JetBlue’s Mint Expansion Could Be a Watershed Moment in True Premium Cabin Flying Around the US

Conventional wisdom in the US is that there is a ton of demand for international-style paid premium cabin offerings between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Anywhere else? Meh, not so much. JetBlue’s expansion of its Mint premium cabin to a whole slew of new routes bucks that trend, and it could mean the beginning of a premium cabin war that sees international-style premium cabins come to several new routes. Wouldn’t that be nice?

JetBlue Mint Success

For years, American and United slugged it out between New York and LA/SF with something considered more premium than the usual domestic First Class. About a decade ago, United stepped up its game with the launch of p.s., a more exclusive experience with an international-style onboard product. Delta had played around with international aircraft on those routes before, but they didn’t get serious about it until the JFK buildup began. American took forever, but it leapt over everyone when it rolled out its A321T just a couple years ago. The three were locked in on competing for those high dollar travelers.

While this was all unfolding, Virgin America was starting up. It went with a different plan of offering only 8 seats up front that were more of a lounger-style seat, still significantly upgraded over what everyone else was doing in the premium cabin. In New York to LA/SF, this was a competitive product and people loved it. On other routes, it was head and shoulders above the competition. The problem was that Virgin America had a lot of short routes where this kind of seat didn’t matter. With only 8 seats, it might not have been a big gamble, but it also wasn’t a threat to the status quo. Outside of the New York to LA/SF routes, it was ignored.

When JetBlue decided to join the premium cabin fun, it was late to the party. But its decision to roll out 16 flat bed seats (4 in private suites with doors) under the Mint name was a leap ahead. Initially, this was meant to make JetBlue a player in the New York to LA/SF markets that were oh-so-lucrative. It did just that. In an arms race where everyone was upping their game, JetBlue rolled out a nuclear bomb. Not only was the product excellent, but prices were much lower than the competition. It was a quick success.

For JetBlue, this made sense. As an airline with a hub in New York, it no longer wanted to be able to serve its loyal premium customers but then watch them go elsewhere for flights to LA and SF. This product kept those people onboard and won over new fans. For every other route, however, JetBlue still offered no premium cabin. Then again, the premium cabin others offered wasn’t much to write home about anyway.

Seeing the success of its Mint product on the key New York to LA/SF routes, JetBlue started getting curious. If it worked so well in those markets, why not others? Sure other markets weren’t going to have as much premium cabin demand, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any demand. Further, JetBlue’s prices were relatively inexpensive, and there were only 16 seats to fill.

The first easy experiment was down into the Caribbean. Knowing Saturday was a low day for business travel, JetBlue shifted airplanes during peak season to fly from JFK to Aruba and Barbados. Those are markets where the flight times are long and the clientele is rich, so it seemed like a perfect fit. It didn’t take long for this to work so well that it was expanded and pushed to be year-round.

Next, JetBlue turned its gaze to Boston. Boston had long ago become a hugely important focus city, and now Mint was brought in to give JetBlue another edge. Service to San Francisco has already begun with LA and some Caribbean flying to follow. With JetBlue having such a strong presence in Boston, this seems like a natural fit. But last week, JetBlue grew again and this time it’s a bolder gamble.

JetBlue will now expand Mint to fly from JFK and Boston to Seattle and San Diego. JFK will also get a Mint option to Vegas. And in the biggest surprise from my perspective, Mint is coming to Ft Lauderdale from both LA and San Francisco.

What this means is that JetBlue sees demand for fully flat beds in markets you wouldn’t expect. Sure there’s premium demand for JFK to Vegas, and though I don’t know the schedule, I assume this might operate in the night hours, something that could help with utilization. But San Diego and Seattle? That’s a bigger stretch.

Delta tried this to Seattle from JFK before and it went away (though it’s not clear to me it won’t come back). San Diego? The last domestic international-style premium cabin I remember there was when Delta operated a flight from Phoenix years ago. (That, by the way, besides being dumb, was a great option to get to the beach when I was an airline employee in Phoenix.)

