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Maximize Monday: Transcontinental Comparison – Worth It To Switch To JetBlue?

by on October 7, 2013 · 6 comments

in American, Delta, Elite Status, JetBlue, Maximize Monday, United, Virgin America

Last Monday, I went to JetBlue’s New York headquarters to get a first look at the airline’s new “Mint” business class seats and first class mini-suites that will be going into service starting in June 2014, and the benefits premium flyers will enjoy. I have to admit, I was pretty impressed- especially since the cost of these seats will be drastically cheaper than purchasing smaller and more outdated products on the competition (at least to start). As I sat in the taxi on the way home from the event I actually started thinking about whether I should switch all or a portion of my flying to JetBlue- especially since they’ve got good coverage to Florida out of NYC. I crunched the numbers, and as you’ll see below, the legacy carriers still make mileage earning much more lucrative- especially if you fly on cheap coach fares. Bottom line: American will still keep a majority of my business because they have the international route network and alliance- I can redeem my hard earned miles on Oneworld carriers to far flung destination. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same on JetBlue, so for the time being I’m going to remain loyal to American, though I may give JetBlue a shot and bump Delta down to my third carrier of choice.

JetBlue's new premium mini-suites. Photo from PR Newswire.

JetBlue’s new premium mini-suites. Photo from PR Newswire.

Below I’ve provided calculations on the miles you can hope to accrue – both base elite-qualifying miles and elite bonus miles – based on the routes on each airline as well as whatever elite status you would have if you flew once a month transcontinentally roundtrip and twice a month and what those miles would be worth based on my own valuations of them. I’m going to warn you – there are a lot of numbers and variables (such as airfares, but I took a stab at average prices for advance purchase coach tickets), but take a careful look and see how your airline stacks up.

Traveling through JetBlue's T5 at JFK? You'll have free WiFi. Photo courtesy of Rockwell Group.

JetBlue’s T5 at JFK. Photo courtesy of Rockwell Group.

Number of Daily Flights Between New York JFK and LAX:
American: 8-10 (beginning in November 2013 through 2014 it will increase to around 14)
Delta: 7
JetBlue: 5
United: 6
Virgin America: 5

Number of Daily Flights Between New York JFK and SFO:
American: 5
Delta: 5
JetBlue: 3
United: 8
Virgin America: 4

Number of Daily Flights Between Newark EWR and LAX:
American: 1
Delta: There are no non-stop flights
JetBlue: There are no non-stop flights
United: 12-13
Virgin America: 3

Number of Daily Flights Between Newark EWR and SFO:
American: There are no non-stop flights
Delta: There are no non-stop flights
JetBlue: There are no non-stop flights
United: 15
Virgin America: 3

JETBLUE

JetBlue launched its Mosaic elite status program back in July 2012, and here’s a quick recap.

To qualify for TrueBlue Mosaic you either must fly 30 segments plus earn 12,000 base flight points within a calendar year or earn 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year. Unlike the legacy carriers, there are no tiers within their program. Here are the benefits:

  • Free second checked bag for everyone flying on the member’s reservation (2nd bag usually costs $40, and third $75)
  • Free Even More™ Speed, providing expedited security at 36 airports for everyone flying on the member’s reservation
  • Early boarding with early access to overhead bin space for everyone flying on the member’s reservation
  • Ability to use TrueBlue points to purchase Even More™ Space seats for extra legroom (these seats have 38 inches of pitch, and come with Even More Speed privileges)
  • Access to a dedicated 24/7 customer service line
  • Three bonus TrueBlue points per dollar spent for a total of nine points per dollar when booking on jetblue.com (instead of the base 3 points per $1, plus 3 bonus points per $1 when booking on jetblue.com)

Base Points Earned In A Year:

Here’s how you earn TrueBlue points:

With JetBlue, the miles that you earn are based on the cost of your flight, not the distance. Base flight points are the 3 points you earn on the base fare of each JetBlue flight you buy. All other bonus points, partner points, points you earn on other airlines and booking bonuses do not count towards the qualification of TrueBlue Mosaic. For example, the bonus points you earn from booking JetBlue flights online and the bonus points you earn for having a TrueBlue Mosaic badge will not count towards earning the Mosaic Badge.

