JetBlue is putting its investment in private charter operator JetSuiteX to work. The carrier announced this week that it will add the B6 code to the scheduled charter flights operated by JetSuiteX. The flights are now available for sale on the Jetblue.com website. This deal is the first codeshare between a semi-private public charter operator and a major national carrier.
JetSuiteX operates a network of west coast flights with Embraer E135 aircraft configured to 36″ pitch and with power at every seat. Passengers depart and arrive at private jet terminals (FBOs) rather than the commercial airport facilities. This allows for virtually no wait time at the airport (15-20 minutes rather than the typical hour or more) and a less crowded environment. Passengers also receive a complimentary snack and cocktail on board. Checked bags (up to two, 50 pounds total combined weight) are also included in the fares.
The current arrangement does not allow for connections between JetBlue and JetSuiteX flights. Given the limited overlap of connection options that makes some sense. It is also necessary because of the split of operations between FBOs and commercial terminals. In the long term passengers would benefit greatly from linking the two networks, but that could come at the expense of some of the value JetSuiteX brings to its customer base. SeaPort airlines eventually gave up on its FBO-based operations to move inside the TSA-secured terminals where it operated, realizing that the connections were more important than the nonstop passengers. It is unclear that JetSuiteX faces similar demands.
Growing the West Coast
Even with that separation, however, the move gives JetBlue greater access into the west coast market. Facing massive competition from freshly merged Alaska Airlines and its “Most West Coast” campaign, plus Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, JetBlue is only a bit player from its Long Beach hub. And that airport clearly does not want to let JetBlue grow, scuttling an international arrivals facility and generally avoiding any growth opportunities.
Tapping in to the JetSuiteX network adds routes and airports to the JetBlue map with far less risk than growing its own operations. The deal also gives a big boost to JetSuiteX’s visibility (and viability) in the market. The JetBlue codeshare flights should show across flight search results that JetSuiteX cannot reach on its own. And even just selling a couple seats here or there makes a big difference when the planes only seat 30 passengers.
Despite the close ties between the two companies the pricing across the codeshare arrangement is not seamless. There are examples of it skewing in both directions. Codeshare agreements do not necessarily mandate matched pricing (and it may even be precluded depending on the regulatory environment), but it seems slightly surprising in this scenario.
What about the points??
Members of JetBlue‘s TrueBlue loyalty program will continue to earn points on the JetSuiteX flights but not in significant volume. A JetBlue spokesman confirmed that points will be earned based on fare class rather than price paid. The points will not count towards qualification for TrueBlue’s Mosaic elite tier. While that’s consistent with other JetBlue codeshare partners it also comes across as slightly anomalous considering the financial interest and arguably different value proposition to JetBlue. If JetBlue really wants to drive customers to these west coast flights giving some additional credit within the loyalty program should be a relatively inexpensive way to drive that passenger behavior.
On the redemption side the JetSuiteX flights remain off limits as well:
There are no plans for redemption at this time but we continue to evaluate ways to evolve both our TrueBlue program and the partnership with JetSuiteX.
While the codeshare move presents relatively low risk for JetBlue the labor side of the operation might not agree. The deal sees JetBlue shifting some domestic flying to outside partners that theoretically could be handled by its in-house crew instead. The carrier has some experience with this; Cape Air operates a codeshare operation on some routes as well. But the pilots are now unionized and earlier this month the flight attendants voted for union representation as well. These deals are generally frowned upon by unions as reducing jobs their members could be performing. That is an angle to keep an eye on.