FlyingBlue Is Literally The Worst Sometimes

FlyingBlue is the frequent flyer program for Air France and KLM, and it has some great things going for it, such as:

But goodness gracious the administration of the program is…a show. To say the least.

A bit of backstory

I’m a bit of a masochist (after all, I had a passionate relationship with US Airways),  so I don’t terribly mind that the FlyingBlue website is glitchy as all get-out. Or the indescribably poor call center.

I could go on all day, but to some extent that’s just part of the game we play, and I’m okay with the general inconveniences.

I do, however, get irked when capricious and arbitrary “rules” are enforced. Particularly when these aren’t actual rules as described in the terms and conditions, but rather just decisions made on the fly, or policies that are poorly communicated and only serve to generate confusion.

As an example, FlyingBlue opened up first class award availability to all members a few years back, something that had previously only been accessible to elites.

Air-France-First-Class-1

Shortly thereafter, the folks at FlyingBlue decided that had been a mistake, and canceled award tickets that had been booked in La Première. No warning, little communication, and no accommodation for passengers until they were pressed.

FlyingBlue has also been closing accounts of members who are searching award space “excessively.” Which is totally fine, though a little aggressive, and again, seems like something that should be in the rules.

Fake rules can still have real impacts

View From the Wing first mentioned that the FlyingBlue fraud department had gone off the rails in January. In effect, FlyingBlue was suggesting that transferring in points from a partner (like American Express) was against the program terms — which is patently untrue — and the fraud department was thus canceling tickets booked with transferred points and closing accounts.

The latest iteration is that some people are being instructed to visit the airport in order to have their award tickets issued. This seems to be random, and can’t be overridden by any FlyingBlue employees that I’ve found (though as mentioned, the North American call center is hilariously bad).

Even more obnoxiously, the airport staff hasn’t been informed as to why people are showing up at their ticket counters to book award tickets. So the poor agents are asking potential passengers to call FlyingBlue themselves, and then pass their cell phones to the airport agent. Seriously.

At least you get a very stylish ticket (no email confirmation or anything, just this dot matrix handiwork):

Air-France-Paper-Ticket

This is obviously not the intention of the program, though despite valiant efforts to resolve the issue, and even with Gary offering to connect impacted members with FlyingBlue directly, it’s still a problem. And I feel terribly for people who are walking into this with no warning.

Should you avoid FlyingBlue for now?

Reader chancepress asked the following in the Ask Lucky forum yesterday:

I’m really nervous about transferring 250,000 hard-won MR and TY points only to get the runaround from Air France.

I especially don’t want to transfer the points if there’s no business class availability, but I don’t want to search before transferring points and have my account shut down. Would you recommend transferring in 20,000 or so points first, then searching availability, and finally transferring the rest of the points if I find what I’m looking for? Or should I just wait a few more months while they resolve whatever weird issues they’re having?

I don’t want to shy people away from the FlyingBlue program, but these are things you should be aware of before deciding to transfer points to FlyingBlue.

  • Whenever practical, try and open your FlyingBlue account before you need to transfer miles to it (if you have a few minutes, you can join FlyingBlue here)
  • If you’re using your miles, be sure to use your credit card as well
  • When booking a ticket for someone else be prepared to document the relationship and nature of the transaction. FlyingBlue allows you to use your miles for others, but you can’t buy or sell FlyingBlue miles

Even if you’re following all the rules, and taking every precaution, your account may still be targeted for extra security.

Your first (and only) indication of this might be when attempting to pay for an award, and seeing the message to proceed to the airport for ticketing. Air France and/or KLM ticket counters can be found in the following cities, though you may have a limited time window each day when airline staff is actually present, which isn’t terribly convenient for many of us:

AtlantaDetroitMiamiSan Francisco
BostonEdmontonMinneapolisToronto
CalgaryHoustonMontrealVancouver
ChicagoLos AngelesNew York (JFK)Washington, D.C.

There isn’t a consistent workaround for avoiding the airport that I’ve found.

Some people have reported success when trying a few days later, or from a different browser, or a different IP address. You can try those things, but they aren’t guaranteed solutions.

