We Tried JetBlue Vacations, and We Have Some Thoughts
A flight, stay and exclusive benefits? Yes, please.
It’s not a particularly hot take, but JetBlue is, and always has been, my favorite airline. It’s affordable, offers a competitive points system, as well as free inflight WiFi and services 559 routes to 29 different countries. Even the snacks are superior. I mean, basil and thyme marinated artichoke hearts and dark cacao, coconut cookies? Come on. Further, I also recently had one of the most pleasant (and efficient) calls with a JetBlue customer service rep regarding a flight change, which is really something based on the state of airline customer service call centers of late.
So, all of that said, when I was offered the opportunity to try out JetBlue Vacations — a program which rather unfortunately launched in early 2020 — I didn’t hesitate.
JetBlue Vacations is effectively a booking package that includes flights, some manner of accommodation and an array of other benefits, the Insider Experience program — which puts a specially trained team of local “Insiders” at your service throughout your stay — chief among them.
It is worth noting that bundles don’t typically fall into my preferred method of travel. Generally, I’m very particular — meticulous even — when it comes to trip planning. I pride myself in my ability to track down the best flights, procure the choicest Airbnbs in any given destination and secure reservations at the most coveted restaurants, thus I like to be in control every step of the way. In a sense, bundling accommodations, flights and/or excursions feels like a sort of surrendering of that control. It also, frankly, makes the resulting trip feel less personalized.
But that, as it turns out, is where JetBlue Vacations differs from other similar platforms.
“Given our network and customer base, we saw a big opportunity with flight and hotel packages, where we felt other players in the industry were largely undifferentiated and the product offering was the same across the board,” Andres Barry, President of JetBlue Travel Products, says.
“We relaunched JetBlue Vacations in early 2020 with nearly a dozen new benefits — including an in-destination concierge, free airport transfers, free room upgrades, resort credits and more — that, combined, make up the most customer-friendly package product in the industry and the best value for money a customer can get.”
How does it work?
A nice feature of JetBlue Vacations is that even at the initial booking stage, it’s already doing the bulk of the work for you. You can search for destination inspiration using seven filters — “Anywhere,” “All-Inclusive,” “Beach,” “Family,” “City,” “Nightlife” and “Golf” — and explore packages by date.
Once you’ve settled on a destination, the best deals for said destination will populate. Various properties will then alert you to “Very Important Perks!*” Those perks vary from property to property, and tend to include things like guaranteed late checkout, or resort credit. From there, the last step is to book (though, if you’re having trouble landing on a destination, travel experts are available to help you decide). The interface, you’ll see, isn’t all that different from any other online travel agency (OTAs), and the cost is pretty consistent with most other flight/hotel bundles of its kind.
Now, for the uninitiated, OTAs are different from aggregators. While aggregators are effectively search engines that populate data from other sites (think Kayak) — OTAs included — OTAs serve as a sort of middleman between hotels, airlines and consumers and they often yield some pretty good deals (think Booking.com). For their part, aggregators can be a good resource, too, but they also have a tendency to pull some sketchier results and potential travel-related scams. JetBlue Vacations is, for all intents and purposes, an OTA.
The hitch is that usually the booking phase is the last of an OTA’s involvement. Almost as soon as you’ve finished entering your credit card details, you’re being passed off to the vendor (e.g. airline, hotel, etc.). If you’ve ever had to change your flight, or reservation, you know how frustrating this can be. Booking, however, is what extricates JetBlue from the pack — because that’s when JetBlue’s involvement really starts. The same travel experts that were made available to you prior to booking are now suddenly available to help answer your every question before you leave, too.
“Travel can be unpredictable and the benefit of booking your entire trip through JetBlue is that we handle the customer service ourselves, rather than sending our customers to multiple entities. This business model allows us to go above and beyond while meeting JetBlue standards at every single touchpoint,” Barry says.
Though there are more soon to follow (at least two by end of year), at present, the Insider Experience program is only available in five destinations: Aruba, Cancún, Montego Bay, Nassau and Punta Cana. For my JetBlue Vacation, I visited Cap Cana — an ultra lux, and ultra private area within Punta Cana — and stayed at TRS Cap Cana. For its part, TRS is one of only a handful of resorts in Cap Cana but one of 60+ of JetBlue’s partner properties located within Punta Cana alone. It’s all-inclusive, yet quiet — albeit during the week, in October and just days after Hurricane Ian — and boutique-y feeling for a resort (it also offers, by way of JetBlue Vacation perks, a $1,500 Coupon booklet per stay, guaranteed late check-out and 15% off spa services). It’s virtually the only thing my Insider didn’t have a hand in selecting for me.
That’s because, despite having a loose idea of what restaurants I’d be dining at, and what activities I’d be partaking, everything was okayed by my Insider first. And when a restaurant didn’t meet their standard? They were armed with a second, and better, one to take its place.
And sure, there are a whole host of perks — best price guarantee, free inflight drinks, no change fees, free airport transfers, concierge services, etc. — but, for me, it’s this, the Insider Experience that really sets it apart. “Insiders” are, as previously mentioned, locals, with intimate knowledge of the area and of JetBlue Vacations partner properties and all hail from well-established and credible destination management companies. So if you’re not a meticulous planner? It’s exactly the kind of thing you should be taking advantage of. And if you are? It’s the perfect excuse to, for lack of a better term, unclench.
Your own personal concierge, your Insider is there from the moment you arrive at your destination (they literally meet you at the airport upon arrival) and is available to answer any other questions you might have — whether by phone or WhatsApp — pertaining to the destination, for the entirety of your stay. For example: best tipping practices, a detail you’ve surely found yourself frantically Googling at one point or another while on vacation. José, my Insider, upon meeting tells me not to drink the tap water, or to leave the resort on my own — admonitions not necessarily new to me, but important enough to be reiterated nevertheless.
For the duration of my time in Cap Cana, I followed an itinerary — one handed to me upon arrival by JetBlue Vacations. I spent ample time by the pool, ate at restaurants both on- and off-property and, on one afternoon, enjoyed a private catamaran. I came home wholly relaxed. And I didn’t plan one single second of it.
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