When KLM and Air France merged in 2005, their frequent flyer programs (Fréquence Plus and Flying Dutchman) were merged into a new loyalty program called Flying Blue. Most airlines within the Air France-KLM family now use Flying Blue, including Kenya Airways (in which KLM is a major shareholder), Aircalin and Tarom. More than 100,000 new members sign up for Flying Blue each month, making it one of the most popular loyalty programs in the world.

Flying Blue features in my top 10 list of the best frequent flyer programs to join in 2018.

What is your opinion about Flying Blue? Leave a comment below.

In this overview, I explain the Flying Blue program and how to benefit from it:

  1. Flying Blue elite levels
  2. How to earn Flying Blue miles in the air
  3. How the earn Flying Blue miles on the ground
  4. How to spend Flying Blue miles (and travel for free)
  5. Best and worst Flying Blue redemptions
  6. Pros & things I like about Flying Blue
  7. Cons & things I don’t like about Flying Blue
  8. Poll: what’s the world’s best frequent flyer program?


1. FLYING BLUE ELITE LEVELS

There are four elite levels that you can work your way up to in the Flying Blue loyalty program. Ivory is the entry-level; Silver the second level; Gold the third level; and Platinum is the top-level. Each level has benefits and as you move from Ivory to Silver then Gold and finally Platinum, these benefits become more valuable. Membership level is determined by Experience Points, or “XP” for short. You gain XP with every eligible paid flight you take with KLM, Air France or one is its SkyTeam Alliance partner airlines, with the number of XP based on the distance flown and the class of service you’re traveling in.

  • Ivory is the entry level. Just signing up for the Flying Blue program will already give you access to the following benefits:
    • €10 discount on the first piece of paid check-in baggage on Air France and KLM flights
    • 10% off reserving a preferred seat in Economy Class (complimentary at check-in)
    • You earn 4 miles per Euro spent
  • Silver status is reached after collecting 100 XP per 12 months. Flying Blue Silver members are equivalent to Elite status members in the SkyTeam Alliance and enjoy the following benefits:
    • 50% elite mileage bonus (6 miles per Euro spent)
    • Priority check-in and baggage drop-off
    • Complimentary standard seat selection
    • 25% off reserving a preferred seat in Economy Class (complimentary at check-in)
    • Greater availability of Business Class award tickets
    • Availability to First Class award tickets and award upgrades with Air France
    • 1 extra free checked bag in addition to the baggage allowance given on your ticket
    • Access to an exclusive reservation service
    • Lounge access is possible for a fee
  • Gold status is reached after collecting 180 XP per 12 months. Flying Blue Gold members are equivalent to Elite Plus status members in the SkyTeam Alliance and enjoy the following benefits:
    • 75% elite mileage bonus (7 miles per Euro spent)
    • Priority check-in and baggage drop-off
    • Priority at immigration and security
    • Priority boarding
    • Complimentary standard seat selection
    • 50% off reserving a preferred seat in Economy Class (complimentary at check-in)
    • Greater availability of Business Class award tickets
    • Availability to First Class award tickets and award upgrades with Air France
    • 1 extra free checked bag in addition to the baggage allowance given on your ticket
    • Access to an exclusive reservation service
    • Complimentary access to all SkyTeam lounges
    • Free transfers between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly with Le Bus Direct
  • Platinum status is reached after collecting 300 XP per 12 months. Flying Blue Platinum members are equivalent to Elite Plus status members in the SkyTeam Alliance and enjoy the following benefits:
    • 100% elite mileage bonus (8 miles per Euro spent)
    • Priority check-in and baggage drop-off
    • Priority at immigration and security
    • Priority boarding
    • Complimentary standard and preferred seat selection
    • Greater availability of Business Class award tickets
    • Availability to First Class award tickets and award upgrades with Air France
    • 1 extra free checked bag in addition to the baggage allowance given on your ticket
    • Access to an exclusive Platinum service line
    • Complimentary access to all SkyTeam lounges
    • Free transfers between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly with Le Bus Direct

2. EARNING FLYING BLUE MILES IN THE AIR

Flying Blue lets you earn two types of miles: ‘XP’, which determine your status, and ‘award redeemable miles’, which can be exchanged for a variety of rewards.

Experience Points (XP) determine your status level and are based on your flight type and cabin (cf table above) whenever you travel with a SkyTeam airline. For example, a return flight from Amsterdam to New York-JFK in Business Class will earn you 60XP, while a one-way flight from Nairobi to Oslo via Paris-Charles de Gaulle in Economy Class will earn you 15 XP. Thresholds for elite membership are 100 XP for Silver status, 180 XP for Gold Status, and 300 XP for Platinum status, with all XP earned over a time frame of 12 months. As soon as you qualify for a higher membership level, you will receive a new membership card. XP cannot be exchanged for award flights.

