JetBlue To Dramatically Expand Its Mint Service

Big news for the nation’s two hip, upstart airlines this month! While Virgin America’s brand of sly, white-leather-upholstered bravado is living on borrowed time, about to be swallowed whole by Alaska Airlines’ no-nonsense khaki ethos, the original upstart, JetBlue, is going in the opposite direction.

JetBlue just announced a major expansion of its signature Mint product, a super-premium service right now only available on the JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO transcon routes, on its BOS-SFO route (with planned BOS-LAX service already announced) and on select Caribbean routes from JFK.

JetBlue's groundbreaking Mint cabin
JetBlue’s groundbreaking Mint cabin

On its face this news is actually quite groundbreaking. Once known for its democratic all-economy class flights, JetBlue now intends to offer super-premium cabins — which is to say, cabins with lie-flat seats, enhanced meal service and individual suites, appreciably superior to “domestic first class” on American, Delta and United in every way — on a host of new cross-country routes between:

  • Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale
  • San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale
  • New York (JFK) and Las Vegas
  • New York (JFK) and San Diego
  • New York (JFK) and Seattle
  • Boston and San Diego
  • Boston and Seattle

With nine new Mint-equipped A321s being delivered in 2017 and additional deliveries in 2018, the routes will start to launch in the first quarter of 2017, according to the airline.

JetBlue-A321

What This All Means

Up until now, Mint has been more or less competitive with the transcontinental premium products on Delta, United and American — noticeably nicer in some respects, slightly less convenient in others.  The Boston to San Francisco and Boston to Los Angeles routes are brand new, and it’s hard to tell what impact they’ve had on the other airlines that are flying those routes, but I suspect not enough of one — yet — to cause any of the big three to consider upgrading their aircraft from Boston.

JB_MintMap_Release-2_(1)

I don’t imagine that American, Delta and United are going to try and compete with JetBlue Mint on these additional routes. The airlines do very well on these routes already with standard domestic recliner seats, and I’m not convinced the math will make sense for Delta, American and United to follow JetBlue’s lead and usher in a new era of premium travel.

All four airlines compete on the New York to SFO/LAX routes, for example, but some of the new JetBlue Mint routes aren’t terribly competitive at all. For example, currently only JetBlue and Alaska fly between San Diego and Boston, and only JetBlue, Alaska and Delta fly between Seattle and Boston.  I doubt that Delta will start Delta One service between Seattle and Boston anytime soon, and more to the point, I’m certain Alaska’s ho-hum service won’t be enhanced any further on any of its routes. If there’s any ripple effect across the airlines, it may be in pricing — which the legacy carriers may drop to compete with JetBlue’s better product.

So what this means for the long haul, to me, is that JetBlue is differentiating itself as a premium airline and quickly shedding its low-cost all-economy heritage. I think they’ve actually found an excellent niche here and have the potential to do quite well, particularly as the Mint service becomes the JetBlue “brand.” I suspect they’re going after the Delta, American and United loyalists who will go out of their way to fly their preferred carrier in order to keep up with elite status and earn miles — but as those statuses become less valuable and the miles less usable, JetBlue seems to be knocking on the door offering a wildly superior premium cabin with relatively affordable fares. It seems like that, if anything, could disrupt the airline landscape as we currently know it.

When I flew Mint in the past, I loved my experience, and I’m personally looking forward to flying Mint elsewhere around the country. I did find JetBlue’s ground services to be uncompetitive with other premium ground services, so I wonder if JetBlue plans to roll out premium ground services (other than preferred check-in and security lines) in conjunction with the hard product rollout.

JetBlue-Mint

Bottom Line

This is exciting news indeed. Assuming JetBlue’s Mint fares will be competitive with existing domestic first class fares (which can, at times, be quite reasonable indeed), this will change the way you think about flying. It’s hard to see an American Airlines elite member like Ben justify flying American between Los Angeles and Miami, with the chance of a complimentary upgrade to a subpar domestic first cabin, when Ben could outright pay for a lie-flat JetBlue Mint seat between Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale.

If anything, this is one more reason why it’s a major bummer that Virgin America ended up in Alaska’s hands and not JetBlue’s. JetBlue is getting creative, and JetBlue would have served Virgin America’s customer base and its network very well. Given that most of its new Mint routes will overlap with a future Alaska or Alaska-Virgin America route — and given that Alaska can’t even begin to compete with Mint — you have to wonder if JetBlue had the ultimate last word in the Virgin America bidding war.

Comments

  1. Actually Delta will bring it’s DeltaONE product to the JFK-SEA route in the not-too-distant future (as they promised to offer by June 2014.)

