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6 Unique Redemptions with Air France/KLM Flying Blue

Last week, American Express Membership Rewards added Air France/KLM Flying Blue as its latest airline transfer partner.

In this article, let’s take a closer look at some unique redemption possibilities that the Flying Blue program brings to the table.

Even though the inferior 1:0.75 transfer ratio is lamentable, there are still certain redemptions that might make the most sense for Canadian travellers to book via Flying Blue. 

Air France/KLM Flying Blue: Key Things to Know

There are a few particularities about the Flying Blue program that we should go over before we delve into the sweet spots.

First of all, Flying Blue doesn’t have the most transparent award pricing. It uses a dynamic pricing model, with different price points for each route, and there is no published award chart.

On the plus side, that means that every last seat on flights operated by Air France or KLM can be booked with Flying Blue miles. On the downside, the dynamic pricing model allows the mileage rates to fluctuate in unpredictable ways. 

Furthermore, there’s no real discernible rhyme or reason to the way that awards are priced. For example:

  • Montreal–Paris begins at 53,000 miles one-way in business class, while Toronto–Paris begins at 60,000 miles one-way in business class.
  • Vancouver–Paris begins at 59,500 miles one-way in business class, while Vancouver–Paris–London begins at 53,000 miles one-way in business class (thus opening up hidden-city ticketing possibilities).

The Flying Blue program’s Miles Estimator may come in useful, but sometimes it isn’t accurate. For example, even though it shows that Vancouver–Tel Aviv flights begin at 53,000 miles one-way in business class, the search engine shows that this baseline rate has recently risen to 77,000 miles one-way. 

Add in the lack of a stopover allowance, the inability to book customized routings over the phone, and the presence of fuel surcharges to the tune of $300+ per one-way flight on Air France or KLM, and it’s clear that there are quite a few limitations to Flying Blue. 

Here, we’ll focus on those particular sweet spots where Flying Blue represents the best way to book despite these limitations, and we’ll leave other redemptions for better-suited award programs. 

For example, even though Flying Blue can book domestic WestJet flights within Canada, the award rates aren’t really optimal upon factoring in the transfer ratio – so we’ll gloss over such options in this article. 

1. Promo Rewards

The most well-known Flying Blue sweet spot is its monthly Promo Rewards feature, which offers 20–50% discounts on select Air France or KLM routes on a rotating basis.

These discounts span both economy class and business class, and historically we’ve seen fairly strong coverage for Air France and KLM’s Canadian routes on Promo Rewards.

For example, as of the time of writing this article in August 2021, Flying Blue’s Promo Rewards currently offer a 25% discount on economy class redemptions between Montreal, Vancouver, or Calgary and either Paris or Amsterdam. These may not be sweet spots in themselves, but if we were to see similar discounts on business class redemptions in the future, they’d certainly be very noteworthy.

Indeed, previous Promo Rewards campaigns have allowed bookings such as Toronto–Paris in Air France A350 business class for as little as 32,000 Flying Blue miles one-way. Factoring in the 1:0.75 transfer ratio, that’s equivalent to 42,667 Amex MR points, which is a much cheaper than the 60,000 points that Aeroplan would charge for an equivalent flight on Air Canada.

Now that Flying Blue is an Amex MR transfer partner, keep a close eye on their monthly Promo Rewards in case there are any deals you can snag. 

Note one major restriction of Promo Rewards: they cannot be cancelled or refunded, given their generous discounts. Historically, changes were also not allowed on Promo Rewards, although they’re currently changeable for free until the end of 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.  

2. Edmonton to Amsterdam

For most of Air France and KLM’s transatlantic routes to Canadian cities, redeeming miles via Flying Blue won’t be a better deal than transferring MR points to Aeroplan and booking with Air Canada or Star Alliance partners. 

The exception is if you live in Edmonton, where Air Canada currently doesn’t offer direct flights to Europe, but KLM does.

You can book the direct flight to Amsterdam for 60,500 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 80,667 MR points) plus a few hundred bucks in taxes, fees, and surcharges.

At this price point, some travellers might indeed prefer to take the connection via Toronto or Montreal, but those who prioritize convenience above all else will be glad to have a new way to cross the pond on points at their fingertips.

Even if you live in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, where Air Canada and Star Alliance options may be aplenty, it’s useful to keep the Air France and KLM services in the back of your mind in case Aeroplan’s dynamic pricing is off the charts.

3. French Overseas Regions

I generally think of SkyTeam as lagging behind Star Alliance and Oneworld in terms of premium cabins and aspirational awards. However, there are some destinations around the world that are served only by SkyTeam airlines, and that’s where things get interesting in terms of new ways to redeem points to get to these places. 

Take, for example, some of the French overseas departments and regions. Air France is the only major mainline carrier to serve the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, so if you’re interested in travelling there on points, then redeeming Flying Blue miles on an Air France flight would be the best way to get there.

Similarly, consider the territory of French Guiana in South America, which borders Suriname and Brazil.

Flying Blue is once again the only meaningful way to book a flight to Cayenne, its capital – you could book a direct flight from Paris–Orly, or take an “island hopper” routing on Air France Flight 600 from Port-au-Prince in Haiti via Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadelupe and Fort-de-France on Martinique.

