The Story Of KLM’s Dutch Houses

The other week I was talking with someone about the little houses offered to business class passengers on KLM flights. I realized it’s a story that has never been told here on OMAAT, which is a shame, as this is one of my favorite pieces of avgeek trivia.

Once upon a time, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) regulated all manner of aviation-related policies in the United States. The CAB’s reach extended far beyond the safety and fare regulations we see today — prior to the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 everything from fares to routes and even schedules were subject to government approval. There were separate standards controlling international routes and carriers, with the general idea being to ensure an equal playing field.

One of these rules prohibited airlines from incentivizing passengers. Given tariffs were regulated such that airlines could not compete on price — in other words, airlines had to sell tickets from New York to Los Angeles at the exact same fare  — tangible incentives (gifts, for instance) had a monetary value which could effectively “reduce” the price of the trip for the customer, and were thus not allowed.

Airlines, of course, tried to circumvent the restrictions, because that’s what people do.

Arguably the most successful effort was made by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. In 1952 the airline started presenting passengers with finely-crafted ceramic Delft houses, which appeared to be obviously and blatantly against the rules.

The catch? The miniature houses were hollow, and filled with Dutch gin.

When other airlines and regulators (unsurprisingly) protested, KLM offered a Taylor Swift-worthy retort:

“Is there a law that tells us drinks have to be served in a glass?”

So the tradition of a last drink — ahem, “on the house” — was born.

KLM Delft Blue Houses Today

Over the years, KLM has not only continued to offer the little blue-and-white houses to their premium cabin passengers, they’ve also created a bit of a cult following. There are now 96 KLM Delft Blue houses, and each is numbered, dated, and filled with Bols Genever, just as they’ve been since 1952.

KLM even has apps for Apple and Android so you can keep track of your collection. The airline generally stocks a few different houses on each flight, though only a handful are in circulation at any given point in time.

Between my husband, my in-laws, Ben, and Nick, we have a small assortment of KLM houses, with surprisingly no repeats.

My in-laws have house #5, which is based on a “generic” house in Amsterdam:

KLM-delft-blue-houses-07

KLM-delft-blue-houses-01

They also have house #18, which has an actual address in real life, though the historic building from 1569 is apparently now hosting a lingerie store.

KLM-delft-blue-houses-02

Meanwhile, Nick’s house #17 is inspired by the architecture in Gouda:

KLM-delft-blue-houses-10

Ben was given house #37 on one of his flights, which is a replica of the historic Bank van Lening in Amsterdam:

KLM-747-Business-Class-12

Here at home we have house #39, which is modeled on a 17th century house in Hindeloopen:

KLM-delft-blue-houses-17

Fun, right? I always love when airlines offer creative amenities, and this is one of my favorites.

Get your own Delft Blue house

KLM still offers all their World Business Class passengers a miniature house, and there are several ways to use miles on KLM.

Alaska Mileage Plan

Alaska charges 62,500 miles one-way for KLM business class flights between North America and Europe, though you can’t mix partners, so you’ll need to leave from an Alaska or Air France/KLM city.

Transfer partners: Starwood Preferred Guest

Delta SkyMiles

If you’re booking 10+ months in advance, or very close to departure, the best way to book is through SkyMiles. Delta charges 62,500 miles for a one-way between North America and Europe, with no fuel surcharges for trips originating in the United States.

Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest

Air France/KLM FlyingBlue

Of course, you can also redeem miles through the FlyingBlue program. Awards start at 62,500 miles one-way, though FlyingBlue also offers promo awards for business class on occasion, which can be a very good deal. Beyond that, FlyingBlue offers enhanced availability through their program — you’ll often spend more miles, but you also have access to more flights. Either way, you do pay fuel surcharges on all FlyingBlue redemptions.

Transfer partners: American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest

Bottom line

I think the KLM Dutch houses are a fun tradition, especially given the history. I love how distinctive the blue houses are, and that an entire culture has sprung up around collecting the individual pieces.

What do you think of the KLM houses? Does anyone have one?

Comments

  1. I flew KLM business class in 1991, but I got only a flat ceramic tile with a picture of a windmill on it. No booze.

    I was happy with my tile until today. Now I’m envious.

  2. Ditto re the tile — my father-in-law got a tile back in the day when he flew KLM.

    If you collect these – do you consume the gin and just keep the house? Or keep the entire thing intact?

  3. Just in time, I would be flying on the KLM 777 in J on Saturday and back on the 787, can’t wait to get the Delft houses 🙂

  4. Being based in amsterdam I have a small city of the Klm houses. You can also pick them up online fairly cheap, but to me they are a badge of courage for having flown so many of the old KLM angled business class seats! The new lay flat seats are a bit better but since those are only on the 747 787 and like half the 777 fleet there is still a good chance you wake up half way on the floor having slid off during the night on the old angled seats. 🙂

  5. Btw no collector would drink the gin out, but I have found that over time they tend to evaporate as my older houses (15 years+) are almost empty. And no I didn’t forget during a binger!

  6. I’ll confess to buying a couple on eBay as a consolation prize when I wasn’t able to book award travel on KLM and had to go Delta instead!

