JetBlue Airways’ Hybrid Business Model

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Executive Summary

JetBlue is one of the leading low-cost carriers in North America. The firm was founded in 1998 and it started its operations using the brand name, NewAir. In this paper, the focus was to analyze the hybrid business model that the company has been using in this industry and how it has managed to achieve sustainability in a market that other major companies have avoided. In this hybrid model, JetBlue is not a purely low-cost carrier but one that offers a quality product for the best possible price.

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The study relied on information from books, journal articles, websites, and other reliable online sources. It is evident that JetBlue has managed to lower its operational costs without compromising on quality, a strategy that has allowed it to sustain low fare prices. The analysis reveals that the firm has embraced the concept of lean production as a means of lowering its operational costs without sacrificing the product on offer.

Introduction

Background

JetBlue Airline is an American low-cost carrier headquartered in Long Island City. The company was founded in 1998 and has since grown to become one of the leading companies in the United States. It currently operates more than 1,000 daily flights, serving both domestic and international network destinations, especially in the United States, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico (Graham et al., 2019). Over the past decade, the company has been ranked in the Fortune 500 list. This success has been attributed to the unique management strategies that the company has been employing in this highly competitive business environment.

The aviation sector has been facing numerous challenges, from fluctuating international oil prices to the constant threat of terror attacks and an increasing number of rival firms. To stay afloat, leading airline companies such as JetBlue have to find ways of increasing their margins without compromising their appeal to customers (Talbot, 2018). The management embraced the hybrid business model as a means of ensuring that it reaches out to as many customers as possible both in the local and international markets. Using pricing strategy, it has been targeting customers in both the low-cost and high-end markets with high-quality products. In this paper, the researcher seeks to investigate the airline’s hybrid business model and how it has enabled the company to achieve sustainable growth in this market.

Objectives

Companies all over the world are keen on embracing business practices and models that are capable of assuring them sustained growth despite the competition that they face. Analyzing strategies that market leaders use to remain successful helps in determining the industry’s best practices. The primary goal of this study is to investigate the hybrid business model that JetBlue Airlines uses and how it has enabled the firm to achieve sustained growth. It is necessary to understand how it has successfully targeted a diversified market segment with its unique products. The following are the specific objectives that should be achieved through this study:

  1. To analyze the current hybrid business model that the company uses in the local and international market;
  2. To determine the impact of the hybrid business model on the company’s success in the local and international markets;
  3. To determine challenges that the company faces as it uses the hybrid business model of operations;
  4. To identify other strategies that the firm is using to achieve success in the market.

Matter of the Investigation

This investigation will focus on the strategies that JetBlue Airlines uses in the market to achieve sustainable growth. The aviation industry has become increasingly unpredictable despite the massive growth that it has witnessed over the years. Lachmann (2017) explains that the industry has been growing rapidly over the past five decades. The overall global population has been increasing and the number of those making regular international flights are also increasing. Most of these are business travelers, leisure travelers, or those who are visiting family members in different parts of the world. However, issues such as the volatility of oil prices, cyber-attacks, intense market competition, and activities of international terror groups still remain major issues in the industry.

JetBlue has been keen on embracing strategies that can enable it to withstand these challenges. The firm understands the fact that customers tend to become more demanding when they have a wide variety of choices whenever they want to purchase a given product. The only way of attracting and retaining a team of loyal customers is to offer them the best quality every time they make a purchase (Graham et al., 2019). Besides offering low-cost products, the company has been keen on improving the quality of its services and the manner in which it offers it to ensure satisfaction and repeat-purchases.

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Legacy carriers used to have offices in major towns around the world where clients had to visit and make their bookings. However, Low Cost Carriers have avoided the high cost of commissions by taking advantage of society’s gradual shift to direct buying through the internet. Talbot (2018) observes that although there are individuals who still prefer to make physical visits to the offices so that they can clarify issues of concern, a major percentage of the bookings have shifted to the online platform.

