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Should the JetBlue Amex Card Earn a Spot in Your Wallet?

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The JetBlue cards from Barclaycard are now available. Earn 30,000 points after $1,000 spent in the first 90 days with The JetBlue Plus Card ($99 annual fee) or 5,000 points after $1,000 spent on purchases in the fist 90 days with The JetBlue Card ($0 annual fee). Get more information here.

I’ve made no secret of my disappointment over recent devaluations by legacy carriers. As I’ve considered which airline deserves the bulk of my business, I’ve been happy to try out new service, like my upcoming flight on JetBlue’s new Mint Business Class to Los Angeles. Along with the actual flying, I’ve been contemplating which co-branded airline cards I plan to carry moving forward. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen discusses one of the candidates.

In the world of airlines, there are legacies and upstarts. It’s American/Delta/United vs. Southwest/Virgin America/JetBlue, and while it’s difficult (or impossible) to redeem points and miles from the latter category for expensive international first or business class tickets, they do offer a variety of features that appeal to the casual flyer. As a result, the co-branded credit cards from these airlines should factor into your award travel strategy, and today I’ll look at the JetBlue American Express Card to see if it’s worth adding to your wallet.

JetBlue Plane
Photo courtesy of JetBlue Captain Ian Duncan

TrueBlue Program
Let’s begin with a quick review of JetBlue’s TrueBlue loyalty program. Just like those offered by Southwest and Virgin America, the TrueBlue program is revenue-based for both earning and redeeming points. You earn 3 points per dollar spent on all flights, but you can double that earning rate to 6 points per dollar when you book flights on JetBlue.com. You can earn an additional 200 points for purchasing an Even More Space seat, and another 300 points for traveling with your pet through the JetPaws program. You can also earn points with a variety of partners, and the program is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards (250 MR points = 200 TrueBlue points).

JetBlue allows you to pool your points as a family, just like my wife and I have done!
JetBlue allows you to pool your points as a family, as my wife and I have done!

One thing I love about the TrueBlue program is the ability to pool your miles as a family. Each family account has a designated “Head of Household” who manages all points in the family account. He/she can then invite another adult and up to five children to join. When each family member accepts the invitation, they can contribute some (or all) of their current points to the family account, and then select a contribution percentage for all future earning. This percentage can be changed once per calendar year. My wife and I recently flew to San Juan, and her 683 points were automatically added to the family account. Even though TrueBlue points do not expire, this is a nice way to combine your accounts and earn free flights faster.

Redemption on JetBlue is also revenue based, though the number of points required depends on the specific date and flight you want to take. The search engine on JetBlue.com makes it easy to switch back and forth between the number of dollars or points required. For example, here are search results for a one-way flight from Washington-National to Boston on Monday November 10, 2014:

JetBlue fare results

Here are the same flights when you select the points option:

JetBlue point redemption

You can see that the flights have slightly different redemption values; the 6:20 am flight gives you a value of 1.51 cents/point, while the 7:20 am flight is a bit lower at 1.49 cents/point. I’ve seen values as high as 1.7 cents for redemptions on JetBlue’s new Mint business class, but I’ve also seen values slightly below 1 cent/point.

As a general rule of thumb, you get less value for more expensive flights. Here are some sample one-way fares on that same DCA-BOS flight for November 7-10, 2014 (all redemptions incur $5.60 in taxes & fees, which are factored into the value):

Fare

Redemption

Value

$75

4,600 points

1.51 cents/point

$86

5,400 points

1.49 cents/point

$116

7,600 points

1.45 cents/point

$181

12,400 points

1.41 cents/point

$211

15,800 points

1.3 cents/point

$251

20,600 points

1.19 cents/point

$291

26,400 points

1.08 cents/point

This decreasing value trend makes sense, since the more expensive flights are likely in high demand (or close to full), so it costs you more to book them with points. This rule isn’t set in stone, but understanding how flights tend to be priced can be helpful when trying to get the best bang for your buck.

While not as rewarding as most legacy airlines' frequent flyer programs, it can still give you some decent perks.
While TrueBlue Mosaic isn’t as rewarding as the frequent flyer programs of most legacy airlines, it still offers some decent perks.

The final aspect of TrueBlue is their elite status program, Mosaic. This is a relatively new program, but sadly, the benefits don’t compare to any level of elite status with the legacy airlines. You get two free checked bags (instead of one), priority check-in/security/boarding, bonus points, and no change or cancellation fees. However, there are no free upgrades to Even More Space seats, even at the airport. JetBlue was offering status matches and challenges in the spring (which I took advantage of), but I was unimpressed with the benefits on my recent trip to San Juan.

