Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Should you buy an "All-You-Can-Jet" pass?

JetBlue Airways has moved up the deadline, and there are now just a couple of hours left if you want to pay US$599 (plus any international taxes if you leave the USA) for a “pass” good for more-or-less unlimited travel on JetBlue’s routes from 8 September through 8 October 2009. As a Mormon-owned business, JetBlue keeps its master clock on Mountain Time (as in Salt Lake City), and pass sales end at 8 p.m. MDT today (7 p.m. PDT, 10 p.m. EDT).

The sale ends today often creates a temptation to abandon common sense or careful thought. But the price seems cheap, at first glance, for a month (a particular month of the airline’s choosing, which is unlikely to prefectly match your desired travel window) of “unlimited” travel. And if the sale is successful for JetBlue in filling otherwise-empty seats without diverting cuatomers who would otherwise have bought more expensive tickets, JetBlue or another airline is likely to repeat it, or something like it.

So is it really a good deal? And if so, for whom?

Arthur Frommer tries to evaluate the value of a JetBlue pass by comparing it with the cheapest one-way fares on typical JetBlue routes. But that misses three of the most important features of the “All-You-Can-Jet” fare:

  1. JetBlue doesn’t have a lot of medium-distance flights. Its route system is a peculiar mix of relatively short flights (especially in the Northeastern USA, between the Northeast and Florida, and between Florida and the Caribbean), and transcontinental flights. The pass is most likely to be interesting to travellers whose itineraries include at least one transcontinental round-trip, not to those travellers wholely within the Eastern states and the Caribbean.
  2. The “All-You-Can-Jet” pass is not “capacity controlled”, that is, you can use it for the last seat on the plane, for which you would otherwise have to pay the highest fare. The pass is most likely to be a good deal for those who want to travel on at least some (long-haul) flights that are already heavily booked, and for which only the most expensive seats remain available. One-way transcontinental fares on JetBlue go up to $249 plus taxes, so the difference in price between a round-trip on heavily-booked flights and an “All-You-Can-Jet” pass may be only $100. That’s a good price if you can use the pass for almost any other long or medium-distance JetBlue flights during the month, especially if those add-on flights — a side trip to Florida or the Caribbean for the weekend while you were already going to be in Bos-Wash on business? — are themselves heavily booked and otherwise expensive.
  3. You can “upgrade” tickets you have already purchased for a trip on JetBlue during the pass dates (like that transocntinental round-trip I just described) to an “All-You-Can-Jet” pass by paying the difference between the fare you originally paid and $599.

For all these reasons, I think the travellers for whom the pass is most likely to be worth buying aren’t the city-collectors who’ve been Twittering about their plans, but travellers upgrading peak-fare transcontinental tickets to add on an extra stop or two to see friends or family or combine some pleasure with their business.

Do the math and compare the price of alternate tickets, but don’t get carried away.

(p.s. If you missed the deadline, or the JetBlue deal doesn’t work for you, but you’re interested in multi-stop travel, check out Amtrak’s national and California rail passes.)

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 19 August 2009, 15:54 ( 3:54 PM)
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