The company has decided to use a hybrid business model where it maintains its low-cost business strategy while at the same time targeting the high-end customers with quality products at competitive prices (Moir & Lohmann, 2018). The strategy is meant to ensure that this firm remains attractive to as many customers in different segments as possible. In terms of its target market, JetBlue primarily focuses on travelers who are conscious about the amount of money they spend on such travels. Its air tickets are relatively cheaper than the market average. However, the firm has been keen on ensuring that its low pricing strategy does not compromise on the quality of products that it offers.

Methodology

When conducting a research, it is always important to define the appropriate method of collecting and processing data to meet the set goal and objectives. The methodology also helps the reader to determine the validity and reliability of information presented in a given report. In this paper, it was important for the researcher to collect accurate information about this company, especially the financial information and the strategies that it has been using both locally and in the international market to achieve sustained growth. As Lachmann (2017) notes, it is always necessary to blend both secondary and primary data to have an accurate and most recent information on a given issue under investigation.

The current COVID-19 pandemic meant that the researcher could not easily sample participants who could facilitate primary data collection. Health experts have strongly advised against such physical interactions because it is the primary means through which the virus is spread.

The researcher had to rely only on secondary data to inform the study because of these challenges. Financial information about JetBlue Airways was obtained from the company’s annual reports. Yahoo Finance also proved to be an important source of financial information about the firm. The researcher also relied on books and peer-reviewed journals to review effectiveness of the business model of this firm and to explain why large corporations are embracing it.

Once data was collected from these sources, the next step was to conduct an analysis. The researcher used qualitative methods to process the information gathered from these sources to help achieve the objectives above. In this explanatory approach to data analysis, the researcher discussed the company’s marketing strategies, how it has been keen on attracting and retaining customers, and the effectiveness of its business model. Factors such as segmentation, positioning, and marketing mix were discussed to help explain the effectiveness of the strategy that the company uses. Statistical analysis was also necessary when focusing on the company’s financials within the past five years. The outcome of the statistical analysis was presented in tables for ease of understanding.

Results

Brief History of the Company

JetBlue is one of the leading low-cost carriers in North, Central, and South America. In 1998, David Neeleman, the company’s founder, realized that most of the existing airlines were ignoring a very important segment of the market. As an entrepreneur with experience in the aviation industry, David knew that a significant number of those making regular air travels are from middle class families and are sensitive about their expenses (Wynbrabdt, 2004). They make these flights to visit their family members, for business purposes, or for a holiday. Besides safety and comfort, price was another important factor that defined their purchasing pattern.

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However, the North American market had a limited number of airlines offering low prices. In 1999, he registered the name NewAir as a low-cost carrier in the market (Corbo, 2017). He changes the name to JetBlue in 2000 in response to various factors in the market. When the country came under attack in September 11, 2001, the aviation sector was significantly affected (Graham et al., 2019). Many people tried as much as possible to avoid air travels unless is was unavoidable.

The government also introduced strict rules that had to be observed by the airline industries, which reduced the margins. Many leading airlines registered net loss or significant reduction of their profits (Song et al., 2020). However, the unique strategies that David, who was the chief executive officer of the firm at that time, employed enabled the firm to grow as others were dealing with the new market challenges.

The firm has achieved consistent growth and currently it is among the Fortune 500 companies. The number of passengers that it carries has been consistently increasing over the years and so do its assets, employees, and revenue. It is important to note that like all the airlines in the world, JetBlue has been significantly affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the management will need to find a way of overcoming the problem.

Area of Operation

When the company was registered and allowed to start its operation, John F. Kennedy International Airport became its hub. At that time, it was operating from this hub to Fort Lauderdale and Buffalo (Karaman et al., 2018). The company continued with its upward trajectory as it was keen on covering the entire market in the United States. The company went public in 2002 as a means of injecting more revenues to the firm to facilitate growth without relying on loans from financial institutions. As it opened new routes, the financial burden continued to increase. The cost of operation was increasing but the management insisted on maintaining its business model of targeting the middle class keen on making some savings in their travels.

