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While it might be compelling to solely focus on Avios when you are a UK-based flyer, there are good alternatives out there. With a young and modern fleet, an extensive route network and great redemption options (lower fuel surcharges, anyone?), KLM is a wonderful option for those not opposed to spending a little time at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport every now and then. After all, we need to stack up on cheese and tulips from time to time, don’t we?
KLM jointly operates a rewards program with Air France called Flying Blue. Jointly, they fly from 16 UK airports at least once daily. Furthermore, their joint venture operations with large SkyTeam carriers such as Delta Air Lines make for seamless integration. Let’s take a look at what earning and burning with Flying Blue can get you.
How to Value Flying Blue Miles
As with every points currency, valuing Flying Blue miles is somewhat subjective. The nicest
redemptions to be had are those aspirational flights. At The Points Guy, we value Flying Blue miles at 1.0p.
For example, for a flight to New York’s JFK from Heathrow, the reward ticket goes for
106,000 Flying Blue miles plus £554 in taxes and fees. As long as the cash price is higher
than £1614, you can consider this a ‘good’ redemption. Keep in mind that with Flying Blue,
you do not earn miles on a reward ticket. Also, no elite-qualifying XP (eXperience Points) are
awarded. More on those later.
Earning Status and Miles with Flying Blue
Within Flying Blue, there are four status levels: Explorer, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Explorer
is the base level and gives no added benefits. Silver gets you an extra free luggage item, a perk that has become more valuable as since 21 May economy fares do not include luggage. In theory, Silver gets you priority services as well, but these are limited to SkyTeam hub airports — you are able to board behind all SkyPriority and business class travelers, but many ground staff members will not mention or honor this. Another perk is free seat selection during booking. Finally, Silver gets you a 25% discount on Economy Comfort seats and will earn you 6 instead of 4 miles per euro spent.
Gold status is more valuable because of the SkyPriority access. This gets you priority check-in, baggage drop, boarding and luggage services, potentially saving you a lot of time. Furthermore, by being a Gold member, you will have access to any SkyTeam lounge as long as you are on a departing SkyTeam flight from that airport. You can bring a guest to the lounge for free. The discount on Economy Comfort seats increases to 50%, and you will earn 7 miles per euro spent.
Top-tier Platinum status gives you the same benefits as Gold, but with free Economy
Comfort seats and earning 8 miles per euro spent. Aside from this, you get access to the Platinum service line, which is a fairly ‘soft’ benefit but has helped me out plenty of times by arranging changes very quickly in a more flexible way than the regular customer service employees would have been able to.
The XP System
Now that you know which benefits are provided by the different status levels, you probably want to know how to reach them. Flying Blue recently introduced a fairly non-standard system centered around XP (eXperience Points). With each flight, you will earn a certain number of XP. This is no longer linked to fare classes, but only divided by booking class and distance, according to the following scheme:
Some flights are disproportionately disadvantaged like coast-to-coast US domestic flights, which only earn 2XP. But then there are also some sweet spots like a short hop from Amsterdam (AMS) to Brussels (BRU) in business class, which earns 15XP.
If you are just starting out with Flying Blue, you need 100XP to reach Silver status. When you reach each next level, the amount of XP needed is deducted from your balance. Excess XP stay in your account, so your balance will not be reset. Whenever you reach Silver, you can start saving up towards 180 additional XP to reach Gold right away. Finally, if you are a Gold member, you can save 300XP to reach Platinum status. This means that you will need 580XP to go from ground level to Platinum.
The drawback to this system is that each new status level is only valid for one year, so if you reach Platinum on 31 March, your new status will only last until 31 March the year thereafter. On the positive side, Flying Blue has implemented a ‘soft landing’, so if you are Platinum and don’t fly for a year, you will fall back only to Gold level. A side note worth mentioning is that if you fall back a level during maternity leave, you can send customer service a request to reinstate your former level.
Racking up Miles
Like other airlines, Flying Blue has recently implemented a revenue-based earning structure. That means that earning miles from flying with KLM and Air France is based on the cost of the ticket in euros, not including taxes and fees, multiplied by the amount of miles matching your status level (4, 6, 7 or 8 miles per euro spent). Unfortunately, this type of system does not leave a lot of room for points experts. However, there are some other options for racking up Flying Blue miles.
