Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France, KLM, and Kenya Airways, is an oft-overlooked American Express transfer partner, but one that I have been particularly critical of on this blog. Customer service is poor and booking awards can turn into an agonizing nightmare. Well, someone at Flying Blue may have been paying attention because two recent experiences suggest in-person ticketing is no longer necessary for African award redemptions.
If you recall my adventure from December, it took several calls, several faxes, and a visit to the Air France future ticketing desk at Washington Dulles airport in order to get a ticket issued for a client that originated in Africa. At the time, the policy was that any travel that touched Africa had to be ticketed in person, no matter the origination.
But last month I booked a client on a Tanzania safari using Flying Blue miles and was able to complete the ticketing online. Last year, reservations including any portion in Africa would hold online, but not ticket–that required a faxing of personal information to Flying Blue or a visit to the nearest Air France ticketing office. The reason given: to combat fraud. I figured I just got lucky, but last week I booked a New York – Lagos, Nigeria trip for a client (on Delta with no fuel surcharge) using Flying Blue with a return from Nairobi via Lagos. Now if Nigeria is not the hot-bed of scamming (you ever get those “The money that is floating in the bank right now is $48m and this is what I want to transfer to your account for our mutual benefit” e-mails?), nowhere is, but I was able to book and ticket that reservation on the phone.
I did not ask the agent if there was a change in policy–I was afraid he had just overlooked the policy and my reminder would lead him to refuse to ticket the reservation. But today I called and spoke to an agent, who emphatically stated the policy had not changed. I called again, just to double check, and the second agent was not aware of any policy. So I called a third time, and got the first agent again (remember, the call center is small). Thankfully, I recognized her voice.
Whatever the actual answer is, it seems there is no longer a technical limitation that prohibits agents from ticketing reservations that touch Africa. Perhaps there never was one, but my experiences suggest otherwise. Therefore, my advice if you are booking an African award with Flying Blue is to keep calling until you find an agent willing to ticket the reservation over the phone (assuming you cannot first ticket it online). Sending facsimiles to Air France and waiting for their call back (which can take more than a week) is frustrating and can lead to the award space being lost if partner carriers are involved. Airport visits are even more inconvenient.
As I’ve shared before, Flying Blue has some good deals on its award chart. Unlike partner Delta, one-way awards are available at half the round-trip price, Tel Aviv is considered part of Europe (50K each way in business class), and fuel surcharges can be avoided by flying Delta, Aerolinas Argentinas, Aeromexico, and Aeroflot.
With the American Express Platinum card you can earn valuable points to redeem with Flying Blue as well as a number of other transfer partners.