While Air France and KLM are the respective flag-bearing carriers of France and the Netherlands, they merged together in 2004 to form one of the largest airlines in Europe. The partnership has been, by and large, hugely successful, although the travel experience is rather inconsistent. That’s not to say it’s bad — it isn’t — but Air France and KLM feel like distinctly different airlines. They’re not though, and higher flyers should take advantage of the opportunities provided to them by the joint FlyingBlue loyalty program to elevate the quality of their travels. There are a number of compelling redemptions available for flights all around the planet in some of the better, if not the best, business class products.
- Name: Air France/KLM
- Code: AF/KL
- Website: airfrance.us, klm.com
- Hub: Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG), Paris Orly (ORY), Amsterdam Schipol (AMS)
- Destinations: 349 total (204 on AF, 149 on KL)
- Alliance: SkyTeam
- Loyalty Program: FlyingBlue
- Loyalty Tiers: (1) Gold, (2) Silver
Three Notable Features
- FlyingBlue is a solid loyalty program: Air France/KLM has a lot going for it in the skies and on the ground, but FlyingBlue is what really makes the airline worthy of every higher flyer’s attention. The carrier is already “good,” but because it gifts returning customers practical and versatile miles that are easy to accrue, it’s considered even better. The perks you’d receive with status are competitive too, although they aren’t out of the ordinary. FlyingBlue is held in high regard not necessarily because of those benefits, but because it offers customers useful travel opportunities to spend their miles on…all without breaking the bank. Thanks to special promotions, you can fly between North America and Europe and back for under 50,000 miles, and beyond that, lax rules regarding stopovers (they’re allowed) and partner awards (they’re cheap) enable even higher higher flying.
- “New” Air France is particularly awesome too: Air France was, until recently, a “ho-hum” airline, especially for those flying in premium cabins. That’s not to say that it was bad — the soft product was consistently above average — but the carrier has since reinvested and the results are stunning. Business class used to have angled flat seats in dense 2-3-2 configurations…
…but now they have spacious and private reverse herringbone seats in 1-2-1 configurations.
The improvement is noteworthy, and La Premiere, the elite first class offering, has also jumped significantly in terms of quality. Like Air France Business, it’s not that the seat was downright bad before, but it never could truly compete with other major airlines…
…thankfully, now it can!
The La Premiere ground experience is one of the best too. You can consistently find its exclusive lounge at Charles De Gaulle Airport among the highest rated in the world, thanks to the careful service, the complimentary Michelin-rated restaurant, and other amenities. It’s a beautiful place to wait for a flight in… and I’d even recommend an extended layover to truly experience it all!
- Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) is one of the best airports in Europe: It doesn’t matter if you have access to KLM’s excellent business class lounge or not, because Amsterdam’s airport is comfortable and accommodating for everyone who visits it. I’m only one person, but I find Schiphol to be one of the best in the world. It’s clean, modern, and efficient…
…and it’s loaded with thoughtful amenities. There are places where you might feel as if you are in a lounge. You can sample the Netherlands’s rich art history at a small rotating exhibit from the Rijksmuseum…
…read a book at the library…
…or visit a communal indoor/outdoor green space.
And all of this is free for everyone! Every traveler has something stimulating to do during a layover. If you’re privileged enough to have access to the KLM Crown Lounge, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the most underrated business class lounges too…unless you’d rather be in the rest of the terminal.
Three Notable Drawbacks
- But Charles De Gaulle (CDG) is one of the worst: If you’re in to building designs inspired by how architects of 50 years ago imagined the future to be, you might like Charles De Gaulle International, Air France’s main hub in Paris.
But perhaps you may be indifferent to how whimsical an airport’s architectural style might be. Maybe you prefer a place that’s thoughtfully laid out, easy to transit and filled with useful amenities, and above all, clean. If you fall into the second category of people, then you will hate CDG.
