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(This is a translation of an article first produced on InsideFlyer Netherlands by contributor FlyingDutchBoy here). Some radical Flying Blue changes are set to take place in 2018. These include completely new ways of earning and redeeming miles, as well as changes when it comes to qualifying for elite status with the popular Air France / KLM loyalty program.
Flying Blue Program Director Derrick Merkus told Insideflyer that ‘Flying Blue Reinvented’ will be easier and more transparent for members. In this article, all the changes will be explained and the program that will start on April 1st 2018 will be analysed compared to the current conditions.
From Award Miles to just Miles
According to Merkus, the mileagesystem in the ‘old’ Flying Blue was not transparent and clear – especially the difference between Award and Level miles caused confusion among members. “When buying a ticket it was not obvious how many miles you would earn,” says Merkus. In the new program, Award miles (RDM) and Level miles (EQM) will be separated. The mileage currency for booking awards will just be called ‘miles’. As has been expected for a long time now, the amount of miles you earn will be revenue based, i.e. dependent on how much you pay for your ticket. This will be according to the following scheme:
– Flying Blue Ivory: 4 miles per €
– Flying Blue Silver: 6 miles per €
– Flying Blue Gold: 7 miles per €
– Flying Blue Platinum: 8 miles per €
The amount for which the miles are calculated is the ticket price minus government imposed taxes and fees. Hence you do earn miles on the carrier imposed surcharge (YQ). If you book a flight in another currency than euro, the amount will be converted to euro’s at the time of booking. The Air France-KLM websites will display the amount of miles you will earn with a certain ticket.
The scheme above is valid for all flights marketed (i.e. booked with a flight number) by either Air France, KLM, HOP!, or Joon. For flights with (Skyteam) partners, Flying Blue cannot determine how much you have paid for your ticket. Hence for these flights the old, distance and fare bucket based, scheme will remain.
Besides earning miles on the ticket price, Flying Blue members can also earn miles on travel extras such as additional baggage, à la carte meals, Economy Comfort seats and even upgrades to Business Class. You will not earn miles on booking fees or payment surcharges.
The miles balance from March 31st will be transferred one to one to April 1st.
Earning Elite status with Experience Points
The old concept whereby members could qualify for elite status based on either Level miles or Qualifying flights (segments) will be discontinued. Flying Blue will replace this system by ‘Experience Points’, or XP’s for short. Against the expectation of many members, the amount of XP’s will not be dependent on your ticket price. Many ‘feared’ that qualifying for elite status would also go revenue based, similar to for instance Delta Airlines.
Experience Points at Flying Blue will solely be based on two parameters: flight distance (in bands) and travel class. This is comparable with British Airways’ Executive Club Tier Points or Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club Points with one major difference: XP’s are independent of exact fare class/bucket. “We appreciate every passenger who flies with us,” comments Merkus. The new system is certainly more clear and transparent; “It is not necessary to check per flight in a calculator how close you will be to the next elite level. You also do not need to know your fare bucket.” The accrual rates for XPs is as follows:
This is valid for all Skyteam operated flights or partner flights with an Air France or KLM flight number. As can be seen, there is a fixed multiplier between travel classes.
The use of XPs for (re)qualifying commences on April 1st 2018.
Qualifying and change in membership period
To qualify for elite status, Flying Blue members must accrue the following number of XPs:
– Silver: 100 XP
– Gold: 180 XP
– Platinum: 300 XP
Note that these thresholds are not cumulative, so to get Gold you actually have to get 280 XPs in total, or 580 for Platinum.
From April 1st 2018, not only do the qualifying criteria change but also the period. Instead of the fixed qualification period of a calendar year, this will become a 12 months from the moment you have a status upgrade. As soon as you reach the required amount of XPs for an elite level, your XP balance resets and the 12 qualifying months start again. If you have any XPs in excess of the threshold, these will be rolled over to your next qualifying period.
The status you have earned will remain valid for 15 months; 12 months during the requalifying period and 3 months after to send a new card. Also the soft-landing is maintained; if you do not reach enough XPs to (re)qualify, you only drop one level. It is not even necessary to make a single qualifying flight for a soft landing.
For new Flying Blue members, their qualifying period starts as soon as they make their first qualifying flight. Hence it does not matter if you enroll in Flying Blue in advance of your first flight.
Example: An Ivory member reaches 120XPs on July 5 2018. The threshold for Silver is 100XP. From July 5 the member has 15 months of Silver status including to the end of the month; hence until 31 October 2019. The 20 surplus XPs transfer to the next qualifying period which runs until 5 July 2019. To retain Silver, the member needs to accrue 80 XP in these next 12 months or 160 XPs for Gold.
