What a JetBlue–Spirit Merger Could Mean for Cardholders

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KEY POINTS

  • The respective rewards programs could remain intact, but it's more likely they will merge in some way.
  • Current Spirit cardholders could be transitioned to a JetBlue card, a completely new card, or, least likely, have their accounts closed.


New cards could be on the horizon.

Airline mergers are nothing new -- most of today's airlines started out as something else. But the recently announced merger between JetBlue and Spirit is the largest merger we've seen in a while.

It also may be one of the oddest. JetBlue has long been seen as a somewhat luxury airline, with its first-class product, Mint, garnering lots of love from flyers. Spirit Airlines, on the other hand, has made its reputation as a bare-bones bargain airline with an...à la carte flying experience.

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

Business as usual?

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

In some mergers, the two brands continue to coexist. In that case, JetBlue Mosaic rewards program and Spirit's Free Spirit rewards program would see minimal upheaval. If the two programs stay intact, cardholders won't have much to worry about. With separate loyalty programs, the credit cards would also stay separate.

As of now, 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 the two programs -- and their cards -- to remain intact, history isn't in their favor. Previous mergers of large travel companies (looking at you, Marriott–Starwood), suggests 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 Spirit's program (and its two rewards cards).

In this case, current cardholders could be automatically transitioned to the equivalent JetBlue card and start earning Mosaic points. However, there's a chance that their cards could simply be canceled entirely.

Alternatively, there is also the chance that the two airlines will be completely merged and rebranded. With the birth of a new rewards program and currency, we'd expect to see a completely new credit card lineup.

If there's a brand new program, then it's likely all Spirit and JetBlue cardholders would automatically transition to the new program. This could leave them with versions of their legacy cards that simply earn whatever the new currency winds up being. Or they could be upgraded to a similar card in the new lineup. There's also the full cancellation option, but this 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's cards, on the other hand, are issued by Barclays.

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

The bank that issues your credit card can have a big impact on your experience -- starting with getting approved. Barlcays is considered a moderately difficult issuer to get approved by, typically requiring good credit. Bank of America is reportedly a bit less stingy with 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 just one bank, it could be bad news for folks looking to maximize rewards.

More cards and bigger bonuses

In the ideal situation, the merger would lead to a new and improved card lineup that expands options and improves features. For example, both brands currently have just two consumer cards, while other major airlines have three or four cards, including luxury options loaded with perks.

There's also plenty of room to grow in the business credit card space for the new airline. JetBlue has just one business card -- a mid-tier option with modest benefits. A new, larger airline could mean a bigger, better business card lineup.

We could also see some sweet relaunch rewards. If there's a new program that comes out of this merger, that means brand new cards. And brand new cards often come with large sign-up bonuses. In fact, many rewards credit cards offer their best-ever bonuses at launch.

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