Travelers who jumped on the business class points deal of a lifetime – 13,500 miles to fly lie-flat to Croatia, 5,000 miles to Provence in France, and some even cheaper – were waking up Monday to see their Air France and KLM tickets had been canceled. And the head of the airlines' loyalty program himself confirmed it, faulting a technical glitch for deals that were “too good to be true.”
That's a good phrase for some of the lowest award rates we've ever seen flying business class through May 2024 from several Canadian cities to…
- Athens (ATH) for 16,500 miles each way in KLM or Air France business class
- Zagreb (ZAG) for 13,500 miles each way
- A lie-flat seat, then a train ride, to Provence (QXB) in France for just 5,000 miles
- … or an unbelievable 1,500 miles each way to Lille in France in business class
No matter which route you choose, that's a fraction of the 50,000 miles each way that Air France/KLM Flying Blue typically charges to fly overseas in business class. And while it was only available from select Canadian cities like Montreal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ), and Ottawa (YOW), those unbelievably cheap rates were easily worth booking a separate positioning flight north of the border.
We sent several emails and even text message alerts to our Thrifty Traveler Premium members, urging them to quickly transfer the points and book immediately, then hold tight as there's no telling whether airlines will honor deals this good or not. The deals disappeared within a matter of hours – if not minutes – but not before word spread like wildfire to dozens of sites, social media posts, and beyond. Thousands upon thousands of travelers likely booked.
Then the waiting began…
It didn't take long for bad news to come. By Sunday, travelers who booked the cheapest award deals to France saw their flights had been canceled. On Monday, those who booked even the pricier business class awards to Croatia and Greece (including yours truly) saw the same.
The head of Air France/KLM Flying Blue has confirmed nearly all these tickets will be canceled. Ben Lipsey, a senior vice president with the airlines and frequent source of solid information on Flyertalk forums, posted Monday morning to confirm that mass cancellations were underway, officially labeling it a mistake fare.
He faulted a “technical glitch affecting some city pairs” for selling one-way business class awards that should have been no cheaper than 37,500 miles for as low as just 1,500 miles, plus $240 or more in taxes and fees. That applies to everything from the cheapest, 1,500-mile fares to France to the 16,500-mile redemptions to Athens and everything in between.
“Your miles and taxes will be refunded, and we will be sending out an email to those affected this week,” Lipsey wrote. In a follow-up, Lipsey added that refunds should be processed by this week.
There's just one exception: Lipsey said the airline will honor all but the cheapest fares booked by travelers who have racked up Flying Blue Gold status or higher with Air France or KLM “in recognition of their loyalty.” Unfortunately, that won't extend to travelers who have SkyTeam Elite Plus status from another airline program like Delta Medallion Status.
It's an unfortunate outcome for travelers who booked big trips for next year – especially those who transferred credit card points to do so, as those points will all but certainly be stuck with Flying Blue. But in the unpredictable world of mistake fares, you win some … and you lose some.
Mistake fares have become rarer and rarer over the years as airlines have tightened up their systems to catch pricing errors before they even hit the internet. And unfortunately, regulators have given airlines broad leeway to cancel fares sold at mistakenly low prices – or even points rates, apparently.
In Canada, where all these Air France and KLM deals departed from, aviation regulators have given airlines the all-clear to cancel error fares so long as they:
- Notify customers that their tickets have been canceled within 72 hours of becoming aware of the fare
- Or, if it was a fairly last-minute booking, notify customers that their tickets have been canceled at least 24 hours in advance
- Refund the entire cost of the ticket
Really, it's up to airlines to decide which is worse: Losing all the additional revenue they could have made by selling tickets at full price? Or sacrificing goodwill among consumers who jumped on a great deal expecting it to be honored?
Air France/KLM is one of the few carriers to take option B and cancel tickets en masse in recent years.
Travelers who booked earlier mistake fares from 2023 like a $229 roundtrip ticket to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) or United Polaris business class to London-Heathrow (LHR) for under $900 roundtrip all flew without a hitch. The same goes for some unbelievable errors in years past like $62 roundtrip tickets to Santiago (SCL) in Chile or a roundtrip business class fare to Thailand, Vietnam, and beyond for under $650.
This is a developing story, check back for updates and more guidance.