photo by Anthony Quintano
On the final Monday in December I booked - or rather, I had my assistant book - 15 flights on JetBlue, extending through April 1.
Those flights were not all for me, thank Heaven. I am not nearly enough of a masochist to want to spend that much time in planes and airports, no matter whose or where. Nine flights, in fact, were for my wife, who travels between our Florida and New York homes and offices even more often than I do. Four were for me - with more yet to be reserved after I resolved some questions about upcoming business travel - and two were for my mother, who will be visiting us in Florida this winter.
I was comfortable making so many travel commitments so far out because, as members of JetBlue’s frequent flier TrueBlue Mosaic program, my wife and I do not have to worry about fees for changing our scheduled flights. If Linda decides later that she wants to fly down on Friday morning rather than Thursday evening, she can freely do so, paying only the fare difference. Mosaic privileges also include two free checked bags (though we seldom need more than one) and early boarding. Our only customary extra charges are for JetBlue’s very comfortable “Even More Space” seats.
On the first Monday in January, I reserved two more flights between New York and Florida for one of my daughters, bringing the total of trips I had booked within the space of a week to 17. That same evening, Linda and I discovered that our Mosaic privileges were gone. Effective immediately. Actually, effective Tuesday morning, when Linda took her first flight of 2016 back to New York.
JetBlue never came right out and told us we were being kicked out of its club, even though the airline emails us frequently to alert us to special promotions, offer us customer satisfaction surveys or just remind us of upcoming flights. My wife happened to notice, in the email inviting her to check in for her flight the next morning, that there was information about baggage fees. Those fees (at least for the first checked bag) are a relatively new thing at JetBlue, which held out against this industry trend for a considerable time. Even after the fees were imposed, Linda had never paid one because of her Mosaic status, so she was surprised to see the fees quoted in her email.
Linda called JetBlue’s service line for Mosaic customers, whose calls are usually answered promptly by a human being. After she entered her frequent flier account number, JetBlue’s system promptly transferred her to the hold queue for non-Mosaic passengers. She then waited 10 minutes for an attendant to pick up.
Once she explained the situation, he offered to transfer her to a Mosaic agent. But after he sent her to that line, the computer again put her in the regular hold queue. This time the wait was 20 minutes.
The next agent told Linda that, between us, she and I were 4,000 points short of getting our Mosaic memberships renewed for 2016. Don’t ask me to explain what that means; being a CPA and a tax law expert does not leave me enough time to sort through equally incomprehensible airline rewards programs. Could we buy the additional points we needed? Sure - but only until December 31. It was now four days into the new year and, the agent told Linda in more or less as many words, rules are rules.
My wife asked how we were supposed to have known that we needed to do something to preserve our Mosaic status. Speaking on behalf of the company that has gotten most of our (and our firm’s) travel business for the past decade, the customer service agent announced that it was up to us to call and ask. We had no business thinking we might have received a cautionary email with a subject line such as “Your Mosaic Membership Is Expiring.”
So what about those 13 flight segments I booked for Linda and me when were Mosaic customers, entitled to certain privileges and amenities? Now that we are out of the club, they are just regular tickets. JetBlue does not believe we have a right to expect anything more.
Of course, we are dealing with an airline, so I cannot say I am especially shocked at this treatment - but that does not mean I intend to tolerate it, either. Like many of its peers (I’ll continue to give a pass to Southwest, along with some foreign carriers), JetBlue does not seem to have any conception that a customer loyalty program might possibly involve loyalty that runs both ways.
My wife and I did not radically change our travel habits in 2015. We took a couple of vacation trips to Europe, where JetBlue does not fly, rather than in the United States or the Caribbean, where it does. I also had to transfer cars four times between Florida and New York, so those were road trips rather than flights; Linda accompanied me on two such journeys. As we revert to more typical travel patterns this year, we will be back to flying as much as ever, or maybe more. But not on JetBlue, once those trips I booked in December are used up.
Delta, which has an extensive schedule of nonstop offerings between New York and Florida, will pick up most of our business. Some of it will also probably migrate to Virgin America and Southwest, my other go-to domestic airlines. We will be subject to baggage and schedule-change fees on Delta too, though I can replicate many Mosaic benefits (at least for Linda) by simply booking her in business or first class, which is often not too expensive an upgrade. We could also sign up for the TSA’s PreCheck program, which will offer us expedited security lines at most airports, even when we fly on cheap coach tickets.
I understand that every preferred customer program has to draw its lines someplace. I do not particularly mind that we fell on the wrong side of JetBlue’s boundary last year. But taking reservations while we were Mosaic members and then withdrawing the program’s benefits from those tickets is too much of a bait-and-switch for my taste. And summarily ending our status, with neither notice nor warning, while taking a hard line about allowing us to pay to reinstate it, seems to serve no purpose other than to alienate people who have been good customers for a long time, and who in all likelihood would have remained good customers for years to come.
I make a point of taking my business elsewhere when I feel unjustly treated. A Delta agent was unacceptably rude and unhelpful to me back in 1999. I responded by boycotting the airline until 2006, after it had undergone a bankruptcy and most of the old management was gone. I flew Delta just once in that seven-year period. It has remained a second-tier choice for me since.
Now JetBlue’s loss will be Delta’s potential gain. I do not expect this to cause any heartache at JetBlue’s New York headquarters, nor great rejoicing at Delta’s command center in Atlanta. Most airlines are making plenty of money right now, and if some customer feelings have to be hurt along the way, I do not think they see it as a big deal. I agree; it isn’t.
Yet it is a big enough deal to me that I will make sure this behavior ends up costing JetBlue far more money than it might make from any baggage fees we end up paying between now and April Fool’s Day. Which, come to think of it, will be the perfect time to say goodbye to an airline that treated two active and loyal customers so foolishly.
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