Earning Points in JetBlue’s Complicated New TrueBlue Program (Part 1)

While Southwest’s acquisition attempt of Frontier was getting all the press last week, JetBlue quietly started emailing their TrueBlue members about a relaunch of the program on September 27. When I spoke with CEO Dave Barger in March, he assured me that it would be “a best-in-class frequent flier program. It’s going to be very customer relevant.” Is he right? I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s really complicated.

I was planning on writing about the program in one post, but it started getting long and unruly. So, I’ve broken it down. Today I’m writing about the earning side of the program and tomorrow I’ll talk about the redemption side.

Let’s start with the old program. As a reminder, the last program gave you 2 points for a short haul trip, 4 points for a medium haul trip, and 6 points for a long haul trip. You got double points if you used jetblue.com and the only award was a free roundtrip ticket for 100 points. Pretty simple, yes, but pretty restrictive as well. Your points expired in 12 months regardless of your activity, and there were blackouts, inventory controls, and other restrictions.

The new program looks a lot like Virgin America’s in that it’s a spend-based program with varying redemption levels. You now earn 3 points for every $1 you spend on JetBlue or 6 points if you book at JetBlue.com. Well, sort of. It’s based on the amount of money you spend on the base fare, so taxes are excluded. Uh, well, some taxes are excluded. When you go to JetBlue.com, this is what you see:

JetBlue Availability Display

That number at left is $39 and that’s what they consider the base fare. Technically, that’s the base fare plus a federal 7.5% excise tax that you rarely see broken out, but JetBlue will use that to determine points. You’ll end up paying $49.60 for that ticket once all the other taxes and fees are added in, but the $39 is what the earning will be based on. That means you get 234 points if you book on their site or 117 if you book elsewhere.

That’s not too tough, right? But now we have to talk about the bonuses. When I was first doing the math, this didn’t seem to be even remotely generous but that’s when I noticed that they have two types of bonuses you can get.

First they have the Go Big Bonus. This one rewards those who spend a lot. Instead of trying to explain it, I’ll just show you the grid they put out:

JetBlue Go Big Bonus

There’s also the Go Long Bonus. If you take 5 long haul roundtrip flights (each segment must be over 2,000 miles) within 12 months, then you get a 10,000 point bonus. So this one is to reward those who fly long hauls a lot, regardless of how much they spend.

Oh, and by the way, if you use the JetBlue Amex card, then you earn 1 point for every dollar you spend, but you earn 2 points when you buy JetBlue flights. So if you use your JetBlue Amex to buy tickets at JetBlue.com, you earn 8 points per dollar. Whew. My head just exploded.

Do you see how ridiculously complicated this is? I like to pride myself on breaking things down into more manageable explanations, but I’m having a lot of trouble here. Heck, I’m having trouble just understanding it myself.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the redemption side. We actually know very little about it so far, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to get some more info before the post goes live.


41 Responses to Earning Points in JetBlue’s Complicated New TrueBlue Program (Part 1)

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    Do airlines really want the public to be able to understand their program rules?

    Any program that you lose the points/miles after 12 months is only meant for the real die hard travelers, so it keeps their computer clean of the once or twice traveler crownd that make up the majority of their passengers. After all, that’s why it’s called a frequent flier program. But that can be annoying if you are so close to an award right when the 1 year is up. But then again their hope is you would spend money on a quick trip to reach that award lever before they expirer.

  2. David says:

    While a FF programme based on spend is better than one based on miles, it should really be based on ticket profitability. If that US$70 short haul ticket costs the airline US$50 to operate, the airline should give out miles based on the US$20 difference. If that US$200 long haul ticket costs US$120 to operate, the customer should be credited with US$80 of miles.

    Follow this approach, and there is no need to stipulate Go Big or Go Long bonuses – the airline ends up rewarding the customers who help its profit figures, rather than those who just represent turnover.

  3. CF says:

    David SF – That was the old program. The new program lets you keep your miles as long as you’re active once every 12 months.

    David – It should be based on profitability, but that’s even more complicated for the customer to understand. It’s really a tough sell, I think, though it is the right way to do it.

  4. Ember says:

    Do you know if the JetBlue AMEX cardholders get that ‘Go Big Bonus’ too?

  5. CF says:

    Ember – Nope, AMEX points don’t count for that. You do get the 6 points per dollar on flight spend if you book at Jetblue.com but that’s the only bonus you can get to qualify for the Go Big Bonus.

