Air France & KLM across Europe for less [Sweet-Spot Spotlight]

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Since this post was originally written, I’ve stumbled upon a neat little trick.  It is sometimes possible to reduce award prices by flying with a connection through Paris or Amsterdam.  For example, business class from Algiers to Paris costs 25,000 points, but Algiers to Paris to Marseille costs only 8,000 points.  For complete details, see the new section in this post: One-Stop Sweet Spots.  Other than that new section, the rest of this post has not been changed…

Several months ago, before Delta devalued their upgrade certificates, my wife and I booked a Delta flight to Paris and used Global Upgrade Certificates to confirm us into Delta One Suites for the journey.  That’s only relevant in order to explain why we didn’t want to change the flight when we decided to start our trip in central Italy instead of France.  I figured that flights across Europe tend to be dirt cheap and so it would be easy to tack on a flight to Italy from Paris.  In this case, though, the only flight that met our needs cost over $300 per person.  In coach.  Luckily, my ensuing award flight search reminded me of a fantastic sweet spot award.  Virgin Atlantic has crazy cheap award pricing for flying Air France or KLM coach or business class on flights less than 600 miles.  The latter is important because business class awards are often available when economy awards are not.

Finding the deal

Using point.me to search for awards, I found that Air France charges as few as 7,500 Flying Blue Miles for economy flights between Paris and Florence.  Unfortunately, none of these saver awards were available for the flights I wanted.  They had business class available, but for over 30,000 miles per person.  That’s a lot to pay for intra-European business class (which offers the same seats as economy but at the front of the plane and with middle seats blocked).  I checked Delta’s award pricing too and found that they wanted 25,000 miles per person for those business class flights.  Then I remembered to check Virgin Atlantic.

Via Virgin Atlantic’s website, I found that the same Air France business class flight could be booked for only 8,000 points per person.  Wow!  That’s barely more than Air France charges for economy (which wasn’t available anyway) and way cheaper than any other option I could find for booking business class!

I stumbled upon this deal, but I could have found it more easily if I had used AwardLogic, and if I had thought to search AwardLogic for business class flights.  At the time of this writing, point.me doesn’t show Virgin Atlantic pricing for Air France flights, but AwardLogic does.  I’m sure that they’ll correct this soon, but for now AwardLogic has the edge here.  See: Taking search tool Award Logic for a test drive.

How to Book the Award

Short answer:

  1. Try to book via VirginAtlantic.com
  2. If that doesn’t work, send a Direct Message via Twitter to @VirginAtlantic

Long answer:

In the past I’ve had no problem using Virgin Atlantic miles to book partner awards online.  I simply search for the award via Virgin Atlantic’s website, click on the result I like, and fill out the booking details and payment information (for taxes & fees) and, voilá, I have a ticket.  In the past.  This time, I went through the entire process countless times and each time ended up with an error message: Sorry, there are no longer seats available on your chosen flight. Please try another search.#100503A.

I was worried that Virgin Atlantic was showing phantom award space, but the deal was too good to abandon.  So I called Virgin Atlantic for help (hint: wrong approach).  I waited almost two hours on hold before a person picked up.  She was super nice, but couldn’t help me.  She couldn’t even see the award space I saw.  So, eventually, I agreed to have her try to book us into a later flight that she could see.  And she got an error too.  She said she would talk with the IT team and call me back (which she did, but I wasn’t able to take the call at the time so she left a message saying she would try again the next day).

Fortunately, while I was on hold via phone, I tried another tactic: I sent a direct message on Twitter to @VirginAtlantic (hint: best approach).  It took slightly over 3 hours for a live person to get back to me on Twitter (their bot is quite chatty though), and another 7 hours to get the award booked, but they did it!  And, I could go about my business doing other stuff without having to keep an ear to my phone (or an earbud in my ear).

To finalize the booking through Twitter, the Twitter team emailed me a link to a website where I entered my credit card info to pay taxes and fees ($56 USD per person in this case).

Sweet Spot Details

As you can see above, a huge portion of western Europe is within 600 miles of Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS)

The above map shows Air France and KLM routes (thanks to FlightConnections.com, which I subscribe to).  I added circles around the Paris airport (CDG) and Amsterdam airport (AMS) because most flights go from or to the Air France and KLM hubs.  The circles roughly represent 500 mile flights from those two airports.  This isn’t exact.  I used Great Circle Mapper to check distances between those hubs and various other airports until I found a bunch that were just under the 600 mile distance and just over.  Then I drew my circles accordingly.  In other words, check my work before making any big plans.

