What Disappoints Me About The “Reinvented” Flying Blue Program

Yesterday we learned the details of the “reinvented” Flying Blue program, which will kick in as of April 1, 2018. To summarize the major changes:

  • Flying Blue will go revenue based, and members will earn 4-8x redeemable miles per EUR spent
  • Qualification for Flying Blue status will be based on a new “points” system rather than miles
  • Flying Blue is changing how mileage redemptions work, with the cost of a redemption being more closely correlated to the cost of a ticket

The more I think about the program, the more disappointed I become. I’m disappointed by the way that these changes were communicated, I’m disappointed by the actual changes, and most of all, I don’t get how the changes make sense from Flying Blue’s perspective.

In no particular order, here’s what disappoints and confuses me about the new Flying Blue program:

Flying Blue isn’t disclosing new redemption rates

Flying Blue is claiming that they’re “reinventing” their loyalty program. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of an announcement about a reinvention, I expect at least a general summary of what’s changing, with some examples.

When it comes to frequent flyer programs, the two major aspects are earning and redeeming miles. Flying Blue has revealed how mileage earning will change, but they haven’t provided concrete examples of how mileage redemptions will change.

They’ve explained that they’ll introduce dynamic award pricing starting next June, though they haven’t even given an example of what kind of pricing we should expect.

If they want members to evaluate the program and decide on whether or not the program is more or less generous, this is a vital element. To me the lack of transparency and details is very poor form.

Does Flying Blue’s new program make sense from their perspective?

Airlines are increasingly using their loyalty programs to segment their customer base. They’re not trying to reward loyal flyers anymore, but rather are trying to reward “profitable” customers. I put “profitable” in quotes because I’m not sure loyalty programs are effectively incentivizing profitable behavior. Loyalty programs should be looking at ways that they can generate incremental business, rather than just rewarding those who are big spenders, who are more likely to choose airlines based on schedules or routes rather than the loyalty program as such.

While I often don’t like the direction airline loyalty programs are headed, I at least see where they’re coming from. With Flying Blue’s new system, you earn status based on the number of XPs (Experience Points) you earn, as follows:

As you can see, the number of XPs you earn is based on the distance flown and the class of service you’re traveling in.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that they’re not segmenting their customers based on what fare class they’re booking. In other words, someone booking the deepest discount economy fare earns just as many XPs as someone booking a full fare economy ticket, even though it might be 10x as expensive.

The new program isn’t easier or more transparent

The Flying Dutchboy notes that the director of Flying Blue claims that the reinvented Flying Blue program is both easier and more transparent. He suggests that the old program wasn’t transparent or clear, and that the difference between award miles and elite qualifying miles caused confusion among members. “When buying a ticket it was not obvious how many miles you would earn.”

Claiming that the new program is easier or more transparent is pure hogwash.

Let’s start with the claim that the program is easier, which I strongly disagree with. You earn status based on arbitrary XPs that 99% of members won’t know by heart. There will be a discrepancy in the earning of redeemable miles based on whether you’re traveling on an Air France or KLM ticket, or on a ticket issued by a partner airline. Redeemable miles will be awarded based on spend, which isn’t terribly straightforward, since the airfare paid often doesn’t reflect how much spend qualifies due to the high taxes & fees on many tickets in Europe.

Now let’s talk about the claim that the program is more transparent. There’s nothing transparent about going to a revenue based redemption program, where the number of miles required will vary based on the cost of a ticket. It’s one thing if each mile is worth “X” cents towards the cost of a ticket, but I doubt that will be the case. Instead there will likely be some correlation, but it won’t be direct. It’s much more transparent to have a chart than to just tell members that “the price is the price.”

Similarly, there’s nothing transparent about how revenue airfare works, and now awards will adopt a similar model.

Will Flying Blue members be at a disadvantage for awards?

While Flying Blue hasn’t yet published the new award redemption rates, this does raise an interesting question. Apparently Flying Blue is ditching traditional award charts, and there will be dynamic pricing.

However, presumably this pricing model will only apply when booking through Flying Blue. They’ll continue to have award fare classes that partner frequent flyer programs can access, since there’s no way that partner programs could adopt the technology so quickly to also introduce revenue based award pricing on Air France and KLM.

This potentially creates a huge disadvantage for Flying Blue members, since presumably redemption rates will often be much better for members of partner programs, especially when redeeming in premium cabins. So will the new program encourage people to choose other programs over Flying Blue?

I wish I could provide a more thorough analysis here, but with Flying Blue’s lack of transparency in publishing their new award pricing, there’s not much I can say.

Bottom line

I just don’t get what a lot of airline executives are thinking nowadays. In the same way that Air France’s new millennial airline, JOON, doesn’t make sense to me, neither does this program.

The Flying Blue program is becoming less transparent and more complicated, they’re not even sharing the full details of the changes, and there are parts to the changes that are downright puzzling.

