Some official details on TrueBlue 2, the revised jetBlue loyalty program

I’ve been speculating for a while on some of the changes that will be coming out as part of the new TrueBlue 2 program, jetBlue’s planned re-launch of their loyalty program. I heard some bits direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and other bits were inferred from some of the surveys they’ve sent around and other bits of information that have made their way onto the intertubez. Now, finally, the carrier has actually announced some of the details of the new program. And, as with any change in a program, there is some good news and plenty of not so good news, too. The impact will depend on one’s personal travel patterns but the new program definitely looks to be an improvement for at least some customers.

The new program is going to be based on dollar-spend on flights with the carrier. This isn’t really a surprise (I mentioned it as far back as March). Now they’ve released some of the details of that earning. Earning will be at 3 points per dollar spent on airfare. The earning will double to 6 points per dollar for flights booked online, keeping with jetBlue’s double credit for online booking approach that they’ve had since the launch of the original TrueBlue program. The fact that the earning is on fare and fees (like EML seating or checked baggage) but excluding taxes is likely to cause some confusion for some customers (Why did I only earn 291 points if my ticket cost $110??) but such is life.

The new program will also be much better for the customer in terms of point expiration. The current program expires all points 12 months after they are earned, regardless of whether there is additional activity with the TrueBlue program (with an exception for folks who carry the co-branded AmEx card). The new program will not expire any points as long as there is activity on the account within 12 months. That is a pretty good deal, though the 12 month horizon is still at the short end in the industry. But at least the points no longer expire just because. And there will also no longer be a forced issuance of rewards once a customer hits the magic 100 point threshold, another problem with the old program. I actually think that this is a major improvement in the program.

And then the bad news. They haven’t released a reward chart yet. The only information available is this:

You will need at least 5,000 points to earn an Award for a oneway flight. The number of points required to redeem an Award flight will vary according to the flight chosen; for example, some flights may require more than 5,000 points depending on your choice of destination, day of the week, time of year and how far in advance you are booking your flight.

Considering that the lowest price jetBlue traditionally publishes fares at (excluding most sales) is $44-49 each way, that pretty much puts the value of the points earned at a penny each. Not too much of a surprise. So lets extend that out a bit. Earning 5,000 points will actually cost somewhere between $833 in airfare purchases (excluding taxes) assuming an online customer. And as a reward for that spend you get a $50 plane ticket. That’s actually a 6% ROI for the travel spend (excluding taxes). This scheme should appeal to folks who are constantly buying more expensive tickets, as they are now going to get more value for their short flights. And compared to the programs of the legacy carriers it actually is much better in that regard since short, expensive hops are a terrible value in the legacy programs. But that seems to be where the benefits end.

Looking at a leisure traveler, one who does really well in the program today, however, and things are not quite as clear. Take the customer who pays, on average, $250 for a transcon round trip (which is a pretty good price) and buying everything online. Those folks used to get a free reward flight for spending about $1,200 and earning 100 TrueBlue points. That same spend will earn 7,200 points in the TrueBlue2 program at the online rate of 6 points per dollar spent. That’s enough for about $75 in travel credit, nowhere near enough for a round trip ticket. That $1,200 spend used to be enough for a flight anywhere within the jetBlue network. Now it might get you from Long Beach to Las Vegas. That pretty much sucks.

For the Florida or Caribbean commuter – jetBlue’s other major traffic center – the number are similarly bad. At around $200-300 for a round trip flight (again, at the low end of the price scheme) it would generally require about $1,500-2,000 in spend to realize a reward. Now that same spend nets 9,000-12,000 points, or about $100 in travel credit. So the amount of travel required would at least double to realize a reward. At the most expensive end of the jetBlue fare structure – a $439 ticket one-way from New York to Ft. Lauderdale – it would take just over $5,000 in spend to get to 100 TrueBlue points and a reward in the current scheme. In the new scheme that would be 30,000 TB2 points. Assuming the value applies linearly that’s about $300 in travel credit, barely enough for a discount round-trip ticket.

Finally, a quick look at the earning options for the credit card folks. The TrueBlue AmEx will now earn points at a straight $1 = 1 point rate. That is basically in line with every other program out there. At $25,000 in spend that’s 25,000 in TB2 points, or about $250 in credits. Not horrible, but not the same as a reward ticket anywhere in the jetBlue network, which is what $20,000 in spend used to accomplish. Moreover, at $50,000 in spend ($60,000 on Delta) one normally could redeem for last seat availability. At $439 each way on jetBlue that will cost many more points.

There are still no details available about the potential for redemption on jetBlue partners such as Aer Lingus or Lufthansa, something that was supposed to be part of this program. I’d be disappointed, but at the rates involved for other redemptions I’m not really sure it matters at all.

The marketing guys are going to work really hard to sell no blackout dates and great availability since they no longer will need to restrict inventory. But the cost of these improvements, and the commensurate loss of value in the program, really hurts. I was afraid that this was coming. The writing was on the wall. And now the writing is on their website and it doesn’t look good at all. TrueBlue will remain an “also ran” in the world of loyalty programs, at least for me. There are too many great earning opportunities elsewhere for my money.

Update: Wow did I ever screw this one up. I received an email shortly after this post and just got to have a conversation with Dave Canty, the Director of Loyalty for jetBlue. Suffice it to say that I made a pretty big ass out of myself and umption with some of the stuff posted above. The revised and much more accurate details can be found here. Sorry about that.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.