JetBlue Revises, Relaunches TrueBlue

JetBlue has made good on the promise it made earlier this summer to relaunch its TrueBlue rewards program.

As expected, TrueBlue now awards points based on the number of dollars spent, and allows members to redeem their points for every seat on every flight.

In opting for a revenue-based program, JetBlue has taken a page from Virgin America's Elevate program. There's nothing inherently better or worse about loyalty schemes that are keyed to dollars spent instead of miles flown. In fact, most consumers would probably acknowledge that the programs should in fact reward customers for their contribution to a company's revenue, for which flight miles are but a rough proxy.

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The issue is value. For every dollar I spend, how much can I expect to get back in the form of a rebate or the value of a free ticket?

Earning Points

Members earn three points for each dollar spent on JetBlue tickets, and six points per dollar if the tickets are purchased on the airline's own website. For charges to the JetBlue credit card, members earn one point per dollar spent, or two points for purchases made on JetBlue's website.

There's also a 10,000-point bonus after completing ten one-way long-haul flights (2,000 miles or more) within a year, and more bonus points after reaching various points thresholds (500 points after earning 3,000 points, and so on).

Redeeming Points

On the award side, free one-way JetBlue flights can be booked for as few as 5,000 points, with prices dependent upon the real-time market price of the seat being booked. The JetBlue booking application now prices all flights in either dollars or points.

Value

To get a sense of the underlying value proposition, a sample round-trip Los Angeles-Boston flight would cost $352.20, including taxes. The same flight could also be booked for 24,600 TrueBlue points.

Let's assume a TrueBlue member purchased the ticket using the program credit card and booking on the airline's website. He or she would earn eight points per dollar, or 2,818 points. That's about 11.5 percent of the 24,600 points required for a comparable free ticket. Or, to put it another way, you'd earn a free ticket after buying about nine paid tickets. Fewer actually, since some of the above-mentioned bonuses would have kicked in after multiple long-haul flights.

That's decent value. And the ability to book without regard to blackout dates or capacity controls is a definite plus.

Points Expiration

One change for the better is the program's new expiration policy: "Points don't expire as long as you earn points through flying JetBlue or through the use of the JetBlue Card from American Express on eligible purchases at least once in a 12-month period."

While the ability to extend the life of points indefinitely without committing to the airline's own credit card is an improvement over the previous policy, the activity-within-12-months requirement is notably harsh, given that the industry standard is between 18 months and two years. Deviating from that norm in a consumer-unfriendly direction just seems like a mean-spirited thumb in the eye of JetBlue customers.

Partners

The glaring weakness of JetBlue's program continues to be its partner roster: Program members are still limited to earning points for JetBlue flights and credit card charges; and JetBlue flights are the only rewards.

While JetBlue's deepening relationship with Lufthansa may eventually develop into a frequent flyer partnership, JetBlue would still need tie-ups with other airlines, hotel chains, rental car companies, and non-travel merchants to approach the wealth of earning and rewards opportunities offered by larger airlines.

TrueBlue is a work in progress and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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