  6. JK says:

    Does any of us expect companies in this industry to make anything simple? Fares? What may or may not constitute a delayed flight? Mileage/points accrual and redemption? And, on and on!

    Good to see UA announce that it has come up with a “new/improved” plan for yet another Chase/Mileage Plus card, actually three cards, each with its own minimal(?) annual fee, mileage/segment/points accrual rules, and invitation to a not-recently-closed Red Carpet Club.

  7. Jason H says:

    While the plan isn’t as simple as it could be at bare minimum, I think it is a vast improvement over some programs. While I am a DL, AA and UA frequent flyer member, all of their programs become unnecessarily complicated and rely too much on credit card, hotel, rental car, etc, etc, etc miles. I would happily take just miles for the value of my tickets. So in that respect Virgin America and JetBlue are at least moving in the right direction. Now if only they flew outside of the country or had decent code-shares or interline agreements.

  8. gtrjay says:

    This is so confusing. Why not keep it simple?

  9. CF says:

    Jason H – Partners are coming soon

  10. What I’m amazed at is that they don’t describe “sample” fliers. Its one of those things I want to pull out an excel spreadsheet and start modeling, but I think B6 should’ve done this for us already..

  11. Ron says:

    David, Cranky — How would you even calculate which customer is profitable? Cost per passenger is lower on a full flight than on a half-full flight. Passengers won’t be happy with earning based on how full a flight is (especially those few who end up in the middle seat on, say, a 70% full flight).

    Also, I’m not quite sure I agree that the cheaper fares are less profitable. The whole model of airline pricing is built on a mix of high and low fares — business class only airlines don’t seem to work very well. So the lower fares are also profitable compared to the marginal cost. Now how do you calculate marginal profitability? That’s even more difficult than profitability.

    The whole point of loyalty programs is to attract people to your airline even when price/schedule/comfort/service would make them choose some other option (including non-air travel or no travel at all — or, on the other hand, a cheaper seat on the same flight they’re going to take anyway). So loyalty programs should in principle reward those travelers who have better options. Now how do you figure that out?

  12. OAG says:

    Hey Cranky,

    You forgot about double point Wednesdays and the nite-owl bonus if you book between 1AM and 4AM EST.

  13. CF says:

    Ron – Well that’s the problem with profitability. It’s ideal from the airline’s point of view but it’s not going to make for a very customer friendly program. JetBlue is trying to get closer with dollar-based rewards, but the problem there is that someone who pays $100 should get more if they fly on a 500 mile flight than a 2,500 mile flight (from the airline’s perspective). It just spirals out of control, and you never get to the answer.

    I’m talking more about the program tomorrow now that I’ve had the chance to speak with the guy behind this at JetBlue. I worry that JetBlue has made this too complicated even though it has some really interesting aspects to it. That can get drowned out if people have too much trouble understanding it. We’ll see.

  14. In my mind, one of the simplest schemes is Air New Zealand’s Airpoints Dollars. I am not sure how the collection of points is calculated, but the rewards part of the programme is very simple – basically, if you have $300 Airpoints Dollars, you have $300 to spend on a ticket. From what I understand, there are no restrictions on which tickets you can buy or times you can buy them – they are simply like a voucher.

  15. DRG says:

    I don’t really think it matters how complicated it is. Most people don’t calculate their own points, they follow their account via statements or a program Web site.

  16. Dan says:

    CF,

    Could you elaborate on how you would calculate profitability? Ron brings up a good point, which you acknowledge is “a problem” but that it is ideal from the airlines’ point of view. If calculating it is a problem, then why is it ideal?

  17. CF says:

    Dan – In a perfect profitability-measuring scheme, you would have to probably wait until after the fact when you actually could view profitability. Of course, cost allocations make that a murky measure anyway, so it’s not perfect.

    The way I would set it up requires a change in the way airlines sell travel. I think the point per dollar scheme works well, but it doesn’t account for the varying trip lengths. So the way to do that is to have a multiplier for each different bucket. Air Canada and Frontier can do this – the lowest fare could get 1 point per dollar, the next lowest gets 2 points per dollar, and so on.

  18. Pingback: Keep Frequent Flyer Programs Simple!

  19. David SFeastbay says:

    Cranky in this blog from Aug 3 you said the new JetBlue program “….looks a lot like Virgin America’s”.

    Is there something brewing between JetBlue and Virgin America? This morning Virgin America announced in November they would be starting service between SFO-FLL and LAX-FLL with 2 daily nonstops between each city pair.

