What will JetBlue fare families really look like?

Expect lots of numbers in a grid for the new JetBlue Fare Families, along with bundles and add-ons. Re-training customers is not easy.

With the impending introduction of JetBlue‘s new fare structure – including varying benefits at different price points – it is worth looking at how the offerings will manifest. I had the opportunity to speak recently with Jamie Perry, JetBlue’s VP Brand & Product, and the new fare families was part of that chat. Mr. Perry was quick to point out that the goal is a solution which includes no surprises for customers and that the company is working very hard to ensure that customers will not be surprised when they get to the airport.

[W]e’re trying to make it as simple as possible for people to understand what they’re getting. If you make it too complicated then everyone just buys the lowest price and then turn up to the airport expecting to get what they used to get before. And then you’re just pushing the problem to the front line. We have to get it to a point where it is intuitive to people and impossible not to understand what you’re buying. A lot of the work is going into that usability and ensuring that the flow is clean and well labeled and smooth.

Even if it really is that simple and the customers all understand what they’re buying (a very, very large leap of faith) does it even make sense? Given the way the changes are rolling out and what the fare families mean for most customers I cannot help but wonder if one of the comments I recently heard bears more truth than not:

This is the most complicated way of introducing a first bag fee.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s really what the changes are all about. And it is an incredibly complicated approach to such a task. Rather than just using the existing technology for charging for bags during the check-in process the company has had to reengineer the entire sales and marketing process, the online interface and myriad other systems integrated into the travel experience. I have no doubt that there will be an associated revenue bump from the change, but I do wonder if this is a very, very complicated way of solving a rather simple problem.

One of the complications surrounds communication of changes to various customer groups. Take, for example, an email sent to JetBlue’s TrueBlue Mosaic members. It included this chunk of text:

Our different fare options will be based on the number of checked bags included, TrueBlue bonus points earned and change/cancel fees. As a Mosaic member, you’ll be able to choose any fare option and still enjoy checking your first and second bag free*. Plus, you’ll still earn 3 additional bonus TrueBlue points with every booking. All other Mosaic benefits stay as-is – including no change/cancel fees.

Some were concerned that the reference to bonus points and earning options might mean that the lowest fare family tickets would not earn TrueBlue points or that they might earn at a lower rate than today. A JetBlue insider squashed this theory in a recent conversation, assuring me that the variable earning rates will only be additive from the current numbers as customers shift up to higher fare families rather than taking stuff away at the bottom level. Except for free checked bags, because that’s really the whole reason for these fare families.

Beyond that, expect a grid-like display in the fare search results and options which resemble bundles of features for the add-ons. Which is not to say that everything will be part of one of the bundles, but JetBlue expects that the different fare options will start with bundles of goods and then go from there. For anyone hoping to find Even More Space seating as part of the full-fare bundle (or as a Mosaic benefit), that doesn’t seem likely based on what Mr. Perry shared; the extra leg room will be an add-on fee on top of whichever bundled bits are included in the initial fare purchase.

You’re going to see some bundles and then you’re going to see things like Even More Space as individual add-ons to that. We don’t want to change things more than we have to; reeducating customers is a long and painful exercise. The goal is to keep the names and structures as similar as we can and add some bundles at the beginning.

I’ve been told that there is an internal target date for implementation (no surprise there) but I could not coax that detail out of my sources. Probably for the best, especially as I’m not in much of a hurry to see this change happen as I doubt it does much good for me personally as a consumer.

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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.