Back in 2019, JetBlue introduced Blue Basic, which is the carrier’s version of basic economy. In this post I wanted to go over the details of that — what restrictions are there when booking JetBlue’s basic economy fares, and are these tickets worth it?
In this post:
What is basic economy?
Basic economy was introduced many years back as a way for major US airlines to better compete with ultra low cost carriers, like Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, etc. At least that was the claim, with the idea being that basic economy comes at a lower cost, but with more restrictions.
Basic economy is ultimately a tool for airlines to better segment the market. Those looking for the cheapest fares might book JetBlue basic economy fares rather than a competitor, while the airline hopes that most consumers are willing to “buy up” to more expensive fares, which come with fewer restrictions.
Airline revenue management is quite an art, and it’s all about getting as much revenue as possible from each customer. Basic economy fares are a major part of that.
Restrictions with JetBlue Blue Basic fares
If you’re shopping for a JetBlue flight and see a Blue Basic fare, should you consider booking it? Let me go over the major restrictions of these kinds of fares.
Before I do, let me mention the things that aren’t different about basic economy fares compared to regular economy fares. Specifically, basic economy passengers get the same perks once onboard, including things like seat back entertainment, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. However, other than that, the differences are significant.
Now let’s talk about what is different with these fares…
Blue Basic fares don’t allow a carry-on bag
The single biggest restriction of JetBlue basic economy fares is that you’re not typically allowed a full size carry-on bag when traveling on one of these fares. This means that you could only travel with a small personal item when booking one of these fares, unless you want to pay extra.
Fortunately there are some exceptions to this rule. The following passengers are allowed a carry-on, even when traveling on a basic economy fare:
- Those traveling to & from Europe, including connecting flights
- Those who have Mosaic elite status
- Those who pay to assign an Even More Space seat
- Those who are active U.S. military members
- Those who are unaccompanied minors
As you can see, there’s potentially an interesting opportunity here. You can save money by booking a Blue Basic fare, and then pay to assign an Even More Space seat, so that you get more legroom and a carry-on bag. However, as I’ll explain below, that’s typically not going to be a good deal.
Blue Basic fares offer limited points earning
JetBlue basic economy fares offer limited points earning:
- When booking one of these fares, you earn 2x TrueBlue points per dollar spent directly with JetBlue
- JetBlue’s more expensive fares offer 6x TrueBlue points per dollar spent directly with JetBlue
- I value TrueBlue points 1.3 cents each, so to me, you’re giving up around a 5.2% return
Note that JetBlue basic economy fares count toward status the same way as any other flights. You earn elite status based on how many tiles you rack up, and you earn one tile per $100 in qualifying spending with JetBlue. This includes all types of JetBlue fares.
Blue Basic fares have seat assignment restrictions
Those booking JetBlue basic economy fares can’t assign seats for free at the time of booking. So here’s how that works:
- JetBlue basic economy allows you to assign seats at no cost up to 24 hours before departure; you can actually select your seat at that point, rather than just being assigned a seat at random, and not having the option of changing it
- More than 24 hours before departure you can pay to assign a seat, ranging from a standard seat, to an Even More Space seat (though the cost to assign Even More Space seat is higher than it would be on a more premium fare)
- This policy also applies to JetBlue Mosaic members, so they don’t get free seat selection on these fares
Blue Basic fares come with last group boarding
When traveling on basic economy fares, JetBlue passengers can only board with the last boarding group, which is ordinarily Group F. This is also the group where complimentary carry-ons aren’t allowed. However, note that if you have JetBlue Mosaic status, then you can take advantage of your normal early boarding privileges.
Blue Basic fares provide limited ticket flexibility
Nowadays JetBlue no longer has change fees on most kinds of tickets, meaning that if you need to cancel a ticket, you’ll be issued a credit that you can apply toward a future reservation.
The one exception is on basic economy fares, which don’t have the same flexibility. However, the good news is that it’s not a full-on use it or lose it situation. Instead, you can apply the value from your JetBlue Blue Basic fare toward another ticket, with the following penalties:
- There’s a $100 penalty for changing a Blue Basic fare for travel within North America, Central America, and the Caribbean
- There’s a $200 penalty for changing a Blue Basic fare for travel to or from Europe
Are JetBlue Blue Basic fares worth it?
The answer is obviously “it depends.” There are lots of factors here, like how much cheaper a basic economy fare is, if you have Mosaic status, how much you value flexibility, etc. The thing about JetBlue basic economy fares is that I find that it’s usually not that much more expensive to “buy up” to a higher fare.
For example, taking a random New York to Boston flight, I see basic economy available for $94, which is $25 cheaper than the standard economy fare.
Taking a random New York to London flight, I see basic economy available for $239, which is $90 cheaper than the standard economy fare.
Here’s how I view the general value proposition:
- If you’re just an average flyer and are only traveling with a personal item, then a JetBlue basic economy fare could make sense, for getting you the lowest price
- If you’re a JetBlue Mosaic member, the restrictions you really have to deal with are not being able to assign seats in advance, reduced points earning, and limited ticket flexibility
The thing about JetBlue basic economy fares is that it’s easy enough to recreate a standard economy experience. You can buy an Even More Space seat when booked on one of these fares, and then you get a free carry-on bag, priority boarding, and more.
The catch is that assigning an Even More Space seat is more expensive on a basic economy fare than a regular economy fare. For example, let’s look at the same JetBlue flight from New York to Boston. Below is the seat map when booking a Blue fare (non-basic economy).
Below is the seat map when booking a Blue Basic fare (basic economy).
As you can see, Even More Space seats are $21 more expensive on a Blue Basic fare than a Blue fare. So you’re saving $25 on a Blue Basic fare, but then you pay an extra $21 to get an Even More Space seat and a carry-on, lowering your savings to $4. For that you earn fewer points, less ticket flexibility, etc.
So unless you’re just traveling with a personal item, or unless you’re a Mosaic member who doesn’t care about ticket flexibility, being able to assign a seat, or earning points, then I think the cases where JetBlue’s basic economy fares are a good deal are quite limited.
JetBlue offers basic economy fares in the form of its Blue Basic fare bundle. These fares don’t include a free carry-on bag, have reduced ticket flexibility, offer less points earning potential, and offer last group boarding.
While there are ways to get around some of these restrictions, I tend to think that really eats into the value of these fares, since the premium to buy up from a Blue Basic to Blue fare is typically minimal.
What’s your take on the value proposition of JetBlue basic economy fares?