    So what does JetBlue announce in the afternoon, you guessed it, nonstop service between SFO-FLL starting in November with 1 daily flight between the two cities.

    Is JetBlue trying to wage war against Virgin America?

  20. CF says:

    David SF – I think the move today is clearly aimed at Virgin America but the frequent flier program thing is probably just an agreement that they like the model. Let’s talk about this more tomorrow.

  21. DJD says:

    I like the current program for it’s simplicity and my points don’t expire as long as I earn a few point a year using my AMEX. Since you won’t be able to extend the expiration “old” points with AMEX activity, it looks like they are trying to wipe these points off their books (points = liability) and why they will allow converting “new” point to “old”, but not “old” to “new.” I just charge quite a bit on my AMEX too and these will be “old” point. If I realized this change was coming sooner, I would have used my CapitalOne card until all the details of the program were disclosed.

  22. Christoph says:

    I wonder what happened to the idea to integrate JetBlue more into Lufthansa and his Miles&More program. Any words and information about this?

  23. CF says:

    Christoph wrote:

    I wonder what happened to the idea to integrate JetBlue more into Lufthansa and his Miles&More program. Any words and information about this?

    It’s coming. JetBlue tells me that they’re working on partnerships now, and Lufthansa is on that list.

  24. Steve says:

    I just contacted jetblue with the following statement:

    I have shared this concern before with the new true blue program before, but nothing came of it at all. I am comparing the validity of the old true blue program to the new one and the so called “benefits” that come along with it.

    The point earning process has changed completely and in no way has it gotten ANY better. My fiance and I travel to Puerto Rico quite often and LOVE the jet blue program and flights. Before, flying would earn us a total of 24 points (that was 24% of an award flight) which was amazing. That and we have the jet blue amex card to add points on top. We would earn a free flight in about 4 months (we travel at least once every 2 months). And even on that the award flight would cost a total of 5$ round trip. Never had a complaint, until now with the new award system.

    Now with point earning based on cost of a flight, we would earn (say an average flight would cost $149), we would earn a total of 2,384 points on a round trip flight (booking on jetblue.com with my amex). With a $149 flight each way, round trip would cost 22,200 points, that would only earn us about 10.7% of an award flight. Also the fee’s are now $44.20 as opposed to the $5 it used to be.

    For the amex card points, say we earned 3200 award dollars, which was 16 points, so that was 16% of a free flight on a flight costing 149$ each way. Now a flight would cost 22,200 points round trip, those 3200 points would give us 14.4% of a free flight.

    Prior, a free flight would grant us a range from whatever low price up to $149 flight (I even think it went to $159 as well). Now, we earn less and the flight will cost us more. I understand you are doing this point system for the better good of the people, but I sincerely fail to see how this point system helps the frequent customer like myself or my fiance.

    There are the bonus’s that you can reach when you accumulate only account for points earned for the actual flight. The amex points and purchases are disregarded completely. So these points only add up well until you surpass the 6000 point value on flight’s ONLY.

    I am sorry for ranting about this, I have done the math and I have a LOT of calculations done in front of me to try to prove what I am thinking wrong, but I just can’t do it. Please tell me I am missing something in what I am looking at. Or at least open my eyes to what this service should be providing that I am in complete shade with.

    Alright, as you can see i’m pissed… lol. The new point system completely fucks me along with the additional fee’s they added to the flights. So maybe you guys can shed some light on the subject for me, what do you think?

  25. Yuby says:

    Steve, we are on the same boat…i just got off the phone with jetblue and couldn’t even get through to the TRUEBLUE program their wait time is 50 minutes (i guess alot of people have concerns) especially the frequent flyers who fly with jetblue because of cheap flights and the program awards…I am looking to fly soon and my flight would cost me $500 (which I would normally get 24 pts for ) now is equivalent to 3,000 points and when converted to the old points I am only getting 15 pts…I am being cheated 9 points towards my reward.

    My question is this why can’t we convert old points to new points? Also can we purchase points and convert them to old points and have the “no black out dates” condition apply? This would be our best shot at keeping our current points profitable.

    @ Steve:
    @ Steve:

  26. Steve says:

    Doesn’t matter.. it is what is is. Here’s the GENERIC reply i got ONCE AGAIN from jet blue:

    Hello Stephen,

    Thank you for contacting JetBlue Airways regarding our Newer Truer, TrueBlue program. We thank you
    for the opportunity to address your concerns. Our new TrueBlue program was designed with our
    customers best interest in mind. We created a program that was not only flexible unlike the old one
    and a program that has plentiful options for our customers. There are now seats offered on all
    flights in all markets on all dates.

