The idea came about when the carrier was thinking of ways to stimulate travel during the fall lull. "We were looking for something unique to get people thinking about travel," Don Uselmann, manager of business development, said. "We wanted a 'water cooler' story, something that people would talk about."
JetBlue decided to auction off 218 flight packages--roundtrips for one or two people to specific destinations on specific dates--and six vacation products for weekend trips in September and early October.
A couple of the vacation packages were billed as "mystery trips." "We didn't disclose the final destination, but we did provide flight days and times, so there were ways to figure it out," Uselmann said.
JetBlue had no idea what to expect from the experiment. "We didn't really have any way to benchmark it," Uselmann said.
"A lot of effort went into getting everything set up, like the look and feel of the store page and the legal loose ends," he said. But once everything was up and running, the auctions proceeded very smoothly.
The minimum bids were set at 5 cents for a flight package and 10 cents for a vacation package. "We figured that since people are getting nickel-and-dimed so much these days, we decided to nickel-and-dime them in a good way," Uselmann said.
Each auction lasted for three, five or seven days, with no reserve. The winning bids varied greatly, depending on the destination. On average, "the flights sold at a 40% discount, so it was a good deal," Uselmann said.
A small burst of effort was required at the end of the auctions as well, he said. JetBlue's systems are not linked to eBay, so "fulfillment was a bit manual," he said. Each set of flights and packages had to be booked and issued by JetBlue staff. The results of the auction could not have been more gratifying. Feedback was provided by 16 winning bidders, and the most frequently repeated word was "great."
"I was very excited to win this JetBlue ticket at such a great price," wrote a buyer who paid $192.50 for a Chicago-New York roundtrip. "Fantastic flight," posted the buyer of a Boston-Charlotte roundtrip for $129.50. "Couldn't be happier -- great experience! Highly recommend!" crowed the purchaser of a Chicago-New York roundtrip for $242.50. "Awesome experience!! Keep these oppt's coming!! Thank you!" added the buyer of two Boston-Long Beach tickets for $511.03.
In some cases, it was hard to tell whether the praise was being lavished on the prize or on the auction itself. "There's something about trying to win something," Uselmann said. "It's fun."
JetBlue isn't sure it will do another eBay auction. "We saw it as a one-time thing and were happy to give it a short tryout," Uselmann said.
Whether it was the flights or the fun of the auction, JetBlue earned a 100% positive rating as an eBay seller. And the experience was positive for the airline as well.
"The news has just been so negative lately, and airlines' hands are tied they're at the mercy of a lot of external factors," Uselmann said. "But we got people talking about JetBlue in the off season."
In a good way.