Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic Launch New Award Partnership

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The newly announced partnership between Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic is now live! Two of the most easily accrued point currencies, Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue miles, just became even more valuable. Among other new partner benefits, you'll now have the ability to book partner awards on either airline using the other's currency.

Good News for Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue Loyalty Members

Delta Airlines has long had individual partnerships with both Air France/KLM and Virgin Atlantic, so this announcement has little effect for their loyalty members. On the other hand, Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic previously had no such partnership. Consequently, this partnership opens a whole world of opportunities for their loyalty members going forward. This most notably includes the ability to earn and redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for Air France/KLM flights, and vice versa.

We're not going to focus on the complicated earning scheme between partners in this article. If you're curious, you can find the earning charts for all partner travel booked with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles here, and all partner travel booked with Flying Blue miles here.

Here are a few key takeaways from the expanded partnership:

Cohesive Scheduling — All four airlines will coordinate with each other to provide “more convenient flight schedules” and to ensure “a smooth and consistent travel experience.” This includes the new ability to book flights on all operating carriers with each airline's respective website, mobile app, and travel agents.

Mileage Earning — Loyalty Program Members will now be able to earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles for travel on “any of the four airlines' worldwide operations.”

Partner Redemptions — Loyalty Program Members will now have the ability to redeem their miles on “any of the four airlines' worldwide operations.”

Reciprocal Elite Benefits — Travelers with eligible elite status on any of these partners will now have reciprocal benefits honored, including priority boarding and access to “over 100 airport lounges when traveling internationally“.

How to Get Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Miles

Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic miles are two of the easiest point currencies to accumulate, thanks to all of their bank transfer partners. Both are 1:1 transfer partners with:

  1. American Express Membership Rewards
  2. Chase Ultimate Rewards
  3. Citi ThankYou Points

Additionally, Flying Blue is also a transfer partner of Capital One, allowing transfers at a ratio of 1,000 Capital One miles to 750 Flying Blue miles.

Virgin Atlantic's gorgeous new Upper Class Cabin

Existing Program Quirks

Before I get into the comparisons and opportunities presented by this new partnership, I think it's important to remind folks of some of the quirks of booking with these programs, regardless of whose metal you're trying to fly on:

Booking Air France / KLM Awards

  • Flying Blue (unfortunately) utilizes dynamic award pricing for all award redemptions. This means that there is no reference award chart, and unknown variables can affect award pricing for any given day.
  • When searching for award availability, you can examine a month at a time, making it much easier to find rare premium cabin availability.
  • Awards are often cheaper if the itinerary is NOT originating or terminating at a Flying Blue Hub (CDG or AMS).
  • Fuel Surcharges can be significant, compared to other types of points—especially for redemptions in premium cabins. (However, they are often far lower than Virgin Atlantic's fuel surcharges, but we'll get into that later.)
  • Out-of-pocket costs are more expensive when departing Europe compared to leaving North America.

Booking Virgin Atlantic Awards

  • Virgin Atlantic's online award search engine is quirky. There are a lot of unique issues to deal with to search availability, and it can be frustrating at times. However, Virgin's customer service reps are known to be some of the best in the business. If you get too frustrated with the website, you can call them at these numbers: 0344 412 2414 (U.K. office); 1 (800) 365-9500 (U.S. office)
  • For most partner awards (including Delta), Virgin charges per-segment award prices. This means that for most partners, multiple segment itineraries will be more expensive than direct routes. (This is not the case for awards booked with Flying Club miles.)
  • Virgin Atlantic's hub-airport, London Heathrow (LHR), is infamous for its airport taxes. Likewise, Virgin Atlantic is also notorious for terrible fuel surcharges, especially in their premium cabins. It's not uncommon to see Upper (business) Class fuel surcharges that exceed $600 per way.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic Miles for travel on Air France / KLM

Virgin Atlantic has several newly-issued award charts for redemptions on their new Flying Blue partners, and goodness they are confusing. You can find the complete set of Virgin Atlantic award charts here, but for now, I'm going to focus on just a few of them.

