Should I Get a JetBlue Credit Card?

Frequent Flyer Q&A
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 6, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: American Express, credit card, free travel, frequent flyer, Frequent Flyer Q&A, JetBlue, low-cost airline, mileage earning, mileage redemption, Tim Winship.

Dear Tim—

JetBlue is offering 10,000 TrueBlue miles upon first purchase for people who open an instant credit card account.

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Now, the miles are nice for just making a first purchase and would even come in handy for a trip to San Francisco I was considering in the fall. But I'm really not sure what the benefits would be in the long run if I open a JetBlue credit card account. I'm also quite wary/weary of the idea of it being an American Express JetBlue card.

Is it wise to open this account, or bad credit waiting to happen?

Leda

Dear Leda—

First, for perspective, most airline credit cards offer hefty incentives for new account holders. Sign-up promotions featuring enough miles for a free ticket are pretty much the rule. And even better deals appear with some regularity. British Airways, for example, recently promoted its Executive Club Visa card with a stunning 100,000 bonus miles for new cardholders who charged $2,000 during the first three months.

The JetBlue 10,000-point bonus might be enough for a free ticket, as the airline's website suggests, but probably not.

TrueBlue award ticket prices are based on the market price of the airline's paid tickets. Take your trip to San Francisco as an example. Assuming you were flying to San Francisco from New York, departing on Friday, July 9, and returning on Monday, July 12, the lowest price I found was 28,400 points for the outbound flight, and 17,200 points for the return (on a red-eye). That's a total of 46,500 points for the round-trip. The 10,000 points earned for using the credit card would be only a small step in that direction.

On the positive side, TrueBlue awards do not have blackout dates or capacity controls. And the card's $40 annual fee is lower than many other cards'.

In short, the JetBlue offer, while attractive, is no more attractive than offers for cards linked to many other airline programs. And it may even be less so.

So much for the offer itself. It's also worth looking at the TrueBlue program, because ultimately the value of a travel rewards card depends on the value of the program it's affiliated with.

While JetBlue is a fine airline, TrueBlue is a weak program, with limited opportunities to earn points (JetBlue flights, charges to the JetBlue credit card, Hertz rentals, Hilton stays) and redeem them (JetBlue flights).

With the program's redesign and relaunch last year, TrueBlue is now a revenue-based scheme, awarding points according to how much members spend, and pricing award tickets according to market demand and price. In practice, that makes for a program that works well for business travelers, who travel frequently and on higher-priced tickets. For infrequent travelers, good value is harder to come by. That should factor into your thinking if you're contemplating a long-term relationship with the JetBlue card and TrueBlue program.

And finally, if you're thinking of signing up just for the bonus, and doing the same for other credit card bonuses, remember that having too many active credit card accounts may negatively affect your credit score, which in turn can increase the rates you pay for car loans, credit cards, and mortgages, or make obtaining loans or credit more difficult.

While 10,000 bonus points—which JetBlue touts as "enough for a round-trip Award Flight"—may make for eye-catching ad copy, there's more to credit card bonuses than just credit card bonuses.

 
 
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