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With so many airline options out there, it can be hard to know which one is the best for your travel needs.
Two top United States contenders, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, have been in the sky game for quite a while and over the years each has made numerous upgrades to their business practices as well as ancillary services.
Often touted as the best of the budget airlines, let’s have a look at the two to see which one really comes out on top.
Bottom Line Up Front: After evaluating dozens of the top destinations served by both airlines, we generally found the cheaper option (about 65% of the time) to be Southwest (Direct booking). That said, for sometimes the same price you can get meaningful perks like assigned seats, extra legroom, and 3X the entertainment options with JetBlue (Expedia / OneTravel).
JetBlue Airways, which began operating in 2000, is a low-cost carrier that, from its early days, aimed to compete with Southwest.
Its main hub is located at John F Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York with other major cities including Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Long Beach, and Orlando.
Despite being younger than Southwest, JetBlue quickly proved that it was ready to compete and within the first few years of taking to the skies, it was already recognized by the likes of Forbes, Travel+Leisure, and Condé Nast.
The youth of JetBlue comes out in its catchy sales tactics, website design, and its modern upgrades to appeal to the contemporary jet-setting demographic.
- Frequent Flyer Program – The TrueBlue Rewards program allows members to use their points at any time, without blackout dates or expiration. This makes them one of the few airlines to have no hidden fine print to use rewards points. They give many opportunities to accrue points through credit cards, hotels, and retail, in addition to travel. They also allow you to pool your rewards points with family members or friends, giving you a chance to earn the rewards even faster.
- Fleet Size – They currently have roughly 250 aircrafts consisting of the Airbus A320, Airbus A231, and Embraer ERJ-190. If you’d like a laugh, JetBlue gets extra points for their clever blue-themed naming of each aircraft, which you can find here. Some of my personal favorites include: Chicken Cordon Blue, May The Force Be With Blue, Bada Bing-Bada Blue, and The Name Is Blue, JetBlue.
- In-flight Entertainment – With free wi-fi, 36 DirecTV channels, and 100 music channels on SiriusXM Radio there is never a dull flight on JetBlue. In addition, all seatbacks have TV’s, meaning you won’t have to use your own device or stop the children from fighting over one.
- Destinations – With hubs in North, Central, and South America, as of September 2019, JetBlue has upwards of 102 destinations across the Americas with plans to expand to Europe.
- Customer Service – JetBlue’s dedication doesn’t just stop when you arrive at your destination; they also take customer service very seriously. Because many people take to social media with complaints, praise, and general inquiries, there is a team on hand to answer all questions in a timely, and sometimes humorous manner. For more urgent issues, they can be reached 24 hours a day.
- They Codeshare – Because JetBlue has codeshare agreements with 21 other airlines, you have the opportunity to earn or use points on additional eligible flights that are operated by their partners. While they aren’t part of the three major airline alliances, some of their partners are.
- Ample legroom – It’s no doubt that when it comes to the much-needed extra legroom, JetBlue has you covered. With a standard pitch of 34” on the A320, there are an additional three inches over Southwest’s Boeing 737-700 with a 31” pitch. Ultimately, this means more space to stretch out and fewer chances of seat kicking for the duration of your flight, courtesy of the kid behind you.
- First-class option – JetBlue’s Mint began operating in 2014 on their Airbus A321. It boasts lie-flat seats, amenity kits, impressive inflight menus, and a Welcome RefreshMint – a truly first-class experience from a low-cost carrier. While it isn’t yet offered on all flights, it’s worth a look to see if it’s an option for your trip.
- Bags VIP – For many of us, waiting for our luggage to come off of the plane is one of the most tedious aspects of flying. Especially after a long flight with tired and crying travel companions (or maybe you’re the one crying). Enter JetBlue’s Bags VIP, which allows you to flee the airport as quickly as possible. For a fee, they will deliver up to 10 bags to your hotel, home, or office, and they promise to do this within four hours. If you have somewhere you desperately need to be the fee would be well worth the time it saves.
- Change fees – In 2015 JetBlue jumped on board with other major airlines, adding an additional charge to any passengers who required changes to their itinerary, leaving Southwest as the only carrier with no fees. If you’re the kind of traveler who may need to make adjustments, these added fees can add up.
- Fewer hubs – As compared to Southwest, the destinations are slightly lower. If you have a particular route that isn’t serviced by JetBlue, you’ll need to fly with another airline.
JetBlue Overall Assessment
JetBlue has shown to keep the consumers’ best interests at heart while continuing to improve the quality of service. They want you to be able to stay budget-friendly, but feel as though each dollar was well spent.
Southwest Airlines Overview
Southwest began operations in 1971, primarily servicing the state of Texas. By 1979 it had expanded to neighboring states, and in 2021 it transports more domestic passengers than any other US airline.
Their popularity could be attributed to their reliability as they maintain high rankings in the Department of Transportation (DOT) with minimal consumer complaints, delays, and mishandled baggage.
The age of Southwest shines through in its refusal to conform and sticking to what it knows. This can be for the benefit or the detriment of its consumers, as you will see below.
