Why JetBlue Offering Non-Refundable Fares Isn’t A Big Deal

JetBlue finally announced the details of their basic economy fare called “Blue Basic.” This wasn’t a surprise as they announced about a year ago that these fares were coming. Now that we can see what these fares include or don’t include, we know how bad the changes are.

For now, it’s hard to tell, since JetBlue isn’t offering Blue Basic fares on all flights. Until we see the difference in prices between the two fares, it will be difficult to judge how painful this change will be.

It’s easy to look through the prism of a frequent flyer when looking at these changes. Blue Basic fares are terrible for frequent JetBlue Mosaic flyers because they’ll lose all of their benefits, including the ability to cancel and change flights with no fees while requiring them to pay for a seat assignment.

But what do these changes mean for an infrequent traveler? Do they care if a fare is non-refundable?

To answer this question, we’ll need to look at JetBlue’s change/cancellation policy. This is the significant restriction of the Blue Basic fare. Here are the current costs to cancel or change a JetBlue Blue ticket (Blue Plus is the same ticket with a checked bag included). I bet if you asked, most JetBlue passengers aren’t even aware of these fees.

Blue & Blue Plus

  • $200 per-person fee for fares $200 or more + difference in fare
  • $150 per-person fee for fares $150 – $199.99 + difference in fare
  • $100 per-person fee for fares $100 – $149.99 + difference in fare
  • $75 per-person fee for fares under $100 + difference in fare

When JetBlue says they’ll cancel a fare, you don’t get a refund. Instead, you’ll get a credit.

Cancellations are for a JetBlue flight credit only, valid for a JetBlue flight within one (1) year from the date of cancellation.

In essence, you’ll get anywhere from $0 to $50 credit for tickets less than $250. For tickets over $250, you’ll receive a credit for your ticket price minus $200.

If your fare is $155, you’ll get a whole $5 back, and you’ll still have to pay the difference between the ticket you originally booked and the one you want to reserve now.

Is a person who is looking for the lowest price really going to care that if they have to cancel or change their flight that they’ll lose out on up to $50. If I bought a ticket for $215 and I get told that I’ll only get a $15 credit, I’d be pretty mad.

For this passenger, purchasing a non-refundable ticket isn’t a big deal. JetBlue has already been charging fees that make changing or canceling a ticket a lousy deal. If I could save some money when purchasing a ticket, why wouldn’t I?

Both Blue Basic and Blue fares require you to pay for your first checked bag. The one way to get out of this fee is if you have the JetBlue Plus credit card. With the card, you’ll get a free checked bag, even if you purchase a Blue Basic fare.

I guess the only other thing different with Blue Basic fares is the need to pay extra for a seat assignment. If you don’t care if you’re in a middle seat, this doesn’t matter. JetBlue has some of the most legroom of any of the major carriers, so the middle seats aren’t as bad as on some other airlines.

Final Thoughts

The introduction of basic economy fares has been a negative development over the last several years. What is has amounted to, in most cases, is the previous base fare price becoming the new basic fare and the service previously being offered, in comparison,  going up in price.

Some airlines’ basic fares are more restrictive than others and it seems JetBlue has landed towards the middle of the pack. JetBlue is making these fares least attractive for frequent flyers with status because they’ll lose the most if they book a Blue Basic ticket. For the leisure traveler, the main thing they’ll lose is a seat assignment for free.

How this story ends up all depends on JetBlue. How will they roll out these fares and what will the price differences be? They’ve never charged extra for seats other than the Even More Space rows. The buy up to those seats wasn’t that expensive, so I’m interested to see what JetBlue will charge Blue Basic passengers for seat assignments. That is finally what will determine how good or bad these fares are for passengers.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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