We’ll have to wait a while to see just how bad these changes are, since the new redemption rates are only being introduced as of next June. Hopefully they give us a preview of what those changes will look like before then.

Where do you stand on the changes being made to the Flying Blue program?

Comments

  1. You need to remember that marketers/PR etc operate on the assumption that the vast majority of the general public are complete morons that will believe anything they are told. This is why they spin negative changes as ‘reinventions’, simpler and ‘enhancements’.
    99% of their members won’t even closely review the changes let alone read a balanced article comparing them like you’ve just written.
    We are the 1%.

  2. Definitely sharing similar frustrations, especially because after an on and off relationship with Flying Blue, I decided to get back to it this year, since most US FFP are now total garbage. I actually strategized my flying this year to become at least Gold next year, but the (Air France) flights leading me to that stage are scheduled in December; so now I just don’t know if I should give it all up and credit them to Alaska instead, and ditch Delta in favor of AA/Alaska for domestic flying.
    This is made even worse by the fact that I have a La Premiere flight scheduled that would earn me 300% FB miles + silver bonus, while Alaska would only give me 250% including my MVP Gold status. I don’t know if I should forgo the extra miles to credit on the much more valuable Alaska program or not, and I won’t be able to decide on that until FB announces how exactly that dynamic award pricing will look like. It’s maddening that they wouldn’t announce that crucial point!

  3. FB will announce the starting prices at the end of Q1. So there is sufficient advance notice for members to see which system is better.
    Also, the dynamic pricing of awards requires a nuance. There is a starting price which should similar to the old classic awards. In the new system the prices can go up if you want one of the last seats on board which mimics the old Flex awards. The ‘dynamic’ pricing does not mean the miles price is linked to the price of cash tickets but more that different destinations have different starting prices. It makes sense an Award AMS-LAX is differently priced then AMS-JFK like cash tickets.

  4. I think not all is lost if they keep partner redemptions the same way they are now, especially for North American members. Flights within Europe were never a good redemption, so no change there.
    It’s funny, though, that the new system might make the qualification easier for people who take a couple of deep discount long haul economy flights a year, coupled with some European flying.
    Also, how the hell will US flights on DL count?

  5. Ahh the French. The problem is, they’ve never won a war.

    “Look at me, I’m giving a cigarette to a bébé…you Americans, you are so crass, you ar – oh! The Germans are here! HELLO AMERICANS!!! Come! Build a Disneyland near Paris; WE won’t go, but BUILD it!”

    😉

  6. Hello Ben. As a Flying Blue Gold member I totally agree and found the communication very un-transparent. What i would have expected is re-assurance from flying blue that the new re-invented loyalty program will still make sense to actual Elite members and show comparison with the previous system. I have done some calculation on my recent travels and what they will have bring me with the new system. It seems more generous as far as XP are concerned. A round trip in Business from CDG to NYC bought in fare D or I gave me 10!920 elite qualifying miles so 18% of the number of miles needed to achieve Gold. Now the same will bring me 60XP so 33% of Gold. However, the fact that the number of XP are incremental to gain status is a big disadvantage. It is fine when requalifying bit otherwise it s not. It is as if you needed 90 000 miles to become Gold whereas it is now 60 000 for French citizens! Let s see how it works but after the communication I am still unclear to if I should stay with flying blue or not….

  7. But it seems in my experience anyway that most frequent flyer programs have always been to some extent revenue based. The ones I’ve been a member of, going back to the 90s, have always awarded miles for status based on the fare basis of the ticket. If I got a cheapo coach ticket, I was going to get fewer status and award miles versus a Y versus C/J versus F, and when I was member of British Airways, R fare basis for the Concorde – was quintuple miles for me lol.

  8. Any word on how the promo awards will work on the new program? They were my only chance of flying a decent business class product…hope that stays the same

  9. @Klanfa – apparently they will count as domestic flights, even for transcons, which really really sucks. So 2 XP in economy…

  10. “Dynamic award pricing” is crushing to me. I live in Alabama, and flights to/from my nearest airport (1 hr away) are very expensive. Driving four hours to ATL is a pain and not that much cheaper, all things considered. I suspect a lot of Americans in smaller communities are in the same boat with this frustrating industry trend.

  11. And then we haven’t evennspokrn about the fact that miles from some partners (credit card?) expire earlier than af or kl earned miles…

  12. The only reason I credit my skyteam flights to Flying Blue the past 2 years or so was to redeem the miles for La Premiere (I’m currently FB Gold and will do a soft landing to FB silver next year). I plan on redeeming for La Premiere before Jun 2018 and be done with FB for now.
    I still hope though that Amex will do a bonus transfer to FB again some time. The last time they had any bonus transfers to Flying Blue was a few years ago… like 2013?

  13. my new strategy: put delta segments on air france, put air france segments on Alaska. As long as Delta stays 125% of mileage flown for Econ Comfort and I can continue to earn EQMs for segments on Air France toward Alaska, I’m good. Just got to see what that award chart looks like. fingers crossed they don’t mess with it too much.

