Is Air France KLM’s Flying Blue Getting Even More Frustrating to Deal With in Issuing Awards?

Some of the Best Programs Have Frustrating Quirks

I’m a big fan of Avianca’s LifeMiles program because they offer a reasonable Star Alliance award chart, one-way awards, you can buy the bulk of the miles you need either when they run a (frequent) 100% purchase bonus or at time of ticketing through their ‘cash and points’ option.

What I don’t like about the program is that they have a sometimes-frustrating website and an always-frustrating call center, and they don’t permit “mixed cabin” awards. If you have a business class award to Europe, you cannot include a domestic flight segment in coach. Every flight has to be booked into the same cabin.

Flying Blue Has Long Been Difficult With Mixed Cabin Awards

Here’s the thing I haven’t seen much written about. Air France KLM’s Flying Blue program has those same frustrating characteristics, as we’ve seen time and time again overcoming these challenges through my award booking practice..

The Flying Blue website frequently won’t come up with all options, especially mixed carrier options, so when you find space on your own you have to call. One example is a booking several months back that I assisted with, Paris – Atlanta – Miami. Both flight segments were available, but I had to call to put them together.

In fact, what I really wanted was Paris – Atlanta – West Palm Beach. Atlanta – West Palm Beach was available in coach only while the transatlantic segment was being booked in business class.

It took several attempts to get an agent who ‘saw’ the space, but I finally did. Then I ran into the ‘mixed cabin’ problem. Flying Blue has long permitted mixed cabin redemptions, but they are hard to do, requiring paperwork.

The explanation I’ve gotten is that “if you’re going to take a downgrade on a business class award and fly coach, we need to get your written premission so that you don’t complain later.”

I suppose recording a phone call and making notes in the reservation aren’t sufficient, and that people would still complain that they somehow didn’t realize and were being cheated by being forced into economy for a short flight.

But.. it’s clearly better to be able to include the Atlanta – West Palm Beach segment in coach than not to be able to include it at all and be stuck in Atlanta or have to buy the flight to the final destination.

They would put the award on hold and required that this consent to downgrade be sent in by fax. Of course, they would not always pair up receiving the fax with the reservation, so the fax would need to be re-sent.

(This isn’t even their most annoying feature, in the recent past you had to turn up in person to an Air France ticket counter to issue Africa awards!)

Are They Now Prohibiting Mixed Cabin Awards Altogether?

As challenging as putting together a mixed cabin award has been with Air France, we’ve recently been running into something worse — an absolute prohibition by Air France agents and supervisors on issuing mixed cabin awards at all!

This is probably just a case of a series of bad agents. But whether a rule change or misquoting of rules by multiple agents, it underscores equally how frustrating the program can be to deal with.

When explaining that in the past a fax would do the trick, it’s been explained that this is a recent change in policy.

I suspect it’s bad agents rather than new policy, or at least there’s some nuance to the policy that I do not yet understand. Booking a first class award, it’s not possible to add a first class segment intra-Europe beyond Paris because that cabin doesn’t exist. Surely ultra-expensive first class awards (for which there aren’t any saver options) can’t require more points to add a business segment. Premium economy long haul connecting to short haul flights without a premium economy cabin can’t mean two separate awards.

I’ll be watching this though to see if enforcement of this ‘rule’ persists and whether it’s applied uniformly across all award types and regions. I certainly hope not, and hold out hope that it’s not.

And one way around the mixed-cabin prohibition is to book separate awards, issue one award for available space in business class and a second award for available space in coach, but that’s more miles.

But it’s one more reason that I find dealing with Flying Blue over the phone to be one of the more frustrating experiences one can go through, as bad or worse than the DMV or IRS and certainly worse than even Delta (whose agents are uniformly unable to book partner awards competently) and Avianca.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Wasn’t Lucky just on a First Class flight on AF from LAX-CDG then onwards to Germany in business class? This seems like a case of poor agents. I have always found the AF agents to be pretty horrid and it taking multiple ‘hang up call again’ efforts to achieve my desired results (it’s terrible when you get the same agent multiple times which has also happened to me). Does calling Flying Blue from KLM or AF make a difference?

  2. Gary, I agree. Flying Blue agents are totally clueless. I wrote you about problems with Flying Blue trying to charge $67 in taxes and fees on a one way award on Delta to Vancouver totaling $67.00 when the web site showed $22 and Delta charges only the TSA $2.50 per segment. FB is the most difficult to deal with. I have never received an explanation from Air France why they charge $17.20 international departure tax to Canada which no other airline charges including BA.

  3. As a matter of policy, why would a frequent flier program choose to have such a rule? I assume that mixed cabin awards would be charged at the higher cabin number of points, but the costs for providing the award (if there are any) would be lower? Shouldn’t they be _encouraging_ these awards?
    The only thing I can think of is the “unhappy customer” issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are people who book mixed cabin flights and then complain to the airline after the fact, expecting compensation (there was a recent FT thread by someone who seemed to be pulling a similar scam-ette at the St Regis NYC).

  4. My most challenging redemption for a client was a Sydney-Canton-Paris-Malaga round trip with one segment downgraded from business to coach. 10 calls and endless Nigel music… FB is not fun….

  5. Did flyingblue start allowing award space to be booked with mixed cabins as of yet? They gave me a hard time too.

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