The New Air France Process That May Prevent You From Booking an Award

Six weeks ago I wrote about the frustrations of a frequent flyer program fraud detection unit gone off the rails.

Air France KLM’s Flying Blue shut down the account of someone who simply transferred points in from American Express Membership Rewards and redeemed those points for a ticket. The American Express account, Flying Blue account, and tickets were all for the same person. (American Express no longer even lets you transfer points to other people any more.)

I learned about readers who had had similar experiences and I also heard from a fraud unit employee who actually claimed they wouldn’t permit transferring in points just to book awards.

[T]he use of our frequent flyer accounts as boxes opened to transfer miles with our non air partners won’t be allowed anymore.

Air France is adamant that such a policy does not exist.

What certainly is a problem was relayed by a Flying Blue supervisor last month:

a supervisor on the helpline has said that they’re randomly flagging new accounts that have points transfer into them and won’t allow tickets to be paid for online — requiring a trip in-person to an Air France airport ticket counter.

I asked Flying Blue to clarify. Here’s what they said:

Our Flying Blue program has enacted a new automatic security process that will alert us to certain transactions to prevent fraud. If this happens, our agent cannot issue the ticket and the customer must go to an Air France agency to process the payment. We understand and apologize that this process may generate frustration for the members.

Here’s the thing:

  • Many Americans live nowhere near an Air France ticket counter. That’s precisely why Air France has partners like Delta and Alaska, to bring those customers to Air France flights.
  • Airport agents seem to have generally no idea that members are being directed there to issue award tickets and most do not know how to proceed.

Airlines need to combat fraud, but the byzantine hoops that Flying Blue seems to make some reasonable percentage of new members trying to book awards jump through makes transfers to Flying Blue in my view very much juice not worth the squeeze… unless you’re well-positioned to invest time up front driving to an airport location and waiting there for a supervisor to assist with ticketing. Make sure you’re going to be able to go (1) when the ticket counter is open, but (2) during off-times. And expect it to take about 45 minutes once you find someone who knows how to help.

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. Is there also a lesson now to open accounts even when you’re not sure you’ll need them? That way, even if you transfer and book, at least the account isn’t brand new

  2. @gba – Depending on what their automated process looks for, even that may not help. If you have an account with no miles/activity, and all of a sudden they see a 125K transfer from AmEx or TYP, that may get flagged.

  3. It will generate “frustration” for some of their members? AF doesn’t fly to Arizona, so they expect me to travel to Los Angeles to redeem miles for a flight that might no longer be available by the time I get there?

    I guess it’s fitting that they are partners with Delta.

  4. I’ve often booked flights as a third party for African flyers, many times with the transaction being done from an African IP and originating in African cities, which sets off pretty much every single fraud flag they have. Usually I just go in (sometimes even preemptively) and say that I bought a ticket (provide itinerary number), and let them take a photocopy of the credit card used and passport. This makes them happy, and prevents them from asking the flyer for my info later on. It’s a bit of a hassle, but they usually know what to do right away (even when I do it in the US and not a high-fraud location) and it’s worth the effort for me to get thousands in spend.

  5. Just to add, those were for revenue tickets. I just transferred in a bunch of points from Amex to Flying Blue to book myself and my boyfriend award tickets (as separate one-ways to and from one of the African promo destinations this month) and had zero issues.

  6. This looks like a useless program to me. Thanks for the warnings. I would think AMEX would have something to say about it, though. It makes AMEX look very bad advertising them as a transfer partner if they really aren’t, in the accepted sense of the term.

  7. I regularly fly AF from Seoul to Frankfurt in some illogical scheme to keep accumulating years of Delta DM. I have a flying Blue account but only as a receptacle for Pointshound. I actually like them and have frequently received First Class upgrades at the ticket counter when I have Z Business booked (especially if my wife or I have a lap child). Especially if you’re connecting at CDG, that La Premier customs escort is priceless.
    Also their Premium Economy Seating is 150% better then Delta C+. Private seats that have lower leg support, don’t recline into the person behind you and you get the business class food and bathroom. Just not the service or the lie flat bed.
    After my 2mio delta miles ( and lifetime GM), I suspect may use Flying Blue or Alaska for all of my miles.

  8. @Gene it is possible, and they don’t always do this just at random — so be prepared that it could happen especially with a new account opened where points were transferred in.

  9. I think United just found a new airline to copy. Though, at least their ticket counters would be more plentiful.

  10. I live in an AF city, but if this happened to me, I would be on the phone with my bank insisting they reinstitute my bank points because transfers to AF are not what they claim. Making it this difficult to redeem miles with no indication it may be this difficult by either Amex/TYP is not fair to customers.

  11. The topic of discussion and of frustration is not when you obtain revenue tickets. It also is not when you accrue butt-in-the-seat miles and have some transfers from AMEX points. The issue is having near zero accrual from butt in the seat and a big transfer from AMEX to buy REWARD tickets. In those cases quite a few people have reported problems, sometimes complex ones. So, let us stick with the topic please.

  12. it happened to me. i opened up a flying blue account. transferred in 250,000 miles to book me and my husband. low and behold was told i need to call to complete the transaction. well, they flagged me even though the account was in my name, the tickets were in my name, the miles came from my american express card. they had me drive to the airport to ticket the reservation. the folks at the counter had no idea what i was talking about. finally after an hour they took my credit card and issued the tickets.
    what a waste of time

  13. How is this okay? AmEx (or whoever) PAID for those points. So, my butt never sat in a FB rev. seat. So what? I have just as much right to use my 250k points as the person whose been flying on AF. This is insane, and I think their partners should put a stop to it. And, I agree with Justin–I’d have the same reaction.

  14. I’ve always found the key to any customer service problem is to find someone who actually understands the risks of what their company is doing. The worst person to deal with is always the lowest level. The best is always the general counsel.
    I’ve often done searches on my state’s website to find the registered agent for a corporation, then sent a letter addressed to the general counsel of the company.
    This works 100% of the time at eliciting a response from someone in the legal department, and has always resulted in a satisfactory resolution.
    Remember, the people you deal with at a company have to actually understand the legal implications of an action or failure to act, in order for your correspondence to be effective.
    The list of general counsel’s I’ve contacted is long. I usually can find an email online, but if not I write to the registered agent.
    You are going to often beat your head against a wall in dealing with those who don’t understand the implications of inaction. Attorneys actually think ahead and concern themselves with the consequences of their company’s inaction.

  15. I have never had trouble with AMEX transfers to Flying Blue and then having tickets issued immediately and I only keep the account for when FB have their amazing 50% off points offers. This related but off topic slightly maybe useful to some. When in London a couple of weeks ago I bought a rail ticket online with collection of the ticket not by printing it out online but from a machine at the station, as that is the strange way the British operate! When I got there there was no trace of the reservation, nor could the enquiry clerk find it by the number I had. I bought a ticket on the spot for a lot more money. The next day I got an email regretting the inconvenience. It may have been, like AF, that they wanted more revenue, no reason was given. I scratched that company from my do business list. If AF play games with my AMEX points, despite the great value of their deals, I’ll do the same with them and maybe even AMEX. I suggest anyone else played with like this does the same. That is the only way companies learn smart commercial practise. As mbh said, the points have been paid for. What does it matter if by my butt on a plane or by AMEX hard cash?

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