There are no changes in the elite benefits.
Transition in 2018
The first three months of 2018 will be according to the current program in terms of earning miles and qualifying for status. Elite status you have gained by March 31st will be transferred to April 1st. Also Level Miles and Qualifying Segments will be converted. 1000 Level Miles will equal 5 XPs while 1 segment equals 7 XPs. The highest of the two is the starting balance on April 1st. According to Flying Blue, this will always be in the favor of the members.
No region-based Award tickets with fixed amounts
Not only earning miles will change. Also spending miles on Award tickets changes from June 1st 2018. In the current program, there are Classic Awards with fixed, region-based prices. To book one of these flights, there needs to be Award availability in a special fare class. If a seat is for sale in cash, it does not mean this seat is also bookable with miles. Flex Awards do offer, against a significant premium, any seat on board even if there is no award availability. Both these features change.
First of all, Flying Blue discontinues the region-based awards. The price will be, as with cash tickets, determined based on the route. A ticket from Amsterdam to New York will not necessarily cost the same as a ticket to LA for example.
Also it will probably not be possible any more to add a connecting flight for the same price. Currently, an award from DUS-AMS-JFK-BOS is the same as AMS-JFK for award pricing as it is based on the region Europe-North America.
In the new program it will be possible to book any available seat with miles on Air France, KLM, HOP!, Joon and Transavia flights. There is no necessity for award availability. The tariff will become more dynamic. Per route, there will be a starting-price in miles. As with cash tickets, this fare can increase based on various parameters. This offers more flexibility to use miles, but may result in higher fares. Award tickets will not be linked one-to-one to the price of a revenue ticket – Flying Blue will guarantee that there are tickets initially available for the starting price, but it is likely the Miles cost will then rise.
The popular Promo Awards will continue to exist. The promotional fare is the regular starting-price minus a certain discount percentage. This discount may differ per destination and Promo Awards will still be subject to availability.
Miles and Cash
Completely new is the possibility to pay part of you Award ticket in cash. This will be introduced on June 1st. With the Miles&Cash option, you can choose to pay 12,5% or 25% of the miles with cash. The price varies but is cheaper than outright buying miles.
Booking current or new Award prices
The new tariffs for Award ticket are valid from June 1st. Until then, you can book Awards according to the current scheme, including for flights after June 1st. This can be up to 12 months in advance. At the end of the 1st quarter, Flying Blue will announce the starting prices of the new Award tickets. Hence there is sufficient advance notice and time to see if you want to spend your miles on the current or new system.
When there are such major changes both to earning and redeeming miles, and qualifying for elite status, many members wonder if the new program is better or worse. There is no clear answer. Personally, I think that earning miles and qualifying for elite status is not obviously worse. It will depend significantly on whether you are a passenger who flies infrequently in full fare Economy or Business Class, or someone who flies a lot of flights in cheap Economy.
The effect on the spending of miles is not clear yet as the prices are not known. It will also be very hard to compare, as award charts will be discontinued. Because the prices will vary, it is not possible to express the changes in a percentage of devaluation.
It also remains to be seen how often it is possible to book the starting-price, although Flying Blue is committed to offer significant availability in this respect. One of the best uses of Flying Blue points was for flights within Europe when the cash fares were very expensive, for instance close to departure. I am curious if this continues to be the case or if miles prices will also increase closer to departure now that they are dynamic.
Some Examples of the changes:
AMS-GVA for €99. With the cheapest tickets, you currently earn 25% of the minimum of 750 miles, or 376 miles as Ivory for a return trip. The fare component of this ticket is €54. An Ivory member will then earn 216 miles in the new system. If you book a ticket in R/E class for €175 the eligible part of the fare is €130. Under the old system you would still earn 376 miles while in the new system the amount is 520. The ratio for the elite bonus for Silver, Gold and Platinum members remains the same.
AMS-DXB in R Economy (25% earning) for €650 with a fare component of €400. Currently and in the new system, this yields about 16000 miles. But there are cheaper fares that would earn 1600 miles now but less with the revenue-based system.
AMS-CUR in World Business Class with a promotional fare of €1595 of with €1241 is the fare. In Z this would now earn 12.172 miles but under the new conversion only 4964.
AMS-JFK in World Business Class for €6534 in C with a fare of 6100. An Ivory member would earn 12736 miles currently and 24400 starting from April 2018. With a Z-fare for €3784 with a fare component of €3350, current vs. new is 9098 against 13400 miles.
