Has Delta Completely Stopped Offering Business Class Redemptions on Air France?

Delta has the most punitive international upgrade program of any major US frequent flyer program. United, American, and US Airways let you upgrade any fare with a cash co-pay in addition to miles. Delta requires you to buy nearly full (“M”) fare coach to upgrade to business class, anything less is ineligible. Period.

Delta’s M fares are often as expensive or more expensive than discount advance purchase business class fares, when those are available.

Delta doesn’t treat its elites any better, top tier elites get international upgrade certificates that can be used on… nearly full fare “M” tickets as well. United doesn’t let its elites upgrade all fares internationally, low-ish “W” fares are permitted though. American allows its 100,000 mile flyers to upgrade any fare.

One neat workaround used to be that you could upgrade any premium economy fare on Air France to Air France’s business class. That was great because a discounted premium economy ticket could be half the cost of a Delta “M” coach fare, it was cheaper to buy premium economy and upgrade to business on Air France using Delta miles than it was to buy an eligible coach fare on Delta and upgrade to Delta’s business.

Naturally Delta closed down that opportunity. And then last week they apparently took away the ability to upgrade to business class on Air France at all.

Now the situation gets even worse than that.

Perhaps the best, most reliable use of Delta miles for years has been Air France business class. You can’t often get two passengers across an ocean in Delta’s premium cabins (except for a few routes), but Air France availability has been reliably good.

On Friday, around the time that word was breaking about Delta eliminating the ability to upgrade with miles on Air France, my award booking partner relayed to me that Delta agents received a memo on Thursday that effective immediately, Skymiles award space in both coach and business class was reduced for Air France and KLM flights.

I never take a single or even a few agents at face value, especially with Delta.

But there have been real changes — now, Air France itself has been making less and less business class award space available in recent months. It’s still been better than Delta’s inventory, though.

Now it seems that most space has completely dried up, at least in so far as what Delta is able or willing to book. (There does seem to be some space for next summer.)

And while Air France is offering up business class space, Delta won’t even book what’s available.

To test this, I went to a real “go-to” route for business class award space. Here’s October 1 through October 31 for Houston – Paris on Air France in business.

Delta’s website award calendar is ‘broken’ — it purports to show what’s available but doesn’t do so reliably. Still I thought what Delta shows on its calendar was telling for Houston-Paris:

They show a few days of availability, compared to plenty of space that Air France shows as available for award redemption. But click through and none of what Delta is showing is actually Air France non-stop, it’s all connecting space on KLM. The Air France non-stops, that are showing available on the Air France website, do not come up.

Delta is simply not showing any availability for Air France business class space, even though Air France is clearly offering business class award inventory.

It’s good to know that KLM seats, though, do seem to be bookable. KLM inventory has certainly dried up on some routes, compared to what had been on offer in the past.

Here’s October 1 through November 1 for Washington Dulles – Amsterdam on KLM in business.

On the other hand, there are a few go-to routes, as I noted with Air France above the Texas flights have long been pretty reliable for getting premium cabin space to Europe (although not as good as when KLM operated an all-business class Privatair flight).

Here’s what September 24 through October 28 looks like for Houston – Amsterdam award space on KLM in business:

So unlike the DC route, the space is still out there. Get that at least while you can.

So what’s going on?

I reached out to a contact who is usually pretty good for Delta backstory, but haven’t heard anything back. It could be a busy weekend, but it could also be that I’ve been ultra-hard (justifiably, I think) on Delta recently. So I don’t know for certain.

But in early May 2005 Delta imposed blackout dates on Air France and KLM award redemption across-the-board for all of June 1 through August 31 that year. This was implemented systemwide, the rapid and unannounced (sound familiar?) blackout dates were put into effect because Delta had decided they simply already had redeemed too many seats on these airlines (that they would have to pay for).

Later in the decade United had ‘Starnet blocking’ where they’d simply program their computers not to show award space that their partners were offering. Delta’s solution was just to declare blackout dates to keep their spending on partner awards down.

Back in March, Delta had an IT glitch where they were temporarily unable to book awards on Air France.

One Mile at a Time thinks the current state of Delta access to Air France awards is either that Air France will no longer release any business class space to Delta, or that they plan to only release a subset of their space and that the current total block is part of that transition.

With the caveat that I haven’t gotten hard information at this point, I’d venture to guess that this isn’t coming from Air France, that it isn’t Air France blocking Delta but Delta blocking Air France space just as they had done in the past when it was costing them too much.

Ben titled his post, “Has Air France completely stopped releasing business class award space for Delta SkyMiles members?”

I’ve titled mine, “Has Delta completely stopped offering business class redemptions on Air France?”

There’s a subtle but important difference in the questions we’re asking. My hypothesis, then, is that Air France business class availability will come back — in some form — once redemptions catch up to their budget.

I’ve checked Alaska Airlines, their space doesn’t seem to match what Air France is offering on their website at the moment but I am finding transatlantic business class space with Mileage Plan miles to fly Air France business class, for instance I found some going Los Angeles – Paris.

It could be something fishy going on with Air France. But it’s also clearly the case that it’s affecting Delta more than it is Air France’s other partners…

In the meantime, you might wait for another Membership Rewards transfer bonus over to Air France KLM Flying Blue.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. How is AF for award changes and cancels? I know beaubo was an expert on AF, but it is still hard to give up the PM benefit of free award changes for better availability.