Award redeemable miles are the currency in the Flying Blue programme. They are earned in addition to XP when flying on one of the airlines of the SkyTeam alliance or other Flying Blue airline partners. These miles can be exchanged for a wide variety of great rewards (more on that below). The number of award miles you earn depends on your status and the airline you fly.

  • For KLM, Air France, HOOP and JOON, these award redeemable miles are based on how much you spend rather than how much you fly. You earn a minimum of 4 miles for every €1 spent (excluding government-imposed taxes and fees), and the higher your elite status, the more award redeemable miles you will earn (cf table below).

  • For travel on partner airlines (including all SkyTeam members), you earn award redeemable miles based on the distance flown, the booking subclass, and your elite status. The distance flown is multiplied with the earning percentage of the booking sub-class and the earning percentage of the elite bonus, and these numbers are added up: award redeemable miles = (distance in miles x earning % of the booking class) + (distance in miles x earning % of elite status level). You can always use Flying Blue’s Miles Calculator to find out how many miles you will earn with your ticket.

Flying Blue is a great frequent flyer program because it allows you to earn (and also spend) miles with a lot of partner airlines:

  • XP and award qualifying miles can be earned on all 20 airlines of the SkyTeam Alliance, which all enjoy high-flying reputations for quality service. These carriers include Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentina, AeroMexico, Air Europe, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
  • XP and award redeemable miles can also be earned by traveling on several non-SkyTeam alliance airlines with whom Flying Blue partners. These airlines include Aircalin, Air Corsica, and Chalair Aviation.
  • Award redeemable miles (but not XP) can also be earned by traveling on several non-SkyTeam alliance airlines with whom Flying Blue partners. These airlines include Air Mauritius, Copa Airlines, GOL, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, TAAG Angola Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Jet Airways, Transavia, Twin Jet, Wijet, and Westjet.
  • You cannot earn miles but still redeem Flying Blue miles on Bangkok Airways.


3. EARNING FLYING BLUE MILES ON THE GROUND

The possibilities to earn award redeemable miles and boost your account are endless within the Flying program, even when not flying, by making use of its many partners:

  • Each time you stay in a hotel which partners with Flying Blue, you can earn miles. This will mostly be around 500 to 1000 miles per hotel stay. All you need to do is present your Flying Blue membership number at check-in.
  • Several hotel loyalty programs allow you to convert your hotel points into Flying Blue miles. These programs include Best Western Rewards, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guests (you can read my reviews with pros and cons of most of these hotel loyalty programs here). Starwood Preferred Guest – the loyalty program of Starwood Hotels – has the best conversion program as it allows you to convert Starpoints to Flying Blue award redeemable miles on a 1:1 basis, including a 5000 conversion bonus when you convert 20,000 Starpoints.
  • Flying Blue members earn award redeemable miles every time they rent a car with one of the major car rental companies, including Herz, Avis, Budget, Sixt, Driving Blue, Thrifty, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and Europcar. The exact number of miles you earn for a car rental depends on the company and ranges from 50 to 500 miles per day.
  • Members earn 3 miles per Euro spent in the Air France & KLM online store. As a special welcome, you’ll earn double miles on your first purchase. The Air France online store and the KLM online store offers over 1000 items, including items of baggage, objects linked to travel comfort, clothing, tableware, watches, electronics (e.g. Sony, Bose), and pens. All products in these online stores can also be purchased using your miles.
  • Members earn 2 award redeemable miles for every Euro spent on tax-free shopping on Shop@KLM. You can choose to have your purchases delivered on board your flight or to be shipped to any address in the world. Flying Blue members can also pay for these products purchased via Shop@KLM with their miles.
  • Members earn 750 award  redeemable miles when they sign up for a 6 month subscription for one or more of over 300 newspapers & magazines. In addition, they enjoy a 50% discount on in-store prices. This offer is only available to Flying Blue members with a valid postal address in metropolitan France and is limited to 4 magazines per member per year.
  • Members also earn miles for cultural experiences in The Netherlands and France (e.g. museum visits, cruises on the Seine, wine tasting, etc …).
  • Flying Blue also offer the possibility to directly purchase tens of thousands of miles without flying, which can be an interesting option to explore if your mileage account is just short off an award ticket. Miles can be purchased in units of 2,000, starting from €55. Ivory members can purchase a yearly maximum of 75,000 award miles. Elite members can buy an unlimited number of award miles. Promotions are regularly launched where you receive bonus miles in addition to the purchased miles.
  • Members can dramatically increase their Flying Blue mileage earning with credit card spendings: 
    • You can transfer points from the American Express Rewards Programs to Flying Blue. A minimum of 625 Membership Rewards points is required to transfer your points into your Flying Blue account. Once Membership Rewards points have been transferred, it is not permitted to exchange Flying Blue Award Miles for Membership Rewards points again. Transfer of points can take up to 72 hours.
    • One of the fastest ways to earn Flying Blue miles is by using a Flying Blue co-branded credit card (only available to European members). These credit cards also offer considerable bonus miles upon your first purchase (although not as generous as sign up bonuses of the credit cards of USA branded frequent flyer programs).


