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JetBlue is a relatively new entrant to transatlantic travel (it launched its first transatlantic route in August 2021) and it arrived on the scene promising to shake up the market with “low fares and great service”.
We’re now two years into JetBlue’s transatlantic expansion and while we’ve seen the airline launch routes to London, Paris and more recently, Amsterdam, I’m not convinced that JetBlue’s transatlantic offering is as compelling as a lot us hoped that it would be when it was first launched.
The problem with JetBlue
The transatlantic market is probably the most cutthroat airline market there is, with big money to be made if you succeed (with premium cabins) and a lot of money to be lost if you don’t get things right (just ask Norwegian) so JetBlue is taking a risk by entering the fray.
Having flown with the airline earlier in the year, I had a chance to think about what JetBlue brings to the table and how that compares to what its competitors offer, and as things stand now, I think that JetBlue needs to do better.
Allow me to explain.
In several ways, JetBlue cannot currently match what its competitors can offer transatlantic travelers.
- JetBlue doesn’t offer more than two flights per day on any of its transatlantic routes and these are routes on which it’s main competitors offer multiple daily options.
- JetBlue doesn’t have a US route network that can match the networks of the bigger US carriers.
- JetBlue’s Mint Business Class seat is impressive for a narrowbody aircraft, but it’s (mostly) not better than the Business Class seats the competition offers and, in some cases, it’s worse.
- Unlike its major competitors, JetBlue cannot offer a Premium Economy product across the Atlantic.
- Because JetBlue isn’t part of a global alliance, it can only offer a very limited number of connections within Europe.
- Because JetBlue isn’t part of a global alliance, flyers who aren’t JetBlue elites but have elite status elsewhere, don’t get access to any special benefits.
- JetBlue’s loyalty program is niche and has few partners. That makes it less attractive than the loyalty programs of some of its competitors and means that it cannot use its loyalty program to tempt customers away.
- JetBlue doesn’t offer lounge access either internationally or domestically so, for example, where a oneworld Sapphire or Emerald elite will enjoy lounge access when flying with BA, AA, Iberia, or Finnair (even when they’re traveling in Economy Class), even JetBlue’s Business Class passengers must make do with whatever the airport terminal offers.
With all those negative points going against it, JetBlue needs to be able to offer some kind of big differentiator in order to take customers away from the bigger carriers, and while its Economy Class seats are probably the best in class, that’s not enough.
Economy class travelers, as a rule, don’t book flights based on the comfort of the seats offered (they usually have no idea what seats are available or how much space they offer). They book on convenience and, more importantly, price, so if JetBlue is to tempt passengers away from American, BA, United, KLM, Air France, and Delta, it will have to do so with its fares.
So… what are JetBlue’s fares like?
A lot of JetBlue’s press releases that discuss its transatlantic routes are keen to mention that the airline offers “low fares” to cities like London and Paris (e.g., here, here, here, and here), so I took a look at just how these “low fares” compare to what other airlines are offering on the same routes.
To do the comparison, I used Google Flights, and I searched for round trip Economy Class and Business Class fares for 7-day trips taken in the first 8 months of next year.
I did this for five of JetBlue’s transatlantic routes with all the trips originating in the US.
To make sure that I was comparing like with like, I filtered the results to exclude low-cost carriers like Norse, and I limited the results to non-stop flights only.
These are the results of those searches (performed on 13 October 2023):
A lot of the higher end fares are outliers (e.g., the $13k business class fare from JFK to Paris), but I’ve included them for accuracy and completeness and so that I can’t be accused of cherry picking.
Some of the things I noted include:
- When JetBlue is cheaper than its competitors, its fares are not significantly lower in either cabin.
- A significant proportion of the time, there is no difference between a fare being offered by JetBlue and the fares being offered by its competitors. The fares match to the penny.
- JetBlue’s fares are often uncompetitive on its JFK – London Heathrow route.
- It’s not hard to find examples of trips where JetBlue’s competitors offer cheaper fares.
For me, the simple takeaway from these search results is that it doesn’t look like JetBlue is shaking anything up or that it’s offering particularly “low” fares.
I’m sure some will try to argue that JetBlue’s fares are genuinely low and that what we’re seeing is JetBlue’s competitors being forced to bring their prices down to match the new kid on the block. But that isn’t the case.
I’ve been flying across the Atlantic for a lot longer than JetBlue has been offering its services, so I like to think that I have a reasonable idea of what transatlantic fares looked like before JetBlue came on the scene, and the fares that we’re seeing now are not too dissimilar to the fares we were seeing in the years leading up to the pandemic when JetBlue wasn’t a factor (2017 – 2020).
As far as I can tell, apart from when it has run a few stunning sales to promote the launch of a new route, JetBlue’s hasn’t really been giving us the new lower cost option that we were promised. And that’s a problem.
When you can’t match your competitors’ frequencies, their route networks, their loyalty programs, or the extra benefits they offer passengers, you must be able to beat them on price, and JetBlue simply isn’t doing that. At least not consistently.
Most people who need to book an Economy Class fare to Europe will look at the cost and then, after that, they may take a look at the time of day that the flights depart and make their decision what to book based on those two factors.
If JetBlue isn’t the cheapest, they’re unlikely to choose it over United/Delta/Air France/BA.
Most people who book Business Class fares for work care about how many flight options they have, how comfortable the cabin is and how good the airline’s loyalty program is. Then they’ll start thinking about the fare.
The flyers who book Business Class for personal travel usually care about the same things except that they usually care more about the fare and less about the number of flight options.
So, as JetBlue cannot compete on frequency or on loyalty program (Delta aside!), and its Business Class cabin isn’t better than a lot of the other options available, it can only really differentiate itself on price…and it’s not really doing that.
Is this really a viable long-term plan?
I don’t think so, but then there’s a reason why I’m sitting at my desk writing this article and not running a global airline, so perhaps I’ve missed something.
JetBlue has taken a step into the lion’s den by embarking on its transatlantic expansion and as things stand, I am yet to be convinced that the airline offers enough to worry the big boys.
If JetBlue doesn’t offer the cheapest fares and continues to lag its competitors in the areas I’ve mentioned, I can’t think why, long-term, people will choose it over the competition. Right now, it’s a bit of a novelty, but that will wear off.
I really hope that I’m wrong (because I have a soft spot for JetBlue and because the more transatlantic competition we have the better), but unless JetBlue gets more radical with its prices or addresses some of its other weaknesses, I can’t see its transatlantic adventure being a long-term success.