The minimum connection time is well over an hour, and that’s if you’re flying within the European Union. You’ll need a lot more time than that if you’re coming in from a long haul intercontinental flight. Customs and immigration lines are notoriously awful, getting between some terminals might entail a 20 minute shuttle ride, and you should be prepared to schlep your suitcases for what seems to be miles. Add in dirty bathrooms and stained carpets, and you’ll probably have a not-great CDG experience (unless you have access to the La Premiere lounge). Oh, and good luck if you don’t speak French…
- Underwhelming lounges: Outside of their respective home airports, many of Air France/KLM outstation lounges are staples of the Priority Pass portfolio. As is the case with many of Priority Pass’s locations, you can expect something serviceable that’s slightly better than sitting near the gate, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything memorable. Many of the airline’s clubs can be characterized as “delightfully underwhelming,” with their mundane and uninspiring designs, and mediocre snacks. Higher flyers, when they’re flying Air France/KLM out of Boston, can expect something like this on the ground…
Or for those in San Francisco…
Europeans don’t have it much better…
And neither do Chicagoans…
As a point of comparison, United’s new business class lounge at O’Hare looks like this…
But with all that said, it’s worth mentioning: Air France and KLM have some of the best lounges in the world at their hubs. Just don’t expect much if you’re outside of Paris of Amsterdam!
- First Class redemptions are exclusive…and nearly impossible: The process for redeeming points for La Premiere, Air France’s excellent first class product, is unequivocally FlyingBlue’s most frustrating weakness. There are a number of issues, starting off with the fact that only Air France has first class cabins onboard its planes (and not KLM), and it’s only featured on select aircraft. Of those planes, the A380 has nine seats, and the 777 only has four. That exclusivity alone — with such few seats available to customers — makes higher flying in La Premiere difficult, abd there are even additional restrictions. You have to hold status with FlyingBlue in order to redeem miles for elite seats, and loyalty program members from other SkyTeam partners aren’t given workarounds either. If you meet those qualifications, then you have a lot to pay up. Between Paris and Los Angeles? 200,000 miles! Between Paris and Hong Kong? 320,000 miles!!! That’s a ridiculous amount, but after jumping through all those hoops, at least you get to fly one of the best, if not the best, first class offering in the world.
Three Special Opportunities
- FlyingBlue Promo Awards: The staple of the FlyingBlue loyalty program, at least from the perspective of most higher flyers, is the monthly Promo Awards feature. A number of select flights/cabins are discounted by at least 25 percent, which can then turn in to tremendous savings, especially in premium classes. Granted, these deals are available only in a few markets at a time, but if you’re willing to be flexible, you can fly high and go far. For example, in August 2017, the chosen routes were between Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and New York and any destination in Europe (provided that Air France/KLM flies there).
Higher flyers can and should use these deals to their advantages. There’s nothing else quite like them in the industry!
- Partner awards are cheap: The next best thing about FlyingBlue is that it prices partner award tickets at stunningly low rates. In some cases, business class with FlyingBlue might be cheaper than economy class with other loyalty programs! Granted, these kinds of offers are dependent on your ability to find saver award availability on other carriers. If you can, you are afforded the ability to fly from the continental United States to Hawaii in Delta One for 43,000 FlyingBlue points.
The same flight would cost 37,500 Delta SkyMiles in economy class.
If Hawaii isn’t your style, other bargains include from North America to Central/Northern South America and vice versa. Those prices start at 17,500 points one way, 35,000 round trip for economy class. That too is a nice discount, especially when compared to Delta’s starting redemption rate of 22,500/45,000 SkyMiles.
- Easy to earn points: Higher flyers have a good deal of purchasing power thanks to FlyingBlue. In addition to the cheap redemption opportunities highlighted above, accruing miles is relatively easy. Flights on Delta and other SkyTeam carriers can be credited to Air France/KLM. Better yet, points from the four flexible point value currencies — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, Starwood Starpoints — can be transferred in to the program. That means that even if you don’t have the opportunity to fly Air France/KLM a lot, you can still amass a store of miles for your future use. There aren’t a lot of other loyalty programs with this level of versatility, so use it to your advantage when you look to fly higher.
- 15 June 2018: You can’t fly Delta One between the 48 States and Hawaii for 30,000 Flying Blue Points anymore. That privilege now costs 43,000 miles, which, don’t get me wrong, is still an excellent deal.
- 4 June 2018: Damn, Flying Blue is being devalued. While there is still value to be had, the program isn’t as transparent as it used to be. The post has been updated to reflect these changes.
As is the case with the other airlines, Air France/KLM has its share of strengths and weaknesses. While it’s one of my favorites, that doesn’t mean that its competitors are definitely inferior. You probably have different experiences, perspectives, and values than I do; what matters to me may not matter to you and vice versa. The point of this guide is merely to highlight the features that makes Air France/KLM unique, and help you better understand how it fits in to higher flying collectively.