4. SPENDING FLYING BLUE MILES

The best way to spend your Flying Blue miles is to redeem your miles for free flights on Air France, KLM or one of its (SkyTeam) partner airlines to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide. The number of Miles you’ll need depends on your destination, travel class and the flexibility of your travel dates. Currently, there are four different types of award tickets (although some new changes will be introduced in June).

  • Promo Awards are a special selection of destinations that are offered for a reduced number of miles and that can be booked as early as three months ahead of the travel period. You can save between 20 and 50% on the miles you would normally need for a Classic Award. Make sure to check the Promo Awards regularly, because the list of destinations is updated every month and availability is limited.
  • Classic Awards are flight tickets that can be booked for flights with Air France, KLM and any of their airline partners to all destinations in exchange for award miles. You can find the required number of miles in the Flying Blue online calculator. Of course, you’ll spend fewer miles for an Economy Class ticket than for a ticket in Business Class. It is possible to combine several flights and airline partners on the same ticket provided that the transfer time between the flights is shorter than 24 hours. Classic Awards may be cancelled or modified for a fee of € 45.

  • Flex Awards are tickets that give you more flexibility in your travel dates and that can be modified without charge in case your travel plans change. Of course, you need much more miles to book them (often two or three times the number of miles required for a classic award).
  • Round-the-World Awards are tickets that offer you the possibility to plan your very own round-the-world itinerary based on all destinations offered by Air France, KLM and other SkyTeam airlines. Ticket may comprise a mix of SkyTeam airlines and it is possible to make up to 6 stopovers, with a maximum of 3 on the same continent. Tickets include feeder flights from Europe, so you can back-track to/from the point of origin. A round-the-world ticket will cost you 140,000 or 280,000 miles (depending on booking class) in Economy Class and 350,000 miles in Business Class. To book these tickets, you need to contact the Flying Blue Service Centre in writing at least 14 days before departure.

Besides redeeming them for free flights, there are several other ways to redeem your hard-earned Flying Blue miles:

  • Starting from 7,500 award miles, you can upgrade your ticket and enjoy the luxury and comfort of Business Class. Upgrade awards can be requested for flights with Air France, KLM, Aircalin, Kenya Airways, Delta Air Lines, and selected SkyTeam airlines. The number of award miles you need for an upgrade award can be checked here (you need to login into your Flying Blue account though) and depends on your destination, original booking class and the airline that operates the flight. The number of miles you earn for the flight depends on the conditions of the ticket that you originally purchased. Upgrade awards are always subject to the same availability of award seats, and upgrades from Business to First Class are not possible.
  • Flying Blue members can spend their award miles on a hotel stay at over 300,000 properties, independent boutiques and all-inclusive resorts with PointsHound. How does it work? It’s easy: log in to your Flying Blue account, select your destination and you will be offered thousands of hotels at great prices. If you use the payment option ‘Cash & Miles’, you can book your next holiday at discounted rates using your Miles.
  • Flying Blue members can exchange their miles for newspapers, magazines, cultural experiences and car hire.
  • Flying Blue members can transfer miles to friends and family, as long as they are Flying Blue members. The costs to transfer miles are €3 per 250 miles and a maximum of 50,000 miles per transfer can be shared. You can transfer miles using this webpage.
  • You can donate your miles to charities to make the world a better place and help people in need.

5. BEST AND WORST FLYING BLUE REDEMPTIONS

The best value for your Flying Blue award redeemable miles are the Promo Awards which Air France and KLM release each month on the first of the month. Though the dates are a bit restrictive and the booking window moderately last-minute, these awards will save you 25-50% of the required miles on any given route, even in Business Class.

The greatest redemption of the Flying Blue program are USA to Hawaii flight, which only cost 15,000 miles for an Economy Class ticket (even for a ten hour flight from the East Coast to Hawaii).

Flying Blue charges an insane amount for First Class award tickets. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to fly Air France First Class, you have no choice but to book these high rates through the Flying Blue program (since Air France makes First Class award seats only available to Flying Blue elite members). However, paying the exorbitant Flying Blue rates to fly First Class on a partner airline, rather than booking those seats through that partner or another SkyTeam member with good First Class redemptions, is a waste of miles, particularly if you’re transferring your miles from a transfer program.


