Air France Further Restricts First Class Awards

Air France Further Restricts First Class Awards

52

Air France is already the most restrictive airline in the world when it comes to first class award tickets. Now the airline is adding even more restrictions to these awards.

Air France’s new first class award restrictions

Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue loyalty program has announced that new restrictions are coming to first class (La Premiere) awards as of January 1, 2023:

  • First class awards will be limited to Platinum members; previously Gold members also had access to these awards
  • Air France will release at most one first class award seat per flight; previously the airline generally released two seats, and sometimes even more

Keep in mind that on top of these restrictions, Air France has very high redemption rates for those passengers who are eligible for these awards. For example, a transatlantic first class award on Air France will cost you a minimum of 220,000 miles one-way.

Flying Blue’s justification for this is interesting:

Air France recently unveiled its new and improved La Premiere cabin. As a result, the airline is updating the restrictions on using Flying Blue Miles to access this highly sought-after cabin.

So the claim is that this change is being made because Air France has announced a new first class product, even though there’s no exact schedule yet for when this will be introduced. Hmmm…

In fairness, Air France has an excellent first class product, and an incredible first class ground experience in Paris. I rank Air France’s first class inflight product as the second best in the world, and Air France’s first class ground product as being the best in the world.

Air France is further restricting first class awards

My take on Air France’s first class award changes

On the one hand, I see where Air France is coming from. The airline only has roughly 20 planes with first class cabins, and each plane has just four first class seats. I can appreciate how making two first class award seats available at the time of booking limits revenue potential for the cabin, even if mileage award tickets are quite expensive.

At the same time:

  • Flying Blue’s elite perks are quite weak, and access to first class awards was the primary benefit of Flying Blue Gold or Platinum status beyond standard SkyTeam Elite Plus perks
  • By limiting first class awards to one seat per flight, the airline is ensuring that loyal members will never be able to travel in first class on miles as a couple
  • While I can appreciate that Air France wants to cut back the number of first class award seats, an artificial restriction of one seat per flight almost seems punitive; the first class cabin isn’t always sold out, so why not at least make more seats available as the departure date approaches, or not set an artificial limit?
  • It’s odd to justify this based on the future first class product that will be introduced, given that it’s not even for sale yet; that’s kind of like Skytrax giving Lufthansa a five star rating before the product was even introduced

To expand on that third point a bit, I totally think that award availability should reflect how much demand there is for revenue tickets. Yes, Air France often sells out the first class cabin on flights to Los Angeles and New York, so I can totally understand how the airline wouldn’t want to make multiple award seats available on these flights.

But that’s not the case on all routes. For example, looking at the Paris to Sao Paulo route over the next week:

  • From Paris to Sao Paulo, seven of the 28 first class seats are sold, so first class is booked to 25%
  • From Sao Paulo to Paris, two of the 28 first class seats are sold, so first class is booked to 7%

Why suddenly create a limit of just one seat per flight, when these cabins will otherwise largely go out empty? It just comes across as customer unfriendly to create a strict rule, rather than to adjust availability based on demand.

Air France’s first class ground services are great

Bottom line

Air France is making its first class awards even more restrictive. As of 2023, first class awards will be limited to just Platinum members, and there will be at most one award seat per flight. It’s a shame to see this change, especially with the already high redemption costs for this product.

What do you make of these changes to Air France La Premiere awards?

Conversations (52)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Dana Guest

    We fly AF only bc of La Premiere. In the past I would credit my award points to my Skymiles account, but started directing to Flying Blue in order to buy La Premeire with points. So that won't be happening now I guess. Does AF offer access to the La Premiere lounge for a fee? If so, does this include the ground experience of getting to the gate?

  2. Mathew Guest

    Not fair. We have choices and forceing us to use other airlines. At this customer care has diffrent meaning . They do not care.

  3. GHT Zijderveld Guest

    Being FB Platinum for life and keeping my wife at the same level for 600 plus a year with Amex, this indeed makes it impossible to do a upgrade with them. Luckily, we are reaching our retirement age and will react proportionally. Also as a reult of the increasing amount of airmiles required for a flight. Finish up the abandunt airmiles with KLM and start flying BC with the also excellent BC service of Lufthansa...

