Sorry JetBlue, But You Blew It

Yesterday morning, I got an email from JetBlue informing me that I’d qualified for Mosaic – the only category of status the airline maintains for frequent flyers. This wasn’t noteworthy because it came as a surprise or because it was the first time – I’ve been Mosaic every year the program has been in existence.

The timing was ironic instead because beginning this week I’m going to try out flying something other than JetBlue as my primary carrier for the first time in over a decade.

A month ago while on vacation, Kate asked me whether I’d consider switching away from JetBlue. Four days ago, I received this email from Delta and had my answer:

In short, it informed me that Delta had granted me their equivalent of Mosaic status on a provisional basis, status which I can lock in for the next calendar year by meeting some basic mileage and spending requirements over a three month period. This kind of status matching is common in the industry and intended to ease the friction of switching from one airline on which you have status to another on which you don’t.

While the practice is common, however, this is a big shift for me, both because I’ve flown JetBlue for so long and because – this decision notwithstanding – I have almost universally positive things to say about the airline.

For those that might be curious about this change, then, this is how and why it happened.

I started flying JetBlue well over a decade ago primarily if not strictly because of their promise of “Most Legroom in Coach.” I’ll never be mistaken for an NBA player, but even at the more modest height of 6′ 2″ this was my experience in a standard economy seat on United and other carriers a decade ago – and flights have even less legroom today than they did then.

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Anyway, after shoehorning myself into seats shorter than the Fenway grandstand’s a few too many times, JetBlue looked like a godsend. The airline had enough seat pitch – the airline industry’s vernacular for legroom – that even in its basic seats, I had just enough room for my legs.

Their loyalty status program, which is not great now, was literally non-existent when I started flying JetBlue. But I had enough legroom, so I flew the airline, and flew it a lot.

Running the numbers this weekend, here’s what I found:

  • I’ve averaged right around 70,000 miles annually on JetBlue
  • That number would have been higher except for the birth of my daughter two and a half years ago. Before her arrival, I was averaging 83,000 miles on the airline.
  • Since she was born, it’s been around 48,000 miles annually.
  • That’s a little misleading, however, as it’s been creeping back up as we’ve gotten to the other side of the survival mode that is having a newborn. This year I’m at around 60,000 miles, and my annual total would be higher than that if I hadn’t switched the bulk of my fall flights over to Delta.

There are people who fly a lot more than than I do, of course – I know many myself. But I’ve flown enough over the years that I was surprised to discover that I’m little less than a quarter’s worth of travel away from hitting one million points lifetime on JetBlue. A mark, notably, for which there is no published award or acknowledgement – in contrast to Delta with its Million Miler status.

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It would have been hard to accumulate all of those points just because of the legroom, of course, and indeed there were many reasons I enjoyed flying JetBlue. To a person, the people are professional, well trained and seem happy with their work. Their fleet has aged somewhat since I started flying them, but for the most part the aircraft are clean and in good shape. And their routes were generally convenient for me: easy hops to most domestic destinations through their exceptional T5 terminal at JFK, and non-stops to Austin, Chicago, Mos Eisley, Orlando, San Francisco or even the other Portland out of Boston.

The reason I’m likely to leave JetBlue, in other words, has essentially nothing to do with the airline itself or its people – both of which I recommend highly, even now. My issue is with their loyalty program Mosaic. For those who fly regularly, it is in my view a program with minimal benefits, particularly when compared to competitive programs from other airlines.

The only two features of Mosaic I leverage with any regularity are waived change and cancellation fees and the ability to board first. You get two bags checked for free, but I never check bags. You get access to an expedited security lane, but I already have that via Global Entry. And so on and so on.

What they don’t have, and many other airlines including Delta do, are upgrade policies for status holders and a network of airline lounges. The latter isn’t critical, but the former is something I’ve asked JetBlue to consider dozens of times over the years – see here, as one example. On JetBlue, the only way to get into a Mint seat – their first class equivalent – is to purchase a full fare. On Delta, status holders can request complimentary upgrades to open first class seats – or the slight upgrade of Comfort+ if you don’t want to pay those fares – at the time of ticket purchase.

Upgrades are subject to availability, of course, and depending on the routes they may be nearly impossible to come by. But as I told someone the other day, if I’m upgraded to first once – ever – that will be one more time than JetBlue has upgraded me in all the years that I’ve flown the airline.

Throw in the fact that Delta has lounges at pretty much airport I fly that I have complimentary access to via the American Express Platinum cards that RedMonk issues to analysts and my flying experience should be substantially upgraded moving forward.

Which is not to say that I’m switching to Delta just because of the lounges or upgrade policies, as there are many airlines that would qualify on that basis. Delta is the replacement because of a complicated mix of factors, including routes and schedules, aircraft types, recovery from irregular operations, pricing and the fact that they simply offer more to the frequent flyer than JetBlue does.

It also doesn’t hurt that some of their best customers have nice things to say about the airline:

A friend of mine here in Portland who used to travel a lot, in fact, was the one who sealed the deal when he ran me through both his experiences and his coworkers flying out of Portland – which included getting nice cocktails in first class with regularity.

Delta’s not perfect, of course, no airline is. But at least for the next year or so I’m going to try and discover whether it’s a better fit for me than JetBlue. I’ll miss the good people and service from that airline, but after years of waiting for their loyalty program to reward their most loyal customers, my patience finally ran out.

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