Short, Intra-European Travel

Given the massive network Flying Blue currently operates in Europe, it's nice to see the possibility to fly short-haul for as little as 4,000 miles. Keep in mind, though, that there will be fuel surcharges/taxes tacked on to the mileage price. Given that airfare on ultra-low-cost airlines can be insanely cheap for intra-European travel, it's essential to make careful comparisons of the total costs.

Long Haul, Business Class Travel

Off-Peak Award Chart
Peak Award Chart

Considering that the Eastern U.S. falls into Zone 6 and that the Central/Western U.S. falls in Zone 7, you're looking at between 48,500 and 87,500 Virgin Atlantic miles (plus taxes) to fly to Western Europe in business class. That's not too bad, especially given Virgin's limited peak-pricing dates:

Redeeming Flying Club Miles for travel on Virgin Atlantic

As I previously mentioned, Flying Blue does not publish an award chart. They utilize dynamic award pricing, and that makes it much more difficult to discern what their partner award pricing will be. I did some preliminary dummy searches on known Air France routes and found this:

As far as I could tell through my initial searches, this is about as low as award prices get for travel between these two regions. An itinerary coming back the opposite direction looks relatively similar:

 

As for you folks on the East Coast:

And traveling the opposite way:

It appears that “saver-level” pricing for direct Virgin Atlantic routes are around:

  • East Coast to Western Europe — 24,000 miles in Economy, ~60,000 miles in Business Class
  • West Coast to Western Europe — 29,000 miles in Economy, 72,000 miles in Business Class

For the sake of clarity, I didn't include connecting itineraries, as they always involved mixing airlines. However, it doesn't appear that connecting itineraries between the same regions cost any more than direct routings.

These prices are relatively standard compared to other trans-Atlantic options, but if you're like me, a couple of things immediately stand out:

  1. Why is the Europe-bound itinerary from the East Coast precisely 1,000 points more than the return itinerary?!
  2. Itineraries departing Europe (London in this example) incur significantly higher taxes and fuel surcharges than routes leaving the US. This is especially true for business class.
  3. Where is the Premium Economy availability?

Comparing Award Pricing

To get a clear picture of how these programs compare, I did a lot of dummy searches. It’s clear that each program offers awards on more of their own flights than partner flights. However, when both programs offer redemptions on the same flights, there are some big opportunities to save cash or miles.

Book AF/KLM Intra-Europe Flights with Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic's intra-Europe, short-haul award chart for travel on Air France/KLM is cheaper than booking directly with Flying Blue. This is especially true for European business-class (economy seats with the middle seat blocked off), where Virgin Atlantic can be less than one-third of Air France's price!

Book Long Haul Economy Flights with Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic strikes again with economy long-haul, trans-Atlantic redemptions. If you're willing to spend a little more on the taxes and fuel surcharges, it's possible to book the same flights (operated by either airline) with Virgin Atlantic miles for half of the “saver-level” price with Flying Blue miles.

Book Long Haul Virgin Atlantic Business Class Flights with Flying Blue Miles*

The fuel surcharges that Virgin Atlantic charges for their own Flying Club redemptions in “Upper Class” are so ridiculous that I've never considered booking with them before. The new partnership with Flying Blue has just changed the game. It's now possible to book Virgin Atlantic business class through Flying Blue and only pay one-third of the fuel surcharges Virgin Atlantic would charge themself. Unfortunately, there's an ‘*' in this title for a reason: This only applies to trans-Atlantic itineraries departing from the U.S., not the reverse.

5,000 extra points is a small price to pay to save almost $500 in fuel surcharges

Unfortunately, the same doesn't apply for ex-Europe itineraries, as the fuel charges are just as ridiculous with Flying Blue.

Virgin Atlantic Has “Special” Access to Certain Flights

Historically, Virgin Atlantic has offered far better pricing for some Delta flights than Delta offers to their own SkyMiles members. For example, a business-class flight from Atlanta to Sao Paulo might cost 160,000 SkyMiles, but the exact same flight could be booked through Virgin Atlantic for only 45,000 miles. The same phenomenon seems to apply to certain Air France/KLM-operated flights.

For example, this itinerary (operated exclusively by Air France) from Porto, Portugal to San Francisco is only available through Virgin Atlantic. You can’t book the exact same flights with Flying Blue miles—even at a higher price.