    Being FB Platinum for life and keeping my wife at the same level for 600 plus a year with Amex, this indeed makes it impossible to do a upgrade with them. Luckily, we are reaching our retirement age and will react proportionally. Also as a reult of the increasing amount of airmiles required for a flight. Finish up the abandunt airmiles with KLM and start flying BC with the also excellent BC service of Lufthansa where long distance is often a bit cheaper and better.
    Plus still 747s and A380s making the short Amsterdam Franfurt hop more than justified.

  4. Aviator Guest

    never, ever trust the French. Never.

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      The guy helming FB is…not French.

  5. Jeremy Guest

    This is very good news for those who book business class miles tickets and who don’t mind upgrading for cash to la premiere same day - fewer booked miles tickets means more availability.

  6. Claw Guest

    Long before the airline programs, customers paid for the experience they desired. The sooner the airlines drop these programs, the better off we all are.

    1. Ralph Guest

      Best comment I have read in a while. I look at the program the traditional way: fly a lot on metal, plat & KLM pa offer good soft benefits: reliable agents on standby in case needed etc. Rarely have the time to enjoy award tickets, usually book for family or friends.

      The credit card people on the other hand: no good words for them. They turned these programs sour, not the other way around.

  7. SGP Guest

    They will loose long time loyal passengers

  8. BelgiumRoland Guest

    Having just reached Platinum (thanks to the generous multipliers during COVID) I might choose First for my next flight to the US, especially as it is cheaper in miles than Business or even Premium Eco on the routes I checked today.

    Over 240K miles for a CDG - SFO in business is just insane. First is only 230K

  9. D3kingg Guest

    An international first class cabin should never be full. Then there’s nothing really exclusive or luxurious about it.

  10. magice Gold

    I don't understand why they don't just disallow this altogether ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It's quite clear they don't want people to redeem it.

  11. Leon Guest

    Not a coincidence. They ran a charity donation promo a few months ago. People like myself that have millions of miles donated top become FB Gold, which allowed me to book the coveted La Premiere. Now they cancel that. We've been screwed royally.

  12. Dominic Kivni Guest

    One of the reasons why other airlines got rid of first class was because they have too few cash fare paying passengers to justify the cabin. If first class is too easily accessible with miles, passengers aren’t going to bother with paying cash for it. Even when the cabin is not fully sold, they can still sell the seats as an upgrade at the check in desk. Air France keeps a first class cabin and...

    One of the reasons why other airlines got rid of first class was because they have too few cash fare paying passengers to justify the cabin. If first class is too easily accessible with miles, passengers aren’t going to bother with paying cash for it. Even when the cabin is not fully sold, they can still sell the seats as an upgrade at the check in desk. Air France keeps a first class cabin and a really good first class product because they want to generate cash revenues from it, not mileage redemptions. If it was so straightforward to redeem miles for the cabin, you would see the cabin removed entirely in favor of a couple more rows of business class and then see a bunch of bloggers bemoan the demise of first class (see Gary Leff)

    1. magice Gold

      I am not sure about upgrade, so can't speak of that. However, your look at "redemption v cash paying" is incorrect.

      Look, at the end of the day, the miles/points are effectively debts. Airlines give out miles/points in exchange for *something*, be it flight revenue (e.g. you earn miles/points from your flight) or hard cold cash (e.g. you buy miles or your credit card company buys miles and give it to you). There are a...

      I am not sure about upgrade, so can't speak of that. However, your look at "redemption v cash paying" is incorrect.

      Look, at the end of the day, the miles/points are effectively debts. Airlines give out miles/points in exchange for *something*, be it flight revenue (e.g. you earn miles/points from your flight) or hard cold cash (e.g. you buy miles or your credit card company buys miles and give it to you). There are a bit of "free" miles here and there, but these are triffle.

      When First Class is priced as Air France does, each award redemption takes a massive amount of debts off the airlines' books. Again, the miles/points ain't free. They *already* got the cash. So it's either 1 First Class flight or 10 econ flights.

