Despite losing a bid to buy California-based Virgin America, JetBlue Airways is not giving up in the battle for high-paying fliers from the Golden State.
JetBlue said Tuesday that it plans to expand its popular transcontinental service, dubbed Mint, at major West Coast destinations including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.
The news comes one week after Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, outbid JetBlue to acquire Virgin America for $2.6 billion. The proposed combination is expected to expand Alaska's dominance from the Pacific Northwest to the rest of the West Coast.
To compete, JetBlue said West Coast passengers will be able to opt for its premium-class Mint service, which includes extra roomy seats, early boarding privileges, free Wi-Fi, specially prepared meals and a high-tech entertainment system.
Mint seats are popular with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Hollywood celebrities and other big spenders — many of the same passengers who favor the mood-lit, high-tech cabins offered to premium customers on Virgin America.
But Mint fares can be four to eight times more expensive than basic economy seats. For example, an economy-class nonstop flight on JetBlue from Los Angeles to New York is priced at about $150 while a Mint seat on the same flight sells for $1,250.
"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," said Robin Hayes, JetBlue's president and chief executive.
JetBlue said it would expand Mint service to Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and would increase existing Mint routes from New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All together, JetBlue will fly 55 daily Mint departures when the new routes are added between 2017 and 2018.
Meanwhile, Virgin America's founder, billionaire Richard Branson, has suggested that he will put up a fight if Alaska decides to absorb Virgin America's planes and staff and discontinue the brand. Alaska has said it has yet to decide whether to keep the Virgin America brand separate.
Branson said he is proud of Virgin America and may decide to launch a new domestic airline to preserve the Virgin America name and reputation.
"My first desire is that they look after the brand really well, and look after the staff really well, but should that not happen, they know clearly that we will get the brand back and we will come back again," he said in an interview with Conde Nast Traveler.