Cheap(er) KLM flight tickets

While writing this I am somewhere above Russia on a flight from Shanghai to Amsterdam. After writing my last post about the problems I had to book a ticket on the KLM site my assistant finally managed to get me a seat on today’s flight. The economy class is still reasonably full (probably 60-70%), but the business class is almost deserted. There you really see the impact of the financial crisis, these planes used to be packed – both economy and business class.

My original plan had been to only fly to Europe once this month, for a short 4-day trip at the end of the month for a visit to Spil Games and to do three speaking engagements (at a “China Tafel” dinner at the Industrieele Groote Club in Amsterdam, at the Mediapark Jaarcongres (a media conference) and at the Nationale Marketingdag (National Marketing Day)). But because my grandmother died a few days ago I decided to go back this week as well for two days to attend her funeral.

When I tried to book the tickets for my late-June trip to Holland a couple of weeks ago the price was over RMB 16,000, which I found way too expensive. I decide to wait and see if the price would come down and worst case I would use another (cheaper) airline, although I did not really want to waste time by transferring to a different plane (KLM is the only airline with direct flights from Shanghai to Amsterdam) on such a short trip. When I checked the price for the 2-day trip this week I also got a price quote of more than RMB 16,000, which I found way too expensive. Sure, I would pay it if I had to, but there had to be a cheaper solution.

And indeed I found one: I combined the two trips and booked a ticket Shanghai-Amsterdam-Shanghai, with the date for the first leg today and the return flight at the end of June after my speaking gigs. The other ticket I booked was Amsterdam-Shanghai-Amsterdam, with departure date in two day and a return flight in late June for my second trip. Amazingly the total of the 2 flights was less than the price of just 1 of the original flights! Sure, there are more restrictions, but I don’t care. The original ticket was only available without restrictions, even though I would have preferred a cheaper restricted ticket.

Also I only get 25% of my miles instead of 100%, but even that’s not a big deal. At several occasions I tried to change my miles for flights, but I never succeeded. I think I have over 500,000 miles in my account that are basically worthless. I have the feeling KLM is trying to phase out its Flying Blue rewards program, only for expensive full-fare tickets you still get full miles and you lose them if you do not fly enough. In case you speak Dutch, read this article in De Telegraaf as well, which states that KLM is chasing away its loyal customers (especially the comments show what KLM frequent flyers think about the airline!).

I learned one thing: if I should do another short trip to Holland this year and the price is again so high, I am going to book two tickets like I did now. Even if I would not use the second leg on both tickets, it would still be cheaper. The KLM likely won’t give me any miles if I don’t take the return flights, but if you only get 25% anyway you might as well go down to 0 miles. Does any of my readers know if this strategy could somehow backfire? I mean, KLM will not be happy with an extra no-show, but is there anything else they could do?

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  1. I think they are just doing it wrong, loyalty-program wise. I've been with Air Canada's Aeroplan for a while now, and even restricted tickets (with the exception of perhaps a class or 2) on every Star Alliance carrier gets me 100% points. They're head and shoulders above most other programmes I'm in, and certainly blow asian airlines' programmes out of the water.

    I've exchanged points for more than 8 free flights on a variety of airlines (none of them were Air Canada, too) in just the last 2 years.

    I'm aware that KLM is not in Star Alliance, but there are differences in how the loyalty programmes are handled by each airline in one same alliance. All you gotta do is sign up for the most advantageous program within the alliance you usually ending flying the most, even if it's not the actual _airline_ itself that you fly the most.

  2. As for the no-show on your idea… I don't see what they could do. You paid the ticket and you don't show up, that's your problem. If the booking fares make it so that it's cheaper for you to do that, that's their problem!

  3. your strategy is used often by many frequent flyers.
    fyi, a great source on maximizing flight/hotel miles and how to successfully spend your FB miles, check out that forum has saved me a lot of RMB/$/EUR on flights as well as helping me maintain my plat. and gold status with skyteam and star alliance.

