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There are many different travel rewards credit cards out there today. Some may offer terrific sign-up bonuses but not many benefits to offset the annual fee and entice cardholders to keep the card after the first year. However, others provide intriguing value propositions that can more than cover your out-of-pocket costs. Today I want to take a close look at one such card to demonstrate how much value I got from my first year of cardmembership and why I’ll continue to carry the JetBlue Plus Card in my wallet moving forward.
When Barclaycard first introduced three new JetBlue credit cards back in March 2016, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to make my travels with the carrier even more rewarding. I live in South Florida about halfway between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, two cities with very large JetBlue operations. The carrier also flies to several cities out of West Palm Beach, and I love the ability to pool points with my wife and daughter. Thanks to this multitude of flight options as well as the very pleasant in-flight experience (free Wi-Fi, unlimited snacks, complimentary DirecTV, etc), I find myself booking with JetBlue more frequently than with just about any other airline.
So earlier this year, when my card came up for renewal, I wanted to crunch the numbers to see just how much value I got from the card in the first year and consider whether the benefits were valuable enough to keep the card open. TPG recently went through his own 2017 credit card inventory, and he too had to make a decision regarding the JetBlue Plus. While he decided to keep it thanks to his regular trips in Mint (his favorite domestic business class) and the ability to earn Mosaic status by spending $50,000 on the card in a calendar year, my analysis focused on some of the other key benefits on the card, namely:
- 10% of my redeemed points back
- Free checked bag on Blue fares
- 50% discount on in-flight purchases
Let’s break this down by each of these benefits to determine the total value I got from the card in the first year as well as why I decided to keep the card for a second year.
When you first open a credit card with an annual fee, the sign-up bonus should virtually always cover said fee (and then some). The JetBlue Plus Card is no exception, and the same initial sign-up bonus I earned is still available. New cardholders will earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days, worth $360 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which peg TrueBlue points at 1.2 cents apiece. I typically get slightly higher values for my redemptions, and keep in mind that the next benefit I’ll discuss technically increases the value of your points by roughly 11%. However, I’ll stick with TPG’s valuation and keep this sign-up bonus at $360.
(Note: I also earned a random 5,000 bonus points when I called Barclaycard customer service to downgrade my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. The phone agent noticed my JetBlue Plus and proactively offered me the bonus for spending $500 in the next three months, which I had already planned to do to earn the sign-up bonus. However, since this was something that likely wouldn’t be replicated for the majority of readers, I’ll omit it from my calculations.)
Value in year one: $360
The sign-up bonus easily covers the annual fee in the first year, but you’ll also earn a yearly bonus in subsequent years. As an enticement for you to keep your JetBlue Plus Card open, you’ll be given 5,000 bonus points on (or around) your cardmember anniversary:
Using TPG’s most recent valuations, these points are worth $60, so without ever setting foot on a JetBlue plane, you’re already covering more than half of the $99 annual fee.
Value in year two: $60
10% of My Redeemed Points Back
Another fantastic perk of the JetBlue Plus Card is the fact that on every award ticket you book, you’ll get 10% of those points back as a credit to your TrueBlue account. While the FAQs indicate that this will take 4-6 weeks, I typically see the rebate post to my account within a week of completing the trip. Here’s a list of how many points I got back during my first year of cardmembership:
- May 2016, West Palm Beach (PBI) to New York (LGA): 1,920 points
- October 2016, Orlando (MCO) to Washington-Reagan (DCA): 1,360 points
- December 2016, Orlando (MCO) to New York (JFK): 2,380 points
In addition to these trips, I also redeemed points in my first year of cardmembership that will take place in my second year of cardmembership (though this hasn’t posted to my account yet):
- May/June 2017, West Palm Beach (PBI) to Boston (BOS): 2,800 points
Since the card only needs to be “open at the time of redemption” rather than when you take the trip, I will have earned a total of 8,460 points back in my first year, a savings of $101.52.
What makes this benefit even better is that it doesn’t matter who is actually flying; anytime points are redeemed out of the TrueBlue account of the primary cardholder, the bonus will apply. In addition, since I am also the primary TrueBlue member in a pooled family account, all of the points (including those contributed by my wife and two year-old daughter) are eligible for this rebate.
Value in year one: $101.52
It’s a little challenging to definitively identify how many times I’ll redeem points on JetBlue flights over the rest of my second year of cardmembership. However, I did book one award flight in May for travel to Niagara Falls in the fall:
- September 2017, Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Buffalo (BUF): 1,050 points
Value in year two: at least $12.60
Free Checked Bag on Blue Fares
Another key benefit on the JetBlue Plus Card is a free checked bag for you and up to three companions on the same reservation. JetBlue used to offer a free checked bag on all flights, but this changed when the carrier shifted to a new fare structure in mid-2015. The cheapest “Blue” fare no longer includes a checked bag; to get one bundled in your ticket, you’d need to purchase a “Blue Plus” fare. When it was first introduced, these Blue Plus tickets typically had a ~$15 premium over the regular Blue fare. Alternatively, you could pay $20 during online check-in or $25 at the airport to add a checked bag.
