June 23, 2015 / 4:18 AM / 2 years ago

JetBlue adds premium class to Boston flights on corporate demand

An airport worker fuels a JetBlue plane on the tarmac of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York December 11, 2013.Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp on Tuesday said it will add its premium "Mint" class to transcontinental flights from Boston, the first new city for a service that JetBlue credits with helping it steal share from competitors.

JetBlue will offer Mint service, the airline's answer to first and business class, on flights from Boston to San Francisco starting March 2016 and to Los Angeles starting in the fall of that year. On each route it will operate up to three round-trips daily on Airbus Group SE A321 aircraft.

The move reflects the budget airline's plan to roll out Mint to more cities since it entered the lucrative market for premium travel a year ago, starting with Mint between New York and the California hubs. JetBlue says it has won corporate customers in part because its Mint seats, which recline fully into beds, are priced below competitors' business-class fares.

"Corporate travel managers from companies that had never been willing to talk to us before (are) calling us and saying, 'Can we talk to you guys about a deal?'" Marty St. George, executive vice president for commercial and planning, said in an interview.

St. George said JetBlue has raised Mint prices at least twice because seats have sold out too fast, noting that higher prices will keep more tickets available for last-minute bookings.

Dave Clark, the airline's vice president for network planning, said in an interview that JetBlue would consider additional West Coast destinations for Mint but would stop short of placing it on all transcontinental routes, which cannot necessarily sustain demand for the premium seats.

"We'll grow this as much as we can," he said.

JetBlue also said it will operate an average of 118 daily flights from Boston in January 2016, up from 111 a year earlier. It also will start flying to Nashville for the first time, with service from Boston and Fort Lauderdale beginning in the spring of that year.

Clark said the New York-based airline's guidance for 7 to 9 percent capacity growth in 2015 remains unchanged.

JetBlue is the only major U.S. airline to forecast positive unit revenue growth this quarter, which Clark attributed to results from Mint, Fort Lauderdale and Boston, where it is the largest carrier. He added that JetBlue has fed on incoming traffic from international partners such as Emirates [EMIRA.UL], lining up schedules to connect with the airline.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler

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