    It will compliment their Asian expansion and the new International Arrivals & Departure terminal at Sea-Tac

  2. I have a funny feeling we haven’t seen the last of the Alaska/Virgin/JetBlue merger drama. I predict 5 years from now they will all have merged into one carrier.

  3. I have not flown Mint but this seems like great news for travelers in general. For passengers in some cities, like Seattle, this will be the first opportunity to purchase domestic flat bed seats. Consolidation has certainly reduced competition in some places but in others it seems like competition is only getting more intense. In the case of Seattle, the last 2-3 years has brought:

    – Delta’s quasi-hub operation to compete with Alaska
    – Alaska dramatically expanding routes to compete with Delta
    – American introducing more flights and also new routes to Southern California (competing with Delta and Alaska)
    – JetBlue introducing Mint service
    – Dramatically lower domestic first class fares on all airlines
    – Alaska introducing improvements in first class and a new premium economy product later this year (41″ seat pitch in first)
    – Alaska buying VX to be more competitive with the big 3

    I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a Seattle based flyer. There are far more choices available now than there were 10 or 20 years ago, both in terms of carriers and level of service.

  4. Finally an Airline offering a premium product to New York from San Diego. Its about time. I have had to live with AA & UA & DL’s terrible First class product on this route.
    This is a great move where I think the demand is high and a lot of people will use it.

  5. Being a BOS flier I can tell you the DL flights to LA and SFO are on old 737s and are not that comfortable even up front. The issue is, do you fly DL out of loyalty and to keep status (that is a fair amount of MQMs to give up), or do you jump to JetBlue for the product and comfort (assuming you want to fly up front to begin with)?

  6. @Another Steve – There are already domestic flat-bed seats from SEA on one of Delta’s daily SEA-ATL offerings.

  7. I’m a BOS based flyer too, and have been debating talking the JetBlue plunge for a few years, especially since AA canceled their BOS-LHR service. But the systemwide upgrades are hard to give up. I’d be happy to fly everywhere nonstop from Boston, but being a nobody for the 4-5 international trips I take each year is tough. But since AA is cutting their upgrades in half, maybe it’s time.

  8. @ncsam says:There are already domestic flat-bed seats from SEA on one of Delta’s daily SEA-ATL offerings.

    Yup, you’re right I remembered that after I posted, doesn’t change my opinion though.

  9. Hoping they start having lounges at least in JFK, BOS, and LAX. they need that to be a true competitor now that they have the route network they’re almost there!

  10. Started booking my boss into these Mint flights ex-SFO, especially to BOS. He has basically ditched his lifetime status with UA.

  11. I’d say Delta One is better than Mint, but when you figure the price is usually double I’d pick mint all the time (that said i usually take, and will continue to take Delta in Economy Comfort).

    I’d also think if JetBlue can provide lounge access to Mint flyers they’d have an upper hand.

    Also surprised they’re launching Mint JFK->LAS. While it sounds like a classy route it’s really just a long haul leisure route. I’ve flown this 3x in the past year as a Delta gold medallion and am 5 for 6 on getting an upgrade.

  12. Having flown Mint I find it blows Delta One, American, and UA’s product out of the water, especially with the single ‘suite’ seats, the food (and drinkable coffee), and the fast (and free) WiFi. This is also quite a shot across the bow to Virgin/Alaska, whose transcon product is pretty lousy.

    As for lounges, not sure about the value given how little connecting traffic there is.

  13. Except for the JFK-LAX/SFO routes which everyone does well, they are the premium carrier on the FLL routes (only remote competition AA 767/772/77W) and the BOS routes (all “domestic”) and carribean

  14. The mint product has definitely evoked a response out of the big three. I flew on my first BusinessFirst equipped 757-200 from BOS to SFO on Monday.

    As a frequent transcon flyer out of Boston on UA, I am seriously considering switching to JetBlue. 1K on UA has become a let down, their operations (on the ground and IT) are a mess and I have respect for innovators.

  15. Very nice…wht about the caribbean flights hummm st lucia jamacia barbados grenada antigua etc… we need tht also….

  16. Flew Mint from SFO to BOS this May..Exceptional..Puts any other first class to shame. I flew United firstcClass out to Ca. and there was no comparison. I would drive to Boston or JFK to take Mint if I am heading cross country. I live in Upstate NY and our airport and flights are terrible. The only problem with the red eye from SFO to BOS is that I was so comfortable I slept 3/4 of the flight. Such a shame. Look forward to flying Mint again in the near future

  17. Mint Service sounds wonderful! But I hope they will implement Mint Service to South Florida and Jet blue’s South American routes as they could use it since their flights are father away like Cartagena/Bogota Lima and Quito.

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