Earlier this month I was in New York for a weekend, and I decided to try out JetBlue’s “Mint” service on my way home. If you remember, last summer JetBlue offered easily the most generous promotion I’ve seen in my (few) years in this hobby: matching the frequent flyer balances of Virgin America eleVAte members by giving out tons of free JetBlue points in exchange for taking one measly round-trip flight. You can read about my experiences with the promotion and getting shit on by a bird here. As a result of that promo, I had a little over 75,000 JetBlue points, which meant I had plenty to burn on a Mint flight from JFK to SFO.
First, a note about booking the flight: because JetBlue’s award program is revenue-based, you don’t need to worry about availability, just finding flights with low fares. Mint fares usually start at $499, but I couldn’t find any of those. The best I could do was $649, which was around 49,000 points – not ideal but not bad either. Also, the conventional wisdom is that JetBlue points are worth 1.4 cents each, but that’s only in some circumstances. They’re not fixed-value like Virgin points, so you won’t know the cost of your flight in points simply by looking at cash fares. I was fine spending 49k for the flight, though, so I went ahead and booked it, choosing one of the Mint suites as my seat. (It’s pretty cool that JetBlue doesn’t charge extra for these.)
I’m going to assume that you know what JetBlue’s Mint cabin looks like by now, but if not, here’s a photo from JetBlue’s website:
But first, let’s talk about flying out of JFK T5, which is JetBlue’s flagship terminal. I kind of felt like shit all day, and my shoulder bag weighed around 40 pounds, so I wasn’t in a great mood when I got there. JFK did offer some pretty great plane-spotting opportunities, including a Finnair A330 (I think) that passed right overhead while I was on the AirTrain, as well as a bunch of planes I have never seen in person, like Aerolineas Argentinas. I stopped at the Mint check-in area to get a printed boarding pass, since my phone loves nothing more than to freeze as soon as I try to show my mobile boarding pass. They were perfectly nice and directed me to the Pre-Check security line, which was completely empty. Once, through I made my way to the Airspace lounge, since I was a couple hours early and wanted to relax before the flight.
While I was walking there, I was thinking about how the Airspace lounge is another example of the Amex Platinum’s incremental benefit over other premium cards, since any other card wouldn’t have given me any lounge access in this terminal. Then I got to the lounge, and I realized that it didn’t really matter either way, because it was easily the shittiest lounge I’ve ever been in. First, it’s tiny. Second, it’s dirty. Third, the snack selection consists of a tower of snack mix and that’s it. Fourth, it sucks. Seriously 1/3 of the lounge is the fucking bathroom. The entire capacity of the lounge could have taken a shower at the same time if they wanted to. I was starving, but they weren’t serving any food at the bar (do they normally? I thought they did, but maybe they never serve food), so I did some work and then went off in search of food. This lounge isn’t worth the time it takes to walk there. Unless your gate is literally across from it, don’t bother.
JFK T5 is one of the handful terminals operated by OTG Management (along with EWR terminal C and a bunch of others), which is great. You’ll know you’re in an OTG terminal if every table in every restaurant has an iPad that you order from. The other OTG hallmark is Cibo Express markets, which always have interesting food options. I was able to find decent food and then headed to my gate to finish waiting for my flight. Much to my horror, around 20 minutes before the flight, the gate was FLOODED with rambunctious high school students heading home from a choir competition. I went pale, thinking about how annoying they were going to be all flight. However, it turns out I’m an ageist prejudicial piece of shit, because the kids made nary a peep once they boarded the plane.
First impressions of the cabin: sleek, but not super luxurious, which fits in with what JetBlue is trying to offer. It’s utilitarian – black fabric and gray plastic – which didn’t have quite the elegance of the United Polaris cabin I flew on the way over (but certainly equivalent to United’s p.s. cabin on the 757 that would normally fly that route). The suite was as large as advertised, with enormous consoles on both sides. Unfortunately, it’s an air-cushioned seat, which I realize I don’t really like. It’s not horrible, but I generally prefer seats that require less tinkering, since I end up spending way too much time trying to get the seat just right. Plus, both here and on SAS (who also has air cushioned seats), I found that they don’t always re-inflate if you’re sitting on them, so you end up having to stand up, inflate the seat, sit down and test it, stand up again, etc.
