Should UK-based flyers pick Flying Club or Flying Blue?

Feb 18, 2020

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Last week, in one of the biggest points and miles events in recent memory, Delta, Virgin Atlantic and KLM/Air France started their expanded joint venture partnership. From 13 February, you can earn and redeem Flying Blue miles on Virgin Atlantic flights, and Flying Club miles on KLM and Air France flights. Furthermore, elite benefits are being cross-honoured across the carriers. Since Virgin Atlantic is a true U.K. airline, it seems logical to pick it as your primary miles programme. However, as I have written before, Flying Blue can be a rewarding option for U.K. flyers, too. This is true now more than ever. Let’s take a look at which programme is best for you.

In This Post

Earning miles

Flying Blue and Flying Club both earn miles in their own ways. Air France/KLM Flying Blue opted for a revenue-based model a while ago, meaning miles are awarded based on the price paid. Virgin Atlantic, for now, is sticking to a mileage-based programme. Both programmes offer bonuses for elites, which are applicable if you fly the other airlines, too:

Flying Club:

  • Silver status: 30% bonus; and
  • Gold status: 60% bonus.

Flying Blue:

  • Silver status: 50% bonus;
  • Gold status: 75% bonus; and
  • Platinum status: 100% bonus.

Earning miles while flying Virgin Atlantic

If you’re a Flying Blue member and credit your flights to Virgin, you will earn miles based on a percentage of actual miles flown. For earning Flying Blue miles, the percentages are as follows. If your flight is below 500 miles, the base miles amount will default to 500. The percentage multiplier will still take effect.

Business (Upper Class):

  • J, C: 200% (400% if credited to Flying Club);
  • D: 175% (400% if credited to Flying Club);
  • I: 150% (200% if credited to Flying Club); and
  • Z: 100% (200% if credited to Flying Club).

Premium Economy:

  • W, S: 125% (200% if credited to Flying Club);
  • H: 100% (100% if credited to Flying Club); and
  • K: 75% (100% if credited to Flying Club).

Economy:

  • V: 100% (150% if credited to Flying Club);
  • Y, B: 100% (150% if credited to Flying Club);
  • R, L: 75% (100% if credited to Flying Club);
  • U, M, E: 50% (100% if credited to Flying Club);
  • Q, X, N, O: 25% (50% if credited to Flying Club); and
  • T: 20% (25% if credited to Flying Club).

When flying Virgin Atlantic, earning miles is always equal or better when you credit to Flying Club compared to crediting your flights to Flying Blue.

Earning miles while flying Air France/KLM

If you are a Flying Club member, your Air France/KLM flights will be credited based on a percentage of miles flown rather than a fixed miles amount per euro spent. The earnings are as follows. If your flight is below 600 miles, the base miles amount will default to 600. The percentage multiplier will still take effect.

Business (Upper Class):

  • J, C, D: 400% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue); and
  • I, Z: 200% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue).

Premium Economy:

  • W, S: 200% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue); and
  • H: 100% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue).

Economy:

  • Y, B, R: 150% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue);
  • K, H, L: 100% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue);
  • U, M, E: 50% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue);
  • Q, T, N: 50% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue); and
  • R, V: 25% (4 miles per € if credited to Flying Blue).

These earnings are not transparent and hard to compare. Therefore, let’s take an example. A September return from AMS to JFK in V class currently goes for €366. KLM’s Flying Blue awards 1,054 Flying Blue miles on this flight since the taxes and fees do not count towards euro spent. If credited to Flying Club, the number of miles earned will be 3,643 miles times two, multiplied by 25%, or 1,822 miles. For this flight, crediting to Flying Club comes out ahead. Please take note that this is just one example and the balance might be different for your flight.

Earn miles when you are not flying

With both programmes, there are a number of ways to earn miles in other ways than flying. For U.K. flyers, Flying Club definitely offers more possibilities than Flying Blue. With Flying Club, you can earn redeemable miles in lots of different ways, like:
  • Up to 1.5 miles per £1 spent through Virgin Atlantic credit cards;
  • 1,600 miles per £1,000 saved through Virgin Atlantic savings account;
  • Online shopping through Shops Away;
  • Hotels through PointsHound, Kaligo and RocketMiles;
  • Several car rental partners; and
  • Converting your Tesco Clubcard points.
With Flying Blue, options are a little more limited and do not include a credit card for U.K. flyers. Ways to earn redeemable miles include:
  • Online shopping through Flying Blue Earn Online;
  • Hotels through Booking.com and PointsHound; and
  • Several car rental partners.
Both programmes are a partner of American Express Membership Rewards, meaning you can convert your Membership Rewards points into miles. Also, they partner with all major hotel chains to enable you to convert hotel points into miles.

Redeeming miles

Redeeming Flying Blue miles on Virgin flights

Similar to their own flights, Air France/KLM does not publish an award chart for flight redemptions. Instead, it uses a system of dynamically priced awards based on availability.

Redeeming Flying Club miles on Air France/KLM flights

Virgin Atlantic has published award charts for using Flying Club miles on Air France and KLM flights. There are separate award charts for economy, premium economy (only available on Air France) and business-class flights. Furthermore, there is a special short-haul redemption chart for flights less than 600 miles, similar to the one British Airways has. Let’s take a look at some redemptions.