A one-way flight in economy class on any of these legs starts at 11,500 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 15,333 Amex MR points) and less than $100 in taxes and fees, and I’m very much interested in booking this island-hopper journey for myself one of these days.

4. Air France Business Class to Bora Bora

While there are alternative ways to book business class to Bora Bora, redeeming Flying Blue miles for Air France’s flight from Los Angeles to Pape’ete tends to give you the most availability if you’re booking in advance.

Now that Flying Blue is an Amex MR transfer partner, this particular redemption has become a lot more within reach for Canadians.

A one-way flight in business class will cost 64,000 Flying Blue miles, equivalent to 85,333 Amex MR points. Not cheap, but then again, the very ability to kickstart your dream trip to Bora Bora in business class is quite precious in the first place. 

Award space can be plentiful if looking far in advance – remember, Air France makes every last seat bookable on miles, and you can even find nine business class award seats on the same flight at that lowest price level of 64,000 miles one-way.

Aside from Air France, your other options for flying business class to Tahiti include redeeming 80,000 American AAdvantage miles for Air Tahiti Nui on the same route (which is a bit disproportionately expensive), as well as redeeming 35,000 Aeroplan points for a United flight from San Francisco (which very rarely has award space in business class). 

All things considered, Flying Blue may well be your best bet.

5. Island Hopping with Aircalin

If you’re headed all the way to French Polynesia, why not continue the island-hopping journey deeper into the South Pacific? One of Air France’s unique airline partners is Aircalin, the airline of the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, which operates some very interesting routes in the region.

You could fly between Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, and Tahiti for 29,000 or 72,000 Flying Blue miles in economy or business (equivalent to 38,667 or 96,000 Amex MR points), respectively.

You could continue your island-hopping with a trip to, say, Vanuatu for 13,500 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 18,000 Amex MR points)…

…or even Wallis and Futuna, yet another overseas French territory, for 17,500 Flying Blue miles (equivalent to 23,333 Amex MR points).

You could conclude your journey over in New Zealand for the same price…

…or you could fly Aircalin’s flagship route from Nouméa to Tokyo on the Airbus A330-900neo for 34,500 or 86,500 Flying Blue miles in economy or business (equivalent to 46,000 or 115,333 Amex MR points), respectively.

Island-hopping in the South Pacific for 18,000 MR points per leg strikes me as the most attractive sweet spot here. However, keep in mind that Aircalin’s cash fares are also fairly reasonable by South Pacific standards, and it may end up being a better deal to pay cash than redeem miles via Flying Blue – even in business class.

6. Air France La Première

Business class is all well and good, but for the true aspirational traveller, First Class is the real prize. Can our newfound access to Flying Blue miles unlock new First Class redemption opportunities?

Unfortunately, members of the SkyTeam alliance generally block off First Class award redemptions from partner airlines within the alliance, so you wouldn’t be able to redeem Flying Blue miles for, say, Korean Air First Class or Saudia First Class. Instead, each airline’s First Class product is generally reserved for members of the airline’s own loyalty program to book. 

So that leaves us with the famous Air France La Première on the Boeing 777. Is it possible book one of the world’s best First Class experiences – complete with a private curtained suite in an intimate cabin of four, incredible onboard dining, and a world-class ground experience with a luxury car tarmac transfer – using Flying Blue miles?

Air France La Première

The answer is yes, but you need to be a Flying Blue Gold or Platinum elite member to be eligible to book these awards, and even then the award cost is exorbitant.

To rack up Flying Blue Gold status, you’ll need to earn 280 “XP” by crediting paid flights on Air France and its partner airlines to the Flying Blue program (100 XP gets you to Silver, and then 180 XP gets you to Gold). Just an easy 14 round-trip flights from Toronto to Paris in economy class, or 10 round-trips in business class, should do the trick.

Then, a one-way redemption in La Première will cost 220,000 Flying Blue miles between Paris and New York JFK, which is equivalent to a whopping 293,333 Amex MR points. For the shortest and cheapest La Première route between Paris and Dubai, it’ll be 175,000 Flying Blue miles, equivalent to 233,333 Amex MR points.

That’s a lot of effort to go through for a single one-way flight, but hey, if you want to experience one of the world’s most coveted First Class cabins for yourself, it’s the most sure-fire method to book outside of hunting for mistake fares out of niche North African markets. 😉

Conclusion

Even though its optimal use-cases are limited at the end of the day, Air France/KLM Flying Blue still represents a welcome new addition to the list of Amex Membership Rewards transfer partners. 

For most practical purposes, Flying Blue’s value proposition will revolve around its monthly rotating Promo Rewards features, especially if they throw in a few discounted business class redemptions from Canadian gateway airports. 

I’d personally also love to redeem Flying Blue miles for business class flights to Bora Bora, embark on Air France’s “Caribbean Hopper” from Haiti to French Guiana via Guadelupe and Martinique, and island-hop in the South Pacific with Aircalin. 

Here’s hoping we’ll also see some regular transfer bonuses from Membership Rewards to Flying Blue in the future to make these unique sweet spots just a little sweeter. 

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