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