How To Redeem The Fewest Points For An Air France First Class Ticket

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There are a lot of amazing first class products in the world, though they’re not all created equal in terms of how difficult it is to redeem miles for them. Some first class products are wide open with miles, like Korean Air first class. Others are quite difficult to redeem miles for, like Singapore first class and Lufthansa first class.

Then then there are products that are almost completely off limits when redeeming miles. For example, Swiss first class is only available to Miles & More Senator members and above, while Air France first class is only available to FlyingBlue elite members, and only at the flex cost (which is expensive).

However, earlier I wrote about how I really want to try Air France’s new La Premiere product, as I think it’s the only great first class product I haven’t yet flown. With that in mind, in this post I want to take a closer look at the best ways to snag a seat in Air France La Premiere.

Air-France-First-Business-Class-43
Air France’s 777-300ER La Premiere First Class cabin

Why SkyTeam is restrictive with first class awards

In the case of Air France, they’re choosing to make first class awards available exclusively to elite members of their own program. It has nothing to do with their alliance as such, and instead it’s similar to how Swiss treats their first class product, despite being in Star Alliance.

However, for a bit of background, SkyTeam actually does approach international first class redemptions differently than oneworld or Star Alliance. In oneworld and Star Alliance, members of all loyalty programs can redeem miles for international first class awards, assuming the airline makes it available to partners.

That’s not the case in SkyTeam. While SkyTeam has common economy and business class award availability, international first class awards can only be booked as part of a bilateral agreement. For example, Korean Air SkyPass members can redeem miles for Saudia first class and China Eastern first class, though that’s about it. That’s because they have a special agreement with them, while Delta SkyMiles members, for example, don’t have access to those seats.

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Korean Air’s 747-8 First Class

Air France limits first class awards to elite members

Not only does FlyingBlue limit first class awards to their own members, but they limit them to FlyingBlue Silver, Gold, and Platinum members. FlyingBlue elite members can book first class awards out of their accounts for anyone, though do keep in mind that the FlyingBlue fraud department is very, very aggressive, so I’d be careful if redeeming miles for someone else.

You can earn FlyingBlue Silver status with just 25,000 elite qualifying miles in a year. I actually have a pretty easy opportunity to do this. In December I flew Garuda Indonesia first class from London to Jakarta, and I haven’t yet credited the flights anywhere. FlyingBlue awards 175% miles for Garuda Indonesia first class, which means I’d be at just over 25,000 elite qualifying miles for the roundtrip, which would get me Silver status (as far as I know). So I’d potentially have easy access to Air France first class awards…

garuda-indonesia-first-class-1
I haven’t yet credited the miles from my Garuda Indonesia First Class ticket anywhere…

How much does Air France charge for first class awards?

Assuming you’re an elite member, you can find the cost of first class awards through the FlyingBlue mileage calculator. The amounts vary by city, though the awards are expensive. To give a few examples of one-way first class redemption costs:

  • Paris to Dubai costs 160,000 miles
  • Paris to Los Angeles 200,000 miles
  • Paris to Hong Kong costs 320,000 miles
  • Paris to Sao Paulo costs 320,000 miles
  • Los Angeles to Paris to Hong Kong costs 320,000 miles

FlyingBlue-Calculator

So at a minimum you’ll be paying 160,000 miles for a one-way ticket, which is sort of insane.

The good news is that Air France first class award availability is excellent. They use the “F” bucket for first class awards, which should be available on just about any flight.

Still, 200,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket between the U.S. and Europe is pretty painful. A few years back FlyingBlue charged 125,000 miles for a one-way first class award between the U.S. and Europe, though they then raised the price to 162,500 miles. Now it’s 200,000 miles, and you have to be an elite member. Ouch….

If you do go this route, the good news is that Air France FlyingBlue is transfer partners with all four major transferrable points currencies, so you can pool points earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardThe Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American ExpressCiti Prestige® CardStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, etc.

A better way to redeem points for Air France first class?

When you consider that a roundtrip first class ticket between the U.S. and Europe would cost you 400,000 miles, or that a roundtrip first class ticket Europe and Asia would cost you 640,000 miles, there’s an option to get more creative, given that Air France has some semi-reasonable first class fares.

For example, you can fly roundtrip first class on Air France between London and Hong Kong for ~$4,350:

Air-France-First-Class-Awards

There’s a way to leverage points to take advantage of the above — if you have The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express, you get 50% off first & business class redemptions when using Pay With Points. So you could book that ticket for ~435,000 Membership Rewards points, but then you’d get ~217,500 Membership Rewards points back, plus you’d earn miles for the ticket.

Amex-Pay-With-Points

If crediting to FlyingBlue without status, you’d receive ~54,000 FlyingBlue miles, not to mention you’d get instant status.

FlyingBlue-1

If you valued those as much as Membership Rewards points, that’s like paying ~160,000 points out of pocket for a roundtrip Air France first class ticket. That’s a lot less offensively expensive, if you ask me.

Bottom line

Air France first class is one of the most costly product to book using miles. While having to be an elite member as such isn’t necessarily a huge barrier, the award costs are still prohibitive. Roundtrip first class awards out of Paris range between 320,000 miles and 640,000 miles — ouch!

If you have a ton of points and don’t want to part with cash, that’s not a horrible option. However, personally I think the best value is to find a discounted Air France first class ticket, and leverage the 50% off Pay With Points feature offered on The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express.