6. PROS & THINGS I LIKE ABOUT FLYING BLUE
  • You can earn and redeem miles on the program’s many partner airlines. These include all the SkyTeam partners (Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentina, AeroMexico, Air Europe, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines) but also several non-SkyTeam carriers (Air Mauritius, Copa Airlines, GOL, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, TAAG Angola Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Jet Airways, Transavia, Twin Jet, Wijet, and Westjet). It means that you can earn and spend your miles with dozens of airlines to nearly 1,000 destinations worwide.
  • The single best value of the Flying Blue program is the monthly release of Promo Awards, which allow you to book last-minute award redemptions on KLM and Air France for 25-50% off the required miles (and availability is usually very good). Make sure to check the Promo Awards regularly, because the list of destinations is updated every month.
  • Elite status can be achieved based on the XP you earn during a 12 month membership year, rather than just the calendar year.
  • Women can maintain their membership level during maternity leave.
  • You can hold award ticket reservations for 48 hours for free (even without miles in your account) or for up to two weeks for a small fee, which is very helpful when you are planning your travel intinerary but are not sure yet about all the details. This is particularly interesting for members who want to transfer points into their Flying Blue account:  American Express and Chase transfers are instantaneous, so you can find the award seats you want, hold them, and then transfer the points and confirm the reservation.
  • Flying Blue allows one way award tickets.
  • Flying Blue allows open jaw award tickets within the same region. For exemple, you can fly into Amsterdam and out of Paris (same region), but cannot fly into Africa and out of Europe (different region).
  • Flying Blue allows a stop-over on award tickets. Stop-overs cannot be booked online though.
  • After 10 consecutive years of Platinum membership, members become Platinum for life, without the need to requalify for elite status every 12 months.
  • Flying Blue offers a generous amount of bonus miles to its elite members. Silver members earn a 50% bonus, Gold members earn an 75% bonus, and Platinum members earn a 100% bonus on top of base miles earned traveling with Air France, KLM and their partner airlines.
  • Flying Blue makes far more award space available on Air France and KLM flights to their own (elite) members than they do to partner airlines.
  • The Flying Blue award search engine (found not on FlyingBlue.com, but on AirFrance or KLM’s websites) is by far the best online tool to find and book SkyTeam award seats.
  • Fuel surcharges for Economy Class award tickets on KLM and Air France are minimal.
  • Award seats in Air France’s First Class cabin – one of the best First Class products in the world – are only made available to elite members of the Flying Blue program, lending the program an air of exclusivity.
  • Flying Blue offers ridiculously cheap mainland USA to/from Hawaii award seats in Economy Class (15,000 miles for a ten hour flight from New York to Honolulu). Flights are operated by either Alaska Airlines or Delta.
  • Flying Blue stands alone in offering access to Round the World award tickets to its members.
  • As of June 2018 Flying Blue will introduce Miles & Cash, which will let you redeem a combination of miles and cash towards the cost of a ticket. You’ll be able to pay for up to 25% of your ticket with cash.

8. CONS & THINS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT FLYING BLUE 
  • Only Flying Blue elite members can redeem miles for Air France La Premiere (First Class). First Class award seats are not made available to Flying Blue Ivory members or frequent flyer programs of partner airlines.
  • Flying Blue charges an insane number of miles for a First Class award ticket, whether it be on Air France or on a partner airline. As mentioned above, paying the exorbitant Flying Blue rates to fly First Class on a partner airline, rather than booking those seats through that partner or another SkyTeam member with good First Class redemptions, is a waste of miles, particularly if you’re transferring your miles from a transfer program.
  • Partner awards cannot be booked within two weeks of departure.
  • Fuel surcharges are very high for Business and First Class awards redemptions.
  • Flying Blue doesn’t permit mixed cabin redemptions such as an Economy Class feeder flight in Europe connecting to an international Business Class flight.
  • The Flying Blue award search engine sometimes shows phantom award space (especially for partner airlines). So if you want to transfer points into your Flying Blue account for booking an award, don’t just rely on what the website says about award availability, but call and/or put the award on hold before transferring points.
  • Miles expire if no award-earning flight is credited to the account in 20 months.
  • Flying Blue credit cards are not available to US or UK residents. However, the good news is that many of the large credit card transfer programs (e.g. Chase, American Express) include Flying Blue as a direct transfer partner.
  • Contrary to most other frequent flyer programs, Flying Blue’s top elite member do not get upgrade vouchers. In comparison, British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Delta, and United give their most loyal frequent flyers 2 to 6 upgrade vouchers per year.
  • Flying Blue is a revenue based program, with members earning miles based on spent rather than distance flown.


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