Below I’ve calculated the base points that you would earn as a once-a-month flyer and a twice-a-month flyer (at 3X points per $1) as well as how many points you’d earn if you had Mosaic status since even if you fly just once a month and book economy seats, you’ll reach Mosaic status pretty quickly. I’ve also calculated the value those TrueBlue points would be worth since you can usually redeem them for a value of about 1.3 cents apiece.

Base points:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $365): 13,140 worth about $171
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $365): 26,280 worth about $341
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $331.80): 11,945 worth about $155
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $331.80): 23,890 worth about $311

If you already have Mosaic status then you earn 9 points per dollar spent and your total points earning will be this:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $365): 39,420 worth about $512.46
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $365): 78,840 worth about $1.025
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $331.80): 35, 835 worth about $466
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $331.80): 71,667 worth about $932

The Mint tickets cost $599 one-way so this is what you will earn when flying the same route in that class you would earn the following base points:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 43,128 worth about $561
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 86,256 worth about $1,121
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 43,128 worth about worth about $561
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 86,256 worth about $1,121

With Mosaic status, you would earn this many total points:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 129, 384 worth about $1,682
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 258,768 worth about $3,364
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 129, 384 worth about $1,682
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 258,768 worth about $3,364

The one thing to note here is that Mosaic status will not get you upgrades to Mint class, so you will have to purchase those seats outright and they’ll cost upwards of $599 roundtrip.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

American Airlines A321

The upgraded interior of the American Airlines A321.

New Product Rollout

American will start replacing its aging widebody 767 aircraft with a huge new order of smaller A321’s beginning in January 2014, dropping the number of seats on each plane from 168 to just 102 and then increasing the number of flights from JFK-LAX per day to about 14.

The new A321’s will have 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1 x 1 configuration in first class. Business class will have 20 lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 configuration, while the Main Cabin will be your typical 3 x 3 configuration with 36 Main Cabin Extra seats. The entertainment systems on these aircraft will also have seat-to-seat chat, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps and connecting gate information. Travelers in premium classes will have access to free entertainment on the 15.4-inch screens, and Bose headsets.

American has Flagship Lounges at JFK and LAX, and any ticketed business or first class passenger on an F or Z fare can access them, while travelers in business with J or U fares can also access the regular Admirals Club at these locations and at SFO.

Once A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: American Airlines has three levels of elite status – Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold. Flying 60,000 miles (flying transcontinental once a month) would mean you would qualify for Platinum status, which only requires 50,000 miles or 60 segments. Platinum members have an upgrade window of 72 hours before departure (though you have to request upgrades using your 500-mile upgrades), free checked bag, priority access check-in and security, and priority baggage delivery. Platinum members also earn four 500-mile upgrades for every 10,000 miles flown. Platinums also get a 100% elite mileage bonus.

Twice A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: Flying 120,000  miles (flying transcontinental twice a month) would mean that you qualify for the highest level of Executive Platinum (100,000 EQM level). Perks for Executive Platinum include unlimited complimentary upgrades starting at 100 hours before departure, companion upgrades, priority access check-in, security, free checked bag, and priority baggage delivery. Executive Platinum members also get 8 one-way systemwide upgrades yearly and they can be used to secure the upgrade in advance. These upgrades are good for any paid fare class on any AA flight, so generally they are best used for international flights, though they do come in handy when you don’t want to fork out the extra thousands for transcontinental business class and want to confirm the seat- especially for red-eye flights. Executive Platinums also get a 100% elite mileage bonus.

The class of service percentages for American are:

American Class of Service Bonuses

American Class of Service Bonuses

So with that in mind, here’s how many miles you’d earn on each route as a once a month flyer versus flying twice a month, and what kind of value you could look to get from them since I value American miles at about 1.8 cents apiece. These are all based on flying the discount economy fares most of us purchase.