      If the First Class costs, says, 10 times econ flights, they can raise the prices in miles. If it costs 20 times? Raise the price. It cost 30 times? Make it so.

      However, to argue that somehow the First Class redemption is "free" is idiotic and stupid. Again, Air France *already got the cash*. In fact, to my mind, it's a good deal for both. One awesome experience for customers so they keep going back (do you even know how much you have to spend with Air France to get that 350,000 points?). You already get the money, so it really doesn't cost you anything. And if someone wants to pay cash? Let them. Win-win-win.

    2. Dominic Kivni Guest

      I didn't argue that First class redemptions are "free" and if you look at my OP, I never use the word "free" anywhere. Miles are generally sold to banks / credit card partners for less than 1c per point, so a 220k redemption is equivalent to less than $2200 one-way or less than $4400 roundtrip, so AF already may have gotten "the cash" but not a lot of it relative to a cash ticket. When...

      I didn't argue that First class redemptions are "free" and if you look at my OP, I never use the word "free" anywhere. Miles are generally sold to banks / credit card partners for less than 1c per point, so a 220k redemption is equivalent to less than $2200 one-way or less than $4400 roundtrip, so AF already may have gotten "the cash" but not a lot of it relative to a cash ticket. When cash fares are well over $14k, it's better to leave 2 seats unsold and get 1 cash fare than it is to get 3 mileage redemptions. Economy is different from premium cabins because network airlines just try to fill up those seats at to somewhat above cost, but premium cabins are where the profitability is earned. Comparing costs is irrelevant because the amount of margin they're trying to earn in First vs Economy is very different, and to give award redemption in First is to forego a cash ticket or cash upgrade revenue earning opportunity.

      Plenty of people have 220k points from Amex or Chase that they can transfer to AF 1:1 (sometimes you don't even need that much with a transfer bonus) even if they have never paid for a cash ticket on AF/KLM (and you can also combine that with any miles actually earned from an occasional trip with AF/KLM or its partners), restricting redemptions only to higher tiers of Flying Blue elite members ensures that ONLY customers that have spent lots of money on AF/KLM have access to LP award space, so that those members get rewarded for their loyalty. If you're consistently in the tiers that allow you access to LP, you're likely drowning in miles, plus you probably earn a bunch more from credit card spend (I'm in a similar situation with a US carrier), so the redemption rate is really not a concern if you want to splurge on LP. What they are trying to exclude are readers of miles / points blogs that accumulate a bunch of MR / UR points to use on AF LP but don't buy any / many cash tickets with AF, which based on the contents of this blog post, it's quite effective at doing

  13. Donna Diamond

    Not a good value proposition no matter how one obtains the ticket, cash or miles.

    1. Doug Guest

      Have you even flown La Premiere?
      As one who does, regularly, I submit that those who do find it well worth the cost.
      Your assertion otherwise is hollow and unconvincing.

  14. Cedric Guest

    Makes sense I guess. with only 4 seats, they want some seats for lucrative cash upgrades or to bump up J big shots. Way too many mileage millionaires these days :) I remember when SWISS started restricting award space they used that as an argument, saying paying customers would be pissed they couldn't get seats since cabins where full of award bookings. Just be happy you can still book J with awards...

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      SWISS is a terrible example, when they make it painful to even BUY first class seats, and IMPOSSIBLE to change dates for full fare first flex tickets.

      It seems to be Lufthansa arrogance trickling down to SWISS.

    2. Cedric Guest

      You can pull up stories on every airline... my point is I am what one would call a milleage millionaire and back when you could redeem LX F with miles I would think to my self it made ZERO sense for this to be possible with miles. I booked well over 200 seats in LX F and maybe 100 in with LH. Sure they get some revneue from that but way less than paid tickets.

  15. Lee Guest

    But, hey! The cash price for round-trip F between JFK and CDG is only $14K.

    While it's not the same experience, I'll take BA for only $6K.

    1. Sam Guest

      JFK is high at the moment, but you can find some ex-IAD flights for ~$8K roundtrip (and even less with Amex International Airlines program).

