If you blinked, you may have missed Jet Blue’s recent “All-You-can-Jet” pass.
Travelers had until August 21, or while supplies lasted, to book the $599 pass, which enabled them to fly as much as they wished to the airline’s 57 destinations between September 8 and October 8.
Unfortunately, supplies didn’t last. Citing a “swift and huge” response and concern that too many pass holders would be vying for too few seats, Jet Blue stopped selling the passes on August 19. Only the day before, I had spoken with a Jet Blue rep who seemed sure that the passes wouldn’t run out before the deadline.
Among the travel bloggers writing about the deal, frequent business traveler Ken Walker speculated that if he used the Jet Blue pass for a single trip to Bogota, Columbia, he’d easily come out ahead. But upon checking prices he found “a number of smaller airlines that specialize in trips to destinations around the Bermuda Triangle and apparently, you can get to Bogota for $350 to $400. Who knew?”
But even though dirt-cheap airfares are not hard to find on their own, Walker pointed out that booking one more flight with the Jet pass would have paid for itself, and he’s right. Two flights anywhere in Jet Blue’s system would earn back the $599.
One catch of the Jet pass is that you need to make your reservation at least three days prior to departure. That may not seem like a big deal for such a good deal, but for a business traveler that condition might matter a lot, and that’s the point: not all pre-paid passes pay off in the same way or for all travelers. Instead of price, the payoff might go to convenience, flexibility, perks, or how you’re comfortable traveling.
Blink as much as you like, you won’t miss American Airlines’ AAirpass, a mileage debit card of sorts that’s been around for more than 25 years. The commitment is a bit stiffer than Jet Blue’s: With AAirpass you prepay for mileage at 40 cents per mile and need to start with a minimum balance of 25,000 miles (a.k.a. $10,000) for a one-year contract. Unused mileage will carry over only if you renew the pass for another year.
After a few minutes of anonymously grilling an AAirpass rep on the phone, it was clear to me that the pass would only pay off under the right circumstances. A flight from JFK to San Francisco, roughly 5,200 miles round trip, would never pay for itself at 40 cents a mile, or $2,080, especially with $315 San Francisco flights available a la carte. The pass fared better with a JFK to Tokyo flight, whose 13,500 round-trip mileage times 40 cents, or $5400, beat the $6500 or 48 cents-per-mile a la carte fare.
Overall it wasn’t hard to find airfares in American’s system that beat the 40-cent-per-mile rate. The patient rep confirmed as much, noting that if “you know you’re not going to make changes [to your reservation] and can book in advance, it’s cheaper to book regular sales fares.”
Unlike Jet Blue’s pass, you can make your AAirpass reservation at the last possible second. Once you book your flight, the flight cost, along with applicable taxes and fees, comes out of your account, and you’re good to go. That immediacy is a big selling point. As the rep put it, AAirpass is “geared for business people who need the flexibility to change or cancel [reservations] without being penalized” or who have meetings in other cities at the last minute.
Another selling point, notes First Class Flyer managing editor Lisa Davis, is that AAirpass holders don’t have to pay the $500 annual fee to use any of American’s 40 Admirals Clubs. “With free Wi-Fi and a haven from the maddening travel scene at the airport, the lounges are one of the best parts of the travel experience,” she notes, and for business travelers, a productivity perk that gives AAirpass more value.
Cathay Pacific’s All Asia Pass
With the major airlines charging anywhere from $800 to $1,400 round-trip between New York and Hong Kong, it’s already intriguing to note that Cathay’s All Asia Pass includes round-trip fare between New York and Hong Kong plus hops to “two basic Asian cities” for $1,499.
Along with 24 “basic” cities, including Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore and Tokyo, the pass also covers 25 “add-on” cities, including many destinations in China. After selecting your two basic cities, you can add up to two more basics and however many add-ons for $300 apiece. You have to complete your travel within 21 days but can pay extra to extend your trip for up to 90 days. You’ll also need to pay more to fly to Hong Kong from cities other than New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The downside is that you also have to pay extra to fly from home to Hong Kong at certain times: $100 more to fly to Hong Kong Thursday through Sunday, and $500 more to travel during the peak season that stretches from mid-May to mid-August. The flat-rates also don’t include around $70 in taxes and foreign airport departure fees per flight.
Another hitch, since most Cathay flights originate in Hong Kong, is that in “most cases you have to fly back to Hong Kong to get to your next destination,” according to the airline. Also, the pass can only be booked through a travel agent, though that’s perhaps a good thing given the potential complexity of this kind of trip.
Oneworld Explorer Pass
Airline alliance Oneworld offers two round-the-world passes: a Global Explorer option priced according to how many miles you fly, and a less complicated pay-per-continent Oneworld Explorer pass.
The pass, which can be booked online, permits you to travel to three continents minimum, six maximum. For economy flights originating in the U.S. (business and first rates are also available), three continents are $3,900, four are $4,400, five are $5,100, and six are $6,000. The maximum travel period is 12 months, the minimum 10 days. And you might find yourself on any one of oneworld’s ten partner airlines, which include American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas (yes, Australia is one of the continents included).
In addition to flight, segment, and stopover restrictions to discourage you from hopping around too much, the pass also requires that “your route from one continent to another must move forward in a continuous westward or eastward direction,” but cheer up, because “there are no backtracking restrictions so you are free to roam locally at will within a continent as long as you don't go back to your point of origin.”
Meanwhile, will other domestic airlines follow Jet Blue’s example and offer flat-rate pricing deals of their own? A Delta spokesperson told me that “unfortunately we can’t talk about any future plans related to pricing.”
Be that as it may, if Delta and other carriers took even partial notice of how excited customers got about the Jet deal, chances are some of the airlines already have their own all-you-can-fly passes in the works. Let’s hope they can talk about it soon.