Thursday, July 06, 2006

JetBlue: Evil Empire?

I've been flying JetBlue consistently for six years. With leather seats, DirecTV, cheap tickets, and online check ins, JetBlue had fashioned itself as the cool new kid on the block with a slick image in comparison to established fat cats. But these days it seems like JetBlue has put on a few pounds.
I've been flying mostly to NYC, Boston, Oakland, and San Jose. I've noticed that JetBlue's flight prices have not only crept up, but exploded; not only are they on par with most other airlines, they are actually higher in a lot of instances. They've removed a lot of their flights to Boston from the Bay Area and reduced them to the most inconvenient times. Now I understand that gas prices and compliance with federal security regulations might have a lot to do with the price increases, but that doesn't explain JetBlue's gutted rewards program: TrueBlue.
TrueBlue was never the greatest program. Southwest offered better deals, but if you fly JetBlue a lot, it is better than nothing. With every flight you earn some points, and 100 points supposedly gave you a free round trip to any destination. A cross country one way trip gave me 12 points, and a short flight from Boston to JFK gave me 4 points.
I redeemed a flight from San Jose to JFK last summer, and thought it was a half-way decent program.But since then, JetBlue has quietly introduced some changes to its gratitude program. And what do you know? It is virtually impossible to redeem your free flights now because almost every flight to a popular destination or popular time is unavailable.
JetBlue insists that its flights have no blackout dates. I called and e-mailed JetBlue and inquired about the availability of TrueBlue tickets. The first woman I spoke said that information about how many TrueBlue seats are available on each flight is "not available to anybody at JetBlue." The second two representatives that I spoke to insisted that each and every flight has at least two seats open to TrueBlue redemption.

An email from JetBlue says the following: "TrueBlue is different in regards to other airline programs as we do not have blackout dates; however seats may not be available on all flights and some flight dates are better than others. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Saturdays tend to be the best days for securing flights and, of course, booking as far ahead as possible greatly increases the likelihood that you will get your preferred dates and flights as well."
JetBlue's own Terms and Conditions confirm the fact that "Award travel is subject to capacity controls and may not be available on all flights. JetBlue Airways reserves the right to modify, amend or revise the redemption award levels."
Can someone explain to me how not offering any flights to a certain city on a certain day is not a blackout date?
When I try to redeem my free flight in mid-August, early September, early October, mid-November, late-November, or late December--surprise surprise--JetBlue's says the following:

We can't find flights to match your request. This may be because:

The flights are full on the date you selected. Search again?

We're not selling seats yet on the date you selected. Currently, we're selling seats for all destinations through January 08, 2007. Please check back again soon for flights after that date.

You've selected a city we don't serve yet.

Absolute shite.
Is the flight full? Well, try to search for the same flight without entering in your TrueBlue information. And guess what, if you want to pay full price, those same seats are magically available.
JetBlue isn't selling seats on the day I selected? Sure you are, see above.
I've selected a city JetBlue doesn't serve? Last I checked, JFK was your hub city.
I think JetBlue forgot to mention the real reason why no flights show up: "We are throttling back on our free flights. We've decided to not allow you to redeem your rewards on any good flights that we choose and limit them so that you have to pay full price on all of our best flights. Oh and by the way, even though we black out particular flights and particiular days -- we're not going to call that blackout dates."
So what do we have here? We have a major airline running a program that blacks out dates and says they aren't. There is simply no accountability; nobody can tell how much JetBlue is throttling back on flights, or how many flights are actually available, or how many were actually redeemed.
Evil empire? Not necessarily. Officially one of the fat cats? Indeed.


Bill Business said...

You're definitely right man, Jet Blue has left the ranks of Southwest and other solid no frills airlines for the likes of the giants. $200, from Oakland to Long Beach, give me a break. Oddly enough, I just found out I have enough miles on United for a free roundtrip in the US, and if I wanted, could actually use them around Thanksgiving. Pretty magical.

Anonymous said...

It's this thing called the market. Turns out JetBlue is a business and will price at what the market supports, not a level that makes all the smurfs happy. I'll bet that whoever owns JetBlue is willing to trade in a slightly less esteemed reputation for actual profits.

Regarding loyalty programs: JetBlue hurts itself if customers know that points must be discounted against the remote possibility of ever redeeming them. The problem with point/mile inflation is that it's easy to give them away, and there's no guarantee of any value behind it. Other airlines face the same problem. So use those United miles while they're worth something.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago I had no problem in June getting flights for the middle of December with my TrueBlue awards. Last year it was impossible in May. This year I've been checking closely for December flights to open. They did just a few days ago (the week of April 20th) and at the time I checked, there we NO flights from any Bay Area airport from December 16 until January 6th. If that isn't a blackout, I don't know what is. I was still able to get a free flight on December 15th, a few days before I had planned to leave, but I'll have to pay $400 to get back. I wouldn't say that TrueBlue awards are worthless, but they are much more limited than they used to be.

Anonymous said...

There's a book called "Good to Great," by Jim Collins. Apparently, JetBlue has read this book backwards. They were a terrific company a few years ago -- amazing attitude, customer service, easy flights, just a joy to deal with. Now, nothing but problems. Two of my last three flights have been nightmares. I had enough American Express points for a reward flight, and checked the schedule -- NOT realizing they secretly blackout almost every flight or extremely limit the availability -- and I stupidly (and irrevocably) transferred the points over from Amex... then tried to redeem them. Not a single reward flight in sight. Total waste -- I could have used those points on Amex in any other rewards program, AND I had to pay tax on them.

They've gone from my first choice to my last -- below even Delta and American. My bold prediction: JetBlue will be out of business within five years. You heard it here first!

Anonymous said...

i guess according to the first anonymous poster, the "market" also determines JetBlue's new policy of cancelling flights and offering no notice whatsoever that it has been cancelled. I've had two different flights cancelled only to find out the night before I'm flying that they did so. Seriously, they have my phone number, address, email address -- you can't generate an automatic email that says "No plane will be there."

On top of that, they only issue you a "JetBlue credit," so you can't put the hundreds you spent on the original ticket towards another ticket to get there. And even if buying another ticket will cost you double because of their cancellation, they insist that all you can get is a 50 dollar voucher!

A.H. Rajani said...

they will increase it to 100 bucks if you fight with the manager. still pretty shady.

they've also started cancelling a ton of flights for good.