Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Gary Leff of View from the Wing poses this question when discussing airline frequent flyer programs. An award chart on paper may look great. The reality may be limited web functionality, poor telephone agents, hoops to jump through and more fun.
Air France KLM’s Flying Blue straddles the useful and awful.
‘Excessive’ Award Searches
Last year they added Citi as transfer partner then shut down accounts of people who transferred. ‘Excessive’ award searches have brought shut downs, too. Others have been told to go to Air France ticket counters to issue award tickets, wherever they live. It is good to register an account well before making transfers. If possible credit a flight to your account, perhaps an Air France non-SkyTeam partner like Air Mauritius or a SkyTeam flight where Delta or Korean earning is poor.
‘We Really Screwed with You’
My Flying Blue story is an attempt to get mileage credit for Air Mauritius flights. One ticket never posted. The other had two segments, only one of which posted. I had months of back and forth online and phone, never receiving the miles. Online went in a cycle of emails requesting reply with documentation, then the system always rejecting the email saying I had changed the formatting. Phone was various spurious claims such as that my middle name was on the ticket but not the account. I even met a Flying Blue executive at the Freddie’s that year who agreed to look into the case as a general customer service review exercise. Upon seeing all the materials he replied, “we really screwed with you.” He was never able to get the miles to post either. I let it drop and swore off Flying Blue as a frequent flyer program, though enjoy flying the airline.
Flying Blue Has Strengths
The program is attractive for its number of partners, promo awards, award chart sweet spots and . Here is a great list of 17 Tricks and Things to Know About Air France KLM Flying Blue.
Enter Garuda Indonesia
Preface this by noting that ticketing for all Indonesian airlines is difficult. The only reliable OTA I know is Tiket. The airlines mostly all have online ticketing now as well. As the flag carrier and a SkyTeam member, you might think Garuda will be more international. It is not. Try searching OTAs such as Expedia for domestic Indonesia flights. Things easy with other world airlines may not be easy or possible with Garuda, and that can spill over to award tickets.
Intra-Southeast Asia Flying Blue economy awards are 10,000 miles one-way, compared to Delta’s 22,500. In a region with many cheap flights, awards often are poor value. Eastern Indonesia is a different story with some expensive flights. Cheaper alternatives may involve cobbling together several budget airlines into an interary of complicated transits. There is a value to one ticket on one airline.
Flying Blue Awards Online
Flying Blue online searches are via Air France or KLM, using the same underlying platform. Phantom availability is a frequent problem with some airlines. This means the website may show availability that does not exist so errors out in booking and phone agents cannot find award space. Best practice is calling agents to put an award on hold, usually good for 48 hours, prior to transferring miles to Flying Blue. The following case I failed to do this and pushed 10,000 miles to Flying Blue that are wasted until I find a future use.
First Garuda Case Study: Singapore Success
I needed a ticket from Sorong, West Papua to Singapore.
The Flying Blue website sometimes errored on Sorong-Singapore. Some dates it would show, others not. Sometime specific day search worked when flexible date search showed nothing. I have no idea what is the reason for the inconsistency.
Individually my flight segments for my date were all available, so I called in and held my breath as the polite Flying Blue agent checked award availability. The double connect trip Sorong-Makasser-Jakarta-Singpore all came through and quickly ticketed at 10,000 miles. Yay! I should have never let that agent go.
Second Garuda Case Study: Spice Islands Torment
This one should be simple: Jakarta to Ambon, Maluku.
The daily one-way nonstop properly tickets at 10,000 miles. That schedule does not work for me.
Flying Blue spits out many connecting itineraries.
The one that caught my eye has a 6-hour connection in Ternate, Maluku, just enough to get a taste of the small island. The first warning sign is that Garuda’s website and Tiket do not price this as an option, though on Garuda you can force it as a multi-city.
It turns out only the 2 direct flights ticket online, and correctly at 10,000 miles (one makes a stop under same flight number). The same result every day on the calendar. The only flights on this route you can successfully book match the only results you get on Garuda searching for revenue tickets. The dozen-plus other Air France results are all invalid.
At this point, I should just buy the darn cash tickets. If I book a Sriwijaya nonstop Jakarta-Ternate and Garuda nonstop Ternate to Ambon it is under $150 total. It is just because I am pissed off at myself for transferring miles without first getting an award hold that I pursue this.
In 3 calls to Flying Blue in US and France on this, each time the agents have said one or other of the segments is not available for awards even searched as one-way without the other. On the website I can always book the individual segments at 10,000 with no problem, yet the agents are inconsistent. I can also book them indivually on Delta, but same problem of sticking them together as Air France displayed.
The Flying Blue US agents say supervisors can only be reached by writing and the French say they are at meetings and it will be long hold for them to come back.
This seems to be some combination of phantom award space and invalid routings in the system. It is odd that even individual segments show different availability depending on the agent. Piecing segments into a one-way does not seem to work, nor does muti-city since on Flying Blue multi-city means open jaw at destination with mandatory return to orgin.
Flying Blue Garuda Award Takeaways:
1. Some routings must be invalid for awards and there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to what works and what doesn’t: experiment.
2.Assume all web results on Garuda are invalid unless confirmed by phone agents and put on hold.
3. Do not transfer any miles to Flying Blue for Garuda flights unless you have a hold.
4. Transfers such as from Amex are often instant, so if the agent confirms a hold, you can transfer then and ticket on the same call.
5. If it makes sense for your trip, consider Korean Air SkyPass as an alternative that may work, though Korean requires that SkyTeam partner awards to be roundtrip (with an allowed stopover and open-jaw). See Travel is Free’s Indonesian Hopper for details on that.
Readers, do you have a magic solution for Flying Blue Garuda woes?