  4. Please not it is really getting a bit crazy. Now I see that you may fly sometimes, but are a absolut beginner by handling the bookings.

    OK Mr. Advocate will help you 🙂

    Most two-way-tickets are cheaper. Again no a specific KLM problem. Same at Lufthansa, Cathay, SG Air.

    You do not need to cancel a flight but it will be fair to contact the airline in front. Artikel 6.

    At some airlines you can sell your return flight under special rules. A lot of germans did sell their tickets inside for example. All you need to do is some paperwork by fax.

    How may miles do you have? Why dont you have your own sales rep. at the airline? I do have and they do everything, never had problem. But have to say I am in this case not talking about KLM, but about Sing Air and Star. All.

  5. @yannick Signing up with another partner indeed makes sense. Will check out what kind of miles I would get with other partners in the KLM partnership (e.g. Northwest and maybe even Delta)

    @anonymouse Thanks for the tips, I had no idea you could sell tickets again to other people. Seems like an interesting business idea, not difficult to set up a site for this.

    Don't think KLM would give me a sales rep, I am not flying that much. I have been a platinum or gold member for the past 13 years, but that's nothing special. It would make for a positive KLM blog post though 🙂

  6. Good idea to buy overlapping tickets when you fly frequently and stay for short periods. My plan is to visit the Netherlands only once every 2 years; too bad I cannot use any tricks to fly cheaper 🙂

  7. Look at this if we talk about fairness and service:

    Why is a direct flight by using expedia for example arround 200 Euro more expensive as a stopover flight plus bring-to flight???

    I simulate the bookings and here is what I copy & paste from the booking sites (both expedia):

    AMS-PVG-AMS (direct flight)
    Tue 16-Jun
    Duration: 10hr 30mn
    21:15 Depart Amsterdam (AMS)
    Arrive Shanghai (PVG) 13:45
    Flight Number 893

    Backflight on the 06/23/09
    Flight Number 896

    Price for the direct flight:
    735,10 EURO

    DUS-LHR-DUS (different carrier)
    Tue 16-Jun
    Duration: 19hr 0mn
    11:45 Depart London (LHR)
    Arrive Shanghai (PVG) 13:45
    Flightnr. AMS-PVG 893

    Backflight on the 06/23/09
    Flightnumber 896 and so on

    Price for the stopover flight?
    387,10 Pounds (ca. 450 Euro )
    Price for DUS-LHR-DUS: 79 Euro

    It is crazy. To be arround 5 hours more in the air is arround 200 Euro cheaper only because of the stopover? And if you only compare the KLM flight arround 300 Euro cheaper? Yes in this example the stopover on the flight to Shanghai is a bit long, but back it is only 3 hours more. Anyone can buy a lot of things for 200 Euro or 300 Euro inside a Airport by waiting I think…..maybe that will help the shops to earn…:)

    But sure that is also not a KLM problem. It was only a example. If you want to fly and to save money you need a good assistant.

  8. Good example, but most business travelers would not take a flight with a 5-hour stopover (one way) if the price difference is only EUR 200-300. The difference has to be higher to compensate the lost time while traveling, plus you are much more tired with a longer flight + stop-over.

    Airlines know this, that's why business class tickets are so expensive: it is often worth it to pay a lot more to arrive well rested at your destination. On my current trip I am only 48 hours in Europe. I someone would give me EUR 300 cash for spending an additional 8-10 hours on planes or airports (plus the additional hassle involved) I would not take it.

  9. Yesterday also tried for my flight booking to Amsterdam end of August. At first things seemed to work but non of the payment options (3) worked. The next day, tried again during china office hours a couple times, the booking service was unavailable on the chinese side of KLM. Now booked with 5000RMB incl. That is 400RMB cheaper then with KLM direct. I am happy with my booking now but as a sales/marketing person I can not understand a company can allow themselves to run such a bad website. To me KLM does not deserve to be in business.