What a JetBlue-Spirit merger could mean for cardholders

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New maps could be on the horizon.

Key points

  • The respective rewards programs might remain intact, but they are more likely to merge in some way.
  • Current Spirit cardholders could be transferred to a JetBlue card, a brand new card or, less likely, have their account closed.

Airline mergers aren’t new – most airlines today started with something else. But the recently announced merger between JetBlue and Spirit is the biggest merger we’ve seen in a while.

It is also perhaps one of the strangest. JetBlue has long been seen as a somewhat luxurious airline, with its premium product, Mint, attracting a lot of interest from travelers. Spirit Airlines, on the other hand, has made a name for itself as a low-cost airline with a la carte flying experience.

Given each company’s disparate product offerings, there’s been a lot of speculation about what the merger will mean for flyers. And in the world of credit cards, this speculation has extended to airlines’ respective travel rewards cards.

As per usual ?

The main question on everyone’s mind is what will happen to the rewards programs, as this will dictate what happens to the associated airline credit cards next.

In some mergers, the two brands continue to coexist. In this case, the JetBlue Mosaic Rewards Program and Spirit’s Free Spirit Rewards Program would experience minimal disruption. If both programs remain intact, cardholders need not worry. With separate loyalty programs, credit cards would also remain separate.

Currently, the two airlines have five cards between them – two from Spirit and three from JetBlue. Spirit’s two personal cards include a no-annual-fee option and a more feature-rich annual-fee version. JetBlue has a similar setup, offering two consumer cards, one with a fee and one without, but it also has a separate business card.

One program to rule them all

As convenient as it would be for both programs – and their cards – to remain intact, history is not in their favor. Previous major travel agency mergers (looking at you, Marriott-Starwood), suggest two more likely scenarios.

The first (and my personal prediction) is that Spirit will simply be subsumed by the JetBlue brand. This would likely lead to an expansion of the Mosaic program and the elimination of the Spirit program (and its two reward cards).

In this case, current cardholders could be automatically transferred to the equivalent JetBlue card and start earning Mosaic Points. However, it is possible that their cards will simply be canceled entirely.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the two airlines will be completely merged and renamed. With the birth of a new rewards program and a new currency, we expect to see a whole new line of credit cards.

If there is a completely new program, it is likely that all Spirit and JetBlue cardholders will automatically switch to the new program. This could leave them with versions of their old cards that simply earn the new currency. Or they could be upgraded to a similar card in the new lineup. There’s also the full undo option, but that seems the least likely.

Bank of America or Barclays?

Perhaps the most complicated part of migrating current cardholders is that each airline’s credit cards are issued by a different bank. Spirit’s co-branded cards are currently issued by Bank of America. JetBlue cards, on the other hand, are issued by Barclays.

This could make migration cumbersome, as it would require moving credit accounts from one bank to another. However, as we saw during the Marriott-Starwood merger a few years ago, the double bank problem has workarounds. (You can now get Marriott Bonvoy cards issued by Chase and American Express.)

The bank that issues your credit card can have a big impact on your experience, starting with approval. Barlcays is considered a moderately difficult issuer to get approved, generally requiring good credit. Bank of America would be a little less miserly in credit; it also has a pre-approval tool, which Barclays lacks.

Each bank also has its own rules on things like how many cards you can have, how often you can open new cards, and how often you can earn sign-up bonuses. If the new cards are issued by a single bank, that could be bad news for people looking to maximize rewards.

More cards and bigger bonuses

In the ideal situation, the merger would lead to a new and improved line of cards that expands options and improves functionality. For example, both brands currently only have two consumer cards, while other major airlines have three or four cards, including perk-laden luxury options.

There’s also plenty of room to grow in the business credit card space for the new airline. JetBlue only has one business card – a mid-tier option with modest perks. A new, bigger airline could mean a bigger and better range of business cards.

We might also see some nice boost rewards. If there’s a new program coming out of this merge, that means brand new cards. And brand new cards often come with big sign-up bonuses. In fact, many rewards credit cards offer their best bonuses at launch.

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