Has Air France completely stopped releasing business class award space for Delta SkyMiles members?

A couple of days ago I wrote about Delta’s policy change whereby it’s no longer possible to upgrade Premium Economy tickets on Air France to business class using Delta SkyMiles or systemwide upgrades. Well, it looks like this change could be worse than we expected. Much worse.

Up until now the business class award availability that Air France gave their own Flying Blue members access to matched what they gave their partners access to. That means if Air France Flying Blue showed “Classic” business class award availability, Delta SkyMiles members could redeem their miles for that at the “low” level.

For example, per the Air France website, here are the dates next April/May with saver business class award space between Los Angeles and Paris:

Just to further prove the example, let’s select April 24 and take a look at the option:

As you can see there’s a business class award seat on the nonstop. However, when searching on delta.com or ExpertFlyer, the space doesn’t show up at all.

Interestingly some space shows up after June 1 of next year, though I don’t see a single Air France business class award seat on any transatlantic route between now and then. Not a single one.

Back in March Delta had an IT issue whereby they couldn’t display Air France transatlantic business class award space. That was eventually resolved, though it came at a cost. Air France award availability was never as good after the “IT glitch” as it was before. And the other thing that makes that different than this is ExpertFlyer still showed the business class award space throughout the “IT glitch,” which they’re not showing now.

So could this be an “IT glitch?” Perhaps, though I suspect there’s a lot more to this. I think there are (at least) two practical explanations:

  • Air France will no longer release any business class award space to Delta SkyMiles. This is entirely possible and well within their rights, and it would be the biggest blow to the SkyMiles program on the award redemption side in a very long time.
  • Air France plans on only releasing a sub-set of their award availability to Delta SkyMiles members, and in order to make that happen they’re having to temporarily block all redemptions as they get their systems figured out.

I’m fairly confident this isn’t just a harmless “IT glitch.” If either of the above explanations is the case, it would be a huge blow to the SkyMiles program. And the timing of this is funny, because just a couple of hours ago I made the following prediction (without even considering this “IT glitch”):

And while I hate to do this, let me make a prediction. I’d be willing to bet we’ll see a trend over the next few years whereby non-US airlines increasingly release award space exclusively to their own members. At the end of the day there’s such an inequality in terms of the number of outstanding miles between the US and the rest of the world, given the huge number of miles earned through credit cards in the US. Not only do I think foreign carriers will think their premium cabins are too accessible (especially due to US airlines often selling miles cheaply), but they’ll also feel like their own members are at a disadvantage, and more may go the route of Lufthansa. Not something I’d like to see happen or that I have inside knowledge on, though if I were a betting man…

So neither scenario would surprise me. What do you guys think?

Filed Under: Awards, Delta
  1. I recently got a Paris to US flight but it was complicated and the agent had to contact Air France for it to be released. It was not on the Internet. Very interesting post and concerning for me with several hundred thousand Skymiles and hoping to get to Seychelles and Austrailia someday.

  2. I have also noticed that the AF website does not show yyz>CDG. What shows up is Alitalia. YYZ>FCO>CDG. What gives?

  3. @ Danielle — Thanks for the data point. Did you see space on the Air France website, ExpertFlyer, or somewhere else?

    @ JohnnieD — When the transatlantic flight isn’t available on Air France they’ll show flights with connections that have a shorter segment on Air France (like an intra Europe flight). Fortunately Alitalia still has some transatlantic award space.

  4. We’re discussing this on the FT Delta board … bad news bears. I posted an example there of LAX-CDG, and how you can book LAX-MEX-CDG on AM, but can’t do so on AF non-stop, even though both show as available …

  5. The last time this happened was in late March (end Q1) and this time it’s in late September (end Q3). Seems to me there’s a chance that Delta’s trying to save revenue by blocking Air France bookings.

    Though with that said, the ExpertFlyer thing means this might be a different animal.

  6. I agree with the EF being different this time.
    I had no problems seeing space on AF before and this tells me that AF is blocking availability based on POS (like LH does) and this will be a real blow to ALL US based programs. It is the end of the world as we know it.
    Lucky you ARE responsible for this by spoonfeeding all of us all details on booking cheap aspirational awards. 🙂
    What am I going to do with my MMs of miles?

  7. I’ve written here and elsewhere that this era of miles/points and free trips will be ending or greatly restricted in the future. As Delta did, any of these companies can change the rules overnight and those millions of miles someone has accumulated can be nearly worthless.

    I’m cashing in a bunch of points for a 10 night trip later this year to Europe where it might end up only costing me $500 for hotels and two business class tickets instead of the thousands it would have cost. I’m thankful for the opportunity (such as Lufthansa first awards) but I can’t see it continuing.

    I hope I’m wrong but at a minimum things will get much tougher and people paying for miles now and thinking they will retain value for a few years may end up making a costly mistake.

  8. i suspect that’s why there is a 70k delta amex card offer… by the time you earn them they’ll be completely useless. lol

  9. If this is indeed a permanent change than I give up. Take away the air france availability then the available delta flights to europe(which are tough to get right now BUT still somewhat attainable) will dry up. How does one begin to defend this crappy program anymore? Frustrating if you’re hub-hotstage to DL.

