JetBlue isn’t the only U.S. airline to provide free snacks, but it does offer the most variety and successfully turned what used to be an in-flight standard into a market differentiator.
Although technology has improved the flight experience significantly, nothing can turn around a delayed plane, squished seat or spotty Wi-Fi quite like free snacks.
JetBlue offers six branded snack options, but plays up Terra Blues Potato Chips as its official snack for the sake of color coordination. The airline estimates it hands out 650,000 bags of Blue Chips per month, which adds up to almost 8 million bags per year.
Of course, the brand loyalty that the free snacks bring comes at a cost to the airline. We did a few quick calculations to figure out just what that cost might be.
We estimate that the wholesale cost of a one-ounce bag of Terra Blues Potato Chips costs $0.80 per bag. At this cost, although we expect JetBlue plays less, the free chips would be costly the airline approximately $520,000 per month and $6.4 million per year.
In 2013, that cost represents 1.5 percent of their $428 million operating income and, in 2012, it represents 1.7 percent of their $376 million operating income.
And that’s just for one kind of snack.
In addition to the Terra Blues, JetBlue offers Doritos, Keebler Animal Crackers, PopCorners Popcorn Chips, Skeeter Nut-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Snyder’s 100 Calorie Pretzels. As anyone who flies JetBlue knows, the flight attendants don’t mind if you ask for more than one bag.
The cost for providing free snacks onboard all flights is not insignificant, especially in a time when most airlines are looking for ways to cut costs to increase profits. The cost; however, has set JetBlue apart from its U.S competition.
In comparison, Southwest Airlines has long offered free peanuts and pretzels and, on October 1, introduced 100 Calorie Lorna Doone and Ritz Snack Mix. Delta Air Lines offers several free snack bags on flights between 250 and 900 miles.
For a quick glimpse at the love JetBlue receives, we turned to Twitter. JetBlue’s free Terra Chips have proven delicious enough to make passengers forget security delays and flight diversions:
Just took a solid hour and a half to check a bag and clear security at @JetBlue. But free chips!!!!!
— Anna Drezen (@annadrezen) March 9, 2014
— Keith Arsenault (@KeithArsenault) November 20, 2013
They’ve also secured brand shout outs from a New York Times travel writer and a, simply ecstatic, flyers:
Just arrived in the Bay Area for a week of adventure. But first have to digest all those free JetBlue chips.
— The Frugal Traveler (@frugaltraveler) September 21, 2013
— Mervett Hefyan (@mhefyan) September 27, 2014
Photo credit: A close-up of Terra® Blues Potato Chips. UrbanFoodie33 / Flickr