Miles Earned In A Year:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 59,400 elite-qualifying miles plus 59,400 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum for a total of 108,800 worth about $2,138 in value
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 118,800 elite-qualifying miles (plus 118,800 bonus award miles if you are already Executive Platinum) for a total of 237,600 miles worth about $4,277
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 62,064 elite-qualifying miles plus 62,064 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum for a total of 124,128 miles worth about $2,234
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 124,128 elite-qualifying miles plus 124,128 bonus award miles if you are already Executive Platinum for a total of 248,256 miles worth about $4,468
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 58,896 elite-qualifying miles plus 58,896 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum for a total of 117,792 miles worth about $2,120
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 117,792 elite-qualifying miles plus 117,792 bonus award miles if you are already Executive Platinum for a total of 235,584 miles worth about $4,240

DELTA

Delta will fly 757's and 767's will lie flat seats in BusinessElite from JFK-LAX/SFO.

Delta will fly 757′s and 767′s will lie flat seats in BusinessElite from JFK-LAX/SFO.

New Product Rollout

Delta is currently operating Boeing 767’s with its fully lie-flat BusinessElite seats and 757′s with 16 recliner BusinessElite seats on all long-haul flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In-flight amenities for Delta’s transcontinental service includes in-flight power outlets at your seat, a personal entertainment system with TV, movies, games and music, and Delta’s entire domestic fleet also features Gogo in-flight WiFi so you can surf the web while crossing the country. The 767-300, which flies from LAX-JFK has BusinessElite class seats 60 inches of legroom and 160-degree recline. In the 757-200, which flies from SFO-JFK, BusinessElite has 55-60 inches of legroom and 150-degree recline.

Last month, Delta announced new details of the future 757-200 BusinessElite cabin which they plan to fly on their transcontinental routes. These aircraft will feature 16 BusinessElite 180 degrees fully lie flat seats, 44 Economy Comfort seats, and 108 Economy seats. Originally scheduled to be completed by early 2014, this project is now not scheduled to begin until spring 2014. Delta currently flies a handful of 767 aircraft on their JFK-LAX which do feature lie-flat seats up front already, so once this modification is made to the 757-200, then all their planes on JFK-LAX/SFO/SEA routes will offer flat bed seats. For the full details on the new planes, check out this prior post. When it comes to inflight entertainment, the new planes will feature 16” Elite Integrated Smart Monitors in BusinessElite; 9” Eco 9i Integrated Smart Monitors in Economy Comfort & Economy.

Once A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: Flying 60,000 miles would mean you would qualify for Gold Medallion, which only requires 50,000 miles, and means that you get unlimited space available upgrades to BusinessElite, however it’s rare for these upgrades to clear in advance without using a Systemwide Upgrade, so most likely it would come down to a gate upgrade. Gold members also get complimentary preferred seats, Economy Comfort seats for US travel, priority check-in and priority boarding, and a 100% miles bonus.

Twice A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: Flying 120,000 miles would put you in the Platinum status and just shy of Diamond Medallion status. Platinum offers all of the benefits of Gold, plus Economy Comfort seats for international travel and waived same-day fees. If you make it to 125,000 miles for Diamond, you can enjoy a discounted Delta SkyClub membership and a 100% mileage bonus.

The class of service percentages for Delta are:

Delta Class of Service Bonuses.

Delta Class of Service Bonuses.

Here’s now many miles you’d earn in a year with our once/twice monthly scenarios and what they’re worth based on the fact that I value SkyMiles at about 1.5 cents apiece. These are all based on flying the discount economy fares most of us purchase.

Miles Earned In A Year:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 59,400 elite-qualifying miles plus 59,400 bonus award miles if you are already Gold Medallion for a total of 118,800 miles worth about $1,782.
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 118,800 elite-qualifying miles (plus 118,800 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum Medallion for a total of 237,600 miles worth about $3,564.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 62,064 elite-qualifying miles plus 62,064 bonus award miles if you are already Gold Medallion for a total of 124,128 miles worth about $1,862.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 124,128 elite-qualifying miles plus 124,128 bonus award miles if you are already Platinum Medallion for a total of 248,256 miles worth about $3,724.

UNITED

United will be replacing the current first and business class seats with its BusinessFirst lie-flat product.

United will be replacing the current first and business class seats with its BusinessFirst lie-flat product.