In short: unless you buy (close to) full fare tickets, the redeemable miles you earn will decrease. Even on paid Business Class tickets in Z, your flight can yield less miles. The ticket price is not proportional to the flight distance, hence it will differ per destination and what you pay how much the difference will be.
Qualifying for elite status
If you only travel in Economy to Europe from Amsterdam, you will need 20, 36 or 60 flights for respectively Silver, Gold or Platinum. This is more for Silver and Gold compared to now. If you fly on a short intercontinental flight (for instance to Dubai), you need 13, 23 or 38 flights respectively. To New York you need 5 return trips for Silver, 9 for Gold and 15 for Platinum. Long haul to for instance Los Angeles requires 9 single flights for Silver, 15 for Gold and 25 for Platinum.
For members who purely fly within Europe in Economy, it will be more difficult to qualify for Silver and Gold. For long-haul passengers in Economy – who in the current system would not be able to qualify on level miles unless they fly full fare – it will become easier. There is a clear shift that rewards long-haul passengers.
The new system will also be more attractive for passengers who connect from a European city to a long-haul destination in Amsterdam. If you for instance fly LHR-AMS-PVG, you only need 3 return trips for Silver. Currently that is 4. A transfer to another European destination plays even. To a shorter long-haul destination such as New York you need 3 return trips plus a return to Amsterdam. To get Gold or Platinum, you will need less flights if you always have a connection.
However it will take longer to qualify for Gold or Platinum from Ivory.
For instance, a member flies 4 times a month within Europe. In the current system, he would gain Silver by the end of April 2018 and Gold in August 2018. This status would be valid until March 2020. In the new system, the member would gain Silver in May after which the XP’s reset to 0. The Silver status is valid until August 2019 and the (re)qualifying periods runs until May 2019. Only after 9 months the member reaches Gold status, in January. This system is then valid until April 2020. Hence it is more difficult to push through from scratch to mid or top tier status because of the XP reset if you fly medium haul. For passengers who fly long-haul, it will become easier and the ease also depends on the roll over.
It is also remarkable that domestic flights earn 2 XP. This makes sense if you would look at flights within France or Italy, but it is bad news for those who fly frequently within China or the US. The fares and distances can quickly add up to what used to result in – certainly in premium cabins – a nice amount of miles. Now a flight from JFK to LAX is equal to Toulouse to Paris. This will make Flying Blue less attractive to for instance US based members. Flying Blue clearly rewards passengers who fly with Air France or KLM.
This also complicates segment runs which usually involve cheap flights within France, Italy or Spain.
Consequences for members who used to qualify on miles
To see the effect of XPs for members who used to qualify on level miles, I will compare the number of flight necessary to qualify for the different status levels based on the miles percentages and XPs for 4 example routes.
|Dubai||25%||50%||75%||100%||125%||150%||175%||XP Eco||XP WBC|
|New York||25%||50%||75%||100%||125%||150%||175%||XP Eco||XP WBC|
|Shanghai||25%||50%||75%||100%||125%||150%||175%||XP Eco||XP WBC|
On short flights it will become much easier to qualify using XPs compared with Level Miles. But this probably does not apply to many passengers.
On shorts long-haul flight, it will become easier to qualify for passengers who used to fly on fares which earned 25-50%. Remarkably, passengers who buy more expensive Economy tickets will have to fly more to qualify. For all Business Class fares, less flights are necessary to qualify.
The same holds for other long haul bands. 2 return trips to New York in Business Class yields Silver.
Flying Blue has certainly been Reinvented. The changes are significant both on the earning and redemption side and with elite status qualification. Revenue based accrual for redeemable miles was expected. This will probably be the end of mileage runs for Flying Blue, unless you fly Skyteam partners which still use distance-based accrual. Even when flying paid Business Class on a promotional fare, your mileage earning will decrease.
The transition from Level Miles and Qualifying Flights to XPs means an improvement for passengers in the cheaper Economy Class fares and in World Business Class. Passengers with a more expensive Economy Class ticket will have to fly more using the new system.
To judge the redemption of miles we’ll have to wait until the end of the 1st quarter to see the new starting-prices. It also remains to be seen what the availability is of the starting-prices and what the increase in fares on other dates is. The new Miles&Cash feature is nice, but the attractiveness depends on the cost of the miles. Luckily Flying Blue will offer enough time to book awards using the current charts.
Flying Blue presents the new program on explorefurther.flyingblue.com.