Air France vs. Delta: A Miles Showdown

Over the past few years I have traveled a fair amount on Air France and its partner Delta back and forth from Paris to various cities on the East Coast (ATL, IAD, JFK, PHL, BOS, MIA). As a result I have racked up a few miles, especially on my Delta account which has been boosted by domestic travel as well. In the past I have used these miles to buy transatlantic flights (and usually just as soon as I had enough I spent them!). Most recently however, I was booking a flight from Paris to Washington Dulles on Air France for this summer. The flights were outrageously expensive, well over $1200 for economy. I decided I would try to use my miles to cut the costs. The Air France site said the flight would cost 55000 miles round trip. Currently my Air France account has a measly 8000 miles but if I could combine my Delta miles (30000) with my American Express points (30000) then I would be home free for this flight right? WRONG! Although Delta and Air France are partners and it is possible to book flights for one through the other, frequent flier miles are not transferrable between the two airlines. Not to worry I thought, surely it will be the same price in miles on the Delta site. Wrong again. Not only was the Delta site especially cryptic about how many miles were needed for the flight (dates were blocked in low, medium, and high prices rather than actual number prices like on the Air France site) but when I finally found my desired flight it was priced at 90000 miles. Of course there were one or two stop flights that were going for 75000 miles a pop but nothing came close to the price of the non-stop flight on Air France.

What is the reason for this huge price discrepancy? I called a Delta rep to ask. Apparently Air France offers Delta awards seats on all its flights, but depending on Air France availability the cost in miles can be much greater when reserved through Delta. Between the huge economic hit of the Icelandic volcano and the bailout of Greece, Spain, and Portugal, the European Union is having some, shall we say “issues”, and the travel industry has suffered enormously. What’s more is that the very appealing dollar/euro exchange rate has enticed more summer travelers to Europe driving up the cost of flights. The airlines cut their supply to save money after the volcano just when the value of the euro dropped and demand for flights multiplied.

It appears as though my best bet would be to start booking all my transatlantic flights through Air France with my FlyingBlue account. That way fewer miles would get me farther. The problem is, when I fly domestically, I have to use my Delta account to earn those miles. So for the day that I ever decide to leave France and return to the green pastures of Virginia, it’s in my best interest to keep a fat and happy Delta account. And what do I do with my miles already on Air France? Keep accumulating on flights within Europe and use them for a trip to Corsica next summer!

Tip 1: It is not possible to combine your Air France and Delta miles, so stick with one and rack them up! If your flying is limited to transatlantic crossings and flights within Europe, then Air France is the program for you. If you still travel a good deal in the U.S. then pick Delta.

Tip 2: Keep track of your American Express points. Each point is equal to one frequent flier mile. If you log in online you can link up your American Express points with any of your frequent flier programs and directly transfer as many points as you like. And remember, though American Express points may not be used to bump up your mileage level (and thus grant you elite status), they won’t expire, unlike regular miles.

Tip 3: Regardless of which awards program you choose, cut costs by checking out the French version of your preferred airline. If you usually book through www.airfrance.us, try www.airfrance.fr. Oftentimes flights listed on the U.S. site as more expensive than those on the French site. And with the most recent exchange rates, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that a 500 euro flight is now equal to $617 compared with $750 of last fall.

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