  7. Not all Houses filled with Bols gin due to customs regulations on some routes they are empty, two of the empty Houses with fifty filled with the gin, with only one duplicate.

  8. @ Nat @ Jeff R — Wow, I’ve never heard of the tiles! Maybe a lean year?

    Any insights on the tiles vs. houses from our KLM loyalists?

  9. I have 4 of these houses. Me and my wife received them for a return flight to China with KLM.
    They look great beside my one LH duck in the bathroom on the bathtub 🙂

    I’d love to have more of them!

  10. Re the tiles: I have no idea. It’s not that I was underage and ineligible to receive gin; I was 29.

  11. My mother is a flight attendent with KLM and she could clarify about the tiles. The tiles were distributed in Business Class when KLM still had First Class. When First Class was eliminated in 1993, the tiles disappeared and the houses were, since then, handed out to all Business Class passengers.

  12. Some of the old ones were also in available in an ashtray version. Opening in the back and the smoke would come out of the chimney!

  13. I’m sorry – your history is a bit off. The CAB had absolutely NO say over setting international fares. They only set domestic, interstate fares (so it could regulate NYC – LAX fares, for example, but not intra state, or DAL-HOU fares, for example).
    IATA regulated international fares.
    Here’s KLM’s web site with history of the delft houses: http://www.klmhouses.com/houses-history.html
    No reference is made to the CAB, as the CAB had absolutely no say in matters of international regulations.
    Implying that the CAB inspired KLM to offer these houses is incorrect.

  14. @ Jason — You might be right in terms of fares, I’m certainly not an expert here, but the prohibition against passenger gifts was due to government regulation, was it not? The site you linked to (which isn’t run by KLM Airlines) seems to agree with that? But I can certainly edit my example to domestic flights.

  15. Cool Tiffany. I have about 2 dozens and didn’t know about its history. Now, I’ll download the app to see what I got.

  16. Hi – it was IATA, not US government regulations or agencies such as the CAB, that regulated all tariffs and service standards internationally. I’m not sure of all the details, but all international airlines belonged to IATA and adhered to its standards in return for a measure of stability in international aviation standards and protocols. Its role has definitely changed over the years and it does not have near the control or say over service standards and fares as it once did. That said, the US government/ CAB would have never been able to have any influence over the service standards of KLM, given that KLM wasn’t a US company and the majority of its routes began/ ended in the Netherlands, and the US government had no say over onboard service issues on international flights. Furthermore, the CAB’s charter was only included domestic interstate regulations, not international (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airline_Deregulation_Act), so it would have had no jurisdiction here. That said, the houses are a cool gift and I love them, glad they’re around.

  17. The Dutch house gift was originally given only to Royal Class (first class) passengers. Passengers traveling in business class were given ceramic tiles of various Dutch scenes. When KLM eliminated Royal Class in the early 90’s they dropped the tiles and started to give the houses to business class passengers.

  18. This reminded me of my childhood. My mom used to work at KLM when I was a kid and we must have had more than 10 of these lying around, being displayed in one of those display racks. Will see whether they’re still there next time I visit.

  19. Though we were only seated in premium economy on our flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town, my wife (a nurse) helped out in a medical emergency and received one of these adorable little houses (and a 100 Euro KLM/Delta voucher) as a show of appreciation from the crew.

  20. You can always count in Tiffany for a very interesting and enlightening article, this one was no exception, it had me diving in from the first couple of teaser lines. Best articles on OMAAT these days always seem to have the Tiffany by-line.

  21. Also, domestically, there was NO regulation on service levels within the USA. The CAB only regulated fares and routes the airlines could fly. Fares were high and the ONLY way airlines differentiated themselves for domestic flights was on their levels of service. Go back and google some ads from the 1960s/ 1970s. You’ll see airlines advertising their “steak flights to Florida” and their high levels of service, etc. There was no point on advertising anything else because they couldn’t compete on anything else, only on service.

    I suggest that you revamp this article as again – the CAB had no effect on international service standards. The CAB was only in charge of regulating domestic fares and schedules. That’s it.

  22. Another interesting article Tiffany! It’s so great to have this background information on these beautiful little houses. We’ve had our two houses on display since our trip on KLM and they are a delight to see as I pass by our growing “travel” display case. Wonderful memories! I also enjoyed the comments by the travelers with their own stories to tell about their houses.

  23. I’ve always wondered about these cute houses, but I am a staunch Star Alliance flyer, so I finally got the courage to book a KLM flight last month for my trip to Europe, and I really enjoyed it. Subsequently, I have looked into eBay, and found a lot of House #1 to #91 for a steal of the price. Now I am thinking how to display all 92 houses around my apartment. Maybe a few in each room, here and there?

  24. I had just one of the houses, that I got years ago when the seats were still loungers, not even angled flat. I was one of two people in the upper level of business class, on a two decker plane. To say that the flight attendant was attentive, with only two customers, would be an understatement.

    I wonder what happened to it? I have a feeling I left it at my daughter’s apartment. She lived in Bari at the time, and I needed to take the train to Rome to get back home, so lugging any extra weight at all was not an attractive proposition.

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