In 2005, the firm registered a major loss as its profits continued to dwindle. This did not deter the management from increasing its destinations and by 2006, the firm was operating in almost every state in the country. The next frontier was expansion to the international market. Mexico became the first target as there were numerous people traveling to and from Mexico on a regular basis (Zou & Yu, 2020). The country was also chosen because a significant number of travelers from Mexico were price-sensitive. As such, low-cost carriers such as JetBlue was an attractive option to them. This strategy worked and the company started making profits as its sales increased.

The Caribbean became the next target because of the high number of tourists from the United States who visit the region regularly as tourists (Cook & Billig, 2017). This route also proved successful and it motivated the company to continue with its expansion. Currently, the firm operates in the entire Central and South America, in addition to its initial routes. It has been keen on partnering with other major global airlines such as Lufthansa to ensure that its passengers can connect easily to other destinations in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

However, the management has avoided exploring any markets outside the Americas. The management believes that with a strong brand and unique product offering strategies, its current market is substantial enough to make its operations profitable. The strategy is also seen as an attempt by the top management of this firm to limit operations to most profitable markets and to avoid numerous regulatory procedures in parts of Europe and Asia.

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Passengers Carried 2017/2018/2019

JetBlue carried a total of 40,016,788 passengers in 2017, 42,236,283 in 2018 and 42,837,163 passengers for the year of 2019 respectively, representing an average increase of 3,5% for the years of 2018 and 2019.

Table 1 below shows the number of passengers that this company carried from 2017 to 2019 where it is evident that JetBlue has been growing consistently over the years. This growth is an indication that the strategy that the firm is using is effective.

Table 1: Passengers Carried.

Year 2017 2018 2019
Passengers Carried 40,016,788 42,236,283 42,837,163

Total Operational Revenue 2017/2018/2019

JetBlue total revenue was $7,015,326,000 in 2017, $7,658,451,000 in 2018 and $8,094,008,000 in 2019 representing and average increase of 7,5% for the years of 2018 and 2019. The consistent increase in revenue correspond with the increase in the number of passengers carried by the firm within the same period. It means that the operations of the firm is sustainable. Table 2 below summarizes the statistics about the revenue of the company within the period discussed above.

Table 2: Total Operating Revenue.

Year 2017 2018 2019
Operating Revenue
(,000)
$7,015,326 $7,658,451 $8,094,008

Total Operational Expense 2017/2018/2019

JetBlue Total Operating Expense was of $6,021,964,000 for 2017, $7,008,072,000 for 2018 and $7,289,760,000 for the year of 2019, representing an average increase of 10,5% for the years of 2018 and 2019 which is consistent with the growth that the company has been making in the market within the same period.

Table 3: Total Operational Cost.

Year 2017 2018 2019
Operating Cost
(,000)
$6,021,964 $7,008,072 $7,289,760

Operational Margin 2017/2018/2019

According to the above results, JetBlue operational margin was of 14,15% for 2017 ($993.362.000), 8,5% for 2018 ($650.739.000) and 9,9% for the year of 2019 ($804.248.000), which are robust margins when compared to the IATA reported industry average for 2019 of 5,25% (IATA Industry Statistic fact Sheet, June 2019, December 2019)

Note 1: Summary and Critical Analysis of Results

The statistical analysis of the firm’s financial performance from 2017 to 2019, conducted above, shows that JetBlue has been growing consistently over that period. The company’s number of passengers carried and total operating revenue has been on the increase. It is an indication that its hybrid business model is working as effectively as it was intended. The firm has been able to attract customers through its strategy of offering quality products at the lowest price possible, a strategy that most of its rivals have avoided. The financial analysis also indicate that the cost of operation has increased within the same period.

It is necessary to note that the increase is normal because the sales volume of the firm also increased within the same period. The statistics show that this hybrid low-cost carrier is making an impressive growth as it seeks to become one of the leading brands in the industry. The financial strength, witnessed in the analysis above, may mean that this company can afford to finance survival through the Covid-19 period.