  14. I get the revenue based proposition, but to have no distinction between different booking classes is just nuts. That really doesn’t make sense.

    So they might make First redemption avaialble for all but at some insane amount of points (tied to the actual price of the ticket).

    Not looking forward to M&M going revenue based…

  15. “XP” ? Have the millennials taken over AF’s marketing department now? It ain’t a computer game, it’s a frequent flyer program.

    I have to agree with Ben — they’re not rewarding people who pay the most… BUT, that’s a bit of a blessing for mileage runs.

  16. It is about time they change the system. Comparing AF/KLM with other Asian airlines, the system was really strange and indeed not clear. The difference in awarded miles for a return flight Seoul-Ams with KLM will at least double from 2700 ~ 5400 for a € 1,000~ 2,000 ticket, and be in line with KE. They still lack in the validity department (KE 20 years, AF/KLM 2 years and … (?) years).

    Also, some might think I am wrong, but we are not entitled to anything; loyalty programs are services companies provide to their customers and as long as this frequent flyer program is free, any so-called “disadvantages” are advantages, especially for those who do not travel for work and pay for their tickets themselves.

  17. The old loyalty program was not great, in fact one could say that it was inferior comparing with other programs in which the relationship between earning and redeeming miles was much better. Now this new program is suggesting to KLM/AF’s frequent flyers to find other airlines that can compensate greater it’s loyalty. Good article!

  18. I think the underlying strategy is not to fly these airlines. They still don’t get it. The customer pretty much determines the value of a program, and fancy footwork in devaluating program perks will ultimately hurt the airline.

  19. C’mon man (Lucky). Lets face it AF, KL, VS et al are controlled out of ATL. Do these changes sound like Skymiles to you?

  20. Lucky wrote “I just don’t get what a lot of airline executives are thinking nowadays. In the same way that Air France’s new millennial airline, JOON, doesn’t make sense to me, neither does this program.” Well it does in a perverted sort of way.

    Air France is trying to satisfy a lot of special interests that are not directly stake holders in the success of the airline. It is very “French”. That is why reform is such a revolutionary (as opposed to evolutionary) process in France. In the end, Lucky’s observations will be proven to be true. Eventually, Air France will have to bit the bullet and implement of a real solution. Unfortunately, that solution may come too late.

  21. I am a FB member since the very beginning (when it still was FLYING DUTCHMAN) – middle of the 90’s. And frankly spoken, I never booked a KLM or AF flight because of the miles, but because of the price and good flight times / connections. So for me, the miles were “just” on top. I quickly became a Silver member due to the numerous chinese local flights with CHINA EASTERN and CHINA SOUTHERN. That was really nice.

    What I really hope is, that they would not cut too much the redemption /award possibilities. That would be bad. Does anybody have some information about the changes of redeeming miles? Will I need much more miles for booking award flights?

  22. I think you are maybe looking in the wrong direction here.
    You have to keep in mind, that Air France and KLM are both European carriers.
    Then, even if a wide bunch of people joining Flying blue may be from other part of the world, still the core number is made by Europe flying guys. That means the traditionnal frequent flyer is flying economy class within Europe (eg not Miles rewarding at all).
    Most of these people are getting a status based on frequence (qualifying flights) rather than distance (all the credit cards “trick” to redeem miles is stuttering in Europe). And the only benefit they get is a quicker path through airport thanks to sky priority.
    So, I would say what AF is trying to do here is to limit the number of new silver/gold/platinum people every year. At the moment on some flights in France, barely half a plane has a elite status. In the future with this new XP system, elite status members (except for platinum for life) will drastically decrease and therefore it could be called elite for real.

  23. Jerome,
    you are definitely right. Over the past years………..you see very often airport waiting halls almost empty (well, not really), whereas many lounges are completely overcrowded. For sure they try to find a way to really limit the elite members. But when I read some of the other comments here……the new system will help people to reach silver/gold/platinum with even less flights, but paying more = BC or First. In this sense the loyal members (that are e.g. flying always KLM AF in Europe in ECO) will try to find cheaper alternatives, when they have no more chances to have at least some elite advantages. So, the low cost carriers will be happy (at least inside Europe).

  24. @Jerome Well, that depends. In my view what they are doing is killing the status with segments. You needed 30 for gold, which I got flying a lot within France. Now I’d need 90 (!!!) domestic flights just to keep gold, never mind someone coming from ivory. Calling it XP or qualifying miles is absolutely the same. It’s the segments part that hot axed.

  25. As a Flying Blue Gold status passsenger I can’t but lament AFs lack of quality in “service rendu”.
    Deplorable at best, I’m ready to give up on this state sponsored Airline in hopes of greener pastures.
    At Flying Blue, customer service is a phone number and that’s about all.
    So as for XP points….
    Au revoir bien que à jamais

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