Redemption, Elite Status, and Partners in JetBlue’s New TrueBlue (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about earning points in JetBlue’s new TrueBlue program, and today it’s time to talk about redemption, elite status, and partners. Fortunately, I was able to have a call with Dave Canty, JetBlue’s Director of Loyalty Marketing to try and straighten things out for me. I now understand the program much better. I think there’s no question this is better than the previous program, but I’m not completely sold just yet.

In the last program, 100 points got you a roundtrip ticket. That was it. So what is it now? I can’t answer that. It starts at 5,000 points for a one way ticket, but it can vary depending upon the route, the date, the time, the fares, etc. They’re trying to revenue manage this just like a paid ticket, so if there’s a cheap seat available, you’ll probably be able to get it for 5,000 points. If you want to travel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it’s going to be more than that.

Just how much, I’m not sure, but you will be able to use points to redeem every single seat. The point levels go up by increments of 100, so it’s tough to know exactly what you’ll JetBlue's Magic TrueBlue Boxneed to spend because they can raise and lower the requirement by a relatively small amount. It’s not like it’s either 5,000 or 10,000 here. It could be everything in between.

Unlike Virgin America’s program, the redemption levels aren’t linear, so you won’t be able to calculate what you need to spend. You’ll just need to go on and see what the magic box tells you.

So will we ever see a 5,000 point flight on a transcontinental flight? According to Dave, “it’s quite likely. You may very well find a lot of transcon availability at 5,000 . . . . Let’s say there’s, I don’t know, a $75 transcon, that very well may fall into the 5,000 point realm.” But how high can it go? Is there a highest point level? Dave says no. But if you book way in advance on a Tuesday in February, your chances of finding a cheap seat are good.

This kind of drives me nuts, because I like to save up miles for a trip. I can’t really do that here, because I won’t know if I have enough miles until I know the flight I want to take. I asked Dave if they would at least be considering a cash+points option so that you could still use your points even if you don’t have enough for a full ticket. He confirmed that this will be happening in the first quarter of 2010, so that makes me feel better about the utility of the program.

Dave assured me that what gets announced now is just the start. “TrueBlue is going to be coming out in a phased approach. What we come out with in late September is basically your introduction and it’s just gonna get better from there.”

They are currently in discussions with partners, and they expect to have these start joining the program by the first quarter of 2010. The most obvious partners are part owner Lufthansa and codeshare partner Aer Lingus, but they are talking to many more than that.

They will also be introducing elite status into the program with a soft launch at the end of 2009 and a full launch in the first quarter of 2010. I asked if this would include complimentary seating in the Even More Legroom section of the plane, and he said it would, along with much more. “All of what you can possibly imagine is coming. We are going to bring out an elite level within TrueBlue.”

So this is turning into a real frequent flier program with some significant benefits. There are no more blackout dates, and you can redeem points for every single seat on the airplane. The points no longer expire at the 12 month mark but continue to be active as long as you have activity once every year.

But how is the value here? Are we getting more for our money than in the past? Well, it’s tough to know since we don’t really know what redemption levels will be. But let’s just use the lowest 5,000 point one way award/10,000 point roundtrip award as a minimum for comparison. (Dave says, “I think people are going to be very very very pleasantly surprised at the actual volume of seats that are gonna be available in the 5000 point [range].”)

So, how about a couple examples? Most people will have a mix of different types of flights, but I’ll just pick extremes as an example.

Example 1: Long Beach – San Francisco
Previously, you would get 4 points per flight for booking online. That means you would have needed 25 flights to get a roundtrip ticket.

Now, we need to get to 10,000 points. Let’s assume that the average fare is $75 each way. That means we’ll get 450 points for one flight. After 7 flights, we’ll earn a 500 point Go Big Bonus. After 14 flights, we get a 1,000 point Go Big Bonus. We need another 5 flights to get to 10,000 points, so that means we’ll need a total of 19 flights for a roundtrip ticket. We don’t get any Go Long Bonuses because the flights are too short.

Example 2: Long Beach – New York/JFK
In the previous program, 9 flights on this route got us a free roundtrip ticket.

Let’s assume we average $250 for a one way in this market. That means we get 1,500 points for a single flight. After a roundtrip, we get a 500 point Go Big Bonus. After two roundtrips we get another 1,000. After our fifth flight (2.5 roundtrips), we’ll have 9,000 points, so we need another on way which triggers another 2,000 Go Big Bonus points. So we need 6 flights to get past the threshold but then we’re actually up around 11,500 points. So it is more generous, assuming that we expect to get an award for 10,000 points.

So is this program better than before? It’s hard to say because we don’t know what redemptions are going to look like just yet. But it is more flexible and it will have greatly expanded options. It’s just the complexity that makes my head hurt, and that’s what bothers me here.