Virgin Atlantic offers the following award chart for short distance flights on Air France or KLM:

As you can see above, for Air France or KLM flights under 600 miles, Virgin Atlantic charges only 4K points (off-peak) or 4.5K points (peak) for economy, or 8K or 9K points for business class.  That’s awesome.

The ability to book business class cheaply is especially awesome because I often find business class award availability on Air France and KLM even when none exists in economy.  For example, on a KLM route that I’m thinking of booking, 2 or more business class award seats are available on all four flights on the day I want to fly, whereas none (not one!) is available in economy.

Virgin Atlantic’s pricing for flights above 600 miles is still very good for economy.  Most flights cost 7.5K or 8.5K Virgin Atlantic points one-way.  On the other hand, business class flights between 601 and 1249 miles cost either 25K (off-peak) or 26K (peak).  That’s about the same as you would pay via Delta SkyMiles so its not particularly notable.

One-Stop Sweet Spots

This is fun…  Virgin Atlantic prices Air France and KLM awards based on the distance between the origin airport and the destination airport.  If you have to fly out of the way to get from one to another, that doesn’t change the price. Here’s an example…

Suppose you want to fly from Algiers (in Africa) to France.  The direct flight from Algiers to Paris costs 25,000 points in business class.  That makes sense because the distance between the two airports is approximately 850 miles. It’s farther than the “under 600 miles” 8K points sweet spot.

If you want to fly to Marseille, though, the price drops to 8,000 points, even though the first leg of the trip is to Paris (the same as above).  This works because the direct distance between Algiers and Marseille is less than 600 miles.

Here’s another example.  Flights from Rome to Paris are just over the magic 600 mile threshold and so price off-peak at 7,500 points economy and 25,000 points business through Virgin Atlantic.  If you fly through Paris to Nice, though, you can drop the prices down to the magic 4,000 points economy and 8,000 points business:

What works? What doesn’t?

I’ve tried variations that should work, such as flying from Athens to Istanbul, via Paris or Amsterdam, but I couldn’t get Virgin Atlantic to show those flights.  All of my successes have been with searches where either the origin or the destination was in France.  I’m hoping that readers will find and point out other combinations, but for now the trick does seem to be limited due to the France airport constraint.

Does this work with Delta flights?

Unfortunately, no.  When booking most Delta flights with Virgin Atlantic points, awards are priced based on distance flown.  With Delta flights, Virgin Atlantic adds up the distances of each segment separately.  So, with Delta, adding stops always increases prices.

Skiplagging / Hidden City Ticketing

Can you drop the last segment and exit the airport in Paris or Amsterdam?  Yes, that’s possible.  Airlines hate when people do that, though, so I’d recommend not doing it often.  Also consider these tips for dropping the last segment of your flight itinerary:

  • Never check your bags.  You do not want your bags to end up at your ticketed final destination.
  • Avoid gate checking bags.  In some cases when gate checking bags, the gate agent may try to check your bag all the way to your final destination.  If you are forced to gate check your bags, make sure that it is checked only to your intermediate destination.
  • Always have a story ready.  In case of irregular operations, the airline may try to reroute you to your final destination.  Have a story ready about why you need to get to that connecting airport.
  • Don’t try this with kids.  I would only do this when flying alone.  By myself, if I get stranded somewhere I didn’t mean to be, I can deal with it.  I think it would be much harder to deal with if an entire family was traveling together.

How to get Virgin Atlantic miles

If you don’t already have Virgin Atlantic miles, don’t worry.  Most transferable points programs support transfers to Virgin Atlantic.  If you have Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citi ThankYou Rewards, etc., you can transfer those points to Virgin Atlantic.  Here’s an up-to-date view of transfer options:

Rewards ProgramAmex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Chase Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Citi Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Marriott Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Capital One Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Brex Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Bilt Transfer Ratio
(and transfer time)
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)1 to 1 (Instant)60K to 25K (1 to 2 days)1 to 1 (Unknown)1 to 1 (Unknown)

Wrap Up

If you want to fly Air France or KLM within western Europe, Virgin Atlantic has awesome award pricing.  Unfortunately, they also have a really bad website that makes it hard to book these awards.  I recommend starting with the Virgin Atlantic website, but if/when you hit a wall, the secret fix seems to be through Twitter direct messages.

For additional great uses for Virgin Atlantic miles, see: Best uses for Virgin Atlantic points (Sweet Spot Spotlight).

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Biggie F

Really, really, really appreciated this post.