Frustratingly, there also isn’t a timeline for when these “additional security audits” might be streamlined. Waiting it out might not be an option.

Bottom line

The FlyingBlue program has some terrific values, and I really hope they can implement a better system soon. I’m not a fan of adding caveats to redemption options, and I can’t imagine that this is how Air France/KLM wants their brand to be perceived. So let’s cross our fingers.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t plan on redeeming points through FlyingBlue unless you’re reasonably able to visit an Air France or KLM counter for ticketing. Not like that’s a particularly reasonable thing to ask to begin with.

Has anyone else run into problems with FlyingBlue lately? Were you eventually able to ticket your award?

Comments

  1. 10 years ago, many people got screwed out of their miles when the change to “elite only for F” accessibility went into effect. Tickets that were booked prior to the change were all the sudden deemed unchangeable with the only options given: to fly or lose their miles. This is old news that was well documented on FlyerTalk.

    Run away from Flying Blue!

  2. If you’re using your miles, be sure to use your credit card as well

    I assume you mean to pay the taxes and fees? Is this because involving the CC company will complicate things if AF tries to cancel your ticket?

  3. Thanks for the post. I am planning to fly US-Europe on either Air France or KLM. I have a FlyingBlue account, but Delta seems to get those partners’ availability ahead of FB members. I am planning to transfer MR points, but have never used Delta to book partners before. I am assuming that despite the Delta program quirks I’ve read about that Delta is the way to go given their availability and the FlyingBlue program’s own quirks?

    Thanks

  4. I guess you only have the problem in in the US and you are not an elite member, because here in Belgium or France, I never had a problem with them, and the call center for elite member is great and ultra responsive, my waiting time was always under a minute and I’ve called them from all around the world and they often helped me out in urgent situations. That said I don’t know how good are the other airlines call center, so maybe view on this is biased.

  5. Just avoid AF and avoid the stupid program.. problem solved.. airlines just like people.. who behave badly should be punished.. and how do we punish businesses ? we take our business elsewhere.. and cmon is it not as if AF is a premium airline.. FAR FAR FAR from it… so AVOID…

  6. @ John — Not quite, Air France might not even issue the ticket if the credit card doesn’t match the account holder. Or they might issue it, then cancel it and accuse you of fraud. Just not worth the headache.

  7. @ Dan — Correct, Delta and Alaska open their schedules 11 months out, whereas FlyingBlue only allows bookings 10 months in advance. Delta is tricky, but not impossible, and also doesn’t levy fuel surcharges, so is probably a better bet.

  8. Wow this really sucks! I just became Flying Blue Gold two weeks ago and have not had any issues. If anything, I noticed with availability for La Premiere I could only see 1 seat available (whereas on expertflyer I see at least 4.) As far as calling the North America calling center, I believe they’re all mixed with Delta call agents as well (when I had to call the call center, I just called the one based in Europe and they were competent and very helpful.)
    @Dan, Delta doesn’t impose fuel surcharges whereas Flying blue does on award tickets.
    BTW, I think this may be specific to North America. I recall Flying Blue winning Program of the Year at the Freddies this year so a lot of European based FB members must be happy with the program! 😉

  9. @ Louis — Yes, it’s the North American call center that’s terrible. The others are better, but when it comes to award redemption the agents don’t seem to have much flexibility.

  10. Delta is another shit airline…why dont people fly something like Singapore if the route fits or something else like Cathay is they have one world transfer partners.. sooooo many options.. other than shit-team airlines.

  11. @Tiffany thank you for the response, so if DL is showing availability should I go ahead and transfer the MR points while online, or better to be on the phone with an agent? (although I assume there would be a charge)

    thanks again

  12. While all evidence is of course anecdotal, I was able to book a flight for my partner by using the Airfrance iphone app. This was after trying literally dozens of times to book the exact same ticket in various browsers. After about 24 hours we received email confirmation and she just completed the flight a few days ago. Maybe it’ll work for some of you out there!

  13. @Tiffany As I already have miles in my FB account, after topping it off a bit with some Citi TY points, if I were to book a one-way flight on Delta for my parents, would you recommend I use my credit card or a credit card with either one of my parent’s name on it to avoid issues with ticketing?

