JetBlue Introduces Fare Families Where Bags Aren’t Always Free and Change Fees Drop

It’s been known for more than six months that JetBlue would be rolling out fare families and introducing a bag fee on the lowest fare category. What we didn’t know was when it would finally happen. Sure enough, the airline flipped the switch on its new fare families on Tuesday. The result? I like the idea, though I was hoping it would have been done just a bit differently.

You may have seen JetBlue’s fare family comparison chart. But just in case you haven’t, I thought I’d put together a slightly-modified version to help you understand what your options are.

JetBlue Fare Families

Sooo, yeah, some of this is not true at all (see the original here), but the point JetBlue is making with these families is clear. The Blue fare is for people who are NOT checking bags. The Blue Plus fare is for people who are. And the Blue Flex fare is for those who expect to make changes. That basic selling proposition is great, and it would be easy for most people to make a decision.

First, the bag fees. JetBlue is going to revenue-manage the buy-up prices, but at least to start, a Blue Plus fare will be roughly $15 more than a Blue fare each way. If you need ot check a bag, buy the Blue Plus fare for $15 more instead of paying $20 to check in a la carte. And when you do, you’ll also get bonus miles when you book at jetblue.com and you’ll get a $10 to $15 reduction in the change fee if you need to make a change. It’s a no-brainer if you need to check a bag, at this point. We’ll see how that changes when they start to vary the buy-up.

Second, the change fees. Back in 2013, JetBlue went to a new change fee policy that, while complex, was more fair than what others had done. Any changes made more than 60 days before departure would have a flat $75 change fee. After that, it was tiered based on your fare. Fares under $100 had a $75 change fee. Fares between $100 and $149 had a $100 change fee. And fares $150 and above had a $150 change fee. Here’s what’s changing.

JetBlue Coach Change Fees

I didn’t include the Mint change fees because those were always a bit goofy. But for those who care, it’s $75 for nonstop fares under $950 and for connecting fares under $1,350 outside of 60 days. It’s $150 within 60 days. Any fares above those levels have no change fee.

Still with me? Good. So the fare difference between Blue Plus and Blue Flex is pegged to be in the $85 range to start. The biggest benefit is that you have no change fee if you need to switch things up. Assuming most changes get made within 60 days of travel, then if you have an expensive ticket, this will pay for itself after one change. Even if you have a mid-priced ticket, then you almost make up the difference, but you also get a second bag for free and even more bonus points if you book online. Oh, and you get priority security too. So basically, unless your ticket is under $100, this is probably a good deal assuming you’re already paying for Blue Plus to get that bag.

But wait, there’s more.

Let’s say you’re flying to Santo Domingo, Santiago, Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston, Cartagena, Medellín, Bogota, Lima or Mexico City. Well in those cases, even a regular Blue fare includes a checked bag just like a Blue Plus fare. To me, this makes no sense. If you want to have your lowest fare include a free bag, then just only offer Blue Plus in those markets and not Blue. It’s confusing. (Of course, these are the markets where people try to check washing machines and tires, so it’s going to be a mess no matter what.)

The biggest question for me was around how JetBlue would introduce these families in terms of pricepoint. I was hoping that the airline would do the honorable thing and make the previous pricepoint the Blue Plus fare and then give a discount for the Blue fare. That would have been the customer-friendly way to roll this out. I’m not stupid. I fully understand that when you do it that way, you then just wait a couple months and push through a fare increase which gets you where you want to go. But the optics of doing it that way make the most sense. That’s not what JetBlue did, at least not in the markets I’ve searched.

Overall, how do I feel about this? I like it. I like fare families even though there’s a tax penalty for selling tickets this way. (A la carte fees aren’t taxed at 7.5 percent whereas fares are.) But I spoke to JetBlue EVP Commercial and Planning Marty St George about that, and he said there were three reasons why they went this way. First, they want it to be transparent so customers know what they’re getting up front. Second, they have had “great success” revenue-managing the Even More product and they think they can do that here too. Third, this will help reduce the workload at the airport by having people purchase bags up front more often. I get that.

So I do like what the airline has done here. It’s a far more customer-friendly way to roll out a bag fee than what other carriers have done. I just wish it had been done a bit differently.

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21 Responses to JetBlue Introduces Fare Families Where Bags Aren’t Always Free and Change Fees Drop

  1. ChuckMO says:

    Nothing earth shattering here. I’m not familiar with B6’s Trueblue FF program as I’m not a member nor do I live in a B6 city but I do find it odd that flying Mint gets you the same 3 miles per dollar spent as the other two tiers. One would expect 6 points, similar to the WN point structure. Odd.

    • Grichard says:

      The alternate perspective is that Jetblue is equally happy to receive $1 from a coach flyer as from one flying in the front, so equal expenditures should be equally encouraged.

    • frequentflier57 says:

      they are giving 1 point for the $149.00 fare and then the mint customer is earning 1 point for his $1299 fare. seems equal. Southwest needs to give you more points for the business up grade because all you really get is a small drink free.