JetBlue Segmentation and Targeting

The aviation sector is currently one of the most competitive industries in the world. Top brands such as United Airlines, Delta Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates Airline, American Airlines, Air China, and Southwest have dominated this industry for the past decades (Stanley & Hensher, 2019). Penetrating this market is challenging not only because of the stiff market rivalry but also the numerous challenges that exist. When JetBlue was starting its operations in 2000, most of these top brands were already dominating this market. As such, this company had to find a unique way of attracting customers to its products.

The challenge that it faces was that many travelers preferred using the known brands such as United Airline or British Airways. As Teker et al. (2016) state, when other factors are held constant, customers will base their decisions on the popularity of the brand. In the aviation sector where the security and safety of passengers is always a top priority, the brand name is critical when customers are making their purchases.

The management of JetBlue understood this challenge and developed a unique way of overcoming it. It segmented the market with the primary goal of targeting that which has been ignored by the existing players. Its segmentation was based on the purchasing power of customers. The firm then targeted the lowest market segment in terms of the social status as its primary customer base (Stanley & Hensher, 2019). Its initial market research had indicated that the middle class in the United States often struggle to purchase airlines when they plan to visit friends, family members, or travel for business or leisure purposes.

Some of these potential customers were forced to either find other cheaper means of transport, such as using road transport, or to reduce their number of travels because of the cost. The management realized that it had the capacity of meeting the needs of these customers with ease by introducing a low cost carrier (Klophaus et al., 2012). As it continued to focus on the low-end market segment, the firm did not ignore the high-end market either. It developed high quality products for these customers at competitive prices. In this hybrid business model, the firm made sure that at every segment of the market, its products were cheaper than rivals offering the same quality (Atallaha et al., 2018).

The strategy worked as had been expected as many people were willing to ignore the brand for a cheaper flight. It gained massive growth in the United States as it continued using pricing as a strategy to expand its market share. The market had a positive reception towards the strategy that this firm used in the market.

Note 2: Critical Analysis

When getting into a new market where the level of competition is significantly high, segmentation and targeting is always one of the most effective tools that can enable one to achieve success. Competition always forces firms to improve their products and product delivery methods to ensure that they remain attractive to their customers (Song et al., 2020). It is likely that customers will stick to the brand they have used before, especially when the product is as sensitive as air travel. Segmentation means that the new firm will assess the market with the primary goal of identifying a section of it that has been ignored by the existing players.

The firm will then developed a unique approach of meeting the needs of this segment in a way that others have failed to do in their past operations (Yaşar & Kirac, 2019). This strategy helped jet blue to expand its market share rapidly in the market. Market leaders in the industry responded to this strategy immediately because they felt threatened. United Airlines introduced Ted while Delta Airlines introduced Song in response to the low-cost business model that JetBlue had introduced in this market. However, these competitors realized that they could not rival JetBlue in the low-cost segment of the market. Their withdrawal from this market presented an opportunity for this company to grow rapidly. On the other hand, JetBlue has maintained its low cost operations while at the same time targeting the high-end segment of the market.

JetBlue Positioning

Positioning is another strategy that defines a firm’s ability to succeed in a market where rivalry levels are high. As Lachmann (2017) observes, is always defined after a firm has identified an appropriate segment to be targeted. When positioning a firm’s brand and its products, the goal is to ensure that it becomes as attractive as possible to the targeted customers. JetBlue positioned itself as a low cost carrier that offers customers unique experience. Although its air tickets were cheaper than its rivals in the market, it made sure that it also offered entertainment services, food, and comfort in equal measure as what competitors offered.

It has been using the pricing strategy in the high-end market as well. It has managed to customize its products to target the rich but in a way that does not compromise its profitability (Moir & Lohmann, 2018). In its promotional messages, it convinced its customers that they can pay for less and still get superior products that matches or even exceeds what others offer at premium prices. This positioning strategy worked for the company. It was able to expand its market size rapidly, and after a few years, it expanded its operations beyond the borders of the United States, to Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Note 3: Critical Analysis

The positioning approach that a firm takes is critical because it always define the perception that customers will have towards the brand. El-Sayed (2019) warns that for a new company, positioning is so important that the management should take time before developing it. It should be based on a detailed market research after understanding the culture and market practices in the targeted region. This is so because the first impression that customers will have of the brand cannot be easily changed. For this low-cost carrier, the biggest concern was the need to ensure that customers do not view it as a third-class airline that has traded safety, security, and comfort for a low price.

