Evolution of Flying Blue: Passengers bare their teeth

For some time now, Flying Blue has been working on an overhaul of the Air FranceKLM frequent flyer program, with the aim of making it clearer and easier to use. Knowing that we have never – really never– seen an evolution of any loyalty program going in the interest of the passenger, it is with real concern that passengers await future announcements on this subject.

TravelGuys, Flight-Report and Tyler Birth conducted a survey to understand passengers’ expectations and fears about the upcoming changes.
Conducted on the web, our survey received responses from 566 volunteer passengers with various profiles, whom we would like to thank.

Flying Blue: a double penalty for passengers?

What is themain risk identified for the development of Flying Blue? The fact that the program becomes Revenue Based,in other words that the attribution of the different statuses is no longer based on the distance travelled but on the money spent. This is the direction that some American loyalty programs have taken to date, with choices ranging from pure revenue-based (only spending is taken into account) to mixed models combining distance and spending.
A logic that would seem obvious and unquestionableon the part of Flying Blue if the program were not already partly revenue-based.

The number of miles earned on a flight depends on both the distance and the booking class. Whilea decade ago, flying in economy between, for example, Paris and New York, gave the right to the mileage equivalent of 100% of the distance traveled regardless of the booking class, today, depending on the booking class, the same economy ticket can attribute 100%, 75%, 50%, 25% ou 0% des miles. And since the booking classes within a travel class decide the scale and the classes that award the most miles are the most expensive, Flying Blue is already a Revenue Based program.

Mileage earning scheme currently in effect at Air France: few booking classes give 100% mileage earning
Mileage earning scheme currently in effect at Air France: few booking classes give 100% mileage earning

In other words, the introduction of a new system that overweighs the amounts spent would be a real double penalty for passengers.

Paying more for a status? passengers will leave Flying Blue

This is the main lesson learned from the survey. Only 1/5th of the customers are willing to play the revenue based game and spend more to secure their status. The remaining 4/5ths, on the other hand, would considerspending less or even switching to another Skyteam program.
Worse still for the Air France KLM loyalty program, it is its most frequent customers (Gold and Platinum) who are the most likely to turn their backs on them.

Flying Blue and its members disagree on the notion of loyalty

This mistrust is just the umpteenth expression of a phenomenon that has been observed many times and that TravelGuys already explained last year: customers and loyalty programsdo not agree at all on the nature of their relationship.
A loyalty program – from the point of view of its management – does not reward loyalty (exclusive nature of the relationship) but revenue (amount spent within the relationship). We can find the name hypocritical, their objective is to make people spend more, not necessarily to make them travel more.
Between a passenger who travels 10 times a year in economy at Mini fare and travels 10 times on an airline that credits miles to Flying Blue and the person who travels 50 times but will only make two round trips with Air France, but in business or First… it is the latter that will be considered loyal, not the former.
Passengers strongly disagree with this approach and make this clear in the survey.
For 91% of them, loyalty means choosing a brand in priority, for 89% loyalty must take precedence over the amount of moneyspent.

The short-term vision of airlines is therefore opposed to the long-term vision of passengers. So how do you foster loyalty when it’s impossible to agree or understand each other’s goals?

Passengers no longer want to be the cash cow of an average program

Another point highlighted by the survey is that Flying Blue members give a relatively low value to the different statuses offered by the program.

Translation: what you get out of it is not worth what you have to spend to get it.
As crude as it may be, another truth is obvious here: the problem is not only the modalities of acquisition of the statuses but the associated benefits. Flying Blue exists because of its sizein the international market but has never been recognized as a major program by passengers in terms of benefits (except by the Freddie Awards but they separate USA/Europe/asia in their rankings thus eliminating the real competition).


The results of this major survey are therefore revealing: frequent flyers do not want a program based solely on value, and would not hesitate to leave Flying Blue for another SkyTeam loyalty program. What will Flying Blue do?
At TravelGuys, our opinion is clear: Flying Blue has other means than becoming Revenue Basedto develop its loyalty program.

The full survey results are available here.

Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier Delestre-Levai
Olivier has been into airline blogging since 2010. First a major contributor to the FlyerTalk forum, he created the FlyerPlan website in July 2012, and writes articles with a major echo among airline specialists. He now co-runs the TravelGuys blog with Bertrand, focusing on travel experience and loyalty programs.

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