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More time to book? Airline scheduling strategy just got a pandemic-era overhaul

Feb. 17, 2021
4 min read
More time to book? Airline scheduling strategy just got a pandemic-era overhaul
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Whether the pandemic ends next month or next year, airlines are getting ready for your first post-lockdown vacation.

To that end, three U.S. carriers recently extended (or will extend) their schedules well into early 2022, giving pandemic-weary travelers a multitude of trip options.

While it's not surprising to see airlines extend their schedules, what's interesting is the differing ways in which they're going about it.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, JetBlue will extend its schedule, which currently ends on Sept. 7. Historically, JetBlue has operated on the low-cost-carrier model of adding flights in months-long chunks.

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Going forward, the carrier confirmed to TPG that it'll move to a rolling model, where flights are available for purchase from the current date to 331 days in the future.

That's a notable strategy shift for the airline. In addition to offering customers a larger range of dates, this also aligns JetBlue's schedule with the "Big 3" network carriers, which all operate on a similar rolling model.

For JetBlue, that means it can compete on tickets purchased well in advance.

The move also helps streamline JetBlue's upcoming Northeast-focused partnership with American Airlines. Codesharing on flights to and from the New York and Boston areas is one of the key selling points of the tie-up, and aligning the booking window is likely a stepping stone in that direction. (Of course, JetBlue's pilots still need to agree to the deal.)

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Two of the nation's other budget carriers recently extended their schedules, but for a different reason, reports Cranky Flier.

Both Frontier and Sun Country are currently booking travel through April 2022 — more than 14 months from now.

Most airlines can't just extend the schedule for over a year from now and have a good grasp on its future route map and timetable. But for Sun Country (and likely for Frontier too), that's not an issue.

Related: Wait to change or cancel your flight for a refund

Minneapolis-based Sun Country told Cranky Flier that many travelers book the same trips every year. Whether it's the annual pilgrimage to grandma in Florida or a winter escape to Aruba, this distinct booking pattern presented a problem for the carrier.

When customers first canceled flights due to the pandemic in early 2020, they might've booked for later in the year or in early 2021, only to cancel their plans once again when faced with new variants and a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout.

When it came time to rebook the trip for the third time, many customers were faced with an issue: their tickets were slated to expire before Sun Country's 2022 schedule was available for booking.

That's when the carrier decided to extend its schedule into 2022 — to get customers to redeem their expiring travel credit for flights they might actually take.

Regardless of the underlying strategy, extending schedules into 2022 underscores the way airlines are adjusting to the pandemic. With passenger traffic down significantly year-over-year, carriers are preparing for the day that demand bounces back, whenever that may be.

More: The full guide to airline schedule change polices

In an exclusive interview with TPG, American CEO Doug Parker said that "the problem is because the consumer doesn't know. The consumer is saying, ‘when I feel safe, I really want to travel.’ I'm thinking that's going to be six months from now. So none of us knows — is my point on this — when demand will return. That's why you have to make sure you have your airline ready when it does.”

Of course, putting more dates on sale gives carriers more opportunity to capture the post-pandemic travel rush.

It also comes with a big downside for travelers: airline schedules might not stick. With last-minute schedule changes happening nearly every week during the pandemic, what airlines file today may not actually operate 12 months from now.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.