The firm succeeded in convincing its targeted customers that although its air tickets were cheaper, the quality of its services were not compromised. When positioning a brand and its products in the market, care should be taken to avoid exaggeration and making promises that a firm cannot realize. When customers finally uses products of the firm, it should not be different from what they were promised. At JetBlue, the management has remained committed to offering quality products that match the expectations of its customers. The challenge in this positioning strategy has been convincing high-end customers that it is offering premium products that meets their needs (Zou & Yu, 2020). In most of the cases, customers often associate low-cost products with poor quality. It has not been easy for the firm to overcome this challenge.

JetBlue Marketing Mix

When assessing the company’s hybrid business model, it is necessary to look at its marketing mix. This section of the analysis will make it possible to understand what is unique about this firm and its products. As mentioned above, Delta Airlines and United Airlines tried to compete with it in this segment of the market but they soon realized that their operations were not sustainable and went back to their normal markets. Conducting a marketing mix analysis will help in understanding why this firm is succeeding in an area where industry leaders have failed. The analysis will focus on the product, price, distribution strategy, and promotional approaches of the company.

Product

The primary product that the company offers in the aviation market is travel services. John F. Kennedy International Airport is the company’s hub, but it has been able to expand its routes to cover the entire United States. It has also entered the international markets with its products, primarily targeting Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South American countries. Besides the travel services that it offers, the company has also introduced other complementary services, especially for those who are making long journeys across the border. Food and snacks are offered to the travelers, and the cost is always factored in when pricing the ticket.

However, travelers can order for additional meals and drinks at an additional fee. Entertainment services are offered to the travelers at no extra cost as a means of attracting and retaining a team of loyal clients. The company has been diversifying its product portfolio to include hotel services (TWA Hotel), Live TV, and technology products (JetBlue Technology Ventures) as a way of increasing its revenues in this competitive market.

Price

The primary selling point for this company is its low pricing of its products. The management has been keen on ensuring that it lowers its cost of operations as much as possible to enable it charge lower prices without compromising the quality and its ability to make profits. In this segment, the firm targets those who make regular travels and are keen on getting the best deals in the market. Whether one is traveling to destinations within the United States or outside the country, the firm has developed a strategy that ensures that its price is always below the market average.

When one is traveling from the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Cancún in Mexico, which is a major tourists’ destination in North America, JetBlue’s return ticket is $ 214 on the Basic Blue class. The price can drop even further to less than $ 200 if one is willing to adjust the date of travel. On the other hand, Delta Airlines charges $ 394 on the same trip. AeroMexico charges the same price as Delta Airlines.

Southwest Airline, the world’s largest low cost carrier, charges $ 243, while Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier, charges $ 283 for the same trip. It means that in this low-cost segment, JetBlue’s price is highly competitive. The price of the other major brands in this industry averages more than $350 for that round trip. The same trend of charging power prices than its market rivals has also been witnessed in its domestic travels. It is a clear demonstration of this company’s commitment to offering its customers the best price for both local and international destinations.

Distribution

The company has been keen on ensuring that its products are easily accessible to its customers both locally and in the international market. When it started its operations in the year 2000, most firms were using the brick-and mortar of operations where travelers had to visit its physical offices or registered agents in major cities to get the ticket. However, the founder and chief executive officer of the company at that time, David Neeleman, had a different idea about reaching out to customers. He was pioneer in reservation systems but when the company started all the Low Cost oriented and industry in general were going towards direct internet sales (Wynbrabdt, 2004).