Check out The Wandering Aramean for another look

[Original photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bohman/ / CC BY 2.0]

14 Responses to Redemption, Elite Status, and Partners in JetBlue’s New TrueBlue (Part 2)

  1. Ken says:

    I think this is excellent, even with the unknown redemption levels. It’s looking like a true LOYALTY program, not something designed for points/miles chasers. It seems there’s been this arms race with miles (note Delta’s recent gazillion mile games/bonuses/etc.) which the carriers think (wrongly, I believe) will engender loyalty. Loyalty is (or should be) gained by excellent customer service, not by some token “thank you” gift of (in the case of the airline industry) miles. JetBlue’s plan is simply another incremental enhancement that will retain customer loyalty. Businesses know that it costs many times more to obtain a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

  2. Gray says:

    Hmmm – in terms of the codeshare potential, I’ve found Lufthansa’s ownership stake in JetBlue truly intriguing. I’d love to see them match up with them, and perhaps allow redemption on LH, and – I’m probably dreaming here – other *A partners. The *A redemption probably will not happen if B6 isn’t even a member of Star, but it’s certainly fun to imagine the possibilities. I’d leave United in a second and start flying JetBlue for everything.

  3. Dan says:

    CF,

    On the one hand, I want to agree with you, that the complexity makes my head hurt. But OTOH, is this really any worse than the low/medium/high tiers that DL has had out for a little while now? In either case you don’t *know* for sure how many miles you need for a specific award on a specific date.

  4. CF says:

    Gray – JetBlue made it clear that they really want to partner with a variety of different airlines out there. You have to think that Lufthansa can open the doors to half the airlines in Europe (since they own them all). I wouldn’t be surprised to see some other Star carriers jump in as well if there’s an opportunity for them.

    Dan – It is worse than the Delta program because at least Delta has three set levels. You at least know the worst case scenario. With JetBlue, you don’t even have a range. That will become apparent over time, I imagine. You’ll be able to get an idea of how things look, but for now, it’s still up in the air.

  5. Neil S says:

    I like some of it, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it – I use them a lot from JFK. But it doesn’t seem very Jetblue/user-friendly, brand-wise.

  6. David SFeastbay says:

    JetBlue’s press release this morning and what you wrote here, all sound like they were written by some alien on a distant planet far far away. Anyone have a universal translator? Mr Spock where are you!

  7. Dylan says:

    On the surface, I don’t really like this new plan. I only fly about 3 times a year, mostly coast to coast. With the old plan, I’d do the round-trip three times and make up the extra by using the Amex. So generally every 4th flight would be free. The best part about this was the not having to “shop” and try to find the best deal anymore. I just had to find an available flight and go. With the new program it looks like I’ll still have to shop to find the best point deal on a flight I want to take, and try to conserve my points as if they were cash…which sucks. I want to spend less time travel planning , not more.

  8. David says:

    Does anyone know how the transition will work for those of us who have banked a few hundred points?

  9. CF says:

    David wrote:

    Does anyone know how the transition will work for those of us who have banked a few hundred points?

    Yes, I recall that you will be able to convert new points in to old ones at a specified redemption rate so that you can still use those old awards in the old system. I can’t get details because the TrueBlue site is shut down through the weekend for the transition.

  10. Andy says:

    You’re review is great, but you should update it now that the point needed for flights are available on the website and reveal what a ripoff this is.

    In your last example, those 9 flights that you took under the old program would get you TWO free flights. Under the new program you need 6 flights to get you to 10,000 points, which, looking months in advance right now only works for mid-week travel at off hours. If you want to travel on a weekend the points required go up to about 15,000 for one way and they’ll increase the closer we get. That’s FAR worse off than the old program.

    I liked the simplicity of the old program. The other great piece was that if seats were available you could book reward flights last minute. Now, you’ll need over 60,0000 points to do a last minute round trip.

  11. Gina says:

    Completely agree with this. I too used the AMEX card and it worked out great. Now they’ve really reduced coast to coast benefits.

    @ Dylan:

  12. CF says:

    Andy wrote:

    In your last example, those 9 flights that you took under the old program would get you TWO free flights.

    Wait, how am I messing this up? Are you talking about this with the Amex card? I agree that this is way more complicated and confusing.

  13. rachel says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to confirm that a year into this “new” program, I officially hate it. I do a lot of coast-to-coast flying, and under the old program I’d get a free roundtrip ticket about every five flights or so. Now, even looking at flight a month or two in advance, I’d need upwards of 40,000 points to get a roundtrip ticket–and some of the best day/time options cost over 30,000 PER LEG! The cheapest option up through September is 30,600 points round trip (from NYC to Burbank, my usual route). True, you couldn’t always use award flights whenever you wanted to, but this is crazy. . . I got around 3000 points for my last round-trip flight. At this rate, I’ll have to take at least twice as many trips to get a free flight that I can actually use (10 or more vs. around 5 or 6 in the past) … BOO.

  14. GB says:

    Rachel is absolutely correct! Five long round trips and an AMEX card easily earned a reward flight (that I rarely had trouble booking). Now it takes ten coast-coast trips and more to have enough points to achieve the GREATLY higher required points. Of all the airline programs that have “improved” (read “downgraded”) their FF programs, ” New Trueblue” is the most severe downgrading! Of course we all knew that “improving” a really good reward program could only mean worsening it, after all maybe Jetblue couldn’t afford it, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. 5000 pt coast-coast rt?….ha/ha. Mr Cranky be cranky, not Canty’s patsy.

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