However, for the sake of this analysis, I’ll assume that I would’ve planned ahead and booked a Blue Plus ticket for trips where I needed a checked bag:
- September/October 2016, round-trip flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Albany (ALB): One checked bag ($30 savings)
- December 2016, round-trip flight from Orlando (MCO) to New York/Newark (JFK/EWR): One checked bag ($30 savings)
- December 2016, one-way flight from West Palm Beach (PBI) to New York (LGA): One checked bag ($15 savings)
- January 2017, one-way flight from Newark (EWR) to West Palm Beach (PBI): One checked bag ($15 savings)
With these flights, we managed to save $90 on checked baggage, simply by holding the card.
Value in year one: $90
As mentioned above, it used to be possible to “purchase” a checked bag for roughly $15 per one-way flight by booking a Blue Plus ticket rather than a regular Blue one. However, this difference is now at least $23:
This is much closer to the “retail” price of paying for a checked bag ($25). As a result, this benefit is now even more valuable, so I’ll adjust my values accordingly.
Just like the 10% rebate, it’s a bit hard to identify exactly how many times I’ll need to check bags on JetBlue in my second year of cardmembership. However, I already know the following:
- May/June 2017, round-trip flights from West Palm Beach (PBI) to Boston (BOS): Two checked bags ($92 savings)
- September 2017, round-trip flights from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Buffalo (BUF): At least one checked bag ($46 savings)
Without booking any additional trips for the rest of my second year of cardmembership, I’m already getting $138 worth of value for checked bags.
Value in year two: At least $138
50% Discount on In-Flight PurchasesYour in-flight purchases with the card will get you a 50% discount. Image courtesy of JetBlue.
The fourth and final benefit that led me to keep the JetBlue Plus Card is the 50% discount it offers on in-flight purchases, including alcoholic drinks and Eat Up snack boxes. This discount is applied automatically, generally on the day the charge posts to your card account. I used this perk three times during the first year of cardmembership:
- August 2016, flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Charleston (CHS): Glass of wine ($3.50 savings)
- September 2016, flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Albany (ALB): Two glasses of wine ($7 savings)
- January 2017, flight from West Palm Beach (PBI) to Newark (EWR): Two glasses of wine ($7 savings)
Value in year one: $17.50
Like the previous two benefits, there’s no way to know exactly how frequently I’ll utilize this benefit in the second year of cardmembership. However, my wife and I just enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine apiece on our most recent flight to kick off our vacation, so I’ve already received $14 worth of value from this perk.
Value in year two: At least $14
So how do these values stack up? Here are the totals for both my first year and second year of cardmembership:
- Year one: $569.02
- Year two: At least $224.60
When you consider that the annual fee on the card is just $99, it’s clear that I’m getting my money’s worth on the card!
While the numbers make the card a no-brainer for me, it’s important to note that this analysis may not be as simple for others. For starters, I have many options for flying on JetBlue, with dozens of nonstop destinations from three different airports within 90 minutes of my house. Readers in New York, Boston, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or even Long Beach, CA have a comparably extensive route map. However, many other airports have much more limited service, including the following hubs of the three major carriers:
- Atlanta: 1 nonstop destination
- Charlotte: 2 nonstop destinations
- Chicago: 3 nonstop destinations
- Denver: 2 nonstop destinations
- Houston: 2 nonstop destinations
- Seattle: 3 nonstop destinations
If you live in any of these cities, the JetBlue Plus Card may not present such a strong value proposition.
However, keep in mind that the above analysis doesn’t consider the bonus earning rates on the card. You’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases (in addition to the points you earn by actually taking the flight) and 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants and grocery stores. I previously used to charge all of my JetBlue purchases to this card, but when The Platinum Card from American Express bumped its earning rate on airfare to 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, I shifting my flight purchases to that card. However, if you don’t have the Amex Platinum, the JetBlue Plus Card can be a great option.
Every travel rewards credit card appeals to different profiles of travelers, and to me, the JetBlue Plus Card is one that has given me tremendous value thus far (at least $793.62 and counting). Based on my calculations, it is well worth my while to keep the card in my wallet for year two and beyond, barring a huge devaluation, that is! While this card may not be the best one for you, hopefully this post has given you a framework to use as you evaluate whether to keep other cards beyond the first year.
What are your thoughts on the JetBlue Plus Card?
Featured image courtesy of Joe Raedle via Getty Images.