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]

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