    TrueBlue points are now earned based off of dollars spent. This allows our customers to earn points
    on a larger scale. Award flights are similar in the way that flights are subject to change. Price
    points for Awards may vary between markets, flights and dates depending on popularity, time of year,
    and availability of the flight.

    We understand the frustration in this transition; However we do encourage you to participate in the
    program. For anyone who will be traveling JetBlue, we are confident that they will find good use of
    this program. One thing that we are really excited about is TrueBlue points will be extended each
    time you fly with JetBlue and not just when you spend on your JetBlue American Express. This means
    as long as you fly at least once with in a rolling year, that your points will never expire.

    We do appreciate the feedback and will make sure your suggestions are noted. If you have questions
    regarding the new program please feel free to ask.

    Regards,

    Dina
    TrueBlue Customer Service Crew
    JetBlue Airways
    Crewmember 81603

  27. cheated says:

    The company is screwing people with the magazine offer for old true blue points…they dont tell you if you click on it all the points are transferred to a host company…I lost all my points, spoke airline they dont care :-(

  28. marc says:

    One point I would like to make about JetBlue’s new program is the actual number of points required for a free flight seems to always be more than 10,000 points. I am seeing roundtrip from Washington to San Juan starting at 20,000 points for a roundtrip ticket. At 6 points per dollar spent that is over $3000 I would have to spend to achieve those points (excluding bonus miles). I just paid $225.00 RT for this same trip. “Roundtrip Award flights starting at 10,000 points” is like the ONE car the dealer has on the lot at a particular low-ball price.
    JetBlue told me the new points equate to 1/200 of the old points. So if you have 90 old points, you would need to use or buy 2,000 new points to earn two True Passes for a RT ticket. Does anyone know if they will issue one-way tickets for 50 “old points?”

  29. CF says:

    marc wrote:

    One point I would like to make about JetBlue’s new program is the actual number of points required for a free flight seems to always be more than 10,000 points. I am seeing roundtrip from Washington to San Juan starting at 20,000 points for a roundtrip ticket. At 6 points per dollar spent that is over $3000 I would have to spend to achieve those points (excluding bonus miles). I just paid $225.00 RT for this same trip. “Roundtrip Award flights starting at 10,000 points” is like the ONE car the dealer has on the lot at a particular low-ball price.
    JetBlue told me the new points equate to 1/200 of the old points. So if you have 90 old points, you would need to use or buy 2,000 new points to earn two True Passes for a RT ticket. Does anyone know if they will issue one-way tickets for 50 “old points?”

    It’s based on distance, so I imagine that Washington to New York or maybe Boston would qualify for the 10,000 point roundtrip on some days.

  30. Steve says:

    Yea sorry, it’s not based on distance AT ALL. It USED to be based on distance, now it’s the COST of the flight.

    Do the math, make an effort and actually research it. The cost of the flight reflects how many points you need to get it for free.

    The only way you could really take advantage of this program is to 1) book ON jetblue.com, 2) have a jet blue amex and use it for EVERY purchase.

    The old system was great, the new one sucks. You can transfer your old points to the new system and get your one way probably. click old system on your profile and look at the step by step things there. Have fun!

  31. CF says:

    Steve wrote:

    Do the math, make an effort and actually research it. The cost of the flight reflects how many points you need to get it for free.

    Are you seriously going to tell me to do the research after I’ve written two incredibly long posts on this topic? Maybe I should have elaborated further. It is spend-based, but there is a natural correlation between spend and distance. So what I should have said is that it likely needs to be a shorter, and therefore cheaper, haul to get the lowest amount.

    It does you no good to get snippy here.

  32. Steve says:

    First off I was correcting you because you stated what you thought was the answer and it wasn’t. And no there is no correlation between spend and distance.

    Do me a favor, go on jetblue.com and look at flights right now from New York to San Juan Puerto Rico. Now go to christmas for the same flight.

    Go ahead and tell me that there is a natural correlation between the cost of a flight and the actual distance.

    3 things factor into the cost of your flight. 1) distance, 2) time of the day and 3) the date.

    I can take a 4 hour flight to puerto rico at 3am and have it be cheaper than flying a 3 hour from new york to florida.