I was trying to really shoe-horn a trip in and out of Paris (preferred return on AF was only flight of the day from one smaller airport). Regular fares — cash (including so-called low-cost once extortion fees factored in) and miles — were discouragingly high, and I was getting ready to seriously truncate planned trip.

And then I remembered having seen this post. Two great things followed:

  1. Found two seats “business class” on AF at a very reasonable price, including functionally half of what we would have had to pay for the final obscure leg.
  2. Did not book, and that was discouraging, until I focused on Greg’s Twitter tip. Signed up for my first Twitter account and eventually figured out how to send a message. As with Greg’s experience, intermittent responses resulted in a 24-hour total turnaround … and the flights and tickets we wanted.

By the way, I’m going to stop putting “business class” in apostrophes. Sure, the flights are only 1.5 hours and the seats are what they are … but after going through the rigamarole (sp) with so-called cheap tickets and the absence of an assigned seat, the baggage hassles, the check-in hassles, etc. … Heck, we are looking forward to walking up to the Sky Priority check-in with a bag each and then heading to the AF club… especially at the implicit price.

Tahoe Trekker

I’m getting the same error number (with slight variation in text) trying to book Virgin Atlantic metal with Delta codeshare flight numbers using Delta Skymiles on Delta website. We’re sorry. The fare for the flights you selected just sold out. Please search again to view and select alternate flights.#100503A. Based on your experience it seems to be a glitch in VA system. How do I get past this when ticketing must be done by Delta?

Last edited 1 month ago by Tahoe Trekker
Mike Z

I know this post is a bit older with recent updates today, but point.me does appear to be showing Virgin Atlantic award flight pricing on Air France flights now. For example, MAD to MRS on 10/13 shows 4,000 in economy and 8,000 in business.

Some questions I had though is we are a family of four and will be living in Madrid for at least a year starting in August and will therefore be traveling a good bit around Europe. On this particular route, for example, and other similar flight dates and times you can oftentimes find flights on various carriers for less than $50 total cash cost one way in economy versus paying 4k-8k miles plus about $30 in taxes. Is there anything I’m missing when it might be worth paying with miles and taxes with cash versus just paying all cash and not using miles? The only thing I can think of is if the miles booking gives free checked/carry on bags versus cash ticket doesn’t.
Similarly with business class there is more value using 8k miles versus paying all cash because the cash cost is quite a bit higher. However, for such short flights and it sounds like the business class seats aren’t that much different than economy seats is there a time when booking in business might make sense versus just paying cash for economy (other than baggage allowance as mentioned above and maybe use of the airline airport lounge, although we all have Priority Pass)?

I realize if the cash cost of a ticket is very high (economy or business) using miles makes sense, but a lot of times the award fee taxes are about the same as the cash ticket price so it wouldn’t make sense.
Just want to make sure I’m not overlooking anything.

Lrdx

Ok, all these VA talk peaked my interest, and tried to look awards. But I have absolutely nothing available ever, other than VA metal?? Where are you searching?

Mike Z

See my post above regarding an example flight. I found it on the VA website and then also confirmed on point.me.

tassojunior

+1
For all the Flying Blue talk I find VS cheaper 9 out of 10 times for the same flights, especially non-peak. The website is a memory mess though and even though it’s Delta’s design they have little IT keeping it working. It times out requiring all cookies be deleted every 3 or 4 screens. Torture. Branson needs to know.

I wish there were a comparison of VS vs FlyingBlue (and maybe vs Delta which is now posting some FB rewards at FB rates in it’s results). VS and FB are people’s choices for bonus transfers if they’re Euro-centric.

iamhere

The reason this works is because you don’t have to fly the second leg if Paris or Amsterdam is indeed your final destination. It would not work if you did not fly the first leg – then the second leg would be canceled.

Andre

In your examples, is it possible to do stopovers in Paris or Amsterdam or is it just layovers?

Thanks for the insight!

JustSaying

No you can do multi day layovers if you use AF miles.

kons

I realize this thread is old now and not sure if anyone would see it at this point but I wanted to add some data points about some obscure sweet spots. For a while (even before the pandemic) Virgin Atlantic has been pricing economy tickets on AirFrnace/KLM from Porto to Minneapolis at 15K points. I was never able to book them though – it would error out online, sometimes even after creating a booking locator. When I called, CSR could not see any availability and nothing for the locator. However, last week I booked LIS – MSP for 15K economy and it ticketed. So it does work, at least occasionally.

newmaj

I’m trying to book a KLM flight, using Virgin points, from the US to Europe and running into the same #100503A error message after entering passenger details and credit card info. I messaged with someone on Twitter and was told that the flight isn’t available and it must be an issue with KLM availability not updating yet. I would have just taken their word for it, had I not read this article days ago. I also double checked to see if flights were available on other KLM partners and they are so I really don’t think that’s the problem.