The only option with Flying Blue miles for the same date is operated by Skyteam partner Air Europa via Madrid.

For the same day, this was the only itinerary available at all between those two cities through Flying Blue.

Missing Premium Economy

While researching this new partnership, my biggest disappointment was the complete lack of premium economy award availability; I never found a single bookable seat. Perhaps there was a glitch in the rollout of the partnership, and the inventory will show up later. In the meantime, if anyone has been able to find premium economy award availability with either a Flying Blue carrier or Virgin Atlantic using the other's online award search engine, please let us know in the comments.

Air France's Premium Economy

Final Thoughts

This seems like a great partnership that's going to benefit a lot of people. I'm sure those who are loyal to either of these programs will be excited about the additional redemption options, as well as the notion of having their elite status benefits reciprocated.

Virgin Atlantic and Flying Blue are two of the easiest point currencies to earn. The new ability to use miles from both programs to book flights operated by Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic is a huge win—without any obvious downside. I'm just curious to see what the future holds for premium economy awards.

Have you found any exciting opportunities with this new partnership? Please let us know in the comments.

The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  • if one has elite status with Virgin Atlantic will you be able to book Air France first class? Conceptually should be possible if there is elite reciprocity between programs. If so, what would be the miles required?

  • If not for those pesky fuel surcharges. The most annoying part of all travel like this.

    • Yup. More avenues for redeeming points is always a good thing, but taxes & fuel surcharge kind of put a bit of damper on this one. As with BA, if redeeming miles for two travelers, you will likely end up paying close to the cost of one revenue ticket in tax & fuel charges.

  • Just an FYI, there’s a typo in this clause: “regardless of who’s metal.”

  • Great stuff! Love to see the trend of airlines starting to work together more with award partnerships. American Airlines and Alaska Airlines just expanded their relationship as well.

  • Is Virgin Atlantic leaning closer to Skyteam? More to come?

  • Maureen Clements says:

    So has anyone found a sweet spot with miles and low “taxes”?

  • Agree LHR is the place to stay away from if you want a reasonably priced ticket without exorbitant fees.

  • Redemption sweet spots from UK are to zones 1-5. ANything further isn’t great value with VS miles.

  • I think Virgin has a great product.
    The problem for ticket redemption is that in my opinion the taxes are quite high.
    Or there are some sweet spots I don’t know?

    • There are now. Use Flying Blue to book Virgin and save on taxes.

      • Don’t Skymiles, Flying Club and Fly Blue ALL charge high taxes on ex-Europe award flights?

        • Relative to some other carriers, yes. But FB or Delta can often be better than Virgin depending on the operating carrier. Also, note that sometimes you will pay lower taxes on a round trip starting in N. America than you would pay on two one way tickets (USA-Europe > Europe-USA).

          We’ll keep looking for opportunities to cut taxes. Let us know if you find any.

  • Nice write-up covering a lot of options.

  • VS miles are best redeemed on Delta direct flights in my opinion.

  • It’s very disappointing to notice you never approve my comments….! I will probably just delete my account and the AwardWallet mobile app

  • Can all lounge facilities at airports such as HKG and EWR be accessed by both Flying Club and Flying Blue members now?

    • I believe Flying Blue Gold and above have access to Virgin lounges with the exclusion of the LHR VA Clubhouse. Virgin Gold members should get access to AF/KLM lounges with one guest.

  • Very good. In South America Gol was associated with American Airlines, and Aerolineas Argentinas with Gol and Air New Zeland. Now we can use miles from each program, in that of the partners.

  • Unfortunately the tax and charges make the redemptions generally unattractive. You can sometimes end up paying as much in tax and charges alone as you would in total for a revenue fare.

    • I understand that the price of fuel fluctuates, sometimes dramatically. So, I get that the value of redemptions might be too variable to the airlines – swing too high – with fuel coverage included. I’m trying to be sympathetic. It just that it adds yet another layer of complexity to valuing reward options. And, of course, it certainly feels like a whole lot less of a reward when you’re still paying so much out of pocket.

  • Great initiative. I allways enjoy travel with KLM or Air France.

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