JetBlue Airways, a major US domestic airline, has big plans to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever. They’ve just announced that they’ll be increasing their presence at LaGuardia, adding new routes, and servicing seven new cities.
Among those new destinations, they’ll be expanding to Canada for the first time, with direct flights to Vancouver. These new routes will bring additional transcontinental connections for Canadians and Americans alike.
Direct Flights from Vancouver to New York and Boston
Slated for launch in Summer 2022, JetBlue will be flying direct from Vancouver to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, as well as seasonal service to Boston.
One of my constant gripes about living on the west coast and flying out of YVR is a lack of direct flights to major US destinations, in particular urban centres on the east coast.
Prior to the pandemic, Air Canada had flown between Vancouver and Boston on a seasonal basis. JetBlue would be competing directly in this market with their seasonal service.
For New York, Air Canada had offered direct service between Vancouver and Newark, so JetBlue would introduce a new option to fly into JFK instead.
Moreover, transiting New York JFK hasn’t been quite as easy in the recent past. Ever since Cathay Pacific eliminated their fifth-freedom route between YVR and JFK, we haven’t had a direct flight into that airport.
As a major international hub for Oneworld airlines and with no shortage of enjoyable departure lounges, JFK is often a useful origin for an overseas award ticket to international destinations.
With this new flight on JetBlue, we now have a nonstop positioning flight – no more need for a detour via Pearson or a cab across Manhattan. I’d say that’s a much more pleasant way to set the stage for a subsequent premium long-haul experience.
All About JetBlue Airways
Within the US airline landscape, JetBlue is a significant player, albeit a secondary one. Roughly speaking, they fill a similar role as WestJet in Canada.
They lack the international presence of American, United, and Delta, instead focusing on domestic routes and sun destinations.
In spite of their relatively limited footprint, JetBlue offers more frills than a regional low-cost carrier. In particular, they’re known for free Wi-Fi, a strong food program (for domestic standards), and setting the bar with ample leg room in economy. They do all this while still aiming for competitive pricing.
JetBlue’s fleet is predominantly a 3-3 configuration, with most of their shorter routes only having an economy cabin. For coast-to-coast and Caribbean routes, however, they do have a pretty cool business class concept.
On these routes, JetBlue features their Mint product, including the newer Mint Suite and Mint Studio. These cozy yet comfortable herringbone-style pods have a spacious sense of privacy, resembling the seating style you might find on intercontinental carriers.
There’s no indication yet as to whether JetBlue Mint will be offered on the Vancouver routes.
Nevertheless, these certainly look like some of the more unique business class cabins within North America and to the Caribbean, and whether or not we see JetBlue Mint service out of Vancouver, I’ll certainly be looking out for a chance to try it out for some “medium-haul” travel in the future.
Booking Award Travel on JetBlue
Like most other major airlines, JetBlue has a loyalty program, called TrueBlue. Without sugar-coating it, the benefits are extremely limited for Canadians.
First of all, the award chart uses dynamic pricing. There’s not much benefit to using TrueBlue points instead of cash, and you won’t find any outsized value opportunities by flying JetBlue on points.
As for earning, JetBlue has a few co-branded US credit cards issued by Barclays. With the JetBlue Plus Card, you can earn 40,000 points against a $99 annual fee. That’s not unreasonable value, but I’d question whether it’s worth getting involved in yet another loyalty program when we have so many other transferable currencies to collect on both sides of the border.
Transferring points from bank programs is also questionable, in my view. You can convert points from any of the Big 4 US credit card issuers: Amex, Chase, Citi, or Capital One. However, Amex US MR points transfer to TrueBlue at an unfavourable ratio of 1.25:1.
In general, any of these currencies will have much more value when used for long-haul international flights on global airlines or exclusive hotel bookings.
Instead, I’d keep an eye on the AAdvantage partner award chart. American Airlines and JetBlue have a strategic partnership (in particular, JetBlue’s JFK routes link Vancouver and other cities to American Airlines’s global network). It wouldn’t surprise me if JetBlue routes became bookable with AAdvantage miles as this partnership strengthens over time.
If and when this happens, you’d be able to book Vancouver to New York one-way for 12,500 miles in economy, or 25,000 miles in business class. Reminiscent of Member Exclusive fares, anyone?
Or if you’re looking further afield at a Machu Picchu adventure, Vancouver to Lima one-way would be available for 20,000 miles in economy, or 30,000 miles in business class. Peru falls in the South America 1 zone on the AAdvantage chart, presenting a sweet spot compared to other award programs which usually charge more for travel that far south.
Given that, say, an Aeroplan ticket would cost twice as many points, I’d absolutely look for an AAdvantage booking instead.
Luckily, RBC Avion points are transferable to AAdvantage at a 1:0.7. Hopefully, Canadians will soon have a convenient way to book award seats on JetBlue as their partnerships continue to grow.
By targeting expansion into Canada and smaller cities in the Midwest, JetBlue is clearly taking a shot at some lower-traffic destinations, competing on routes where the larger airlines tend to raise prices due to lower demand. They’re hoping that with their simpler organizational structure and smaller scale of operations, they’ll be able to keep costs down.
Until we can redeem AAdvantage miles on JetBlue routes, the award travel implications are limited. Still, it’s always a welcome development to see new affordable cash travel options spring up, and there’s lots of time for JetBlue’s partnership with American Airlines to blossom in time for the new Vancouver routes to launch in Summer 2022.