And Ft Lauderdale seems completely nuts on the surface. But when you think about how JetBlue has a growing focus city operation there with a lot of international Latin connections, then it starts to sound more interesting.

So far JetBlue has had tremendous success with Mint, and with every success, it continues to try to bite off a little bit more. If you don’t think there’s someone at Delta watching this very closely, you’re nuts. If JetBlue continues to grow this and make it profitable, then the big guys are going to end up taking action as well. There’s too much at stake for JetBlue to have this opportunity to itself.

My hope is that this means we see all kinds of airlines offering true premium cabins on longer domestic flights. Kudos to JetBlue for being the one willing to try it. We should all be hoping for it to be a rousing success.

[Original photo via JetBlue]

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36 Comments on "JetBlue’s Mint Expansion Could Be a Watershed Moment in True Premium Cabin Flying Around the US"

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Alex Hill
Member

It will also be interesting to see what Virgin Alaska decides they want to do on the competitive SFO/LAX-JFK routes, as well as the SEA transcons. Do they match jetBlue’s flat beds, stick with the Virgin American recliners, or withdraw from the premium market altogether on those routes? My guess is they have two subfleets, one with a product more like Alaska’s current F seats for short flights and one with a nicer product (and no elite upgrades?) for many/most transcons.

121 Pilot
Guest
I think the key here is pricing. JetBlue’s Mint seats have been selling for numbers comparable to what the big three charge for their normal domestic first class offerings and clearly doing well at that price point. Now there are people willing to pay Mint level fares to fly traditional first class in these markets so If JetBlue comes in with a vastly superior offering at a competitive price then thats a win for JetBlue. The question is whether or not the big three want to deploy international lie flat cabins for no fair premium beyond what they are getting… Read more »
Alex Hill
Member

I don’t think this jetBlue’s expansion of Mint could have been put together so quickly as to have started after the Alaska Virgin buyout was announced, so I don’t think it’s directly related.

Is Mint pricing really comparable to *current* big three fares for regular domestic first class? These days, the price premium to get into regular domestic first class is often very small, tens to a bit over a hundred dollars. I think Mint is priced at more like what big three domestic first class cost a few years ago: a premium of a few hundred dollars.

WandrMe
Guest

The response was announced quickly but implementation will still take more than a year as the company waits for additional aircraft deliveries to support the operation. It is absolutely a response to VX/AS. JFK-LAS is a VX route. So are the FLL flights. The SEA routes are AS as is SAN-BOS.

I’m a huge fan of Mint and I hope the expansion goes well. But to see it as anything other than a move to grab VX’s premium passengers as they search for a new home with the AS merger is missing the bulk of the rationale.

Better By Design
Member

It wasn’t a “Reaction” but the JetBlue CEO said in an interview last week that they had teams working on 2 options: Plan A: JetBlue buys Virgin and how the merger would work. Plan B: Someone else (ie. Alaska) outbids JetBlue, and we need an even more aggressive growth plan.

That’s why they had the Mint expansion and the marketing program aimed at Virgin flyers ready to go 7 days after the Alaska/Virgin combination was announced.

Very impressive stuff.

Bill from DC
Guest

Good for jet blue! They succumbed to analyst pressure with respect to the bag fees but this shows they are still willing to innovate and to take risks.

Not sure I see how some of it makes sense (FLL, SAN) but overall seems like a good strategy to further differentiate their product and create demand for paid premium cabin travel. Jealous they have effectively abandoned IAD as this service to LAX and SFO would have been received well IMO.

SDFDuck
Guest

“Jealous they have effectively abandoned IAD as this service to LAX and SFO would have been received well IMO.”

Plenty of space at BWI… just sayin’.