  10. I have spent all year collecting 200k delta miles via credit cards, buying things and selling them on ebay and other schemes. I was able to book two roundtrip non-stop air france business flights but like a previous poster said, I ended up having to call them, and they put me on hold to contact air france first. The space was available on expertflyer but not on delta.com, but I did end up getting the tickets. Looks like I did it just in the nick of time

  11. Spent just short of an hour yesterday trying a MIA-Europe booking with DL miles. When it came to CDG routing, she told me the AirFrance upgrades are gone, but it seems as though biz flights are unavailable as well. There were a couple of JFK-CDG opportunities, but MIA was unavailable during late May/early June. She assured me it was because of popularity; after we hung up, I booked AA with a very wide selection of availability.

    Just some anecdotal info to note…

  12. The other possibility I could see is AF requiring do to pay them YQ for access, and that being passed on.

    Not only does this kill availability, it neuters searching as well.

  13. Don’t be glib Lucky — there’s plenty aspirational about my YUL-CDG-MRU-CDG-IAD next summer. Glad I booked it the first day I possibly could

  14. If I were running a non-US airline, I would also block awards for redemption by all these credit card miles that are skewing/poisoning the non-US based mileage programmes.

    You can be angry about it, but from from these airlines point of view, it’s just common sense.

    Every cloud has a silver lining, this will probably enhance award availability for those customers that earn their miles the hard way i.e. by actually paying for flights.

  15. @ James — I was being tongue in cheek. Air France business class can take you to some great destinations. Just saying the seat itself leaves a bit to be desired.

  16. I’m certain I’m in the minority here, but if I were a SkyTeam flyer, I’d be willing to credit & redeem on Flying Blue & pay the fuel surcharges rather than put up with DL’s joke of an FF program.

  17. Delta made some technology updates this weekend according to an advisory on Delta.com. I bet this has something to do with it since it mentions award booking.

  18. If Air France is closing off business class to Delta or other partners, it’d be a foolish move, IMO, since AF is a high-visibility member of Skyteam, and they already have the rule of not releasing first class space to anyone other than their own elite members. But here’s the thing: while I have seen multiple Air France business and economy trip reports, most of those writers report that the first class cabin of the aircraft is completely empty!

    IF it’s true that Delta gets restricted or no availability on Air France (my opinion is currently “I don’t know- wait until the drama deepens”)- Delta has got to react to that (If they don’t, then my miles are going to Alaska or Korean) or they’ll face a serious backlash from their most loyal members. The one way I see they can benefit and look good is by opening up more award space on their own aircraft to Europe. But how full are BusinessEilte cabins across the Atlantic anyways? And then again, when was the last time Delta Skyinches got MORE valuable with time?

    What if this is Air France’s way of evening out the playing field (and also to try and solve their financial situation) since Delta rarely releases low-level availability on their own flights for Flying Blue members? The only thing I can see next is the finger-pointing followed by fluffy speeches, liquidating of points for fed-up Skymiles members and a defection.

  19. I ve been flying air france fir the last 22 years and been platinium for life and they sucks as lucky said their business class is a poor product and i didnt notice any change when they launched the new product,skyteam is the leftbehind of major alliance.

  20. I find availability is just linked to status. Use the partners Gold nothing available use my Platinum Plus, Bingo. If you want to see a scary future see their “any seat award” and watch 100’s of thousands of Points BURN

  21. You know coach class is in same situation….most transatlantic flights are blocked , Delta miles getting more and more worthless since the Korean Air Fuel Surcharges

  22. I was planning on redeeming Skymiles for LAX-CDG-JNB roundtrip in business class on AF for March 2013. Looked at it up on Delta.com last month and was available. Now that I’ve decided to book it, AF business class is not available anymore!

  23. Lucky – any update on this? With the New Year right around the corner, I’m seriously thinking about leaving Delta behind as it’s just too hard to get value out of their miles (save for redeeming on Virgin Australia/biz). Anything new that you could shed would be most appreciate.

  24. @ Pointsloverrrrr — Situation is better, though still pretty bad. Air France does release some space to Delta, though the issue is that it’s different than what they release to Flying Blue members, so the only way to search for space is on delta.com.

    Oddly enough I think Delta miles have become more valuable for travel to Asia on Australia (since China Southern flies the A380 from Los Angeles, there are no surcharges on Virgin Australia anymore, and Korean Air award space now shows up on delta.com), while they’ve become less valuable for travel to Europe.

  25. @ all! I’m a travel agent and use one of the airline computer systems. It gives me ability to see “O” class seats on Air France. For as long as I can remember, if you were looking for space, it would show how many seats were available and a 0 would show if they were sold out.

    Well, the disturbing thing is that “O” class is not even loaded for every route to North America from March 8th through October. And the strange thing? “O” is offered on other AF routings – just not on any flight to the US or Canada. There’s plenty of space from Johannesburg, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, etc. to or from Paris after March and all through the summer.


  26. Still the same, I think. AF site shows availability, I call delta (3 different agents) and they cannot see or book it.

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