Last week I reported that JetBlue was set to respond to the Virgin America/Alaska Airlines merger with a significant expansion of its Mint premium travel product. Today the company made it official, announcing four new cities to receive the product with routes launching starting in 2017 and continuing into 2018. Seattle, San Diego and Las Vegas will see service in the West while Fort Lauderdale will add Mint flights on the East coast. The company will operate more than 70 daily flights with the product based on the new plans.
The carrier is not subtle about the motivation for the product launch. Leading the press release is the line, “JetBlue Will Capture Opportunity to Introduce New Transcontinental Competition for Customers Facing Fewer Options.” JetBlue wants the transcon Virgin America passengers who are skeptical about the pending Alaska Airlines merger and associated culture and product shift. Rather than spending $2.6bn to buy Virgin America JetBlue will invest some of that cash to grow its product in a competitive manner on the transcon routes. Given a nearly universal industry expectation that the combined product will trend far more towards the current Alaska offering this leaves a significant premium consumer up for grabs. In the release issued this morning CEO Robin Hayes further alluded to the opportunity and timing, “Our plan has long called for strategic growth of Mint on these valuable transcontinental routes, and now is the right time for us to capture this opportunity to bring much needed competition where customers are facing dwindling choices.”
Getting to the point where it can serve the increased routes requires JetBlue to alter its fleet makeup; nine of the A321s set for 2017 delivery will now be Mint-configured rather than the Core layout. This is in addition to the handful set for 2016 delivery to support the previously announced Boston-based Mint growth. Of course, growing Mint means slowing growth in some other areas. JetBlue executives have previously spoken to the need for the all-Core A321s to offer capacity growth in congested airports or for serving higher demand routes such as certain seasonal Caribbean markets. Growing the transcon premium product will slow those plans but with the potential to capture higher yielding traffic instead.
It is worth noting that Delta attempted to bring JFK-Seattle into its premium offering a couple years ago. It quietly walked away from that plan after just a year of service, though occasionally the route still sees the premium configured aircraft. JetBlue’s product, route network and cost structure are different than Delta‘s and fuel costs are significantly lower today than when Delta tried. That may be sufficient to see the route succeed.
Read More: In-flight: The JetBlue Mint experience
I’m a HUGE fan of the Mint product, especially when I can get it at the low-end price point (JFK transcons sell for as little as $599; BOS flights have been sub-$500 in some cases). It is a great splurge for me paying out of my own pocket every now and then. And it looks like I’ll have more opportunities to do that going forward.
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