    2. pstm91 Diamond

      I actually just booked a client yesterday in La Premiere JFK-CDG for January dates and it came in at $9k for r/t, which I was surprised at. Considering business was $7,500 (and over $8k for refundable), it was a no brainer.

  16. Steve Diamond

    This seems really simple they want people to pay cash for first class seats, too many points and miles pros watering down the experience and taking away seats from last minute potential cash customers.

    1. magice Gold

      I don't understand this sentiment.

      The points are *not* free. Air France hasn't (as far as I can tell) go out and say "here, 100,000 points, free, no obligation." They either give it as rebate (i.e. you earn points with your flight), sell it directly (when you buy it directly), sell it indirectly (when you get it "for free" from the banks), or give out in limited amounts.

      In other words, you (directly or indirectly)...

      I don't understand this sentiment.

      The points are *not* free. Air France hasn't (as far as I can tell) go out and say "here, 100,000 points, free, no obligation." They either give it as rebate (i.e. you earn points with your flight), sell it directly (when you buy it directly), sell it indirectly (when you get it "for free" from the banks), or give out in limited amounts.

      In other words, you (directly or indirectly) *already* paid the money. It's not "free" (it only feels so). It is not that different from credits with Air France, except in a currency they control.

      Imagine if you pre-pay €10,000 to Air France, but when it's time to redeem, Air France says "yo, we don't want prepaid money, give us NEW money." Or, worse, "OMG those prepaid customers are ruining new money." Or, imagine if you go to a grocery with a coupon, and the grocery store says "no no, I don't want to 'water down' my brand so you coupon users cannot buy lobsters." How stupid is *that*?

      Now, it's *their* right to price their products however they want. Their products in the marketplace after all. But all the talks of "points pro watering down the experience" is stupid. Remember, you already pay. They *already made the money.* You think the hundreds of thousands of points converted from Chase and wherever else are charity or something? No, Air France (and others) *already* got the money. Stop defending them.

    2. Steve Diamond

      Im not defending them I am talking about simple math, AF makes more money selling a $15k first class seat than they do on what they "earn" by someone redeeming points or what they get paid from credit card companies when people convert their points to miles.

      Obviously they make no money on onsold seats but clearly there is better expected value and more revenue for AF leaving more seats open for last minute...

      Im not defending them I am talking about simple math, AF makes more money selling a $15k first class seat than they do on what they "earn" by someone redeeming points or what they get paid from credit card companies when people convert their points to miles.

      Obviously they make no money on onsold seats but clearly there is better expected value and more revenue for AF leaving more seats open for last minute cash buyers than letting someone book one on points.

      THEY WOULDNT BE MAKING THIS CHANGE IF IT MEANS LESS REVENUE, period end of story, they make more money releasing less of these seats if it was the other way around they would open up more seats for points.

  17. Clem Diamond

    This will directly impact me as I'm Gold and never reached Platinum, although I usually prefer to redeem reasonable amounts of miles for J instead of F. Redeeming miles for La Premiere only makes sense if you have millions and millions of miles, which seems actually somewhat common...?
    I kind of understand where they're coming from by limiting redemptions to Platinum, but the fact that they're limiting each flight to 1 seat is really...

    This will directly impact me as I'm Gold and never reached Platinum, although I usually prefer to redeem reasonable amounts of miles for J instead of F. Redeeming miles for La Premiere only makes sense if you have millions and millions of miles, which seems actually somewhat common...?
    I kind of understand where they're coming from by limiting redemptions to Platinum, but the fact that they're limiting each flight to 1 seat is really terrible, essentially making it impossible for their most loyal customers to fly on miles with a traveling companion.

  18. Andy Diamond

    I agree, not being able to travel as a couple is a major disadvantage. On the other hand side, having (at least!) 440000 miles to spend for two P award tickets is not something everyone has. Even if you fly on paid J tickets quite often, this requires a lot flying. My round trips Europe to Latam in J usually earn about 15000-20000 miles (both ways, including feeder flights) ... so the couple P award would probably require about 30-40 longhaul J flights.

