You could say I wasn’t happy when Flying Blue announced changes to their frequent flyer program. Anytime a program ditches award charts in favor of dynamic pricing, it’s pretty much a sign that multiple stealth devaluations will follow in short order. Sure, programs like Delta will throw a bone in the form of award sales every now and then, but that doesn’t quite take the sting out of the fact that most Delta awards are substantially more expensive than they were a few years ago. As such, keep in mind that everything I write about in this post is liable to change at any time with no notice, so if you do want to take advantage of my “one weird trick to score cheap Flying Blue awards,” don’t wait too long.
The gist of this strategy is to add connections onto transatlantic flights, since for whatever reason awards with certain connections may price out cheaper. For instance:
Check out the award calendars for November/December 2019 showing flights between SFO and either CDG or CPH. Weirdly, the prices aren’t uniformly different; on a couple days the CPH connection knocks 15,000 miles off the price of SFO-CDG direct, and on other days, it adds 14,500 miles. Hooray for dynamic pricing!
This isn’t really groundbreaking stuff; in the world of revenue tickets, this sort of chicanery is well-known (and well-discouraged by airlines), although this is the first time I’ve noticed it in award ticketing. It’s called throwaway ticketing, and it comes with a number of risks. First, you can’t check a bag, since it will get routed to the final destination. Second, if there are irregular operations, the airline may route you differently, since they’re only required to get you to your end destination rather than ensuring you touch down at every point along the way. Finally, airlines hate this, and it’s a good way to get your account shut down. It’s common practice never to use your frequent flyer number when flying a throwaway ticket itinerary, although in this case, since it’s an award ticket, you don’t really have a choice.
Don’t worry, though — there’s a workaround that should avoid all three of these problems. I present to you the award calendar for SFO to Lyon, France:
First, notice how adding the Lyon connection opens up additional saver awards that weren’t showing in the original search for SFO-CDG. Weird, and a useful reminder to try plugging in a bunch of different cities to see how they affect basic transatlantic award pricing. However, the reason I’m specifically pointing out Lyon is that Air France will give you the option both of flying to LYS airport as well as to XYD, otherwise known as Lyon Part-Dieu train station. In fact, on the day that I searched, the only options available for 57,500 miles involved a connection by train.
You can probably see where I’m going with this… The connection by train is sold by Air France on behalf of SNCF, so it isn’t treated the same as a connecting flight. For one, your bags aren’t checked all the way through to Lyon. According to Air France’s page about air-rail connections, you have to go pick up your train ticket at a desk inside the TGV station at CDG airport, but once you do that, I’m pretty sure they won’t know if you ever get on the train.
(I should point out that I’m not 100% sure about this, since a conductor would normally scan the barcode on the ticket to check its validity at some point during the train trip. However, I’d be shocked if this data were communicated back to Air France in any way. More likely you just need to scan the ticket at the barcode reader in front of the train track where your train is departing. In other words, out of an abundance of caution, you could always wait at the train station until your track was assigned and then scan your ticket before taking the RER to central Paris.)
If you’re curious, here is the webpage where you can learn more about Air/Rail trips. However, the part that really matters is spelled out pretty clearly:
It sure seems to me like they’re only concerned with you skipping the first leg of the trip, not the second. Unfortunately, that only addresses the outbound portion of the trip, meaning you’d still have to pay the full 71,000 miles to get back home (or finish your trip in Lyon). I wanted to see if there’s a workaround here too, though, and there kind of is. It depends on how much you value saving 13,500 points.
Basically, I cross-referenced SNCF’s network with the rail stations recognized by Air France’s search engine, and I found the closest TGV station to CDG: Reims. Well, not technically Reims, although that’s the city to entire into the award search. The actual TGV station used by Air France is Champagne Ardenne, which is around 40 minutes by train from Paris, with trains running pretty often. Once in Champagne Ardenne, you’d go to the TGV Air counter to check in for your flight and then head directly from there to CDG (36 minutes).
Realistically, you’re looking at around 2-3 hours to get from central Paris to the airport, depending on the length of the connection you give yourself in Champagne Ardenne. That’s compared to around 45 minutes if you took the RER B, so basically an extra 1-2 hours. This is the kind of thing I would never do if Justine and I were traveling together, but I love train travel, so I wouldn’t mind the extra running around to save a bunch of miles if I were traveling alone.
Has anyone done this? I thought we would try it on the outbound leg of our next trip, but we ended up planning a trip to Iceland instead of Paris. They’re very similar, I know, so it was kind of a toss-up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Air France fixed this at some point, but there could also be some weird French government stuff behind it, where Air France is “encouraged” by their government part-owners to buy blocks of train tickets in order to prop up wholly state-owned SNCF. Who knows… “Forget it Jake, it’s Frenchytown.”
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