JetBlue’s Take on Basic Economy Brings More of the Same Plus a Blizzard of Options

JetBlue

JetBlue’s long-awaited Basic Economy entry has now gone live in limited markets, and with it comes a big reorganization in how JetBlue approaches it fare families.

Previously, in coach, JetBlue had three fare options.

  • Blue – The base fare, but when it launched, it removed the checked bag that used to be included with all fares.
  • Blue Plus – This was a replacement the old base fare since it still included a checked bag. It also came with extra TrueBlue points.
  • Blue Flex – This option came with two checked bags, no change fees, Even More Speed, and even more bonus points.

Over time, JetBlue decided to revamp. Here’s what we have now.

That’s a whole lot of families, and most of them are real. But we can cut this down a bit. What we really have is four families that include refundable and non-refundable versions of each.

Blue Basic

This is JetBlue’s new basic economy fare, and it’s like everyone else’s for the most part. You do get a carry-on bag (United remains the only hold-out there), fares allow no changes, and you board last. Is there anything different about this compared to others? Yes, a little.

For seating, JetBlue is a bit less restrictive than the rest. Instead of automatically assigning you a seat at check-in, you’ll actually be able to pick the seat you want from the seat map, if something is available. Considering how full JetBlue runs, I’d imagine it won’t often happen that people will get to pick a good seat, so this is a minor benefit.

But if you want a seat in advance, you can pay for it, and it’s a fair price This isn’t in a lot of markets yet, but I did find it in Ft Lauderdale to Nassau. JetBlue will make you pay $15 more to get a non-basic fare. Seat assignments in the last two rows on that basic fare are $5 each going up to $12 each the further forward you go. So, if you don’t care about earning miles, are fine with boarding, last, and you won’t need to change — or the fare is too cheap to be able to change anyway — then this is still a cheaper deal even if you buy a seat assignment.

Blue

This fare provides the same benefits that it did before. It’s just no longer the cheapest option in the market.

Blue Plus

Blue Plus appears to be something of a unicorn. This is the same as Blue except it includes a checked bag. It’s a relic of the old system, however, and it doesn’t show up in most markets I checked. JetBlue says that any particular fare may or may not be available in any given market at any given time. My assumption is that this fare is for the odd Caribbean market where having the bag in the fare still matters. That would explain why I see it still in the New York to Port-au-Prince market, for example.

Assuming we will rarely see Blue Plus anymore, this means JetBlue has finally gotten smart and pulled the checked bag out of the fare. Why is this smart? Because the federal government still refuses to impose the 7.5 percent tax that applies to fares on optional fees. So, if you include the fee in the fare, it gets taxed. If you pull it out, it doesn’t. I can’t blame JetBlue for avoiding the tax, but I can blame the government for not addressing this obvious loophole.

Bags can still be pre-purchased on the website during the purchase process or after booking, so it doesn’t really make this more difficult for the traveler… unless booked by a travel agent. It looks like agents who book will have to go a step further and go to the website to sell bags in advance.

Blue Extra

Finally, we have a change at the top where Blue Extra becomes a stripped down version of Blue Flex. Unlike Blue Flex, this includes no checked bags. It also doesn’t come with bonus points. So why buy it? Well, let’s do some math.

In the Ft Lauderdale to Nassau market, I see a $70 buy-up from Blue to Blue Extra. Oddly it’s appears to be the same on all fares across the board. The reason that’s odd is that change fees increase for higher fares versus lower fares, ranging from $75 to $150. And this fare waives that change fee. You also get early boarding/Even More Speed. So if you’re reasonably sure you’ll need to make a change, this makes sense, especially if it’s on a higher-priced flight where the change fee would have been higher. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth the price.

Note that none of these fares include Even More Space. That remains an add-on, probably to avoid taxes and to ensure that the people who get it are the ones who really want it. Update: The IRS clarified in July of this year that the tax does apply to premium seating fees, so that’s not a reason here. It still doesn’t apply to bag fees.

JetBlue hasn’t done anything innovative here, but it has just joined the basic economy conga line. Considering how much it has to compete with Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant down in Florida, it makes sense for the airline to have some kind of weapon to better compete and juice buy-up or at the very least, additional ancillary purchases.

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22 comments on “JetBlue’s Take on Basic Economy Brings More of the Same Plus a Blizzard of Options

  1. Airlines being profitable however with strong Government Oversight is a step in the right direction. More routes more choices and more competition.

  2. Which is better for customers (and separately, airlines)? A proliferation of filed branded fares with different benefits, or a la carte products and bundles (bags, early boarding)?