Southwest Airlines Advantages
- Frequent Flyer Program – As a Rapid Rewards member, you can enjoy using your points at any time, on any seat, without blackout dates. While the points don’t expire, the fine print does state that you must have flight-earning activity at some point within a two-year period. For those who fly regularly, there is also the chance to earn a Companion Pass. The pass allows you to choose one person to accompany you on flights, free of charge, for two years. A perk that’s pretty hard to beat.
- Fleet size – With over 750 Boeing 737 aircrafts in their fleet, they are easily the larger carrier between the two. This impressive number makes them the largest Boeing 737 operator in the world and the fourth-largest airline in fleet size.
- Open Boarding policy – Depending on the type of traveler you are, this could be seen as a pro or a con. With a first-come, first-served approach, you’ll want to check-in as early as possible, especially if you have travel companions. Since there is no assigned seating, you will choose your seats only once you board the plane.
- Destinations – When it comes to destinations, Southwest definitely delivers. After all, they have to send those 750 aircrafts somewhere. Servicing over 100 destinations, including many in smaller cities (such as Amarillo, Texas) you’re more likely to find a hub near you when it’s time to fly.
- Customer Service – Although mostly positive, Southwest receives mixed online reviews for their customer service satisfaction. According to the American Customer Service Index (ACSI) in 2019, their rankings have lowered slightly with their once-friendly onboard staff now being viewed as unhelpful or lacking in the cheer department. A small dip that one would hope is fixable. Urgent issues can be addressed with Southwest 24 hours a day.
Southwest Airlines Pros
- No change fees – Southwest can proudly state that they are the last man standing when it comes to change fees. While all other airlines have gotten on board, Southwest holds steadfast, allowing passengers to change their itineraries for only the cost of the difference in fare.
- Two free checked bags – When you’re looking to save money on travel, having the option of two free checked bags as well as one free carry-on can be an extra bonus. Especially considering that in 2018, all of the US airlines combined brought in a staggering $4.9 billion in revenue – just from checked baggage fees.
- Family boarding – As mentioned before, Southwest is sticking with its open boarding process for the time being. The upside for families is that they do allow families with a child under the age of six to board after Group A.
Southwest Airlines Cons
- Flights can’t be booked on travel booking sites – Unlike most airlines around the world, Southwest has chosen not to list their airfares on travel booking sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, or Kayak. If you are trying to fare compare, this will be difficult and more tedious. Depending on how you look at it, this is an interesting tactic to try to stop people from booking with other airlines.
- Limited in-flight entertainment – While they do offer wi-fi, you have to pay for it, and it can often be hit or miss as far as quality and speed. There are a few options for free live TV and a few (dated) on-demand TV shows. Also, there are no TV’s on the seatbacks, meaning you have to bring your own device to access movies, shows, and music. The entertainment could end up being more trouble than it’s worth.
- No true First or Business class option – Don’t be fooled by the name “Business Select” as the seats are exactly the same size as the economy option. However, it does have a few benefits, such as early boarding and a free drink.
Southwest Overall Assessment
While Southwest has stayed true to keeping prices low and avoiding the dreaded hidden fees, the quality shows with the weak attempts or lack of modern updates and keeping up with the other high flyers.
Southwest vs Jetblue Similarities At A Glance
|Credit cards||Issued by Barclays (3 personal options)||Issued by Chase (3 personal options, 1 business option)|
|Frequent Flyer||No blackout; no expiry||No blackout; no expiry if the account is active within 2 years|
|Snacks||Complimentary snacks and soft drinks, option to buy meals||Complimentary snacks and soft drinks|
|In-Flight Entertainment||Free Wi-fi, 36 DirecTV channels, 100 music channels||$8 per day for Wi-fi, 16 TV channels, limited on-demand shows, select aircrafts are equipped for iHeart Radio|
|Customer Service||Available 24 hours, 7 days a week||Available 24 hours, 7 days a week|
Differences At A Glance
|Codeshare with partner airlines||Yes||No|
|Bookable on travel booking sites (i.e., Expedia)||Yes||No|
|Change fees||Yes, minimal||No|
|First-class option||Yes, on some flights||No|
|Free checked bags||No||Yes, 2 free|
|Legroom||34” on Airbus A320||31” on Boeing 737-700|
Jetblue vs Southwest Final Take
Having flown on both JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, and having suffered through the experience that is Southwest’s boarding process, my clear choice is for JetBlue. Taking into account all of the similarities and differences at a glance, the benefits that come with JetBlue outweigh those offered by Southwest.
Even with no change fees and free checked bags, with a little bit of research, you can often find sales for JetBlue that makes the price both comparable and still affordable. Not to mention, it’s hard not to smile when you think of all the hard work that goes into creating all their fun puns.
Bottom Line Summary: After evaluating dozens of the top destinations served by both airlines, we generally found the cheaper option (about 65% of the time) to be Southwest (Direct booking). That said, for sometimes the same price you can get meaningful perks like assigned seats, extra legroom, and 3X the entertainment options with JetBlue (Expedia / OneTravel).
Further Reading Airline Industry & Air Travel Comparisons: