Revisiting the Delta Head Start and making sense of Flying Blue’s award calendar

A while back I wrote about something I called the “Delta Head Start,” which is when you can take advantage of Delta’s 11-month booking window to grab award space on SkyTeam partners. Specifically, since Flying Blue only opens up award booking 10 months in advance, there’s a one month head start where KLM and Air France award seats aren’t available to Flying Blue’s members. I had a couple screenshots as proof, and availability between SFO and CDG was wide open on Air France if booked through Delta.

I wanted to revisit the head start by looking at a closer booking window, so I compared the Delta and Flying Blue award calendars for SFO-AMS for the month of May, and what came back is kind of interesting. This isn’t some big news flash that I expect to get me a bunch of traffic, but now that Flying Blue is a transfer partner of the three main credit card rewards programs, it’s probably good to understand its idiosyncratic award calendar. I’m sure I’m not uncovering every weird quirk here either, so the overarching piece of advice I’d offer is to go as far into the booking process as Flying Blue will let you before transferring points, since phantom availability is a real problem.

One other takeaway: if you happen to need to get between San Francisco and Europe in May, you have options for days. Between the Star Alliance partner availability on SAS and Austrian and now this on Sky Team, this must be some kind of golden age of transatlantic business class availability we’re living in. While the screenshots in this post are only for one seat, bumping the search up to 3 seats still shows quite a bit of open space.

Okay, now on to the Delta calendar to see what’s become of the head start.

deltacal

All of the 70k awards are on Delta, so any of that partner availability that you would have been able to find during the head start window has long since evaporated. There’s still pretty decent availability on Delta, though, and given that the vast majority of Air France and KLM availability are on planes without all-aisle-access business class seats, it may not bum you out too much to be stuck with Delta. But, if you’re trying to use Skymiles to book partner award seats, this would suggest that you’re better off booking early rather than waiting.

Now let’s look at the same timeframe over at Flying Blue. From the fuel surcharges, you can generally decode what the calendar is showing you with a little legwork. I’ve gone ahead and added a logo for each day where there’s saver availability so you can see whose metal you’re actually flying on (Delta is usually via MSP or SEA, and Air France is of course via CDG).

flyingblue

Personally this is a tad disappointing to me, since I’m weirdly obsessed with flying KLM’s new business class, and even though this search is for SFO-AMS, there’s precious little space on KLM’s direct flight. A couple other interesting things – with the exception of May 8th and 9th, the Delta availability on this calendar matches Delta’s calendar above. However, all the days of Air France and KLM availability come up without any level-1 availability over at Delta. Again this lends credence to my head start theory, since it looks like Flying Blue releases a bunch of partner space to Delta in a block way in advance and then holds additional seats for its own members. Most of the Air France days actually have space for up to four people, so that’s a lot of seats that they’re hoarding for their own members.

What about May 8th and 9th? On the 8th, we have the dreaded phantom availability, since the fuel surcharge would indicate availability on Delta. However, clicking through to choose your flight shows only availability on Air France. On the 9th, there actually is availability on Delta, making this one of the rare days where Delta saver space is available to Flying Blue members but not to Skymiles folks.

As a disclaimer, I’ll acknowledge that you can’t really learn any universal truth from looking at a one-month booking window between only two cities, but this exercise did demonstrate to me how it’s possible to look a little closer into Flying Blue’s award results to see what they’re actually showing you. It’s also useful to compare Flying Blue and Delta over a particular date range, since Delta’s calendar can identify potential phantom availability hot spots on the Flying Blue side.

I should also admit that I have a bunch of Flying Blue miles due to an ill-advised points transfer from Citibank, since I thought I would be booking an award to Amsterdam before finding out that the space wasn’t actually available. The fact that I have a 5-figure balance now has made me especially interested in figuring out how best to leverage those points, since I don’t really have a choice. What has your experience with Flying Blue been like? Any horror stores? The one time I actually used them to book a flight, it went fine – it was short hop from AMS to CDG, and I was surprised that the very reasonable cost in miles even included advance seat assignment and a checked bag, which improved the value-per-point over booking with cash.

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