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Feb 16, 2021
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JetBlue Airways is shaking up its ticket perks and restrictions, with some changes that will thrill travelers and a major one that will infuriate plenty of passengers.

The biggest news for travelers who book the cheapest fare they find: JetBlue says it is lowering prices on many basic economy tickets to better compete with no-frills discounters like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.

The lower fares will come with a major catch, however. Travelers buying JetBlue's "Blue Basic'' tickets beginning next week will not be allowed to bring a traditional carry-on bag as of July 20. They will only be allowed to bring a small bag that fits underneath the seat. Other bags have to be checked for a fee.

United Airlines has a similar restriction on its basic economy tickets. American and Delta do not. (Southwest Airlines doesn't have basic economy tickets.) Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant passengers have to pay a fee to bring a full-size carry-on bag on board.


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JetBlue executives said they are adding the carry-on bag ban for basic economy passengers for two reasons. The airline wants to align its restrictions with those of the no-frills carriers and it wants to free up overhead bin space as part of a bold new promise guaranteeing other passengers spots for their carry-on bags.


Beginning July 20, JetBlue will guarantee passengers buying any ticket but a basic economy ticket for flights within the U.S. room for one carry-on in the overhead bins. If the airline runs out of space and a passenger's bag has to be checked at the gate, the airline said it will issue a $25 travel credit good for one year.

Worries about having enough room for carry-on bags is a top stressor for travelers, with most of JetBlue's planes only able to accommodate about 60% of passengers' carry-on bags if everyone brings on a roller bag.

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"We're really excited to be offering this … first-of its-kind in the United States carry-on bag guarantee,'' said Dave Clark, JetBlue's vice president of sales and revenue management. "We think that makes our (standard economy) Blue Fare really strong.''

In a memo to employees about the changes, JetBlue said travelers have enjoyed not having to jockey for overhead bin space during the coronavirus pandemic given less-full planes. U.S. airlines carried 60% fewer passengers in 2020, the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported Tuesday.

"As customers return, we want to hold on to a little of this zen during the boarding process and make overhead bin space an expectation, not a gamble,'' the memo says.

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No more ticket-change fees on JetBlue — unless you buy a basic economy ticket
JetBlue is also joining its rivals in eliminating change fees for all tickets but basic economy tickets.

One positive change on this front for those buying JetBlue's Blue Basic tickets: The airline will allow ticket changes for a fee of $100 or $200 per person depending on the route. The fee for flights within the United States is $100.

American, United and Delta do not allow ticket changes for basic economy passengers, even for a fee, except for same-day standby travel in some cases.

JetBlue and other airlines have been waiving change fees for all ticket holders during the pandemic, even those with basic economy tickets. But those policies are expiring at many airlines. JetBlue's current policy covers tickets purchased through March 31.


Why is JetBlue messing with its basic economy fares?
JetBlue announced basic economy tickets in 2018 and launched them in November 2019, much later than competitors.

The goal: to better compete with rapidly growing discounters, which offer bargain ticket prices and charge extra for carry-on bags, advance seat selection, even soft drinks and soda.

The pandemic has heightened competition in the industry, especially to and from vacation destinations, a major specialty of JetBlue.

JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty said JetBlue overlaps with budget carrier routes in half of its markets, with the figure topping 80% in South Florida.

The discounters have lower fares than JetBlue on some routes, sometimes just slightly lower, and travelers who do a quick online search gobble them up instead of comparing the airlines' in-flight amenities, she said. JetBlue offers free in-flight TV, WiFi and snacks. Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier do not.

"If you're someone who purchases entirely on price – and a lot of my friends fall into this category – they will pick the airline with the lowest fare and not look behind that,'' Geraghty said. "We need to make sure that we are in the decision set for the customers who purchase solely on fare.''

The airline isn't taking away any of the amenities for basic economy passengers except the carry-on bag, she said, and is confident budget-conscious passengers who try the airline for the first time will pick JetBlue the next time they have a choice.

"I think this ultra-price-sensitive customer has been so underserved for so long,'' Geraghty said.

As with all airlines offering basic economy fares, JetBlue is also banking that less-price-sensitive travelers will see the restrictions and trade up to regular economy.

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