  19. TravelinWilly Diamond

    This is unfortunate but I sort of figured they’d go Plat-only for awards and take it away from golds.

    I’m flying AF LP today and tomorrow (not on an award, unfortunately…) and I may ask about this change when I’m in the CDG lounge tomorrow.

  20. mick Guest

    Meh. I’ve never flown the Air France first class but it looks way overhyped for the trouble it’s worth. Aside from the curtain (which I think makes so much sense (why don’t more carriers eg Lufthansa employ it?!)) it looks similar to Qatar and jal first. 8hours transatlantic is way too short of a flight to bother for 200k points. Much rather fly etihad apartments if they ever come back on an actual long haul...

    Meh. I’ve never flown the Air France first class but it looks way overhyped for the trouble it’s worth. Aside from the curtain (which I think makes so much sense (why don’t more carriers eg Lufthansa employ it?!)) it looks similar to Qatar and jal first. 8hours transatlantic is way too short of a flight to bother for 200k points. Much rather fly etihad apartments if they ever come back on an actual long haul eg Abu Dhabi to Sydney for 110k AA points.

    Having a car pickup is fun but not that much different than sharing a bus from a remote stand for the 3 min trip(?!!!). Landed in Bangkok today and did the bus to the terminal. Was wonderful. Korean air, Qatar a380s, all the retired Thai a380/ and 747/ resting there. Except for having other passengers envy you I think private cars etc are way overstated. In fact it’s almost embarrassing (eg the Porsche drop off from Frankfurt first class terminal made me cringe when I arrived at the plane ). Just my opinion.

    1. Clem Diamond

      A lot of it is about the service and the level of personalized care that you get. I have flown La Premiere several times as well as many other carriers in F and that part is really unmatched in my opinion.

    2. Sam Guest

      Yah, the ease of airport experience from start to finish is really what makes it for me. I honestly agree that the inflight experience is nothing special vis-a-vis other First Class experiences I've had (don't get me wrong, it's fab, but I've also thoroughly enjoyed my First Class flights on BA and others, too...ok maybe not AA but you get the point LOL), but the service you receive at the airport (and not JUST the...

      Yah, the ease of airport experience from start to finish is really what makes it for me. I honestly agree that the inflight experience is nothing special vis-a-vis other First Class experiences I've had (don't get me wrong, it's fab, but I've also thoroughly enjoyed my First Class flights on BA and others, too...ok maybe not AA but you get the point LOL), but the service you receive at the airport (and not JUST the hub, but also outstations) is incredible. I don't even give a second thought anymore to "short" connection times; if things are running behind I know I (and my bags) will make it no problem and if we don't I know I will be quickly re-accommodated and provided with everything I need to be comfortable while waiting for the next flight. The same cannot be said about other carriers, especially outside of their hubs.

      Air France does, however, quickly need to update or at least fix the current product as I am now 2 for 2 LP flights with broken seats. Not a good look...

    3. Clem Diamond

      Woah yeah not good. But they'll at least give you a boatload of miles as compensation (they once sent me 30k miles because one of the lights would not turn off).

    4. Sam Guest

      I still haven't received any compensation for the broken IFE...

  21. FabinhoBP Guest

    I flew AF new first class a couple of years ago with my wife and although it was a great flight and service, the lack of privacy was very disappointing.
    I prefer much more the new Singapore First Suites which we flew just a couple of months ago, in fact in my opinion there’s no comparison between both products.

  22. Cassie Guest

    I hope Air France walks back this change. The appeal of first class is to experience it with someone. If I'm by myself, I don't see the appeal.

    1. Dominic Kivni Guest

      That's still an option if you pay cash, which is exactly what they want. They're not trying to sell tons of award LP seats

  23. Amit Guest

    Agree with you Ben, it’s so disappointing when airlines only make one seat available at a time for award redemption. If I am redeeming points for a first class seat, it will be with my spouse. It’s pointless if only one of us is in front. Had similar issues booking Cathay Pacific in the past where I could only book one seat in first and had to book the other in business, hoping that another seat would pop up closer to travel.