Earning with partner airlines
Since the ticket price you pay to other airlines is not known to Flying Blue, the existing earning charts for all 36 partner airlines stay in place. This provides opportunities, like booking a great business class deal on Delta instead of KLM to get 200% distance flown instead of only a fixed amount of miles per euro spent. To find out how many miles you will earn for your flight with a partner airline, check Where to Credit.
Aside from flying, the easiest way to obtain miles is by transferring them from a partner. Flying Blue is a transfer partner of the American Express Membership Rewards program at a 1:1 ratio, providing an easy way to increase your balance. These transfers will usually take between 24 and 36 hours.
There are also plenty of hotel programs that offer transfers to Flying Blue. Mostly, the options offer terrible value compared to what you would be able to get out of your points if you were to redeem them for hotel nights.
An exception is Marriott Bonvoy. If you transfer 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio, you will receive a bonus of 5,000 miles. That means 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points will get you 25,000 Flying Blue miles. Still not great, but if you are in need of a higher balance and hotel points are the only option, this is your best bet.
In most cases, buying miles is expensive (you will generally pay more than the per-mile value of 1p we saw earlier), but if you are just shy of the amount needed for an award and the redemption value is really good, it might just be worth it. You can buy miles outright or wait for a promotion, which tend to come around quite often.
Also, Flying Blue offers an option to pay for either 12.5% or 25% of the miles needed in cash when booking an award at a rather favourable rate that hovers around 1p per mile.
Keep an eye on the Flying Blue website for regular promotions. Promos have recently included 10,000 miles for a first booking with PointsHound for hotels, 4,000 for a first booking with Rocketmiles for hotels and 4,000 miles for every Avis rental of three days or more.
Comparable to the British Airways Avios eStore, there is a Flying Blue online shopping portal. Switch your location to UK to see only British retailers and click through the window that pops up every time you go shopping to earn bonus miles for every pound you spend. For example and at time of publication, you can earn 2.4 miles per £1 spent at Boots, 2.8 miles per £1 spent online at Apple or 5.6 miles per £1 spent on Sunglass Hut. Currently, there are over 400 UK retailers in the Flying Blue online shopping portal system.
Cobranded Credit Cards
Flying Blue partners with American Express and Mastercard to offer cobranded credit cards. Terms on who is allowed to apply and be approved for a credit card differ, so you’ll want to read the terms and conditions to be sure you’re eligible.
Do’s and Don’ts When Redeeming Flying Blue Miles
Do: Discounted Promo Rewards
On the first day of every month, Flying Blue publishes a list of Promo Rewards, offering between 20% and 50% discounts on the regular amount of miles needed. The offers are bookable for a two-month window, starting on the last day of the next month — timing matters. Usually, these are less popular destinations, like Dubai in the middle of the summer or Johannesburg in the middle of winter. If your plans line up, these provide great value. Personally, I have redeemed for flights to Dubai for just 20,000 miles and around £75 in taxes for a return flight in economy class.
Don’t: Long-Haul Economy Redemptions
Long-haul redemptions in economy rarely provide good value. However, although reward pricing is supposed to be revenue-based, sometimes a situation occurs where the revenue ticket is very expensive and rewards are priced low. There is not always a clear correlation between the two. Although a good redemption is rare, it never hurts to check.
Do: Business Class to the US
At the lowest level, you can book rewards to anywhere in the continental US for just 106,000 miles and around £550 in taxes return. That is a great redemption, especially compared to BA’s distance-based rewards with higher fuel surcharges. Sure, you will have to transfer, but it will get you on a nicer plane for less. When booked ahead, award space tends to be plentiful, and there are great planes available like KLM’s 787-9, Delta’s A350 and Air France’s new A330 business class cabin.
Don’t: Redeeming with Transavia
Although it is possible to redeem Flying Blue miles for a Transavia intra-Europe flight, the
redemption value always seems to be well below the value that can be achieved redeeming
for other flights.
Do: Domestic US Rewards
One-way flights within the continental US tend to be bookable for only 12,500 miles in economy and 25,000 miles in first, making them an excellent value redemption, especially for coast-to-coast travel. Flights between the continental US and both Hawaii and the Caribbean are only 17,500 miles in economy and 35,000 miles in first one-way, also representing a great option. Currently, domestic Delta award space does not show up in the online booking engine, so you will have to phone Flying Blue to book them.
Whether you are annoyed with BA’s aging fleet, just looking for a change or really want to
explore Amsterdam or Paris, the Flying Blue programme can offer tremendous value to UK flyers. It is definitely worthwhile to take a look at your travel pattern and desired destinations to decide upon a strategy for the future
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson.
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