As long as the FAA keeps expanding slots and adding perimeter exemptions to DCA, the reasons to fly IAD domestically if you’re not already in Loudon, Fairfax or Fauquier Counties become fewer and fewer.

Bgriff
Member
There have been many other routes with an international hard product but no upgraded soft product — for example Delta still operates a flat-bed 757 (with no upgrades to onboard service) on some JFK-SEA frequencies as well as certain frequencies on various other routes like JFK-SLC and ATL-LAX, presumably for aircraft rotation reasons. I think AA and/or DL have also occasionally used internationally-configured aircraft on JFK-SAN. So it would not be surprising if more of that happened on a targeted basis. It’s hard to imagine the full international-style business class product with amenity kits, upgraded meals, etc., rolling out to… Read more »
Jason
Guest

Yes, in the late 2000s, AA dropped SAN-BOS and upgraded SAN-JFK from 752 to 763, which included an international style first class (at least in terms of hard product).

AJ
Member

It’s a good product and definitely comparable with some international business class offerings (not all obviously). Their price point makes it very attractive too – hope it works well. You guys over in the States have been reamed by the big guys in terms of quality offerings so it’s about time someone ups the ante.

David SF eastbay
Member

Airlines can do whatever they want to the first class cabin, but until they stop upgrading people to First class and start selling out seats in first at published F fares, it’s all for nothing in a way. It just makes for good PR and a pretty picture in an ad, but do those seats add F class dollars to their wallet, not really.

Rob
Guest

Just so you know, JetBlue does not do upgrades. The only way to get a mint seat is to buy it with cash or true blue points.

Eric Morris
Guest

I understand why airlines do this and the media (you’re big time now, Brett, so including you) cover it, but it makes me chuckle slightly the same way the Southwest inflight magazine is telling me about $400/night hotel rooms and the Delta magazine is letting me know that that outfit being worn by the world traveler is $1500 and the hotel is worth it at $1000/night .

SAN Greg
Guest

We’ve always flown AS from San Diego to Boston but when Mint arrives we may just have to give jetBlue a try.

Chicago Chris
Member

Cranky, any insight whether this was a result of JetBlue’s code sharing? Maybe the thinking is international passengers connecting through FLL, BOS and JFK are more willing to pay for Mint if they’re arriving on a premium product.

Ed
Guest

Gotta love competition! We (consumers) benefit!

This is why I hate mergers. If the company is dying and needs to merge to survive, then a company should just be buried (and the assets liquified). The result now is that we have airlines (US3) that are “too big to fail.”

Simon
Guest

Nothing nuts about FLL. There probably isn’t a single trans-con market with as much paid premium demand as Miami-LA given the entertainment/media hub status of both.

Better By Design
Member

Exactly! I’m very confused about the general reaction of “FLL Mint will never work!”. Has anyone seen the demographics around that area? You have a TON of high net worth folks – older, sure, but also willing and able to spend to live in comfort.

I think the FLL flights make as much sense in terms of filling demand as anything else they’re putting in at this point.

Phllax
Guest

I think LA-FLL is purely an operational decision. Once BOS-LA transitions to Mint, FLL will be the only 320 service left in LAX. (I doubt BUF will last more than a season, and it’s an evening turn anyway). Right now both BOS and FLL are turns, but if one is running late they do swap at times. With all 3 LAX routes going to Mint, there is operational flexibility across the board.

davidp627
Member

Simon – exactly. You have to think regionally. FLL serves a lot of the greater southeast FL area (along with MIA). I know quite a few people who exclusively fly into FLL when going to South Beach. SDFDuck,
As a Marylander, I’d love to see Mint from BWI to the West Coast.

Scott
Member
Another aspect to the Mint expansion is the new types of customers it will being to jetBlue. I live in SFO and barely even think of B6 as an option when I’m looking for a flight, but now that they offer Mint to JFK, I frequently check their site to see what their fares are. However, I’m pretty tied to AA from a loyalty perspective, so it’s hard for me to jump ship for that occasional flight to JFK as that is a lot of miles I would be foregoing with AA and I need to keep that elite status… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

I have to hand it to jetBlue for creativity. It looks like the Mint pricing fluctuates from flight to flight. It is almost at the point that you have to search as if you were looking for a coach seat. The most important aspect is that it keeps the US3 on their toes.