If you can find a decent Air France first class fare, this is an opportunity to try Air France first class at a decent price.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

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Comments

  1. The first class on A380 Air France (going to HKG) looks only slightly better than business class on other airlines. Definitely should not command the amount of points they are asking for. The one you pictured (777-300ER) looks better and more worth the points.

  2. @Lucky, if you have the biz plat card, would you consider the 50% Pay with Points? I believe you can still get on La Premiere to CPH from some cities in the US for around ~$4.5k. For example, OAK-LAX-CDG-CPH r/t, although you have to make sure you get on the 777 and not the A380.

  3. That’s a lot of MR points needed. At this point, its easier for someone to just ‘save’ $4.5k and pay cash versus trying to get 435k MR points. It’s too specific a goal to get just try and get that amount of points.

  4. If you had the personal Platinum card, you could also get 5x points for booking with the airline, bringing down the net cost by another ~20k

  5. So as I understand it, if you have both the business platinum and the personal platinum, you can pay with points on your personal platinum, get 4x MR miles since the initial charge is a cash charge (not 5x since I think you don’t get the 1xMR due to the cash transaction eventually getting reversed), get 50% MR refunded just for having business platinum, and earn miles for the flight…the trifecta! So in above example you are paying 217k MR, but you will also earn ~17k MR and 54k FlyingBlue miles. Is that correct?

  6. @ WR @ LTL — The 50% off option only applies when booking through the Amex Portal using the Pay With Points option. You can’t get the same rate if you pay with a card and then reimburse yourself.

  7. @ Davisson — That’s true, it’s not for everyone. The point is, if you have 400K+ Amex points for an outright redemption through FlyingBlue, then you also probably have enough for a “Pay With Points” redemption.

  8. @Lucky — Understood, but there are reports that if you use pay with points on MR portal, and designate your personal platinum, you will get the 4x points (first 5x, then 1x are taken away when the original charge is reversed), and also the 50% refund just for having the business platinum, even if you don’t designate it.

  9. How about a pay with points suggestions for LX first class? Any reasonable fares out there for which this would reasonably work?

  10. Great post. Just the walk through on the process and the points back and miles earned is a great discussion on “any” First Class. Have to go crunch the numbers on Emirates FC from NZ to stralia.

  11. @Peetryd, I know this is pretty desperate and not if you actually have somewhere to be but, you book an LH F award on an affected route after they announce a strike and reroute via ZRH.

  12. Great idea and completely hassle free! Being able to still earn miles for the flight makes it even more attractive. Too bad the Canadian cards don’t have 50% back when redeeming points…

  13. Lucky: Since you have Flying Blue status from your GA flight, what about upgrading a business class fare ?

  14. @lucky About 6 months ago I booked a business class award ticket with delta miles on Air France from JFK to CDG. It was operated on a 777-300er which had La Premiere so I called Air France to see if they were selling upgrades and they said they could do it for 75,000 flying blue miles. They even saw the ticket was an award ticket issued by Delta and still offered to do it but i ended up having to cancel the trip and when I rebooked a few months later I found saver awards on delta so just booked that but all in all you could do a one way for 70,000 delta miles and 75,000 flying blue miles so 145,000 each way so 290,000 miles round trip which can all be done with MR points!!!

  15. $4300 for an F class roundtrip sounds like a bargain. I paid almost that much for a business class trip on AC DC-HND a while back.

  16. Two out of three times I have used award points/miles to fly AF La Premier,
    my trip has been interrupted by a strike. AF is not worth the fuss.
    It is also a too bad that with all the $$ Delta sinks into its AF partnership,
    that AF isn’t more lenient with its awards to SkyMiles members.
    Lucky, would you agree?

  17. I think a good agency can book you one-way first and back in economy to dump the price for around 40%. I’ve read it on a german forum several months ago. So that Would be the perfect opportunity to test the new F for around 2500$. Still lots of Cash, But better than wasting points.

  18. Air France should start with putting flat seats in their business class… my favorite biz flight from LA to Paris are 1-Turkish (even with their 2-3-2 configuration) The long layover in Istanbul and free hotel are totally worth it. 2- Swiss and 3-Lufthansa.
    just booked an award rountrip LAX-CDG through Moscow on Aeroflot business in august for just 80,000 SKYPASS miles (and $740) , and i am way more excited about that than flying AirFrance…
    so anyways, i have zero interest in spending miles or $ on La Première..! 🙂

  19. @lucky – you said that you’ve not credited your miles from the AirGaruda flight yet – so, do you wait to apply different rewards accounts to flights until you know how you want to use the miles? As that’s obviously GENIUS, I’ve just never thought of it like that before. What’s the expiration period on claiming the miles?

  20. I’m curious — every time I’ve flown internationally through Delta, the flight has always been operated by Air France. I used my miles for my most recent trip in December to upgrade to business class with Air France operated flights.

    Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m very new to flying with miles at this level), but couldn’t you presumably book a Delta flight listed as operating through Air France with your miles as a way to get around Air France’s restrictions? I’ve often noted when searching for flights, when Delta and Air France are listed separately, a look at the details shows they’re actually the same flight. I’ve learned by accident the key difference is where your miles are credited — if you choose the Delta flight, your miles are credited there and the same with Air France.

    So perhaps you can book a Delta first class flight operated by Air France with your points? I’d love to know if I’m on the right path with this idea…

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