However, the trend has changed significantly over the past decade as operations continue to shift to the digital platform. The company currently has an interactive website that allows clients, irrespective of their physical location, to book tickets and monitor their bookings remotely, as long as they have an internet connection.

The distribution strategy has also helped in lowering the cost of operation for the company as the number of employees has also reduced. The firm also uses the services of independent travel agencies in the market where it operates. These agents are aware of the lowest possible price that the company charges. When they book a ticket on behalf of a customer, they get a commission. Despite the heavy presence in the online platform, the company also allows its customers to visit their physical corporate offices to make necessary inquiries or even book for the services that they need. The strategy has enabled the company to make its products available to its customers in the market.

Promotion

Marketing mix also emphasizes the element of promotion as a way of strengthening a brand and its products in the market. At JetBlue, the management has been keen on reaching out to the targeted customers with the right message about its new products, improvement in existing products, offers available, and general promotion of the brand. Social media have become major platforms through which companies strive to reach out to their customers (Yaşar & Kirac, 2019).

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn are some of the major platforms that this company has been using to reach out to its customers. The management has realized that a significant number of its targeted customers, especially those who are below 45 years, can easily be reached through these social media platforms. The firm has not ignored the mass media platforms, which were the traditional modes of reaching out to customers. Television and radio commercials still remain important channels of reaching out to customers. These platforms have enabled JetBlue to strengthen its brand in the market.

Note 4: Critical Analysis

The marketing mix analysis helps to explain why JetBlue has been able to operate profitable in the low cost segment of the market while some major rivals such as Delta Airline failed. It is clear that the firm has been keen on maintaining low cost of production as a way of protecting its profit margins. The analysis above shows that this airline has been keen on protecting its product quality while at the same time ensuring that costs are maintained as low as possible. For instance, its increased reliance on online bookings means that there is a reduced need for employees working in the ticketing department.

The entire process of making inquiries, selecting the destination, getting price quotation, booking, and paying for the ticket has been made digital. It means that the only time when the client interacts with employees of the firm is when boarding the plane. However, arrangements have been made for customers who may want to visit physical offices in specific locations when they want specific clarification, to register complaints, or to make their bookings using the traditional model. The strategy is meant to address any post-purchase dissonance among customers (Gunarathne et al., 2018). These strategies have helped to strengthen the brand of the firm in the market.

Conclusions

JetBlue is one of the leading airline companies in the North, Central, and South American markets. Started in 1998, the firm has registered impressive growth over the years because of its unique models of operation. The founder of this company, having worked in the aviation sector for long, realized that a section of this market was underserved. As such it developed a business model that specifically targeted the middle class who were keen on getting the best pricing deals every time they were traveling.

The firm then developed lean model of operation to lower operational cost, allowing it to charge low prices without compromising on the product quality. The strategy has enabled it to achieve sustainable growth in this highly volatile market. The firm has managed to target both the low-cost and high-end customers with high quality products at competitive prices.

Study Limitations

When conducting the research, there were some limitations encountered, which are worth discussing at this stage. The biggest challenge was the inability to interact physically with the employees, managers, and customers of JetBlue. It was necessary to interview managers to understand some of the strategic challenges that this firm has been facing in an effort to meet the needs of its customers in this segment of the market.

They would also explain the financial strategies and other management approaches that they have been using to ensure that their operations are sustainable. The researcher was interested in interviewing employees of this firm to collect their views about strategies that the firm is using in the market and whether they are overworked, underpaid, or subjected to unfavorable conditions in the market just to ensure that the firm remains profitable.

Customers were needed to determine whether they are happy with the services that JetBlue offers. They would have helped in facilitating a comparative analysis between the services of this company and that of the rival firms based on their experiences. Unfortunately, it was not possible to draw such a comparison because of the containment measures put by the government in the fight against COVID-19. The researcher had to rely on information from secondary sources. Some of the local libraries have also closed as a way of limiting the spread of the virus, which worsened the problem. It was also challenging having access to specific financial information and operational data of the company from online platforms. The researcher was able to overcome these challenges and the relevant data was collected.

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