    Again, please do some research before you post your OPINION. And apparently it does “me good” to get snippy to prove you wrong. I say to do some research and make an effort to show you actually did this, because everything you state has no backing other than what you think is. You spoke to somebody there, you think this you think that. Do the math, do the research.

    Enjoy

  33. CF says:

    Oh boy, I see how this is gonna be. This will be my last response to you. Feel free to have the last word if you prefer.

    Steve wrote:

    First off I was correcting you because you stated what you thought was the answer and it wasn’t.

    There is nothing wrong with correcting me. I just ask that you don’t snipe and instead have a regular discussion. All opinions are welcome here, so there’s no need to get pissy.

    And no there is no correlation between spend and distance.
    Do me a favor, go on jetblue.com and look at flights right now from New York to San Juan Puerto Rico. Now go to christmas for the same flight.
    Go ahead and tell me that there is a natural correlation between the cost of a flight and the actual distance.
    3 things factor into the cost of your flight. 1) distance, 2) time of the day and 3) the date.

    You have now contradicted yourself. You say there is no correlation between spend and distance, yet you say that distance is a factor in the cost of the flight. The reality is that distance is absolutely correlated with spend. It is not a 1 for 1 relationship by any means, but in general, longer flights will cost more. That doesn’t mean that a 4 hour flight can’t be cheaper than a 3 hour flight, but it does mean that a flight from Washington to New York is likely to be cheaper than Washington to San Juan.

  34. Steve says:

    Yea i’m done too. I’ll go ahead and cancel this subscription. You state one thing than state the completely opposite. Enough is enough.

  35. craig says:

    the new system sucks i take 20 flights a yr with jetblue what used to take me appx 6 round trips to earn a free tickt will now takes appx 12 round trips so who is really benifiting from this i guess delta will since i will not fly jet blue anymore

  36. catty says:

    I’m completely unhappy with the new system. I used to accumulate points pretty quickly by flying and by my AMEX, but now I spend literally 10s of thousands of dollars on my AMEX (I use it for everything, including massive vet bills), and have found that it only adds up to a single free flight that I could actually afford without the points. The best part of the old program was that you could pretty much book any flight that was available, regardless of how much it might cost without the pass. Now, I basically can get only a cheap flight free after spending quite a bit of money, which really doesn’t do me all that much good. I fly a lot between NYC and Salt Lake City, and it requires 55,000 points for some of the return trip flights, which almost all have 2 layovers or are red-eyes. The system is not merely too complicated, but clearly just a marketing ploy with rhetoric designed to make people think it’s better for them when it’s basically cheating them out of the deal they used to get. My loyalty to JetBlue is waning quickly.

  37. Marcus says:

    @ catty:

    I calculated it will take me double the number of points,
    which mostly I got from the jetblue blue amex card.

    I am starting to look other airline loyalty programs.
    I might switch to a hotel loyalty program instead.

    A round trip that took 100 points now takes approv 22,500 points.
    But also amex dollars are translating to 3 points to a dollar when
    spent on non-jetblue purchases when they should be 6 points to the
    dollar.
    The only advantage of the new program is if you visit frequently
    booked flights but if your destination always had trueblue seats
    available you not getting a better deal.

  38. craig says:

    if u use any amex card convert the membership rewards into miles lets say u spend 5,000 amonth on amex thats 5000 membership rewards points and continental will redeem 1 miles for each membership rewards in other words you will have 60,000 miles with continental i was able to book a business first ticket from ewr to tyo for only 120,000 miles which was equilivent to 120,00 membership rewards points that ticket would have cost me over 10,000 dollars if i had to pay for it …. jet blue could never come close to that also other airlines offer 1membership rew pt for 1.00 dollar just check it out with amex now that is a good deal i no peoplr who spend 15k a month on their amex card and have over 350,000 membership rewards points which never expire can u imaging converting them into 350,000 continental miles u would have a ton of free trips …. now that is how a frequent flyer program should work

  39. I HAVE SOME POINTS BEFORE AND I WANT TO NOW HOW TO RECUPERATE THEM.

  40. Jessie says:

    I actually like the program. I think it’s the best one out of all major carriers, especially considering 90% of the time jetblue has the lowest fare between TPA and JFK, which are my two major destinations. I’ve only been using it a couple months and already have redeemed a ticket and halfway to the next ticket.

  41. dan says:

    I hate this new program. It’s complicated and misleading and even though i fly almost every month from FL to NY i only get enough pts to redeem 1/2 a flight a year.

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