    Seems like if airlines want to price match each other and set consistent expectations with customers, fares are great. If they want to personalize which products are offered to which customer and vary prices more, a la carte is better. products

    1. Agreed. I also add.Airlines are market makers and should be rewarded as such. Versus a Bank, which really we could do without, but charges you for non existent services and exploits it’s position in the cycle of business life.

  3. your chart is brilliant, CF. You have single handedly proven why B6 cannot fly to Canada or Europe because the use of the name bleu (in conjunction with cheese) is regulated in both Canada and the EU – and Americans could never be expected (or allowed) to produce a product that meets those requirements.

    Also, explains the baggage fee dance that B6 is doing in the US. They clearly are struggling to find their identity in a confusing world of nationalistic aviation.

    but, yeah, as one of the last adopters of a basic economy type fare, the impact will be minimal for B6 other than in the short term increase in fares that will happen as they align their cheapest fare with basic rather than bleu, I mean Blue fares.

  4. “Considering how much it has to compete with Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant down in Florida, it makes sense…”

    But jetBlue doesn’t have to compete with Southwest and its free changes? We are now down to one airline treating its lowest-fare passengers well. Sad!

      1. You are *not* irate when a bank charges you a fee for nothing… such as a 50 cent fee for processing a mobile check deposit?

        I do. I have switched banks because of nonsense like that. There are plenty of options.

    1. Southwest’s flexibility and lack of fees is its sole selling point for me and many others. I would take JetBlue over them on amenities any day

    2. I don’t think there are many routes where JetBlue and Southwest compete directly. Southwest’s presence in both BOS and NYC is pretty minor. There is more overlap to/from MCO, but there are still lots of routes that just have one or the other.

  5. First of all: kudo’s for the French addition. Very funny!

    The million dollar question is, if B6 has done the same money grab as all other airlines that introduced Baic Economy: instead of offering a lower fare, the previous “economy” fare now applies to Basic Economy, thereby allowing them to raise the economy fare’s. Daylight robbery!

  6. Jet Blue may have the best in cabin economy product but I still consider Southwest to be best. Two free checked bags is a BIG deal to me. Oh and no change fee is also a nice bonus.

    1. When the tech works, B6’s in cabin product is solid. Unfortunately, on almost every flight I’ve taken with B6 the screen in front of either my seat or a nearby seat is broken. That’s disappointing, and is part of why as much as I want to like B6, I’m not willing to pay a premium to fly them (all else equal), especially as they have cheapened their product over the past few years and taken away previously free items.

  7. “Note that none of these fares include Even More Space. That remains an add-on, probably to avoid taxes and to ensure that the people who get it are the ones who really want it.”

    Seat fees are subject to the 7.5% excise tax.

    Could also be a tech limitation. Remember that Jetblue’s tech is so bad that they coded their old branded fares using PTCs.

  8. I am an occasional JetBlue customer. Not a total loyalist. I actually stopped being loyal to any one airline after too many American disappointments. But I did like JetBlue’s relative simplicity in booking what I wanted and needed. This new fare menu is not happy news.

    Airline fare menus and options have become a Rube Goldberg device (non baby-boomers can Google that). I don’t fly Southwest, but I do believe they are correct in keeping it simple. It should not take a PhD in math and logic and three hours of dedication to find a decent domestic air fare with a straightforward bottom line cost.

    I think it has become clear that airline fare gurus are making these decisions without actually talking to real customers about what they want or need, and what will keep them coming back.

  9. Hah! That Bleu fare! :-)

    It reminds me the Grand bleu, bleu, blanc, rouge fares of Air Inter (in France) in the past.
    Fares were easy to know and understand at that time.

    Cranky, I read the post so quickly: it took me 5 minutes to find the french addition!
    Well done :-)

  10. Discrimination, pure and simple, when it comes to Bleu class fares. May I assume bleu cheese can be checked for free?

  11. It’s interesting that they chose to get rid of the extra “bonus TrueBlue points” for the higher fare classes (you used to get an extra 1 point/$ for Blue Plus and and extra 2 points/$ for booking Blue Flex).

    When I saw that at checkout I always thought it seemed like a way to entice corporate travelers to book a higher fare class than they needed – if you spent an extra ~$100 beyond your $600 “Blue” fare to upgrade it to “Blue Flex”, then you would personally get an extra 2000 points (2 * 600 + 8 *100), essentially $26 for you to personally use in the future.

    I wonder if choosing to get rid of this was a cost-saving choice, or if corporate travel negotiators were throwing a fit over it. I know their “BlueInc” corporate travel portal only gave you 3 bonus points (6 total points/$) no matter what fare class you booked.

  12. This is such a torrent of ridiculousness. Not even going to read the analysis. If I flew B6 all the time I’d be mad.

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