Editorial: Air-France and Flying Blue, our unloyalty program

As you may have noticed in the last few months, we are writing much less reviews and are much less passionate about Air France, KLM and Flying Blue. We were already persona non grata for a few years in the press office, due to a few well-intentioned articles about Flying Blue, the airline’s strategy or its travel experience.

But for the past 3 months, I have been excluded again from the Lead Client Club, for having expressed in the magazine press, in this case Challenges, what many people think. In this case, the fact that the service is very unpredictable, depending on the mood of the crew, and that the hard product in the front classes was too random to be good. All facts, but apparently incompatible with helping our national airline to improve. We won’t make a whole article out of it, and I won’t help anyone who doesn’t want help.

Beyond that, we have good reasons to fly on other airlines. Here are some of them in this editorial that marks the beginning of summer.

Flying Blue is a program that does not encourage long-term loyalty

Let’s face it: Flying Blue is a very advantageous loyalty program in terms of status acquisition.

We told you when the new iteration of the program was released in April 2018: the Experience Points, or XP, system has changed little or nothing when it comes to qualification. Platinum status is renewed every year with 300 XP, which is equivalent to 60 European flights in economy class, i.e. 30 round trips or 15 if you have a connection. An Amsterdam-Milan via Paris at 99€ round trip will give you 20 XP. You only need to do 15 in a year and you keep your status.

XP accumulation scale on Flying Blue, valid for all SkyTeam flights or flights marketed by AF/KL/A5.

If you have an Air-France KLM co-branded American Express card, you’ll get 30 XP in advance for a Gold and 60 XP in advance for a Platinum. So many less flights to make.

But what drives lasting unloyalty is XP’s rollover. What is it? If you earn 550 XP in a year, then the 250 XP above the requalification threshold are already acquired for the following year, without any limit of carry over. If you are frequent travelers like Bertrand and me, it increases quickly!

And since Flying Blue offers lifetime Platinum status after 10 consecutive years of Platinum, you can fly a lot with SkyTeam for 3 or 4 years and be virtually Platinum for life. And since there are no benefits to requalifying after lifetime Platinum, you can go elsewhere and keep your benefits for the few SkyTeam flights you make in a year…

Flying Blue suffered a massive devaluation in April 2018

The other disturbing part of Flying Blue is that it’s full revenue-based. While most U.S. airlines have switched to this system for earning miles, which now depends on the pre-tax price paid (and makes financial sense and is acceptable to passengers), Flying Blue is one of the only airlines in the world to apply the yield of paid tickets to that of award tickets, including by making they vary based on the Point of Sales, departures from abroad, etc.

The result is a difficult use of awards, which can no longer be used “in a hurry” without squandering miles that are now more difficult to earn than before.

If, here too, the financial logic is understandable, the commercial logic is not. Indeed, many airline tickets are in fact business trips (especially in forward classes) where price sensitivity is appreciated differently by individuals and where very high prices may be acceptable for flexibility. Also, consumer fare classes may be subject to business contracts and result in different corporate rates.

An example of ineptitude with the new scale.

But when it comes time to book an award ticket, it’s hard to accept a difference of 1 to 20 on the same travel cabin, under the pretext that the paid ticket is sky-high. It is a problem of commercial perception and not so much a problem of yield management.

The customer experience is too random on Air France

We couldn’t say that about its sister company KLM, but that’s the case with Air France: the customer experience is far too random, both on the ground and in the air, and it’s not the fault of Paris Airport, as we often hear.

Of course, Charles-de-Gaulle is not the best airport in the world, far from it. But it is not ADP that manages the lounges, their staff and their catering. Each upmarket move results in a product that looks good on paper but whose quality deteriorates over the months. Take the Business lounge at Paris CDG, Hall L. It’s not even 18 months old, and the service is already realigned with the K. The cooking station with a chef is not often staffed, breakfast often stays on display until 2pm, and clearing is very haphazard.

In flight, in Business class, the Ultra Business experiment with table setting and dishes prepared in the Galley is over. Back to simplified service from the trolley, with cheese now served at the same time as the starter. Realignment on the COI product which cannot be said to be the best of the best…

Air France does not have a product problem: they are often creative, elegant like the lounges, well designed like the BEST cabins, the catering rather well defined too… Air France has a real and big problem of delivery of the product whether it is by the training and the supervision of its staff or by the catastrophic management of the providers. And when customers report the problem en masse and nothing is done, it becomes a serious matter.

And when customers massively report the problem and nothing is done, it turns into a serious fault.

Since we have been traveling on other airlines, other alliances, we have seen how things work: there is real management in the cabin, everything takes place like a ballet where everyone knows their score inside out. And this does not happen in the Gulf or Asian airlines, so-called slave labor or unfair competition: it is with Swiss, Lufthansa, SAS, British Airways which can not be said to have lower costs.

As for the lounges… There is no room for mediocrity. In fact, in the Air France lounges, the service providers are simply not managed, the Air France staff stays behind their counter as if protected by it, and are even surprised that people come to report empty buffets or uncleared dishes.

Bottom line

I hope you will understand better why we go to see the neighbor’s grass, definitely much greener than ours.

Nice summer to you, full of new travel experiences!

Photo : 787 Air France by Fasttailwind via Shutterstock

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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