news! This definitely makes AF/KLM a contender

  5. This probably means that the lack of Delta SkyMiles access to AF business awards via miles or SWUs is here to stay. If AF is jacking up the number of miles for its own members why release inventory to Delta? Sigh.

  6. If AF is actually opening F for redemption to everybody, it’s great, even with the high redemption prices. However, I’ll wait until we hear something official before I get too excited.

  7. I say this as a total Fracophile and someone who has native fluency in French… but i can’t imagine a [first world] culture less likely to produce a truly premium first class product on their flag carrier than the French.

  8. While now living in LA, during the time I worked in Paris Air France made me a member of Club 2000, their highest by invitation only elite level, and while they would in fact hold up a departure if a member was running late in getting to CDG or Orly, the onboard service never matched the level of several Asian carriers due to strict seniority rules imposed by the unions and the general attitude of the service staff, who thought they were more important than the customers. That said, the food was pretty good.

  9. @ Stuart Falk — Unfortunately I find it’s not very good, there’s rarely more than one business class seat per flight in my experience. And if booking through Delta SkyMiles they do impose fuel surcharges.

  10. @ Z — Hmmm, wasn’t a flex award previously 125,000 miles one-way in first class? Wonder what I’m missing here…

    @ Jeff — Because that’s what they’re commonly called. What do you consider it to be?

  11. @ SitInFirst.com — Agree, though also frustrating that the new “classic” first class redemption rates are higher than the old “flex” first class redemption rates.

    @ Stefan — Doubt it, they just seem to want to keep it “exclusive.”

    @ Brian L. — I do think it’s safe to assume they’re opening this up first class redemptions to everyone. But as I said above, these rates are higher than their old flex rates, and you could always transfer Membership Rewards points to an elite Flying Blue member’s account.

  12. Air france have completely lost it,i ve been flying with for 17 years and got platinium for life but decided a year ago to switch to British airways and am quite happy with my decision,i remember a time when First award ow Paris to Mideast will cost 40000 (2008 exactly) then a year later they jumped yo 100000 yes (x2.5) and frankly they have nothing special about their F except french arrogance and chauvinism,not even a private compartment,a curtain separating from business and business passengers oftenly using F lavatories!!!!yes Flying blue may show you lit of availability until i learned my lesson before a trip to Dubai,their system showing lot of promo,classic award for my return sector and to realise once in Dubai even though the system showing tons of availability but they begin switching to flex award once finalusing the booking with the message:sorry the last seat just been taken,for 3days this kept going,i ended up paying a flex award (4 times the promo award),this happened 3times,as for business class intra europe,someone must be mad to spend so much miles,Air france is so desperate for cost cutying and once more they choose the soft target,the FF and they insult our intelligence by e mailing us pretending some good news???yeah the good news lot of travellers will be switching program and spending their miles soon.

  13. I consider the “carrier imposed international surcharge” to be a copayment, pure and simple. Based not on fuel prices but on what the market will bear. I suspect that Flying Blue avoids calling it a fuel surcharge because it would be deceptive to do so. (P.S. In case it’s not clear, “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”)

  14. Does “more classic award availability, with varying number of miles required” sound like a way to couple a devaluation with the changes for economy class awards?

  15. I’m going to be part of the minority here and say that this is a positive. As some of the FB regulars know, there are some routing “anomalies” in the booking engine that allow booking on certain routes using a ridiculously low amount of miles, but hitherto charged ridiculous surcharges. If the surcharges come down, these will become real hidden gems for travel (albeit in Econ).

  16. For those who work in West Africa, Air France is a forced marriage since they have the most extensive network in the region, reliable schedules and quick connections at CDG to virtually anywhere, not to forget KLM/Kenya Airways in the portrait. It’s also relatively easy to reach Platinum Status (for whatever it’s worth) with Flying Blue. What has been very frustrating with Air France is the extreme difficulty to use Miles for upgrade awards. Combination of limited classes eligible for upgrades and extremely limited inventory for upgrade awards in Business has made it impossible for me to redeem any upgrade awards in over 5 years, and I’m shuttling between Africa and Europe at least once a month and I’m trying to upgrade each time. It’s never worked.
    They also announced that they will improve that, but have remained vague on the details.

  17. Any idea if they will still run the half-price miles promotions? I’ve always avoided them in the past due to high surcharges, but this could make those 25K coach r/ts to Europe pretty attractive.

  18. @ James — I suspect they will, and this will indeed make coach redemptions pretty attractive with such a promotion.

  19. @ GUWonder — I suspect we’ll see less space at the lowest “classic” level and a progressive chart with multiple levels a la Delta, so I suspect availability will be worse than before as well.

  20. @ Jerry — Well generally US programs are much more generous. If you can avoid European programs I’d actually credit to US programs which often offer lower redemption rates without fuel surcharges.

  21. Thanks for acknowledging us cheapskate families! I’d never trade a trip with my kids for a nicer seat without them, and I can’t bring myself to spend double the miles on a trip rather than booking another trip!

  22. Air France has had a monopoly on its flights for years into France. Now they want to punish the people who travel to their country and spend money in their country by doubling the points required to fly on their money-losing airline? Sounds like they have ripped off Hollande’s failing class-welfare playbook. Onward toward becoming a 3rd world country! Bravo.

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