Anyone else run into this or have additional advice for getting flights ticketed?

Retired Gambler

Guess I’m not as cheap as I used to be but my time is worth more than that. I just booked Rome to Frankfurt (flights back from Rome to US on AA were 110,000 in business for my wife and myself and only 68,500 from Frankfurt so save 83,000 miles doing this). Ended up just paying for ITA business class that met our time for $615 total. Frankly I have no problem paying that and was worth it to avoid the frustration it can be to book awards like in this article. Also only wanted non-stop so ITA and Lufthansa were only options. About the same price but I booked ITA since we both have a lot of Delta miles and they are a Sky Team member so I can add our Delta FF numbers.

whocares

success! Booking over phone. Didn’t take long for it to be picked up.Rep had to go away for some minutes to get it right, but didn’t take long. On hold less than 15-20 minutes? and the actual conversation – 10? Call timer shows 26 minutes total.

I enjoyed the call rep so much, makes me want to get more Virgin points and fly Virgin Atlantic someday. British cheekiness.

whocares

just tried to make my intra-europe booking. Got same dreaded error code as noted. I’ve sent a msg on twitter.

Ishan Vasandani

Does anybody know if you book a KLM flight via VS miles in economy if it books in the light fare class or standard? The reason that I am asking is because standard includes a checked bag while light does not.

YY Fung

I was successful to issue an award MAN to CDG on Virgin Atlantic this early morning. However I encountered the same problem Greg you got. Error message kept popping up. I am twittering VS now. Fingers crossed! Last 3 seats!
One strange thing happened in Amex transfer system. Thus early morning still showed 30% bonus on “Transfer to VS “. When I reached to the last step, error showed. I was logged out. I logged in again but the 30% bonus has gone. Isn’t it until 3/31/2022?

YY Fung

Hi Greg, The bonus has been restored in the mid day. Phew!

I also had VS twitter team helped me to issue another 3 biz tickets from MAN – CDG yesterday.
It took me 12 hours to close the deal. The pro was they were responsive to the chat. In the middle the chat was idle and I thought it was their night time. When it was close to their morning, the chat got very active again.

Each was 8K VS points with 30% bonus that meant 6K ish.
(By the way the econ was all gone).
The points were far fewer than Flying Blue. When I checked Flying Blue, the econ needed 12500, 55000 for biz.

Thank you!!!

whocares

thanks Greg. This will be immediately useful to me. Upcoming trip I have a flight out of Amsterdam (Which is not a hub I use much these days)…was gonna book BA with cash (too expensive with avios since it connects through LHR – 18.5k). Saw a KLM flight but showing as 210 Euro – for economy std. Direct too. With VA 8,000 + 40 Euro for Business Class (Econ not available). Will get to try their KLM lounge too then it seems. Better then Priority Pass option.

I think that’s a good use of VA miles. I only have 6,000 left as I exchanged to Hilton most of my VA. Got frustrated over difficulties using VA properly (Had a DL One Suites to AMS booked before, but canceled due to COVID reasons. Not interested in Japan ANA flight – closed anyway).

This is a great use! Time to xfr 2,000 Amex points. I think there’s still a 30% bonus, but won’t do me much good practically speaking. But better then nothing I suppose.

Lukas

Great tip. BTW, it’s ‘voilá’, not vualá, lol

anonymous

“BTW, it’s ‘voilá’, not vualá”

Actually, it’s voilà, not voilá.
😉

anonymous

Pretty sad that Twitter has become the default for stuff like this.

Glad you got the great deal, though, Greg!

philco

There is a second error you can get when trying to book partners with VS. I have seen it multiple time trying to book AF/KLM and have seen reports that it can occur with Delta. That error is “Sorry, you’ll need to contact us to complete your booking. #2104A” and below this will be a record locator. In that instance you are able to call VS give them the record locator and they can book the flight. From what the agents have told me with that error is that there is some race condition whereby the VS booking engine times out before AF/KLM confirms availability.

Biggie F

Really useful information. So useful I may actually break down and get a Twitter account. Thanks (I think).

Gene

I feel sick. Since I didn’t know about this, we have wasted probably 100k-150k DL miles for intra-Europe KL/AF J the last cupule years.

Lynn

Way too much to know and remember! Guess that’s why many of my friends just use southwest points!