The JetBlue American Express Card
The JetBlue Amex currently offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of cardmembership. Based on TPG’s October valuations of 1 – 1.7 cents/point, the sign-up bonus is worth anywhere from $200 to $340, depending on your dates and flights. Here are the other key benefits of the card:

  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere
  • $50 statement credit each calendar year for JetBlue Getaway purchases
  • 50% off select in-flight purchases, including food, drinks, & movies
  • Various purchase and travel coverages, including car rental loss/damage insurance and purchase protection
  • $40 annual fee (waived for the first year)

For a regular JetBlue flyer, even those traveling just a handful of times each year, this card should be a no-brainer. The sign-up bonus is a nice boost to your TrueBlue account, and if you typically book your flights on JetBlue.com (as opposed to a third-party or corporate booking site), the bonus points add up quickly. You’ll earn 8 points for every dollar you spend with this card on flights from JetBlue.com, so at the top end of the value spectrum, you’re getting 13.6 cents back per dollar, which is a very nice rate of return!

With the JetBlue American Express, you will receive a 50% discount (in the form of a statement credit) for most in-flight purchases. That makes these Eat Up boxes just $3!
With the JetBlue American Express, you’ll receive a 50% discount (in the form of a statement credit) for most in-flight purchases. That makes these Eat Up boxes just $3!

The other great benefit is the 50% discount on in-flight purchases, which range anywhere from $4-12. A complete list of food and drink offerings is available here, and more information on movies for purchase is available here. If you purchase an Eat Up box ($6), movie ($5), and alcoholic beverage ($6-9) on a flight, you would save up to $10. Four such flights each year would cover your annual fee. Factor in the annual statement credit for JetBlue Getaway purchases and you more than make up for the annual fee.

These benefits look solid compared to a card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express (with Delta implementing a revenue-based earning scheme in 2015, I think this comparison is valid starting in January). If you don’t have Medallion status, starting in 2015 you’ll earn 7 points for every dollar spent on Delta flights purchased with the Gold Amex (5 for the flight + 2 for using the card). TPG values SkyMiles at 1.2 cents apiece, so the Delta card offers only 8.4% back compared to 13.6% on the JetBlue Amex. Even at the low end of the TrueBlue value spectrum, you’re still getting 8% back.

Now compare the other benefits:

  • JetBlue Amex has a $40 annual fee (waived for the first year); the Delta Gold Amex has a $95 annual fee (also waived for the first year).
  • JetBlue Amex gives a 50% in-flight discount; the Delta Gold Amex only gives 20%.
  • The sign-up bonus on the JetBlue Amex is 20,000 points; on the Delta Gold Amex, it’s 30,000 SkyMiles (and sometimes more). The Delta card wins this round.
  • The JetBlue Amex gives you $50 off vacation packages; the Delta Gold Amex discontinued its companion ticket benefit last year.
  • The Delta Amex provides a free checked bag, but JetBlue already offers a free checked bag for all passengers, so adding that benefit to the JetBlue card would be redundant.
  • The Delta Amex has no foreign transaction fees. while the JetBlue Amex charges 2.7%.

The Delta card has the advantage in a few categories, but in terms of pure return on spending, the JetBlue Amex is superior. This doesn’t account for one important difference, which is that Delta SkyMiles can be redeemed on many more flights to many more destinations. If you’re looking for a card to get you off the continent, clearly the Delta Amex is a better fit. Still, the benefits on the JetBlue Amex are quite compelling for a somewhat regular JetBlue flyer.

JetBlue Mint Premium Experience
JetBlue’s new Mint Business Class starts at 35,000 points one way.

Conclusions

As I said before, if you fly JetBlue regularly, the JetBlue Amex is easy money. Even if you just live in a JetBlue hub and some of the non-stop routes are convenient for you, I think you’ll get good value out of it. However, JetBlue’s network just isn’t extensive enough to be very useful to most people outside of the East Coast, except those who travel frequently to (or near) one of the hubs. I think those flyers would get more value from one of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, which currently offers a sign-up bonus of 25,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, but often comes with a higher bonus of 50,000 points (usually with a spending requirement of $3,000 in the first 3 months).

Do you carry the JetBlue Amex? Please share your evaluations and recommendations in the comments section below!

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