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New BFFs, American and JetBlue Partner on Flights, Frequent Flyer Miles

The airline business is one of the world’s most incestuous. Even as carriers furiously match and beat their competitors’ prices, to keep from losing the merest slivers of market share, they doggedly work together with those same airlines on joint fares, interlining, global alliances, reciprocal frequent flyer program participation, and so on.

If ever there were an argument for the coexistence of cooperation and competition, the airlines are it.

Still, when American and JetBlue unveiled, in March, the outlines of their upcoming "commercial agreement," it was a mild surprise.

American partnering with JetBlue isn’t quite like a tie-up between Delta and AirTran, which fight to the death for passengers flying to and from Atlanta, where both carriers are based. But it is improbable.

In particular, American and JetBlue both have major presences at Boston’s Logan and New York’s JFK airports. Both operate cross-country flights from the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. And both serve Florida destinations from the Northeast.

There are also fundamental differences in the companies’ backgrounds and characters. American is a legacy carrier, with a hub-and-spoke flight network, first-class seats, and airport lounges. JetBlue is a relative upstart, based on the Southwest anti-legacy model, but with more attitude and class.

They are, in short, unlikely partners.

But rather than accentuate the adversarial aspect of their business overlap, American and JetBlue have decided to capitalize on it, to mutual advantage.

The Partnership Begins

Beginning today, July 20, travelers can make easier connections between non-overlapping American and JetBlue flights in Boston and New York.

Specifically, American customers can connect to 18 of JetBlue’s domestic flights, including Nantucket, Burlington, Buffalo, Denver, Houston, Washington-Dulles, Jacksonville, New Orleans, West Palm, Richmond, Rochester, Fort Myers, Salt Lake City, Sarasota, Syracuse, and both Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine.

And JetBlue customers can connect to 14 of American’s international destinations from New York and Boston, including Barcelona, Brussels, Paris, Buenos Aires, Rome, Sao Paulo, London, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Tokyo, Zurich, plus planned flights to Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo-Haneda.

"Later this year," according to the press release, members of American’s AAdvantage program will be able to earn miles when flying on those 18 JetBlue routes; and members of the JetBlue TrueBlue program will be able to do the same when flying on the 14 American routes.

Who Benefits, and How

By streamlining sales and operations of these flights, American expects to gain more JetBlue customers—who otherwise might have selected a different carrier for the overseas portion of their trip—and JetBlue expects more customers from American—who otherwise might have booked the domestic portion of their international trip on a different airline.

The frequent flyer miles give partisans of both carriers extra incentive to book the other airline.

What’s in it for travelers? In a word: convenience. International flyers can now book a flight from, say, New Orleans to New York on JetBlue, connecting to an American flight to Madrid, all on a single ticket. In theory at least, American and JetBlue will have adjusted their schedules to make the connection at JFK a relatively seamless one.

And if that’s not enough, there are those frequent flyer miles …