Beware: JetBlue's $599 All-You-Can-Jet Pass, which allows unlimited travel for customers between Sept. 8 and Oct. 8, is making some people act insane. Take Seth Miller, an aerophile who for some baffling reason enjoys nothing more than sitting on planes and lounging in airports. From 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11, to 10 a.m. the following Monday, he will fly from New York to Ponce, Puerto Rico, back to New York to Las Vegas to Long Beach, Calif., to Portland, Ore., back to Long Beach to Chicago to New York to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and back to New York one last time. Yes, Miller will board 10 flights in 60 hours, without missing a minute of work. Yes, the poor soul will jet to the Caribbean, twice, and not even leave the airport. In fact, the only time he'll be on the ground is for an overnight stay in Portland. "I totally admit that I am crazy," says Miller, 32, a freelance IT consultant who, believe it or not, has a wife who tolerates such excursions. "I'm not sure which wires got crossed in my brain."
Though the occasional nut job is taking JetBlue for a joyride, the airline's promotion will probably pay off. The company isn't disclosing the financial performance of the pass, except to say that demand has exceeded expectations, to the point that JetBlue shortened the deadline that flyers could purchase the pass by from Aug. 21 to Aug. 19. Industry analysts expect healthy results. "It should generate a fair amount of revenue," says airline consultant Robert Mann, "and lots of goodwill for JetBlue."
The economics depend on what kinds of consumers bought the JetBlue pass. Historically, the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is slow for JetBlue and many other airlines. In this economy, business will probably be even slower. If the deal spurs new travel, and revenue, during a time when seats would otherwise remain empty, JetBlue will make out just fine. Airlines incur some extra service costs if more people pile onto a plane: about a third of the fuel costs, says Mann, depend on the number of passengers and pieces of luggage on board. But most of the major costs are fixed: the same number of pilots and flight attendants are required whether 10 or 100 passengers are on the aircraft. On the other hand, if most of the people who bought the pass are business travelers who would have spent a few thousands bucks commuting on JetBlue in September and early October, the promotion could backfire in the near-term.
JetBlue, however, insists it's looking long-term. The airline acknowledges that the pass could cut into profits. "That's a possibility," says company spokesman Bryan Baldwin. "But I think we've already seen the upside. The buzz and excitement we've created have far exceeded our expectations. We look at it as just more than dollars and cents." For example, customers are flocking to the JetBlue route map: hits jumped 700% after the promotion was announced, on Aug. 12. Even flyers who ultimately passed on the offer became more familiar with JetBlue. "People are on the website, sitting around and figuring how much to take home at an all-you-can-eat buffet," says Mann.
The pass isn't the perfect deal. You still have to pay taxes on international flights $134 round-trip for New York to the Dominican Republic and book all travel three days in advance. JetBlue does not offer as many exotic destinations as other airlines. Outside of the Caribbean, JetBlue's only other international stop is Bogotá, not exactly a tourist haven. Domestic options like Las Vegas, New Orleans and the Los Angeles area are attractive, but it's difficult to truly city-hop since JetBlue connections are a pain. Notice how often the aerophile Miller has to fly back to New York, JetBlue's home base, to get from one destination to another? Lilia Tovbin, a New York City technology manager, booked a 10-day, six-city trip with the pass but will have to fly from Seattle to Portland and from Long Beach to Phoenix on another airline since JetBlue doesn't service those routes. "It's a little bit hard," she says.
At least JetBlue got the timing right. The viral effect of the promotion will surely help it fare better than a similar American Airlines deal in the 1980s and a $1,650-per-month Air Canada pass that came out in 2007. JetBlue has more than a million Twitter followers, more than any other brand besides Whole Foods, the NBA and Zappos, according to trackingtwitter.com. News of the deal spread across the Twitter-sphere, and about a dozen websites and blogs, like wherewejet.com, have popped up to chronicle JetBlue adventures, share itinerary ideas and find cheap places to sleep. Traveler Jennifer Milano has even organized a New York City meeting to organize group trips; she says 20 travelers have committed to attending. To its credit, JetBlue may have started a social-media movement.
As always, some people can take a movement too far. Joe DiNardo, a marketing executive at a financial firm based in Buffalo, N.Y., and a friend have already booked 19 flights for the first 12 days of the promotion. They plan on taking as many trips as possible through Oct. 8 and have created a website, twelvehoursinacity.com, to document their half-day stops around North America. DiNardo says he'll quit his job if his employers don't grant him time off for the journey; so far, he and his boss are discussing a plan in which he would do some work remotely. DiNardo says he is in talks about sponsorship opportunities with several companies. For example, he has pitched the idea that he and his partner could wear branded T-shirts in pictures and video blogs. "Best-case scenario, we monetize a social-media enterprise," DiNardo says. "Worst-case scenario, we have the time of our lives."
Have fun in security.