Ken@sirtripsalot
Member
If this is the demise of United and American, then it’s welcome. I can’t stand those airlines. They cost too much and offer crap service. Technically, JetBlue is still considered a low cost carrier, yet it goes out of it’s way to offer better service than the legacy carriers. The only decision they’ve made that has me a bit miffed is their decision to start charging for luggage. These extra services are nice, but restoring the 1 piece of luggage would go a long way to seperating themselves from other airlines, except for Southwest of course, they still offer two… Read more »
Kogia
Guest
“My hope is that this means we see all kinds of airlines offering true premium cabins on longer domestic flights…We should all be hoping for it to be a rousing success.” Have to strongly disagree with you on this one CF. This is exactly the kind of trend that needs to be reversed if airlines want to take stronger steps towards providing more environmentally sustainable air travel. JetBlue seats 190 passengers in a fairly generous layout on their standard A321s, but only 159 on their Mint-configured planes, a 16% reduction in seats. This means on an ASM basis, these aircraft… Read more »
121Pilot
Guest

Lackluster progress???!!!! Seriously do you know anything about the industry?

If you paid attention you would know that emissions are tied to fuel burn and that airlines have been working hard to reduce that number. From new aircraft like the 787 and re-engined 737 and later A320’s to winglet retrofits of the existing fleet. Then let’s add lighter slim line seats which also allow more pax onboard and the bio fuel initiatives several airlines have running. The list goes on and on.

Kogia
Guest
I stand by my point. The progress in aviation has been embarrassing, particularly compared to the electric power or automotive industries, that are more heavily regulated and have been subjected to more public pressure to reduce their environmental impacts. Let’s take a few of your arguments in turn: -New aircraft like the 787 do save fuel. The figures I’ve seen suggest savings of around 20% vs. 767 costs for similar trips. Of course, this is going to vary based on trip duration, operational factors, etc.. It should also be noted that with low fuel prices, many new orders (United 737-700,… Read more »
121 Pilot
Guest
Kogia, You claim the progress in commercial flying is “embarrassing” compared to the automotive or electrical power industries… Really? Lets take cars. My 92 Mustang LX5.0 gets 22mpg on the highway. A brand new GT 5.0 gets 25 a 13% improvement in 24 years. the 787 being sold today has significantly bettered that number compared to the 767-300 it replaced. But more than that look at the difference in the fleets in the last 20 years. 20 years ago a large number of 727’s were still in service now all gone. 737-200’s now all gone. 747 classics now gone. 747-400’s… Read more »
Kogia
Guest
The problem is not with the fact that some things haven’t happened, because I think we agree that they have. Older planes are being retired and technology improvements, like winglets, etc. are real and do make a difference. The issue is that the pace and magnitude of change has been much slower in the aviation industry than in the automotive or electric power industries. Right now, CAFE standards in the automotive industry are forcing a 5% y-o-y increase in fleetwide automotive standards. In the electric power industry, there have been substantial shutdowns of coal plants, and replaced largely with natural… Read more »
Adam R
Guest

The change has been slower because it has to be more rigorously tested. I can feed Biodiesel in my car and the worst that will probably happen, even if I were to get it on the road, is that it would stall out and sit there.

Do that to a plane, and you can kill 150 people. There is NO room for baseless experimentation in Aviation. Everything has to be proven small scale, medium scale, and then large scale over the 1000s of possibilities. Test like that takes time.

Cook
Member

True insanity. I wonder whether any airline can go a solid 30-days without making major routing, fare or time-table changes. It is ONLY 30-days! Can they do it? I wonder…

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