We already know that JetBlue will be rolling out a new premium cabin on flights between JFK and both LA and San Francisco, but as of yesterday we now know a lot more, including that it will be called Mint. The newly-revealed product details seem pretty nice, and they will certainly attract fliers on those routes, but I still have to wonder if this whole thing is a good idea. As of today, it only impacts two routes. Will it just be a distraction?
Disclaimer: I am a member of the airline’s “New Onboard Experience Advisory Board,” but I was not able to attend the only scheduled meeting that presumably would have discussed these changes.
To summarize what we already knew, JetBlue decided to roll out a premium cabin on flights between JFK and both LA and San Francisco in order to try to capture some of that lucrative market. The premium cabin would only be available on a handful of airplanes, those that would be dedicated to these routes exclusively. We heard a lot about the hard product before. There would be 16 flat beds, 4 of them in private suites with doors. But what we didn’t know was more about the soft product as well as the branding and pricing.
Now we know it’ll be called Mint. I think the goal with that name is to capture the clean, cool, refreshing feeling that Air Canada tapped into with its light, minty-green airplanes. I actually don’t mind it, except that all I can think of is that weed-like plant that has taken over my backyard. (Seriously. If you’re thinking about planting mint, don’t do it. You will regret it.)
If you fly in Mint, you’ll get super-cool food from a super-cool New York eatery (Saxon + Parole) and super-cool amenity kits from a super-cool retailer (Birchbox). It’s a little fluffy but it certainly builds on that, um, super-cool vibe that JetBlue used to have until Virgin America took it over with its purple lighting.
And then there’s the price. It’s (relatively) cheap. Right now, it’s on sale for June 15 – 18 for only $499 each way. When the summer schedule opens up in November, it will be offered starting at $599 each way. That’s great, but then again, when Virgin America launched service in 2007, it had intro First Class fares of $389 one way. Today the lowest First Class fare on Virgin America is just over $2,000 one way. Crazy, right? So JetBlue will have a sizeable pricing advantage until everyone else decides to jump in and fight.
And you know the fare war is bound to come. JetBlue’s marketing boss Marty St George told USA Today, “We’re aiming at that first-level elite customer on American or Delta … who never gets to upgrade.” That may be the case, but many of those people trying to upgrade work for companies that don’t allow you to buy a ticket up front. We’ll see if this pans out.
JetBlue has said that it sees people fly the airline regularly but then they leave to fly an airline with a better product when they head from New York the west coast. Getting those people back might be bad news for Virgin America. The New York-based traveler who isn’t bound by the shackles of elite status may very well be turning to Virgin America today. That’s going to change with JetBlue in the market. In San Francisco, Virgin America has at least built some higher levels of loyalty but I would think it’s still at risk with such a large pricing difference. The legacy carriers may be JetBlue’s target, and I imagine they will just tap into their frequent flier bases and offer promos to prevent people from fleeing. It should bring fares down at the very least.
Will this work? It depends on the goal. It will undoubtedly help JetBlue raise revenues on those two routes. After all, with the lowest nonstop fares today in the premium cabin starting at $2,000 one way, the fare canopy is extremely high. And as we’ve always seen, when opportunities present themselves, others will step in and take advantage.
But I do worry that this will be a huge distraction for the airline. We’re only talking about two routes here. While it’s possible the Mint brand could be used on a different kind of premium cabin elsewhere in the system, I can’t imagine JetBlue has many routes that can support 16 fully flat beds. So the airline is creating this big campaign for two (admittedly very lucrative) routes. Will this take their eyes off the all important “core experience” as they call it?
I’m particularly sensitive to this since I came into United at a time when Ted was growing. So much attention was paid to the Ted brand that the important part of the airline (that part that starts with U-N-I) went ignored. Then again, I thought p.s. was a great idea and that served these exact markets. Still, that kind of focus on such a small piece of the airline simply can’t happen here with JetBlue. The airline seems to know that. CEO Dave Barger had this to say in the USA Today article.
“…as we put forward a premium experience, it can’t be at the expense of our current customer. … And I think that’s what’s going to be really different from what we’re seeing across the rest of the industry.’
Of course, it’s much easier said than done but the attitude is right. Let’s see if they can follow through.
[Original US Mint photo via Shutterstock]