Over at CreditCards.com Cathleen McCarthy has a piece on the new Virgin America and JetBlue elite status programs.
I recently flew JetBlue for the first time in a decade and didn’t mind it a bit, I was able to credit my mileage-earning to American AAdvantage (albeit not for status miles, which is cool because I had already re-qualified for Executive Platinum). Their offering is a decent mid-tier status equivalent, it doesn’t come with a first class upgrade benefit since the airline has no first class, but then most mid-tier elites don’t wind up with complimentary upgrades all that often anyway.
I covered their elite status a few weeks ago and called it ‘animal farm’ status, since the airline insisted on claiming that all of their customers were still equally important (some customers were just more equally important than others).
McCarthy’s piece hones in on this point:
“We didn’t want to go down the path of traditional carriers and create pods of customers that compete against each other and become elitist,” explains Phil Seward, head of loyalty at JetBlue. “What we’re doing is creating an opportunity to earn a badge of loyalty, to enhance the experience and make it easier for our most loyal customers.”
Some say that amounts to the same thing. “Of course it’s an elite program,” says Gary Leff, who blogs at View from the Wing. “I don’t think the essential feature of an elite program is having multiple levels. JetBlue is saying they have a subset of customers who are valuable to their business, and they want to provide recognition for those customers and make sure they’re being especially well-treated as a way of retaining them.”
I noted Virgin America’s elite program last month as well. And they’re taking a different tact, at least rhetorically:
Phil Seward, head of loyalty for Virginia America, embraces the elite concept and, in fact, claims that Elevate’s base-level status is more elite than the average airline’s. “We want to make sure we’re bringing back some exclusivity and cachet to what status really stands for,” Seward says. “We look at silver as being equal to mid-tier elite at larger airlines. We did that to make sure we’re offering a set of meaningful benefits.”
They have me throwing in a few other tidbits in the piece, such as that there’s become less differentiation between bottom-tier elites and co-branded credit card holders:
“First-level elite has basically become kind of a giveaway,” says Leff. “There’s less differentiation between whether you’re a cardholder or whether you’re a first-level elite.”
And also that I’m a big fan of the overall direction American Airlines seems to be headed, making investments in their premium product (although I’m impatient for those investments to arrive, I want to fly the new business class seat already and also the new Airbus JFK-Los Angeles and San Francisco transcon flights).
“American is aiming at a much more premium market than they have historically, hoping to attract higher-revenue fliers,” says Leff. “Having a greater percentage of premium seats on the new Airbus flights means you not only have a better chance of getting an upgrade but the upgrade itself is a better experience.”
Update: Contra the first quote cited above, of course, Dave Canty of course runs the TrueBlue program at JetBlue. Seward is with Virgin America only.