New Product Rollout

United plans to rip out all existing business and first class seats on their 757 p.s. planes and install all new lie-flat BusinessFirst beds. While the planes are losing the first class cabin, in my opinion the new business class seats are more comfortable for sleeping since the old first class seats never become fully horizontal. The new reconfigured fleet will include 180-degree flat-bed seats in United BusinessFirst, replacing angled lie-flat and recliner seats in United First and United Business, all-new United Economy seat and new United Economy Plus seats with more legroom. There is also complimentary in-seat personal on-demand entertainment, standard power ports in all seats and Quicker Gogo WiFi. The transition is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013, and you can track the progress here.

Once A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: United’s premier status has four levels. Flying 60,000 miles with United will earn you Premier Gold level, which requires 50,000 or 60 segments. Premier Gold members get complimentary access to Economy Plus seating, complimentary upgrades with confirmation as early as 48 hours in advance, priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling privileges, lounge access when traveling internationally, and same-day flight changes fee waived. Premier Gold members earn a 50% mileage bonus.

Twice A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: If you fly 120,000 miles it will earn you the highest level of Premier 1K, which requires 100,000 Premier qualifying miles or 120 segments. Benefits of Premier 1K include upgrades starting at 96 hours before departure, complimentary access to Economy Plus, priority check-in, priority screening (where offered), priority baggage handling and priority boarding privileges. Premier 1K members earn 6 one-way systemwide upgrades at hitting 100,000 EQMs, and then 2 more for each additional 50,000 elite miles earned. These are valid on any fare class and are transferable to others and eligible on Copa flights as well. You will also earn two more for each 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS earned after reaching Premier 1K. Each global premier upgrade is valid for a single one-way, one-cabin upgrade so you can’t upgrade from economy to first, only economy to business, or business to first. Premier 1K also gets you lounge access when traveling internationally, and compensation for the Global Entry application fee. Premier 1K’s earn a 100% mileage bonus.

The class of service percentages for United are:

United Class of Service Bonus

United Class of Service Bonus

Here’s how many miles you’d earn in a year and what they’d be worth based on my valuation of United miles at 2 cents apiece.

Earned In A Year:

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 59,400 elite-qualifying miles plus 29,700 bonus award miles if you are already Premier Gold for a total of 89,100 miles worth about $1,782.
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 118,800 elite-qualifying miles plus 118,800 bonus award miles if you are already Premier 1K for a total of 237,600 miles worth about $4,752
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 62,064 elite-qualifying miles plus 31,032 bonus award miles if you are already Premier Gold for a total of 93,096 miles worth about $1,862.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 124,128 elite-qualifying miles plus 124,128 bonus award miles if you are already Premier 1K for a total of 248,256 worth about $4,965.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month: 58,896 elite-qualifying miles plus 29,448 bonus award miles if you are already Premier Gold for a total of 83,344 miles worth about $1,667.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month: 117,792 elite-qualifying miles plus 117,792 bonus award miles if you are already Premier 1K for a total of 235,584 miles worth about $4,712.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: 61,560 elite-qualifying miles plus 30,780 bonus award miles if you are already Premier Gold for a total of 92,340 miles worth about $1,847.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: 123,120 elite-qualifying miles plus 123,120 bonus award miles if you are already Premier 1K for a total of 246,240 miles worth about $4,925.

VIRGIN AMERICA

Virgin America's First Class seats.

Virgin America’s First Class seats.

Current Products

Virgin America currently flies a fleet of A320′s between JFK and Los Angeles/ San Francisco.  The A320 has 8 First Class seats, 12 Main Cabin Select seats, and1 29 Main Cabin seats and occasionally an A319 will fly this route, which offers the same number of First and Main Cabin Select seats, but only 99 Main Cabin seats. Their planes are probably best known for their sleek/futuristic interiors that feature mood lighting and are equipped with Gogo Wifi on-board. All of the seats feature audio visual on demand touchscreen seatback TV’s and personal power plugs. Virgin America’s First Class cabin features white leather recliner seats with 55 inches of pitch, 21 inches of width and 165 degrees of recline. First Class passengers receive complimentary food, drinks and entertainment, two free checked bags and priority boarding.