  14. @ Dan — Having a backup option is nice just in case, but the transfer is instant. I would generally be comfortable booking online unless it’s rare space on a difficult route.

  15. I can’t say I ‘ve had a problem. I recently booked two award tickets for a client who transferred from MR. I set up an Flying Blue account for the client just prior to transferring the necessary points, I made sure the client was available with the credit card to pay the fees thus eliminating any confusion or ‘fraud’ activity. I also use account to search availability for Flying Blue on a regular basis and have not experienced any issues thus far. (Fingers crossed) For the record I’m based in the USA.

  16. Use of the infinitive:

    It should be ‘try to open’, not try and open,

    Think about it-you are trying to open an account, not trying, then opening an accoount. Trying requires an object-what are you trying to do? You are trying to…do something (verb un the infinitive).

  17. Tiffany: Great update on a continuing saga.

    KLM serves DFW directly with its own metal to AMS seasonally, more or less May through September. (Air France does not serve DFW at all.) I assume this counts as a Flying Blue ticketing location, in season, right? I’d hate to risk having to drive to Houston, four hours away.

    I’ll just go ahead and presume that Citi & Amex would likely be of no help at all should problems arise. Thanks.

  18. How long will your account stay open without activity? Just a consideration before opening one too far in advance.

  19. Not sure what this post is all about. Called AF in Jan. Spent 30 seconds on hold. Asked if he should wait while I transfer my MR points into AF. He held the reservation. I called back an hour later waited less than a minute and booked the flights. Seems not that complicated?

  20. I have mentioned before that anything to do with KLM/AF in NA you are dealing with Delta. They do everything for them. Get your southern twang and be prepared for them to not know a thing about where and how you are flying. Save yourself the hassle and call the European number and call centre.

  21. Now you can see why in WWII the Americans fighting in France used to say they’d rather have the Germans in front of them than the French behind them. Some things never change.

  22. I believe you’re overly pessimistic about this program.

    1) You can accumulate miles by flying AirFrance/KLM or SkyTeam partners (e.g. Delta), by transferring points from American Express (Membership Rewards), from Citi’s ThankYou program or from SPG.

    2) I recently had to book a trip from Boston to Eastern Europe and I had miles with United, which allowed me to book Lufthansa flights, and Amex MR points. The United/Lufthansa availability was somewhat sketchy (2 stopovers vs just 1, long layovers etc) for economy. The availability for business class was very poor. Flying Blue had *plenty* of availability for the high season (August), just two months before the flight, for both economy and business!

    3) I transferred MR points into my account and into my spouse’s and I booked 2+1 one-way business class tickets without any issues. Everything went fine with the transfer and the reservation.

    There are issues with the program, such as those you pointed out, as well as a much bigger one: the miles expire after 20 miles unless you take a qualifying flight! However, I still like this program very much, even with these limitations.

  23. @ AF Flyer — That’s how it’s supposed to work, yep! Unfortunately that’s not what is happening for many people.

  24. @Laurie

    Self-correction: the miles expire after 20 months unless you take a qualifying flight.

  25. If you live in Europe and especially in the Benelux and travel in Europe a lot, Flying blue is the FF flyer program you can qualify to elite the fastest it only takes 30 qualifying flights to get to gold.. and then AF New business class is as good as Cathay’s one (food is even better in my opinion) their new La Première is really good too, and the new KLM Business class on the 747 isn’t bad either (except for the IFE) and award in economy can be super cheap like 25.000 mile and 25€ for a one way PHX-JFK-BRU last month..
    I took 42 flight since January and mainly on AF and Skyteam member and I have nothing to complain about AF and Flying Blue…

    Here are some quick shots of the AF new business seat on a CGK-SIN flight : http://louisdavidphotography.pixieset.com/afnewbusinessclass/

  26. Tiffany, do you feel that it is still reasonable to transfer points to FB if booking econ/business tickets for immediate family with the same last name using one’s own credit card? Are the account suspensions/airport ticketing cases mostly for people trying to book for friends/third parties? I need to book three tickets for my wife and two children from the US to Europe and was hoping to transfer Citi points to FB.

