Saturday, January 31, 2015

Eurobonus vs Flying Blue - which one is better?

When work sent me out traveling a lot, it didn’t take long before I noticed a growing interest in airlines’ loyalty programs. My company’s policy is enforcing economy tickets, and thus, particularly on long haul flights, it becomes almost an obsession to secure a business class ticket through loyalty program upgrades. Last year I earned Gold status with both Flying Blue and Eurobonus, and the following evaluation is based on that experience.

Accumulating points/miles

  • Flying Blue miles are ridiculously hard to earn. A long haul flight may leave you with only 2-3000 miles if you’re unfortunate enough to have a particularly cheap ticket. KLM/Flying Blue has a ticketing system with multiple classes of economy ticket. The ticket class is not displayed during the booking process, yet if you end up with the wrong letter code on your ticket, you’ll earn close to nothing of award miles. Probably for this reason, you can choose a more expensive economy ticket during the booking process, with identical conditions. The only difference is that you’ll earn more award miles. Which is not very different from *buying* award miles, which kind of defeats the purpose of miles. 
  • With SAS/Star Alliance this is much simpler: a certain distance in a certain class gives a certain amount of points, regardless of how much you paid for your ticket. They are also far more generous with their points, and you’ll easily earn over 10.000 points on a long haul flight.

Value of points/miles

  • Flying Blue award miles value algorithms work in mysterious ways. Consider this example: Bringing an extra suitcase on a long haul flight: 20.000(!) hard earned miles. The cash value of this is probably around $100. Upgrade to business class on a long haul flight: 40.000 miles. The cash value of this is at least $2000.
  • I was once offered an upgrade at checkin, at the cost of 25000 miles *plus* a cash fee of €350. I’ve never heard of such a thing with SAS/Eurobonus.
  • With Eurobonus the cost of upgrading from economy to business is also around 40.000 points. Since their points are way easier earned than Flying Blue’s miles, the value of Eurobonus points are very much better.

Ease of upgrade

  • With KLM/Flying Blue, you have to call their customer service in order to upgrade a ticket. I made the mistake of calling *after* I booked a ticket once, and was told that my ticket was too cheap to upgrade, whether for miles or money. What? The only fool-proof method is apparently to call them to book the entire ticket, as you’ve no way of knowing whether your ticket is eligible for upgrade when using their website.
  • With SAS, you can upgrade in one of two ways: 
    • You can request an upgrade on their website, which may or may not come through, depending on availability. A fixed number of miles will be deducted from your balance if you succeed. 
    • But they also have another, truly brilliant feature: you can pay part of your ticket using Eurobonus points! Using a slider, you can watch how the price changes little by little as you add or remove miles. This way you can compose your business class price/upgrade cost yourself! This is the most user friendly feature I’ve seen by an airline in a very long time.

Perks not related to award system

  • With KLM, you can buy “comfort seats” in economy, and it’s quite cheap. This will give you more legroom and more seat recline.
  • With SAS, you can buy SAS Plus, which is more expensive than KLM comfort, but it’s also so much more! It’s an entire class between economy and business, and it gives you perks like priority checkin, boarding etc., a seat which offers more legroom, recline *and* a foot rest bar, which helps enormously in finding a comfortable sleeping position. You also get a proper blanket, better meals and steel cutlery. And, it gives you more bonus points than the regular economy ticket, whereas KLM’s comfort seats offer no award miles. SAS Plus is often acceptable even in companies with a strict economy class policy, and it’s a great compromise perkwise.
  • If you do have to sit in the bottom of the hierarchy, the dreaded economy class, KLM offers better comfort than SAS. Their entertainment system and movie selection is much better, and the seats are slightly more comfortable. Note that this only applies to KLM, and not to Air France or Delta, which are other Flying Blue partners I’ve had the misfortune to travel with. For Star Alliance, I haven’t flown other airlines than SAS.

Conclusion

Based on my experience, SAS/Eurobonus is a much better loyalty program than KLM/Flying Blue, with far greater value for money, and much better usability.

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