JetBlue is only seven years old, but that apparently is old enough to give up some of its traditions. Founded with the intent of selling through the Internet predominantly if not exclusively, the airline last year broke one of its long-standing rules and began listing fares and availability through the GDSs (Global Distribution Systems). This was a break with the low-cost airline gospel, but now JetBlue has taken another step that makes it much more like a regular airline: it has signed up with most of the big on-line travel agencies. JetBlue had resisted this step for a long time; after all, the GDS move made sense if it was to attract higher-paying corporate business that has always relied on the GDS. But the on-line agencies tend to sell the cheaper inventory, and JetBlue will make even less on these cheap seats if it sells through someone else. But the airline believes that its new deals with Priceline, with Travelocity and with Orbitz, were worth it.
The Orbitz deal is for three sites that are part of the Travelport subsidiary, Orbitz, Orbitz for Business, and Cheap Tickets, while the Travelocity deal includes both the main site of the Sabre subsidiary and its Travelocity Business site. Priceline will offer JetBlue seats both on its regular ‘book-here’ offering and its so-called reverse-auction, ‘name-your-price’ offering. Telly viewers here in the States know Priceline through its spokesguy William Shatner, the Captain Kirk of the first Star Trek series, whose over-the-top, self-deprecating humour has gained it brand recognition. The moves leave Southwest as the only big low-fares carrier to shun the on-line agencies. But Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt, who is the first Internet analyst to note the slowing of airline sales through the web, suggests that they can use JetBlue as much as it can use them. Which raises the question: how good a deal did JetBlue get itself if the on-line guys were really hungry for the business?