We put AA and JetBlue to the test: does the new alliance deliver on promised elite perks?
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There’s a new competitor in the hotly contested aviation market in the Northeast — and no, it’s not a new airline.
Instead, that title goes to American Airlines and JetBlue, who’ve teamed up as part of their new Northeast Alliance to better compete against Delta and United, two of the largest airlines in the region.
Since announcing the partnership in July 2020, the two airlines have already added a slew of routes and codeshares, a new connecting bus at New York-JFK and reciprocal loyalty benefits. (The growth hasn’t been unfettered; the Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit against the tie-up, alleging that it’s anti-competitive — something the airlines have strongly pushed back against.)
As part of the latest expansion, the airlines unveiled perhaps the most exciting flyer-friendly benefit to date: reciprocal elite perks for frequent flyers of each airline.
At TPG, we don’t just write about the news; we put the airlines to the test, too. That’s precisely what TPG’s Executive Editor Scott Mayerowitz and I (Zach Griff) did on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
And what is more “Northeast” than New York and Boston — the route we chose to fly for our test.
We flew up and down the corridor in an afternoon, giving both American and JetBlue a shot, Mayerowitz as an American Airlines Executive Platinum elite and Griff as a JetBlue Mosaic member.
Here’s how the airlines fared.
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Northeast Alliance reciprocal elite benefits
- Priority check-in
- Expedited security
- Priority boarding
- Two free checked bags, weighing a maximum of 50 pounds each
- Priority baggage delivery
JetBlue has one elite tier, Mosaic, which enjoys the following benefits when traveling with American.
- Priority check-in
- Expedited security
- Group 4 boarding (same group as American’s Gold members)
- Complimentary same-day changes on American issued and operated flights
- Two free checked bags, weighing a maximum of 50 pounds each
- Complimentary preferred seat assignments
- Priority baggage delivery
To enjoy these benefits, be sure to add your elite membership number to your American or JetBlue itinerary. These benefits are reserved exclusively for elites — cobranded credit cards that include some of the perks above don’t apply to partner itineraries.
So, how did the airlines deliver on their promised benefits? Well, things got off to a rocky start.
Griff booked his American-operated flights through JetBlue. Mayerowitz booked his JetBlue flights through American. The purchasing process was easy enough — they found their preferred flights offered as codeshares on either airline and booked through the respective airline.
During booking, the standard coach fares offered on American for JetBlue flights (and vice versa) were the same as booking directly. Just note the two carriers aren’t cross-selling their basic economy offering, so you could theoretically find cheaper fares by booking direct.
But the point of this story was to test out the elite benefits, so they avoided the basic fares.
While the purchase process was relatively seamless (despite not being able to use JetBlue Travel Bank flight credit towards the American itinerary), getting confirmation numbers and seat assignments was tricky.
Neither airline displayed the partner confirmation number — which is needed to access your booking and assign seats — on the purchase screen.
But the more significant issue was that AA.com didn’t allow seat assignments for JetBlue flights, and vice versa.
Fortunately, the emailed receipt displayed the partner confirmation number, which was also available in the “manage trips” section of the mobile app and website. Using that number, Mayerowitz and Griff selected seats by going directly to the operating airline’s website.
As promised, American’s preferred seats — aisles and windows in favorable locations throughout the cabin — were available for complimentary selection for Mosaic members, while extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra seats were available starting at $23.
Standard Core seats were available for selection on JetBlue-operated flights, and extra-legroom Even More Space seats were available for an additional fee for American elites.
When check-in opened 24 hours before departure, Mayerowitz and Griff both checked in directly with the airline operating their flight. The process was seamless — because they both had the operating-airline confirmation number — and were issued mobile boarding passes displaying their frequent flyer number and TSA Precheck status.
As a JetBlue Mosaic traveling on American, Griff’s boarding pass had the Priority designation, affording him access to the priority check-in counter, as well as Group 4 boarding. (Remember, in American’s nine-group boarding process this is actually an early group.)
Mayerowitz, who traveled as an American AAdvantage elite on JetBlue, received his boarding pass with priority boarding —noted as “AAELITE,” allowing him to board first along with JetBlue’s Mosaic members. The pass also denoted JetBlue’s Even More Speed security screening, as seen by the green arrows at the top left of the digital pass.
The promise of free checked bags
During the online check-in process, neither airline allowed them to add complimentary checked bags.
While frustrating, it doesn’t matter for all practical purposes. Elite members aren’t paying baggage fees for the first two bags, and you’re forced to stop at a kiosk or bag drop counter to get your luggage tag anyway.
