Some of the skepticism that I have for the rumors that Alaska Airlines will acquire Virgin America comes from their very different operations, including the way that they price their fares and reward their elite members. But Zach at The Points Guy made me aware of some significant developments in how Virgin America and JetBlue issue changes to purchased tickets.
It seems that Virgin America and JetBlue recently copied one of my favorite features about Alaska Airlines, specifically the option to change a flight at any time before departure and only pay the difference in fare.
I’ve used this option dozens of times to make a speculative booking, and why not? I know I’ll travel at some point with Alaska, so if I decide to cancel they’re going to get my money eventually. If fares later drop, Alaska allows free changes to get back the difference. And the earlier I book my ticket, the higher my name on the upgrade queue (this is just about the only relevant factor Alaska uses to rank upgrade requests.)
There are some important differences. Virgin America’s policy is actually less generous depending on your perspective, while JetBlue’s is more generous than Alaska’s.
Alaska Airlines provides free changes to all MVP Gold and 75K elite members at any time before departure, and to all customers when making changes up to 60 days before departure. (All customers can get a credit for a new, lower fare at any time.) It’s really as simple as it sounds, and I’ve found that Alaska’s website makes it very easy to process changes or cancellations online.
Virgin America, by contrast, provides free changes to only their Premium Visa Signature cardholders while others — including elite members — must pay $25. Virgin America also doesn’t permit changes to a higher cabin class. Letting customers pay a small fee for flexibility is a plus.
JetBlue permits free changes to their Mosaic members at any time before departure and also free changes to anyone on the same itinerary. That’s a sweet benefit. My wife lost her MVP Gold benefit, so while I can still change plans at will she is restrained by Alaska’s 60-day policy. It would be awesome if she enjoyed the same perk just for flying with me.
Additional Change/Cancellation Terms (all fares): For changes, any applicable fare difference will be charged in addition to the change fee and are subject to availability. Cancellations are for a JetBlue flight credit only, valid for a JetBlue flight within 1 year from the date of cancellation. If you do not change/cancel before scheduled departure and you “no show” all money for reservation is forfeited. JetBlue change and cancellation fees will be waived for Mosaic members and those who are on the same itinerary as the Mosaic member.
Of course, there are many other ways in which these carriers differ from each other, and I still think that Virgin America and JetBlue make more sense for an eventual tie-up. But I’m glad to see more airlines that “get it,” and make it easier for their most loyal customers to keep buying tickets and changing them — as long as they fly with them again in the future.