  2. frequentflier57 says:

    I have no issue for a fee to check your bags. I have more of an issue about not properly policing the size and amount of carry on bags. Last week a woman had a roll on board, lap top case, hand bag , shopping bag. That is where the Spirit pricing policy come into play….extra bag carried on $45.00!! At least she was not in the bulk head seats.

  3. Alex Hill says:

    Agreed that it’s a customer-friendly way to do checked bag fees that I appreciate. Any update on how American’s similar fare families are going?

    Re the exception markets: has to be related to competition.I note that my most recent US Airways receipt lists essentially exactly those markets as exceptions to the $25 Carribbean checked bag fee; the differences are presumably just related to which cities US Airways and jetBlue serve. (Plus the cities in South America, which I think all the majors exempt from at least the first checked bag fees.)

    • CF says:

      Alex Hill – I haven’t heard how American’s fare families are doing these days. I imagine the numbers look a lot different once they fixed the upsell between fare family categories, but I’d be curious to see if it’s worth it or if they just don’t want to bother changing the website again to get rid of it.

      I’m sure it is for competitive reasos (re: exception markets), but I don’t understand why JetBlue wouldn’t just NOT sell a Blue fare in those markets. Make Blue Plus the lowest.

  4. A says:

    I may be missing something but I’m not sure how this is more customer friendly? B6 isn’t the first airline to discount a bag fee if you pay up front (online). And the fare family is far more confusing than just adding a standard bag fee. Won’t the typical leisure traveler still go on Orbitz or similar and book the lowest fare and then get a $20 bag fee surprise at check-in? All the fare family bundling airlines have been doing are fine for the frequent flier but I haven’t noticed anything that makes things easier for the uninformed leisure traveler.

    • Thats the million dollar question. Did B6 mention anything about getting the OTAs online with displaying information about this pricing?

    • CF says:

      A – It’s more customer friendly because you see it all up front. Bag fees aren’t disclosed very well in general, and you need to hunt for them in many cases. In this case, you can see it all up front. I’ve always liked fare families, ever since Air Canada started using them years ago.

      Nick – JetBlue doesn’t rely all that much on the OTAs (compared to others), but I doubt it’s going to have any better display than it did last week. A shame, really.

  5. Cedarglen says:

    Interesting. If nothing else, the new structure provides 13.65 additional reasons to engage a professional to make most travel arrangements.

  6. David SF eastbay says:

    I thought MINT was they top of the line transcon product to grab high end travelers, but by the chart you sure aren’t treated as such. You would think you would get more checked bags, more mileage points and not pay for changes. I guess I was wrong in my MINT thinking.

  7. JayB says:

    When an airline gives me ANY reason to make me have to hire a professional for making travel arrangements, that’s all I need to NOT use that airline again. (Maybe soon I’ll have to stop flying altogether!)

    Anyway, awaiting with much interest for your post on Justice’s probe into the possiblity of industry collusion regarding pricing and capacity.

  8. BigDaddyJ says:

    Cranky–they have to do it this way for the fare aggregators, right?

    Therein lies the problem with any kind of fare families. Expedia, Orbitz, etc. show the lowest fare, and clearly B6 wants to be competitive there, yet they want bag revenue, so they really have no choice. You’ll have confused and angry customers, and there’s no way around it.

    (And that’s why Spirit takes this to the extreme–so they stand out on the fare aggregators’ websites.)

    • CF says:

      BigDaddyJ – In general, yeah, doing it like this does make more sense because it becomes an apples to apples comparison on the lowest fare. (Southwest doesn’t have to worry about that since it doesn’t play nice with comparisons anyway.)

  9. Mafm says:

    Oh Cranky- I so wanted to be angry at you for non-PC comment about Latinos checking in washing machines and tires, but as a Mexican traveling home often, I see this AAAALLL the time. It’s funny ’cause it’s true…. :)

    • CF says:

      Mafm – Oh the stories I’ve heard from gate agents who worked Latin American flights. It is a sight to see. Though it’s certainly not limited to Latin markets. Go look at the check in counter for a flight to the Philippines. It’s incredible.

  10. john says:

    CF said, “The biggest question for me was around how JetBlue would introduce these families in terms of pricepoint. I was hoping that the airline would do the honorable thing and make the previous pricepoint the Blue Plus fare and then give a discount for the Blue fare. That would have been the customer-friendly way to roll this out. I’m not stupid. I fully understand that when you do it that way, you then just wait a couple months and push through a fare increase which gets you where you want to go. But the optics of doing it that way make the most sense”

    You worked in airline pricing for HP, if B6 lowered fares by $15 across the board, how would the industry have reacted?

    • CF says:

      john – They’d match. JetBlue is a funny airline in that it really only prices competitively in nonstop markets. It doesn’t do that in connecting markets and it doesn’t handle a lot of connecting traffic. So it could just leave the current fare as the Blue fare in connecting markets and increase from there. But in nonstop markets, it has pricing power. It could drop the fare $15 and others would match but not do anything else. Then JetBlue could slowly increase it over time.

      • john says:

        I think other airlines would retaliate as best they could for leading a massive fare decrease during a peak period.

  11. Although, not earth shattering, I agree that this fare families is a positive step. Bag charges have become common with the airlines. JetBlue seems to have made it into an acceptable system.

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