JetBlue is charging more for checked bags because it hates raising fares

Blue sky thinking.
Blue sky thinking.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Nobody likes expensive airline fares, including JetBlue. The company says that’s why it bumped its fee for the first checked bag to $30, from $25, late last month.

“Fuel prices are up over 33% this year,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told Skift last week at the Aviation Festival in London. “You end up having to pass those on. We’re about low fares. We hate increasing fares. But we had a couple of fare increases, and then we made the decision to increase the bag fee to $30 if you don’t buy it in the fare.”

Airfares have fallen dramatically since the industry was deregulated, and intense competition has kept airlines reluctant to raise prices above rivals on similar routes. One effect of this, as Quartz’s Allison Schrager recently explained, is that airlines have started charging more for basic services, such as the right to choose your seat or to check a bag, as they’re forced to make their margins elsewhere. This “unbundling” of airline services can be a headache for travelers, but it helps frugal passengers keep costs low.

JetBlue for a long time held strong against the industry trend. Its fares were higher than a budget airline like Spirit, but they came with above-average legroom, complimentary entertainment and snacks, and the first checked bag was free. Then, in 2015, after several years of stagnant operating profits, JetBlue announced that its signature “first bag free” would be replaced with a first-bag fee.

The good news is that with its latest fee increase, JetBlue has created a loophole for savvy flyers. Passengers looking to check a bag would be better off purchasing a “Blue Plus” fare. They cost $25 more than the basic “Blue” ticket. But with Blue Plus, the first checked bag, instead of costing $30, is free.