  27. I transferred MR to Flying Blue and tried to book 2 award tickets and it immediately turned into a saga… They refused to book my flights over the phone because you account had been flagged. They made me drive to IAH (2 hour round trip) and book with an agent in person. It was a huge pain in the ass and when I got there, it was exactly what Tiffany described… The agent at the counter had no idea what do to and made me call FB and hand the phone back and forth about 10 times. Absolute worst experience booking an award tix ever.

  28. Damn! In Australia, Citi Prestige recently added Flying Blue as the transfer partner and I thought it was great!

    Which FFP in Skyteam would be the best though? It seems all of them are horrible! Garuda also require you to go to their sales office to apply for award redemption, which is ridiculous! Imagine having to travel to another city cuz your home city doesn’t have Garuda’s sales office, and found out that there isn’t an award space you need.

    Korean air seem to be quite good (although still lengthy process) but it’s not a transfer partner for citi. No wonder sky team is regarded as the alliance of the rejects!

  29. Years ago, I had a flight on Air France so I tried to sign up for Flying Blue online. It was impossible – it just wouldn’t work. Ever since then I’ve avoided both Air France/KLM and Flying Blue, and this post just confirms that that was the right decision.

  30. I have not had a problem, but I wonder if it is primarily an issue for people opening up their FB account for the first time and then transferring miles into the account from a card without first having ever flown an AF flight. I could have sworn that, at one time, you could not even open up a FB account until after you had taken your first flight.

    It is true that AF still seems to have a lot of award space, and I search all the time. But my concern more lately has been that the O space, for upgrade from (high priced) economy with miles, seems to have disappeared, at least on my routes and dates. I really don’t get that. Wouldn’t they rather have $3.5K and 35K miles than $500 and 137K miles?

  31. @Christian

    they completely killed my account after 3 years of inactivity. there was no way to reactivate it… they just told me to open a new account.

  32. Two months ago, I posted a comment about how I booked three business class award tickets using FlyingBlue miles for a trip from US to Eastern Europe. Small update:

    1) I tried to check in online but I couldn’t because the flight from US to Paris was cancelled. Instead, my family and I were booked on a “one-time” (unscheduled) flight that was departing about two hours later. That seems to be AirFrance’s way of dealing with long flight delays (and penalties?) – cancel the original flight and “create” a new flight.

    2) I checked AirFrance’s web site and I found that there was award seat availability, in business, for three passengers, on earlier flights. The number of miles and the fees required was exactly the same as the one I paid months ago. I found this completely incredible: three business class award tickets available just hours before the takeoff, during peak travel season.

    3) I called FlyingBlue and they put us on the flights we requested without asking for any change fees.

    So yes, there are some good things about FlyingBlue …

  33. @Tiffany, for NCE-AMS-SFO, classic award is available if searching each segment individually, but if NCE-SFO on the same day is not available. Another thing is AMS-CDG-SFO is available while CDG-SFO is not on the same day. Flying Blue rep said it’s because they’re married segment and they can’t book either. Thoughts?

  34. @ JW — That happens, and it’s really annoying. Are they the same class of service? FlyingBlue can’t mix class of service on award tickets, which can cause problems.

  35. @Tiffany, thanks for the quick response. All of them are business classic award, AM-SFO seems to be their new flat seat which I’d really like try. But it seems the US rep is only able to access what I see on the website, or should I call their Europe call center?

  36. @ JW — You can try calling the French call center, as they are sometimes a bit better. Otherwise your best option is going to be to book the segments separately. It’s horrible, but I don’t know a way to force it. 🙁

  37. Hello,
    I would like to join a Skyteam Frequent Flyer programme. I hesitate between FlyingBlue and Milemiglia of Alitalia. Which one would you advise me to choose?
    Thank you 🙂

  38. I chose to transfer a ton of points to Flying Blue because when I checked, many of their long haul business class seats required fewer points than anywhere else I checked. Way fewer. And so I booked and ticketed two business class seats SFO to Oslo in August. No problems. I did already have a Flying Blue account, on which I had accumulated maybe 500 miles flying from Paris to Bremen. Is there something I’m supposed to be worried about with my existing tickets? For now, I’m thrilled with Flying Blue, simply because of the low points cost, but perhaps I shouldn’t transfer any more points to them?

  39. hi there, any update if AF is still cancelling or monitoring “fraud” tickets ?

    i’d really like to transfer some amex mr to flying blue, i just opened the flying blue account….any recent news would help.

    thanks
    jesse

  40. @ jesse — Well, if you’ve just opened the FlyingBlue account it’s a touch riskier, but we haven’t had issues for about eight months. If the points are coming from your account for a ticket in your name you should be fine.

  41. Me I’m just super frustrated trying to book hotels using my miles! Seems virtually impossible so far. Any insight would be gratefully appreciated.

  42. Fraud issue is alive and kicking! I flew AF 4 years ago, therefore I did not hesitate to transfer my amex miles for myself and a friend… but my account was closed(was never informed) due to inactivity. I had to open a new account.I unfortunately was not aware of the fraud situation :(( When I transferred my amex miles (on the same day) and attempted to redeem for one business class seat on my own name the fraud alert appeared ,together with the airport ticket counter saga!
    Amex was of no help at all (i phoned them asap-15 mins after transfer, yet they refused to place miles back into my mma) finally did the hang up, call back move no less than 5x and the ticket was confirmed, after 6 grueling hours yet i am rather nervous about them canceling my flight ! never again!!!
    was going to book my friends ticket but i would rather lose the 25k miles than go through another 2 horrible days with the north american call center.
    If flying blue conducts business in the USA why cant a formal complaint be made? any suggestions with how to transfer my 25k miles out of the flying blue prison?
    You have to hand it to them.. their frequent flyer program has a most appropriate name -FLYING BLUE- where your hard earned miles die from asphxia!!

  43. Fast forward to July 2016 – and I am trying to book a business class ticket on AF using a combination of my chase sapphire miles and my SPG amex miles, this would be my first time trying to book anything on flying blue (I usually do delta or united directly). Do the problems you list above still happen? Will I run into any issues transferring points from chase sapphire and from SPG amex?

  44. @Tiffany – any reports of this still being a problem when purchasing for another person? I’m hoping to transfer points to an existing account and do so, but came across your post. Thanks in advance!

  45. @ Mark — Haven’t had any problems with it lately, but…

    If it’s a legitimate transaction, the worst case is that you’d need to go to the airport to have show ID and have everything ticketed. Annoying, but much better than it used to be.

  46. I just went through the same horror story many of you describe. Opened a new account, transferred miles from Amex and was not able to book an award ticket for my husband. Several calls to FB later, the issue is still unresolved. I was finally able to book an award flight for myself, but not for another person. Has anybody succeeded resolving the issue over the phone?

  47. FlyingBlue is crap… you can lose miles after 20months even you travel with partners during that period… so be careful they don’t respect customers even if you are a member for 10 or more years !!!

  48. I’m planning to transfer Chase Sapphire points for a family vacation (10 people) to South Africa. My two daughters are married with children so 8 of the 10 traveling have a different last name than mine. Can I call an agent and have them book the flights for us or do I need to do it on line? Do I need to have each person, even my grandchildren get a Flying Blue # ? Now I’m really worried ! I appreciate any suggestions. I’ve never flown either KLM or AF. My husband and I both have a FB # but none of the other travelers.

  49. @ Marcie — You can book everyone out of your account, but I’d recommend doing it over the phone versus online. That way you can hold all the tickets before you transfer the points, then call back to ticket.

    Worst case, you might have to go to the airport to get the tickets issued (which is pretty horrible), but the fraud issues seem to have stopped happening.

  50. The flying blue website is a disaster, both in design and use. Every time I try to validate a flight I am referred back to the “select a flight” page or I get an error. I seriously think FB is deliberately trying to discourage members to use their miles. The call center is even worse, don’t even think of spending time on this, it is a waste. Better just post your comment on FB where everybody sees it. that might help.

  51. I’m a member of BAEC/OW, Alaska, Aeroflt Bonusand AA and I have to say the FB is the worst program I’ve ever signed up for.

    I fly about 3/4 times a week on various airlines and know a lot about how the programmes work but without doubt the one I regret signing up for most is FB

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