Virgin America has Clubhouses at SFO and JFK (and Washington Dulles). Confirmed First Class, Main Cabin Select and Elevate customers can purchase access to the lounge at SFO (either at online check-in or at the airport) for $35. Only Confirmed First Class and Main Cabin Select passengers can purchase access to the Clubhouse at JFK for $75.

Once Or Twice A Month Transcontinental Scenario – Elite Status, Perks and Mileage Earning: Flying 60,000 miles would mean you would qualify for Gold Status, which only requires 50,000 Elevate status points, and flying 120,000 miles wouldn’t put you at any higher advantage since Gold is the highest status they offer. They do offer a lesser Silver tier, which only requires 20,000 status points a year. Both offer complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select, which are roomier seats in the bulkhead or exit rows, but neither tier offers complimentary upgrades to First Class. Upgrading from the Main Cabin to First Class is $399 and is available on a space available only system.

Base Points Earned In A Year:

With Virgin America’s Elevate program, the miles that you earn are based on the cost of your flight, not the distance, and you earn 5 points per dollar on your base fare, which can then be redeemed at a value of 1.6-2.3 cents apiece (so in the calculations I’ve pegged them to around 2 cents).

  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $317): 19,020 worth around $380.
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $317): 38,040 worth about $760.
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on a first class flight costing $4,080): 244,800 worth about $4,900.
  • Flying JFK-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $4,080): 489,600 worth about $9,800.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $342): 20,520 worth about $410.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $342): 41,040 worth about $820.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month (based on a first class flight costing $3,843): 230, 580 worth about $4,600.
  • Flying JFK-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on a first class flight costing $3,843): 461,160 worth about $9,200.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on an economy flight costing $337): 22,220 worth about $440.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Twice A Month (based on an economy flight costing $337): 44,440 worth about $880.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on a first class flight costing $2,853): 171,180 worth about $3420.
  • Flying EWR-LAX Roundtrip Once A Month (based on a first class flight costing $2,853): 343,360 worth about $6,840.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month: (based on an economy flight costing $$337): 22,220 worth about $440.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: (based on an economy flight costing $337): 44,440 worth about $880.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Once A Month (based on a first class flight costing $2,823): 169,380 worth about $3,390.
  • Flying EWR-SFO Roundtrip Twice A Month: (based on a first class flight costing $2,823): 338,760 worth about $6,780.

For more information on transcontinental flights, read these previous posts:
Transcontinental Series: American Airlines
Transcontinental Series: Delta
Transcontinental Series: United
Transcontinental Series: Virgin America
Transcontinental Series: JetBlue
JetBlue Pricing Details On New Mint Transcontinental Premium Cabin
Delta Unveils New 757-200 Trancon Interior – Upgrade Coming To Business Elite And Economy
A New Age Of Transcontinental Travel Begins: My First Lie-Flat Flight JFK-LAX On United p.s.
The Transcontinental Route Competition Heats Up

 

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  • Ted

    That’s some detailed reporting!

  • BBK

    Thanks for such a comprehensive report!

    I’m wondering if you consider a deal buying the option of doubling or tripling the miles that united offers on international flights.

    I’m somewhat new on the matter and I can see you value United miles about 2 cents apiece.. And the math for the double or triple yields a cost of about 2.3 cents per mile (I didn’t try to get in the math of the Premier Qualifying accelerator option as it seems quite expensive), is this option cheaper than the raw mile buying option at the UA website?.

    As I have read one can squeeze the value of the miles in international tickets and upgrades up to 4 cents (or even more) per miles, should a I consider the 2.3 cents option?

  • shonuffharlem

    Although totally irrelevant to my travel needs, awesome detailed great amazing article. But the tiny lawyer in me wants to say “Why not have a Conclusion at the end?”

  • Matt C.

    Very interested in the flat bed seats on the SEA-JFK route on Delta. Hope it doesn’t push past Spring 2014 :)

  • Hunter

    Typo: Virgin America, EWR-LAX, second one should be “twice a month”, not “once a month.”

  • peteryared

    Note United won’t upgrade you on PS flights, and with AA it’s a crapshoot even as an EXP. The point of JetBlue is that for $1K you won’t have to worry about it. But then again when VX started on that route they were selling their F seats cheap too.

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