jetBlue recently (unfortunately) joined the Economy Minus party with the introduction of jetBlue Blue Basic fares. Reading the announcement, I expected the same general level of “ugh” as the legacies. Surprisingly, though, it looks like jetBlue might be using Blue Basic to actually lower fares, at least on some routes.
The General Dishonesty of Basic Economy
I complain about Basic Economy frequently, so what exactly is my problem? I find that it’s a fundamentally dishonest concept. Every airline that introduced them (with the possible exception of Alaska) used typical doublespeak when rolling them out. They sold them to the public as “enhancements” that help offer “lower fares”. But in reality, lower fares never happened. Instead, airlines simply took the old Economy fare and stripped out benefits. Want the same amenities you received before? Prepare to pay extra. So really, the airlines used Basic as a dishonest way to push through an across-the-board fare increase.
In addition, the airlines spun Basic as a way to give customers “choices” and an alternative to the likes of Spirit. But Basic Economy fares don’t actually give you much in the way of choices. You receive last group boarding, no advance seat assignments, no upgrades, no standby, etc. It’s really a punitive fare option meant to push you to buy up to regular Economy. And the fare difference between Basic and non-basic sure has grown over time. Take a look at these round-trip fares from Dallas to Los Angeles the last weekend of January on American. The upcharge exceeds $80 on a round-trip basis; I’ve even seen it reach $100 out of Dallas to several markets over the last several months.
jetBlue Blue Basic Might Actually Be Different
I figured jetBlue just planned to pull the same shenanigans with Blue Basic fares. So shortly before they filed fares under the new bucket, I took screen shots of fares in a few select markets. I randomly selected Fort Lauderdale to Boston, Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, and Boston to San Juan for the first Saturday in February. The search returned lowest fares of: $69 FLL to BOS, $124 FLL to LAX, and $129 BOS to SJU.
A few days ago, I looked at fares again for the same city pairs for the same date. And the results – surprised me. Specifically, I can’t really find a pattern one way or another. Some Blue fares increased, such as a $25 increase on the 6 am departure. But others either stayed the same (the 5:29 pm departure) or even decreased (the 8:05 am departure). And the lowest fare, now Blue Basic, dropped from $69 to $59.
Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles showed similar results. Once again, the lowest fare in the market dropped $20. Blue fares, meanwhile, showed a similar pattern; two increased modestly, one substantially, and one decreased slightly.
Boston to San Juan is a little tougher to analyze, as a schedule change knocked out the 11:30 pm departure. But the same general story held true, with the lowest published fare dropping $20, and at least one Blue fare remaining the same.
Now, this is a small sample size, and the few weeks that elapsed between fare comparisons makes it apples-to-oranges to some extent. A couple of other routes I looked at, Dallas to Boston and Fort Lauderdale to New York, showed what I expected. Blue fares increased with Blue Basic largely taking over the old lowest Blue fare in the market. But there is at least some evidence that jetBlue really is using Blue Basic to stimulate lower fares in some markets.
You Should Still Avoid Blue Basic Fares
On the one hand, I applaud jetBlue for avoiding the typical BS associated with Basic Economy fares. But there are still many reasons to avoid Blue Basic fares. The attached chart shows the difference between Basic and regular fares.
In short, you still “enjoy” the best “enhancements” of Basic fares. Namely, no seat selection, last boarding group, no changes, no standby, and lower point accrual. (While jetBlue technically allows carry-ons on Basic fares, last group boarding practically means a gate check most of the time.) Even Mosaics forfeit seat selection and complimentary changes and standby. Especially for frequent flyers, this still feels like a punitive fare meant to push customers to pay more for a regular Blue fare.
I get irritated every time I hear justifications like jetBlue’s for introducing “enhancements” like Basic Economy fares. “We heard you loud and clear”, they say, as if they’re doing us a favor. In this case, though, I think jetBlue might actually be handling these fares differently. It appears, on some routes at least, that jetBlue really is lowering fares with Blue Basic. And in that context, I don’t mind these fares as much. “Get less, pay less” is fair enough, at least.