Claiming that its premium-cabin Mint service has “opened up a new market untapped by other carriers,” JetBlue said this week it has big long-term plans to keep expanding Mint to new markets beyond those it has already announced. But will it succeed?
The company said it has amended its long-term purchase agreement with Airbus to bring even more new A321s to its fleet, many of them configured with Mint premium cabins. By the end of this year, JetBlue said, it will have 17 Mint-equipped A321s; by 2017, it will have 31.
Equipped with lie-flat seats and offering “curated” food and amenities and “hospitality trained” flight attendants, JetBlue’s Mint service was initially introduced on the New York JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco routes to give business travelers a lower-cost alternative to the lie-flat premium seating in specially-configured aircraft operated by American, Delta and United on those two key transcontinental routes (United last fall moved its p.s. transcon service from JFK to Newark).
And apparently the experiment has worked: JetBlue said that since it introduced Mint in 2014, routes that offer the premium service have become some of its most profitable. “Revenue per available seat mile on Mint routes has grown 20 percent since 2014, and Mint has helped attract new corporate clients and west coast point of sale,” the company said.
JetBlue recently added Mint to transcontinental flights between Boston and San Francisco, and will bring it to Boston-LAX flights this fall. This past spring, the carrier said it will expand Mint service over the next two years to even more transcontinental markets, including Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK. It has also started adding Mint service on a few select Caribbean routes from New York and Boston.
Have you flown Mint yet? Check out our Trip Report here!
In announcing the addition of more Mint-equipped A321s to its fleet, JetBlue didn’t reveal any more new routes for the service, although it suggested it may add more frequencies to existing LAX and SFO transcon routes. But citing its success in “outperforming competitors” on Mint’s existing routes, it said that “transcontinental markets outside of New York and Los Angeles are prime for similar disruption. For example, only 5 percent of transcontinental flights over 1,800 miles consistently offer regularly scheduled lie-flat seats.”
According to Bloomberg, JetBlue is considering using its new tranche of planes for trans-Atlantic flights.
This makes us wonder: How many markets of more than 1,800 miles can support front cabins with lie-flat seats, and how many more customers will be willing and able to ante up the fare premium? Is JetBlue trying to position itself for a future transcon battle not against the Big Three but against a combined Alaska-Virgin America? Neither of those airlines has true lie-flat premium seats on transcon routes, and although Virgin is said to be planning a first class refit, lie-flat seats are apparently not part of those plans.
Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, Alaska hasn’t yet figured out whether to keep operating Virgin as a separate brand, or two fully merge the two – and if so, how?
Meanwhile, as JetBlue expands its transcon front cabins, will it be able to maintain a cost savings over the premium service of its Big Three competitors? Even now, that advantage appears to be eroding. A random check of premium cabin prices between JFK and LAX for mid-September finds JetBlue’s Mint in the same general space as the Big Three, with roundtrip fares ranging from roughly $1,150 to $1,600.
In other news, JetBlue said that it expects to grow significantly at California’s Long Beach Airport, adding nine new daily flights there starting in the fourth quarter of this year. It didn’t say where the new flights will operate from Long Beach, but it noted those routes will not offer Mint service.
So what do you think? Would you fly JetBlue if it brought Mint to an airport near you? Please leave your comments below.
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