3. Jet Blue vs. Southwest for Families, Plus Review of Club MCO Lounge
4. Lessons from Our Flight Diversion, and How You Can Protect Yourself
I’m a big fan of Southwest and so far, have had (mostly) positive experience with the carrier. So, I was curious as to how it compares to Jet Blue, the airline I’ve never flown before until recently. The frequent flyer programs are very similar and are tied to the price of the ticket. On average, you can get around 1.4 cents in flight value per Rapid Rewards point, and the same goes for Jet Blue currency. In general, you will do better on international routes when it comes to both programs.
Otherwise, it’s probably an “apples to oranges” kind of comparison. If you live in Boston (or another major Jet Blue hub), then Southwest currency will probably be less valuable by default. For someone like me ( a Florida resident), things aren’t quite that simple. Often, the routes overlap, so the choice of what points to use comes down to schedule and price.
In fact, in a few months my husband and I are planning to go to Costa Rica. We will be flying from Fort Lauderdale to San Jose on Southwest, and coming back via Jet Blue. The prices were similar for our dates, so the schedule determined my choices.
It’s important to note that Jet Blue currency is somewhat easier to obtain. Southwest only partners with Chase, so if you don’t collect Ultimate Rewards, you are out of luck. On the other hand, you can transfer to Jet Blue from Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You program as well as Chase Ultimate Rewards. Amex has a transfer ratio of 250:200, though it occasionally offers transfer bonuses.
Let me address some key differences in both programs, as well as on-board experience, based on my recent flights.
The thing I love most about Southwest is the ability to cancel points booking with no penalty. I’ve used this perk when I missed my flight to Aruba in 2016. The plane was supposed to take off in only 45 minutes when we got to the airport, so we were out of luck. I got all of my points back, plus voucher for taxes which I used for our flight to Jamaica at a later time. If I paid with a credit card instead of a gift card, I would have gotten a full refund, no strings attached.
If my flight was on Jet Blue instead of Southwest, I would have gotten nothing, zero, nada. And my travel insurance would not have covered my loss since it was traffic related.
In addition, if you have a Southwest co-branded credit card, you can redeem points on valuable gift cards at a fairly decent rate. If your circumstances change and you aren’t able to travel, this is a good Plan B option to consider. No such thing with Jet Blue currency.
Southwest is the last carrier in US that offers two free checked bags. You don’t have to have an elite status or co-branded credit card in order to take advantage of this perk. To paraphrase the almighty Oprah: you get two free bags, and you get two free bags, everyone gets two free bags!!
No such perk with Jet Blue. You need an elite status or their co-branded credit card. Admittedly, their credit card (Plus version) is quite excellent. I seriously regretted cancelling it last December, though in my defense, I had no idea we would be flying on Jet Blue just a few months later. Otherwise, I would hang on to it and you would have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers.
My in-laws wouldn’t have to pay for their plethora of bags, and I would get 10,000 points rebate on my booking, which would more than justify the annual fee. But alas, hindsight is 20/20.
There is an area where Jet Blue wins, and that is free on-board WIFI. Southwest charges $8 per device. It’s not much, but still. Also, Jet Blue planes have seat-back screens, so you don’t have to fiddle with your iPad.
I seriously hate Southwest policy of free-for-all seating and wish they would do away with it. It’s not much of an issue for families with small kids and as I’ve learned on my recent trip, even those who have children as old as 8 can unofficially go after group A. Also, if you check in exactly 24 hours before the flight, you should be fine. But boy, can this policy be a nuisance when things go wrong.
For example, our return flight got diverted from Las Vegas to Phoenix due to bad winds, and we were put on an early-morning Southwest flight to Orlando. We were supposed to be in group A on our Las Vegas flight, but guess what? That assignment didn’t carry over to our new flight.
We were stuck in group C and Southwest agent wanted us to pay extra for Early Bird check-in even though the diversion wasn’t our fault. I thought it was a little obnoxious, though I guess it wasn’t Southwest’s fault either. Still, surely they can make an exception in cases like ours. Since I was allowed to board after group A, I simply saved seats for my in-laws. Don’t judge me! I’m a “clever bird” even when I’m not an early bird.
With Jet Blue you get assigned seating, though I imagine that in the case of a flight diversion, you may also have difficulty finding seats together. Still, I will take Jet Blue system any day. I don’t want to stalk Southwest website in order to check in at exactly 24 hours before the flight, and I don’t like the idea of paying an Early Bird fee. I’m cheap that way.
No contest, Jet Blue is the winner here. The first comment my husband made was how generous leg room is on a Jet Blue plane. It’s not really an issue for short folks, but for someone like him ( 6 feet 4 inches) it certainly makes a difference in comfort, especially on flights that last longer than 3 hours.
The shortest airport lounge review in the history of internets
Club MCO (Terminal A) is a lounge you can access with your Priority Pass membership, which comes complimentary with certain credit cards. Kids under 12 get in free, when accompanied by adults. It’s only accessible from Gates 1-29, otherwise you have to pass through security.
I used my Amex Hilton Ascend Card that has 10 complimentary entries per year. So, I got all seven of us in it for free, and only used 5 passes. We did have to wait 10 minutes or so due to crowding issues. And boy, is that place crowded! Still, it’s free food, coffee and booze. What more do you need to know?
My father-in-law certainly approved:
We got our “dinner” and alcohol (I did tip), and went on our merry way. The lounge attendant was very friendly, and didn’t bat an eye when I brought my tribe with me. So, thumbs up. I will be back for my free food/booze when I’m flying from Orlando.
I believe Southwest Rapid Rewards is a more family-friendly program. The ability to cancel an award booking with no penalty is unmatched in the industry. Free checked bags benefit will also be a big deal for some, though these days I try to travel with carry-ons only. On the other hand, Jet Blue provides a better on-board experience, especially for tall travelers.
But let’s be real, economy is economy, and lounge is a lounge. If I get alive to my destination and get some free grub along the way, I’m a happy camper.
Readers, which carrier do you prefer?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.