Both programmes have a very different way of pricing awards. For a fair comparison, let’s take a look at similar one-way awards and how they are priced. Keep in mind that your mileage may (quite literally) vary, so check your own preferred routings if possible.

LHR – JFK in business with Virgin Atlantic

Flying on VS3, operated by the A350 with Virgin’s newest business class seats, the rewards compare as follows:

Virgin comes out a little ahead here, in spite of the extra £53 in taxes, Flying Blue charges a significantly higher amount in miles.

LHR – PEK in economy with Air France/KLM

Flying to Beijing, with the long leg on Air France’s 777-300ER, the rewards stack up like this:

Again, Flying Club comes out slightly ahead. The taxes on this reward are about £60 higher with Flying Club than they are with Flying Blue. The significantly higher miles do not outweigh the difference, however.

LHR – AMS in economy with Air France/KLM

This short hop over the pond is not available with Virgin Atlantic. Luckily, KLM operates up to 10 daily flights between London and Amsterdam with a mix of 737-800/700 and Embraer E-175/E-190 aircraft.

Another win for Flying Club members — with the tax amount exactly matching, the short-haul reward chart helps out here, with just 4,000 miles for a one-way ticket.

Elite status benefits

Under the new partnership, Flying Club elite members will receive benefits on Air France/KLM flights similar to the ones they get on Virgin Atlantic flights. Vice versa, Flying Blue elite members now enjoy benefits on Virgin Atlantic flights like they would on Air France/KLM flights. This includes but is not limited to: priority services, extra baggage allowance, lounge access and reward miles tier bonuses.

Benefits on Virgin for Flying Blue elite members

If you are a Flying Blue Silver member, you will receive on Virgin Atlantic flights:

  • Priority check-in;
  • Priority baggage drop-off; and
  • Priority boarding.

Flying Blue Gold and Platinum member will receive these benefits too, and additionally:

  • Priority security (where available);
  • Priority baggage handling;
  • One extra piece of checked baggage; and
  • Lounge access.

There is a big caveat to the lounge access, however. Flying Blue members will not have access to the coveted Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3, but will be sent to the Qantas Lounge. Furthermore, there will be no lounge access in Barbados, Johannesburg, Las Vegas, Manchester, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

Benefits on Air France/KLM for Flying Club members

If you are a Flying Club Silver member, you will now also receive benefits on Air France/KLM operated flights, including:

  • Priority check-in;
  • Priority baggage drop-off; and
  • Priority boarding.

Flying Club Gold members will also receive these benefits, as well as:

  • Priority security (where available);
  • Priority customer service desks in airports (where available);
  • Priority baggage handling;
  • One extra piece of checked baggage; and
  • Air France/KLM lounge access for you and a guest.
Image courtesy of KLM.
Flying Club Gold members will have access to the brilliantly designed new KLM Crown Lounge at AMS. (Photo courtesy of KLM)

Getting to elite status

Flying Blue elite status

In the Flying Blue programme, there are four levels, reached by obtaining a certain number of eXperience Points (XP):

  • Flying Blue Explorer (base level);
  • Flying Blue Silver (100XP needed);
  • Flying Blue Gold (180XP needed); and
  • Flying Blue Platinum (300XP needed).

The catch is that whenever you reach a new level, your XP balance is reset. That means if you start fresh, you need 580XP to get to Platinum. Whenever you reach a level, you keep it for one year. Flying Blue offers soft landings, so if you do not meet the threshold to go up or maintain a level, you will fall back at most one level.

Related reading: The ultimate guide to Flying Blue for UK flyers

Gaining XP depends on your flight distance and booking class, according to the following scheme:

(Image courtesy of Flying Blue)

Flying Club elite status

Quite similar to Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club uses a system of Tier Points to determine status. The levels are as follows:

  • Red (base level);
  • Silver (400 Tier Points needed); and
  • Gold (1,000 Tier Points needed).

The neat thing is that if you are just starting out, you still need just 1,000 Tier Points to get Gold. Tier Points are awarded according to the following table:

(Image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic)

The most notable difference between the two programmes is the importance of booking class. Flying just 2.5 returns in full-fare business class will get you to Gold with Flying Club, whereas you would need many more flights with Flying Blue. If you tend to fly business class only a couple of times per year, Flying Club is the obvious choice here. On the other hand, if you fly mainly discounted economy, you will reach Flying Blue Silver before you reach Flying Club Silver.

Depending on the mix of flights taken, one of these methods might get you to elite status fastest. Especially if you are new to both programmes, Flying Club will be the programme in which you generally reach a higher elite status first.

Bottom line

So, given all of the information above, which programme is best for you? Generally speaking, Flying Blue members definitely drew the shortest straw in this partnership. It seems that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club offers the most benefits, both in terms of elite status perks and mileage earning. Between the lower award amounts, higher earnings mainly in business class and the lack of lounge access restrictions, Flying Club appears to be the best choice here. On top of that, TPG U.K. values Flying Club miles higher at 1.2p versus 1.0p. However, there are a few reasons to focus on Flying Blue instead:

  • If you only fly a couple of times per year, almost always in discounted economy and your main goal is to obtain elite status; or
  • If you regularly fly other SkyTeam airlines on non-Air France/KLM codeshares, aside from Delta.

Featured image by Delta Airlines

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