    1. Pierre Gold

      You seem to be the only one to have perfectly hit the reason: For all those who want to fly AF LP as a couple, even the "Mileage Millionaires", it will from now on be "One as an award and one as a paying passenger". It's actually rather well thought.

  24. Sam Guest

    IMHO this implies that the LP cabin seat count is going from 4 to 3 when the new product is introduced later this year.

  25. Eve Guest

    Skyteam members seems to be going for a nosedive lately

  26. JayC Member

    Are you still going to try for Flying Blue status? This must be such a bummer for you. :(

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ JayC -- There's no point anymore, as La Premiere is more fun with a companion. At least this made my choice easy, as it's not worth going out of my way to earn Flying Blue elite status. Access to first class awards was the primary perk.

    2. Omar Guest

      It would not surprise me if your post about that weighed heavily in this decision.

    3. David Guest

      I was thinking the same way as you.

    4. Harry Guest

      Agreed. I was doing the same, but I don't think P2 would be happy me in 1st and she in business! Could be costly in legal fees - divorce!!!

    5. Eyesonthepoints Guest

      Thought I’d jump in. Haha. Leon had a very good point… maybe this is not a coincidence .. Ben, I know you spoke about the charity program and another blog I read regarding donating, was loyalty lobby bout upgrading to AF gold via donating. I ended up crediting a bunch of flights from USA- Mexico trips we did via delta to AF and ended up donating to AF for the remainder XP I needed to...

      Thought I’d jump in. Haha. Leon had a very good point… maybe this is not a coincidence .. Ben, I know you spoke about the charity program and another blog I read regarding donating, was loyalty lobby bout upgrading to AF gold via donating. I ended up crediting a bunch of flights from USA- Mexico trips we did via delta to AF and ended up donating to AF for the remainder XP I needed to get AF gold status. Then Transferred amex Points to AF using 25% Amex transfer bonus and booked 2 adults & 1 (toddler 2yo) round trip first class flights from LAX- CDG. At the time (couple months ago) it was 230,000 for myself , 172,000 for my 2 year old , and 390,000 for my wife. Wasn’t cheap by no means and some peeps might be roast me and say what a waste… In my opinion it was the experience. Especially since our departure flight.. we had the whole first class cabin to ourselves! Was AWESOME! We’re still in Europe as of now and we’ll be making our return flights later this month, hoping we get the entire first class cabin to ourselves again haha.. But anyway all this above made it easier / possible. It’s funny how AF made this all possible and then all of sudden decided to up the ante to “platinums only”. It’s hard for me not to believe something is going on here and that it’s not just some coincidence, especially with the recent donations AF allowed to get AF status. And shame on them for allowing donations to get AF status knowing that a lot of peeps would do it so that they could fly AF First and then fully taking it AWAY FROM THEM! What’s to say more continue to donate to achieve platinum status, and then what is AF going to do next to make this redemption even more REDICULOUS? The old saying saying here is, “fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you..”

      FYI appears rates have gone up

      Awards from LAX - CDG are coming up to 266,500 for standard rates and 418,500 increases rates ( for dynamic ).

      Just thought I’d say AF is an incredible flight. But there’s so many incredible first class flights that are so much easier and much more reasonable amount of points/ miles to get without jumping through Air France’s ridiculous hoops.

    6. Vancouver - Char Gold

      Good you experienced La Premiere when you could; I lived reading your reviews

    7. Vancouver - Char Gold

      Good you experienced La Premiere when you could (Sept 2019 a few months before the pandemic); I lived reading this and your previous Air France reviews

    8. Alinsfca Guest

      Agree with Ben there is no point chasing elite status with Flying Blue anymore. Their cash price is usually more expensive than other airlines.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

TravelinWilly Diamond

You really are ridiculous.

3
TravelinWilly Diamond

The guy helming FB is…not French.

1
Doug Guest

Have you even flown La Premiere? As one who does, regularly, I submit that those who do find it well worth the cost. Your assertion otherwise is hollow and unconvincing.

1
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,988,713 Miles Traveled

29,627,500 Words Written

32,815 Posts Published