That said, JetBlue was the clear winner here.
When Mayerowitz visited a kiosk in Boston, the automated system recognized his status and allowed him to check two bags for free. (A third bag would’ve set Mayerowitz back $150.)
Meanwhile, over at the American Airlines terminal in JFK, Griff was almost duped into paying a bag fee — the automated kiosk didn’t recognize his status and instead tried charging him the standard fees: $35 for the first bag and $45 for the second.
Griff then waited in line at the Priority check-in counter, where an agent verified his status and quickly processed his checked bag for free. (Yes, he traveled with a vintage TPG bag and airport pillow.)
Griff’s luggage tag included the priority delivery flag, as promised.
Same-day changes, or lack thereof
One of the best elite perks is changing flights for no additional charge on the day of departure. This benefit is great in markets with frequent service, such as Northeast shuttle routes and popular leisure corridors, such as New York to Florida.
Here again, JetBlue was the clear winner.
Griff, who booked with JetBlue and traveled on an American Airlines flight, made a free same-day change to a JetBlue-operated flight. According to the phone rep at JetBlue’s Mosaic desk, same-day switches are only complimentary for Mosaics if changing to other JetBlue flights.
Switching to an American-operated flight would incur any applicable fare difference between the price paid and the current fare. However, there are no change fees (since they were permanently eliminated earlier this year).
Meanwhile, Mayerowitz never made any same-day changes. It wasn’t allowed.
He tried with American over the phone, in the Admirals Club and via Twitter — and with JetBlue at the Boston ticket counter.
For the outbound flight, he switched from a JetBlue plane to an American one the same day by canceling his ticket and rebooking on a fare of just $15 more. This was only possible thanks to the elimination of change fees.
For the return, JetBlue wanted the standard $75 same-day switch fee to move his flight. Instead, Mayerowitz called American and reticketed for the difference in fare, roughly $40.
Processing the change through American was much more economical than paying JetBlue’s $75 fee.
Airport lounge access
This one was interesting.
Though Griff booked his American flight as a JetBlue codeshare (Flight B6 4338, to be exact), he was admitted to the Admirals Club in New York-JFK after presenting his Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, which includes a club membership.
American’s lounge access policy states that an eligible flight is one that’s “marketed or operated by American.” Despite booking through JetBlue, Griff’s flight was operated by American, therefore qualifying him for entry into the lounge.
There weren’t any Admirals Club lounges for Mayerowitz to visit before his JetBlue flight from Boston to New York. JetBlue operates from Terminal C, while the Boston Admirals Club is located in Terminal B.
However, had there been one in the JetBlue terminal, he theoretically should’ve been eligible for entry with his Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
Though he was flying JetBlue, his boarding pass indicated that the ticket was marketed as American Flight 9541, which qualifies as an “eligible flight” according to the Admirals Club entry rules.
This is something Admiral’s Club members should consider when booking JetBlue flights out of terminals that also have an American lounge, such as New York LaGuardia’s Terminal B.
A Northeast Alliance wishlist
It’s been five weeks since American and JetBlue launched reciprocal elite benefits, and there are still back-end fixes to be made.
For one, it’d be great if American’s and JetBlue’s websites would more prominently display the partner confirmation code during the booking process. This way, you wouldn’t need to wait until receiving the confirmation email to access your booking.
Additionally, American Airlines needs to fix the bug with its check-in kiosks that currently charge JetBlue Mosaics for checked bags. If the partnership is truly seamless, JetBlue elites shouldn’t need to visit an agent to partake in one of the alliance’s marque benefits.
As for improvements, American and JetBlue should start with the ability to assign seats online on either website. Right now, the seat assignment process fails unless you’re managing your booking directly with the operating airline.
Furthermore, adding complimentary or discounted access to extra-legroom seats would be a welcome perk for elites.
And finally, the same-day change benefit should be expanded to include all American and JetBlue flights in a given market.
Nowhere is this more critical than in the hyper-competitive New York to Boston market that American Airlines is cutting next year. If American wants to keep its business travelers happy, it should work toward allowing them to make same-day changes for free on all the JetBlue flights, both in the Northeast corridor and beyond.
American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are well on their way to becoming a formidable competitor in the Northeast against Delta and United.
While the two carriers have unveiled a slew of reciprocal elite benefits, there are still some kinks to work out regarding checked bags, seat assignments and same-day changes.
While the alliance is already delivering on many of its promised benefits, there’s still room for improvement.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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