I just got off a call with jetBlue which made me feel like I was in the twilight zone. This February, I’m planning a visit to The Bahamas, my 78th country. I was able to find an outbound flight relatively easily with AAdvantage points, but the return is on a US holiday and that’s proving to be a challenge to find at any reasonable price. WestJet has a flight that gets back really late, and I can book it at a somewhat reasonable cost using points (via Qantas, of all airlines), but jetBlue has a better schedule.
My first call was to Qatar. It’s possible to use Qatar Avios to book jetBlue flights. I tried looking on their Web site first, but availability was limited, and they didn’t allow searching online for flights between Nassau and Vancouver. Usually the pricing isn’t very good, but availability is pretty generous and given that it’s a peak holiday travel date, availability matters. I figured that if the flights priced out at the usual 18,500 Avios between Vancouver and the east coast, using Avios would be a good potential option. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any availability using Avios.
OK, fine. jetBlue allows you to book any flight they sell through their TrueBlue mileage program. Better yet, there’s a 25% transfer bonus from Chase Ultimate Rewards to jetBlue, and I have some jetBlue points. Why not check their program? Well, that’s not quite as easy a proposition as it sounds. jetBlue doesn’t have the best IT (this is an understatement) and even though you can buy flights from Nassau to Vancouver on their own Web site via Google Flights, you can’t search for them on the jetBlue Web site. I know it sounds crazy but here’s how it looks:
Obviously this doesn’t work, because it would involve paying actual money for these flights. We try to avoid paying cash at Seat 31B, so I picked up the phone and called jetBlue. If the Web site isn’t cooperating agents can usually figure out how to piece an itinerary together, and sure enough, the guy I called (who sounded like he was in the Caribbean) was able to figure it out.
There was only one problem. He couldn’t give me a price, because my account didn’t have any points in it. Could I transfer in some points so that he could price out the itinerary? Wait, what? That’s like handing a store your money (in a non-refundable way) before they’ll tell you the price of anything. “That just doesn’t make sense to me,” I replied. “Can you just give me a temporary credit in my account, or use a test account to search?”
I hit a brick wall. Eventually I escalated, and was routed to someone claiming to be with technical support in New York who also acted like a brick wall. “It has been this way for years” she emphasized, which didn’t make this insanity sound any more reasonable. I offered the same options – could they temporarily credit me some points to get around the IT issue? Could they use a test account? Nope! The only solution was to give them the equivalent of a $20 bill to find out whether I wanted to buy a ticket on their airline.
Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. By all accounts, jetBlue isn’t a very good airline (their operational reliability is spectacularly poor, and they charge for carry on bags) so flying WestJet probably makes the most sense here. Still, I feel like this policy is straight out of a Twilight Zone episode. jetBlue knows they are doing this. They have been doing it for years. And it’s absolutely not normal, in any reasonable sense.