JetBlue expands premium Mint cabin to woo customers from Virgin America

Just days after missing the chance to acquire Virgin America (VA), JetBlue (JBLU) announced that it’s expanding its Mint service to four new cities — a clear attempt to poach some Virgin loyalists.  Alaska Airlines (ALK) announced this month it was buying Richard Branson’s airline for $2.6 billion — a price too steep for JetBlue.

Mint is JetBlue’s version of business class, and is available on select transcontinental flights from New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But starting in the first quarter of 2017, the following flights will be available:

  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and San Francisco
  • New York (JFK) and Las Vegas
  • New York (JFK) and San Diego
  • Boston and San Diego
  • New York (JFK) and Seattle
  • Boston and Seattle

The flights to Seattle are especially notable because that’s Alaska Airlines’ home base.

The Mint service is available on A321 aircraft and the ticket comes with a flat bed seat, 15-inch flat-screen TV with 100 channels, complimentary food and drinks, and an amenity kit featuring beauty products from Birch Box. New York-based JetBlue is planning to add nine new A321s to its fleet in 2017 to accommodate the increased Mint service.

Neither Alaska Airlines nor Virgin America offer a cabin with comparable luxury amenities, and JetBlue — typically known as a budget airline — hopes that by providing the premium service to new cities, it will attract business travelers who were once loyal to Virgin America.

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“Our plan has long called for strategic growth of Mint on these valuable transcontinental routes, and now is the right time for us to capture this opportunity to bring much needed competition where customers are facing dwindling choices,” Robin Hayes, JetBlue’s president and chief executive said in a statement.

Judging from some business flier chatter, the new Mint routes are welcome. “Fantastic news,” wrote one user on FlyerTalk, an online forum for travelers, who apparently dislikes flying on American Airlines. “The expansion of Mint to [Ft. Lauderdale] means I’ll rarely (if ever) need to set foot on AA to California again.” Another user also approved of Ft. Lauderdale’s inclusion in Mint’s new routes: “Nice to see Mint coming to FLL as well. Makes the overnight flight from LAX/SFO much more bearable to either do a weekend trip or to connect to the Caribbean and Latin America.”

For customers interested in flying Mint, be prepared to pay more. An average JetBlue one-way ticket from New York (JFK) airport to Los Angeles (LAX) costs between $150 and $307. A Mint ticket for the same flight costs between $599 and $1,254.

Mint is still cheaper than premium cabins on other legacy carriers. A one-way business-class ticket on Delta (DAL) can cost up to $2,197, and the same ticket will cost you up to $1,533 on American Airlines (AAL).

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