Sure, I’m way more obsessed with earning frequent flyer points than the next guy, but that doesn’t mean that it is the only thing I consider when booking a flight. They’re called loyalty programs for a reason: the carriers want you to have some motivation to book more, above and beyond the most obvious considerations of fare and schedule. And it works some of the time. But there has to be a point where you can just walk away and know that the miles not be there but it doesn’t really matter. This weekend’s trip to Florida is just one example of such a situation. Yup. I paid for a plane ticket with no expectation of any mileage earning opportunity at all.
This is a quick weekend trip – last flight out Friday night and last flight back on Sunday evening. There isn’t a lot of time to spare but there was also some concern about making it to the airport in time for the flight due to work schedules. Delta, jetBlue and Continental all offer flights in the NYC(-ish for CO) to Jacksonville market and they even all have a late evening departure, but there are enough differences between the offerings that choosing the carrier for this trip was not as simple as going with my “normal” points program.
Continental – the front-runner for my loyalty in this market – offers service on the late flight through Continental Express. That means a departure from the decidedly crappy Terminal A at Newark and a flight on an Embrear ERJ-145, aka the Barbie jet. It is plenty safe and fine and I’m sure it would get me to Jacksonville just fine, but the seats aren’t as comfortable as a mainline flight. And with the smaller plane no chance at an upgrade detracts a bit from the allure of the minimal number of miles involved in the trip. Plus, the crappy dinner options at the terminal would mean that food for the night would basically be non-existent. Not a good thing when the expected arrival at our final destination is somewhere after midnight.
Delta would also allow me to credit miles to my Continental account so they’re pretty much number two on my list for the flight. But their service is operated by Comair and is on a Canadair Regional Jet. Those are a step below the Barbie jets from Embrear, which isn’t a particularly great motivation to take that flight. Plus the departure from LaGuardia would mean trying to time the travel to the airport correctly during the evening rush hour on a Friday. That’s a risky proposition. The food options in the terminal are better than what CO can offer so Delta would actually jump up to number two for this particular trip, but they still didn’t win my business.
The winner? JetBlue.
I’m not a fan at all of the TrueBlue program from a loyalty marketing perspective. It doesn’t present a terribly useful upside to the passengers and it is outright horrible for folks who want to travel beyond the limited route network that jetBlue serves in the USA, the Caribbean and northern South America. But they fly a pretty decent fleet of airplanes. The late flight to Jacksonville is operated on the Embrear E-190, a plane that I had not yet flown when I booked the tickets. It was also the latest of the three scheduled departures which was useful for the work issues. The ease of access on public transit – which translates to a cheap trip and a reasonably predictable travel time, if not necessarily the quickest commute – was also quite beneficial. It took 85 minutes from boarding the train at 14th Street & 8th Avenue until we were inside security in T5. That’s certainly no record, but we were pretty much guaranteed that it would be between 80 and 90 minutes for the trip on the subway. At $15 for the two of us that’s a pretty reasonable deal and the timing didn’t completely suck. And JFK T5 has, by far, the best dining options of any terminal in the NYC area. Since we were definitely looking at dinner in the airport this was the final tipping point for my booking plans.
Booking on jetBlue means that I’m giving up the 831 miles for this trip. I’ve already qualified for next year’s status and it really isn’t enough miles to get worried about. Yeah, I’ll get 4 TrueBlue points (I think), but I’m never going to earn enough to redeem a reward with their ridiculous rules so I’m calling them worthless. Does that mean the loyalty programs are meaningless to me? Certainly not. Like I said, I’m pretty obsessed with the points. But it also means that there is more to travel than just the points. At least there is for me.
Of course, we are flying Delta on the way home because it is the late flight and getting a cab home from LaGuardia at 11pm is cheaper and faster than the same from JFK. Plus there is no compelling difference on the food side of the equation and I can handle the CRJ for a couple hours when the schedule makes it compelling. And this is actually the second time I’ve booked a “worthless” trip this year. The first was a flight on VLM in January from London’s City Airport to Luxembourg. I got a couple new airports, a new route line, a new airplane type and a new airline all at once. It was completely worth it, that one even more than this weekend’s trip.
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