JetBlue Airways vice president of revenue management Dennis Corrigan last month took on the additional title of vice president of sales following the departure of longtime sales executive Noreen Courtney-Wilds. Corrigan now is responsible for sales, distribution and revenue management, and will continue reporting to chief commercial officer Robin Hayes. Courtney-Wilds left JetBlue "to spend more time with her family," according to a carrier statement. Corrigan this month told The Beat's Jay Boehmer that corporate client activity accounts for about 15 percent to 20 percent of JetBlue's traffic and revenue, and that the airline is willing to work with corporate accounts "in the way they want to work us." He said that could include standard percentage-off discounts, flat fares and back-end deals. Corrigan also noted that JetBlue is considering whether to expand new refundable fare types to more markets. Additional excerpts from the conversation follow.
Boehmer: Does your new position represent a personnel change or a strategy change?
Corrigan: It really was a moving around of responsibilities. Noreen had done such a fantastic job, almost from day one of the company. Robin, I think, saw this as a chance to give some of us additional responsibilities. The strategy has been well in place for the past couple of years, as we looked at how we can transition our business from primarily a leisure carrier. It's a very profitable business, as we've shown, but September and October and January and February--the shoulder season--needed a little help. That's when the company got serious about attracting higher-value customers, looking at a place like Boston and trying to become more business-oriented.
Boehmer: Does having sales and revenue management under your control change how you structure corporate deals?
Corrigan: Someone said, "Revenue management plus sales, isn't that like the fox in the henhouse or a hen thrown into the fox pen?" The two disciplines tend to be so related anyway, and having done some sales planning at American Airlines way back, it was something I was really interested in taking on, considering where the company's focus has been.
Boehmer: Is JetBlue's new SabreSonic reservations system now running on all cylinders?
Corrigan: In terms of its core, it is running on all cylinders. We were maxing out on our old system. We needed to make a change. My joke was, when it was raining we couldn't change fares, because all of our resources had to be dedicated to re-accommodating customers. Raising fares, changing fares or doing sales in the middle of irregular operations sounds small, but for us it was sort of a big step. The core nuts-and-bolts stuff is working now. The skeleton's there, now let's start hanging things on it. We could [sell] Even More Legroom right away, we could start playing around with refundable fares right away, and then it was only last year that we could start thinking about things like early boarding. Beginning late last year and into this year, there have been a lot more revenue-driving projects underway. [Security] screening is another one of them. We'll announce later this quarter, or early in the third, private security lines--essentially a fast pass.
Even More Legroom is the classic example. That was one of the early SabreSonic benefits, the ability to price EML by market, so if there's no demand we could drop it by $5, and if there's tons of demand we could raise it by $5 or $10. Being able to play and experiment in real time has been a key benefit. When we introduced early boarding with Even More Legroom late last year, we consciously didn't go out and say, "I'm going to take five bucks right now." We wanted to see what customers really think, and we found that customers really liked it. So, it was only back in March that we added $5 on, and the early returns have been very encouraging. That's really helped us out: Let's get market acceptance and see how the market wants to accept it.
Boehmer: Where's the ideal place to sell Even More Legroom?
Corrigan: Our philosophy is: Wherever customers want to buy it, we'll sell it. Curious to me, we saw more purchases further out, right at the point of ticket purchase, which was more than I would have thought. We even see small, but not insignificant, onboard purchases. Our flight attendants can sell that with their handheld devices.
Boehmer: Do you see EML as ripe for GDS distribution?
Corrigan: We've talked to our GDS partners about that. I don't think we have any philosophical opposition, but we want to understand how it plays into the overall distribution economics.
Boehmer: Is there still a client base for CompanyBlue following JetBlue's re-entry in the GDS?
Corrigan: There is, but candidly, it's pretty small. I think there are things we're looking at to leverage it and potential products on the pricing side that we're looking at as well. There are some companies that like to use it, but the vast majority want JetBlue in the GDS.
Boehmer: So, does that mean the web-based CompanyBlue corporate program just stands still? Are there enhancements to it?
Corrigan: We left it on our old web platform, and I think eventually we'll move it over to our standard web platform. There are still some opportunities and things we can look at using it for--things that we'll be talking about in just a couple of months.
Boehmer: When you say web platform, is that separate from the res system?
Corrigan: It's the SabreSonic Web1 platform, as opposed to the SabreSonic Web2 platform, which is what we're now on.
Boehmer: After JetBlue re-entered the GDS, management talked about how yields increased. Has that been sustained?
Corrigan: We've talked to our distribution partners about this as well. We made the conscious decision to get back in there for a specific customer segment, and when you're talking about the traditional TMC and corporate travel segment, we do see some benefits there. Then, as we've said, when we look at the online space, that's where it's not as clear and we see a lot of substitution to jetblue .com. We've told all of our partners--OTA partners and GDS partners--that that's the way we view the world.
Boehmer: JetBlue last quarter reported the highest average fare in its history. Is that just the economics of the marketplace or is there a little more revenue management going into it as well?
Corrigan: A little bit of both. We've done 13 fare increases [this year]. One of the SabreSonic benefits is we transitioned to [Sabre's revenue management tool] AirMax, so that's helping on the revenue side as well. But, I would say what you're largely seeing is the market, supply and demand.