The flight attendants were awesome, by the way. Everyone says that about JetBlue Mint crews, which is great, since it means that Mint service is consistently top-notch. I arrived at my seat to find a card welcoming me, and after I sat down, the lead flight attendant came over to give me a “tour” of the seat, showing me all the features, storage compartments, etc. She then brought me one of their signature cocktails (which I ordered without alcohol), and it was fantastic. She was also cool about dealing with my weird refusal to eat during turbulence, which I have to imagine is annoying for flight attendants, since it messes up the service flow. However, she said that after two hours, she could no longer serve me any food (not sure why, but I figured it had to do with food safety and I preferred not get food poisoning, so I didn’t argue with it). Unfortunately, it was pretty bumpy for the first two hours of the flight, so I didn’t end up getting to eat my dinner. I bet it was good, though. Later in the flight after it smoothed out, she brought me a bunch of snacks and an apple, which was nice. All in all, the service was the best part of the flight – miles ahead of United, who were fine but didn’t really seem all that concerned about going above and beyond. The JetBlue flight attendants seemed genuinely concerned about making sure everyone had a great flight, and I really appreciated it.
Other stuff: they recently changed up the amenity kit, so it’s no longer from Birchbox. Now it’s a canvas pouch from “Hopper,” a new brand celebrating Dennis Hopper, since there’s nothing a cultural icon and multitalented person like Dennis Hopper would like more than having his name emblazoned on travel pouches. The contents of the kit were pretty good – eye mask, ear plugs, a mint, some lip balm, and maybe some other stuff that I can’t remember, since I threw it all away and gave the pouch to my wife. (I know, I know – I’m amazing at writing reviews.)
It was pretty cool to have a door to the suite, which was a brand new experience for me. However, the gap between the seat and the aisle is pretty small, so the door doesn’t provide that much more privacy. It’s neat, but it’s not a game-changing feature in my opinion. Here’s my problem with the Mint suite – the seat is really uncomfortable as a bed. This has to do with the tiny foot cubby, which is an issue people often cite about these throne seats, whether on Mint or other airlines that use the same configuration, like Brussels Airlines. I hope it’s better when I fly business class on Swiss in a couple months, since they also use these seats, although on that flight I’ll at least be sitting in a bulkhead seat. I didn’t want to take off my shoes, since I was pretty sure my feet were nasty after traipsing around New York all day, and with shoes on I could barely get my feet all the way into the foot cubby. Once in, I couldn’t move them side to side, which meant I had to lay on my back. Also, the seat is kind of a sarcophagus, so while the suite itself is very wide, the seat still feels pretty narrow. You can’t lay on your back with your arms at your sides, for instance. This hasn’t been a problem in any other lie-flat seat I’ve been on, but here it was definitely an issue. I can’t imagine how all six-feet-seven-inches of The Points Guy manages to feel comfortable in this seat, but he professes to love it, so maybe I’m an outlier. Anyway, sleeping was out, since it was just plain uncomfortable to lie in the seat in bed mode. That’s fine, since I can barely sleep on planes anyway, so I moved the seat into a comfortable reclining position and watched some TV. I started with an on-demand movie, and the resolution on the screen was horrible. I eventually switched to DirecTV and watched “Wanderlust,” which does not fare well with its profanity overdubbed. If you’ve seen this movie, you no doubt remember the iconic and supremely uncomfortable scene with Paul Rudd in front of the mirror, and let me just tell you that hearing him say “WITH MY STICK” over and over just doesn’t work.
An odd note on which to end my review, but there you go. Here are my final thoughts about JetBlue Mint: the more experience I have with premium products like this, the more I realize that the attribute I care most about is all-aisle access. Since I always sit by the window, it’s a real treat to be able to get up at my leisure, especially since I stay very hydrated and usually need to use the bathroom every hour or so. (Now you know that about me.) Unless you’re on a Delta 767, the Mint suite and American Airlines A321 first class are the the only all-aisle transcon options (aside from exceptions like United flying Polaris-equipped 777s for a limited time). Overall I find the normal United p.s. seat (also used by Delta on 757s and American in the A321’s business class cabin) to be a more comfortable seat, although I’d rather have more restricted foot room and deal with my annoyance around the air cushioning and the low-res video screen in order to fly JetBlue. It’s also a tiny fraction of the price of a Delta One transcon or first class on American’s A321 – neither of which have very much (if any) saver awards. So while it’s not my favorite seat in the sky, the overall product would still be my first choice for future transcons.
A couple final things I wanted to note: first, I can’t help but compare this to United’s Polaris cabin, since I flew that on the outbound leg. Despite not having the excessive personal space around me that I got on JetBlue, I preferred it. I guess the refined design of the cabin helped contribute to a pleasant flight, the seat was more comfortable, and I like flying on widebody planes more than single-aisles. The JetBlue service was clearly better, and the food probably would have been better too, had I had the chance to eat it. It’s not a fair comparison, since that United 777 won’t be on the route much longer, but I wanted to point it out anyway. Second, as I was de-boarding, I noticed that the foot cubbies in the bulkhead row were huge, so I would probably book these two seats if I were flying with a companion, rather than booking opposing suites for the two of us. While the extra space is nice, I’d prefer to have the option of laying down comfortably, even if that means having to *gasp* sit next to my wife for six hours.