  2. I had a reader Buddy M comment this on my site:

    “I have an award itinerary on hold that the Delta reps are still working on because KLM withdrew a seat in business class from ZRH to AMS before I could redeem it. They are trying to get the seat confirmed but a rep told me they are in negotiations with AF and KLM right now so they (AF and KLM) are withholding most of the low level award seats. The rep said that hopefully they would come to an agreement in a couple of weeks and then things would go back to normal.”

    So maybe this is just tit-for-tat with Delta-KLM-AF.

    Gosh Delta is making it hard to be a Pro-Delta blogger! I hear that more “IT” upgrades are on the way this year btw(I may need a defibrillator soon). 🙂

  3. Gary,

    Have you considered what difference the TATL JV with revenue-sharing elements for DL-AF/KL flights means now compared to back when DL instituted a summer blackout on using DL miles on (most if not all) AF-KL flights and the TATL JV was not there for DL-AF/KL?

    In particular, if this was merely about DL meeting its internal budget goals, would the TATL JV arrangement mean that this sort of blackout-lite was delayed?

    I am really trying to fish for ways in which customers have sustainably benefited from government allowances for these airlines to collude in the manner they now do but weren’t able to do before the government(s)-granted favors to them.

  4. @GUWonder I’m not sure why a transatlantic joint venture would affect award inventory, Delta putting its customers in those seats means Delta ponying up cash to its joint venture partners.

    The pro-consumer argument for joint ventures is that the airlines have bled so much cash that the businesses weren’t sustainable, and fewer competitors were inevitable — either fewer weaker competitors with no joint venture partner or fewer stronger competitors with a joint venture.

    But the legal decisions don’t turn entirely on consumer benefit as I understand it in any case.

  5. @Delta Points – In my post I speculate this is just temporary. I was guessing it’s Delta budget reasons that they withdrew space. You are suggesting Air France withdrew space — due to ‘negotiations’, even if true you have to ask negotiations OVER WHAT. And it’s most likely budget/payment issues. Which would effectively then mean my theory is 98% right, regardless of which side is doing the blocking (since it’s because Delta won’t pay for the seats).

  6. I think I’m going to have to start viewing Delta with two faces. The airline itself I still have some loyalty to due to their product and service (and being hub-hostage) but their Skymiles program as a completely separate program that I have given up on until they make changes to increase the value to. Which is a shame- would have loved to have tried out their BusinessElite product…

  7. Fuel surcharges on yet more DL-issued award ticket itineraries coming up, this time also US-origin itineraries?

    The DL-AF/KL TATL JV’s revenue and cost sharing would seem to provide incentive for DL to expand the proportion of issued TATL award tickets hit by heavy fuel surcharges. [Different ways to reach that outcome (of more fuel surcharges on more TATL tickets: for example, AA has gutted availability of “MileSAAver” award space on AA metal flights across the Atlantic, and I suspect that has been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of its TATL award tickets that include a fuel surcharge since the major alternative involves the BA flights.]

    If/when DL gets “fuel surcharge”-equivalent amounts to hit an even bigger proportion of TATL award tickets, I can’t but expect that the customer-unfriendly move will expand to more than just business class on AF-KL planes.

  8. I don’t think just showing the calendar view of Air France means that the direct flights are available. I have been using AF website to search for awards a lot and most times it turns out it has a connection in AMS or even taken me half way around the world.

  9. Gary,

    “Back in March, Delta had an IT glitch where they were temporarily unable to book awards on Air France.”

    I think the glitch is still on… because alot of coach awards at classic level shows on AF website but not on Delta website for many awards..on going since March.



  10. Looks like I’ll use miles for a low redemption SLC – MCO and take the kids to WDW…at least a few weeks ago there was low availability (coach). Who knows if they’ve messed with that too.

  11. I just spoke with a DL agent to try and add a family member to an award itinerary that was booked using DL points on AF metal. I booked 3 business class seats at 100,000 level earlier this year for travel in early DEC. the flight was subsequently changed to their 380 service (yessss..). Anyway I called AF today to see if there were seats avail — award seats in Business for 50,000 Flying Blue points (I only needed One Way.) There IS space avail to do this.

    I immed called DL res after this to inquire about avail (I was okay using 100k skypeso for one way).

    Helpful agent, but she said there was NO avail.

    I pretended to have inside info and said “I heard DL has remove some AF biz award inventory for the time being, too bad.”

    She politely took issue with it. “Actually sir, they release seats to us. We have no control over it.”

    Whatever, the interesting thing that happened next is she said “Let me try something.” silence. “No, that didn’t work either.”

    I said “Did you try to manually force it?”

    She said “Yes, didn’t let me this time.”

    So, not really the outcome I was hoping for but thought you all might find this anecdote helpful.


  12. Delta would rather have their own personnel fly in Business Class then let a Diamond Medallion Member, with over 4,000,000 actual flight miles, get upgraded on an economy fare ticket.

    I have also traveled across the Pond on numerous occasions where there were empty seats in Business Class, yet I was relegated to Economy class because of my fare. Ever since Northwest bought Delta (at least it seems that way), this airline has gone down the toilet in my opinion.

  13. @Stuart Hamilton – You don’t have to sit in Economy as a PM/DM. E+ seats are free to select from the day you book. E+ may not be much on domestic, but the room does help while going over the pond.

  14. I have been trying to upgrade to business class on an AF flight using a Delta system wide upgrade. I have to fly on AF because Delta does not allow pets in the Business Class cabin. I have now realized that this is impossible–there are no upgrades. To test this theory, I told the agent I could leave any day between April 1 and October 1, 2014 from any city in the US. As I suspected, it is not possible. This is a huge scam on Delta’s part and surely must be false advertising, no?

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