The ultimate JetBlue vs United comparison: What’s the difference?

The ultimate JetBlue vs United comparison: What’s the difference?

I was in the process of booking a flight the other day, and ultimately, it came down to JetBlue vs United. If you’re currently in the same predicament, this post is for you.

Both JetBlue and United are becoming very competitive here in the US and abroad, though there are some important differences to be aware of:

  • In my opinion, JetBlue food is far better than United Airlines food. United just can’t compete when it comes to food in all classes of service.
  • United has a far more substantial route network than JetBlue does (both domestic and abroad).
  • United has lounges in many major airports across the US, but JetBlue has none.
  • JetBlue has a far superior premium transcontinental business class seat (typically found on routes from New York and Boston to San Francisco and Los Angeles). 

Figuring out which of these two airlines is better will depend on your own personal preferences for things like seats, food, and frequent flyer programs. Flight schedules will also play a big part in making your decision.

Based on all those factors, I ultimately chose United for my most recent trip. That said, sometimes JetBlue is the better choice. Confused yet? Let’s break it all down…

1. JetBlue vs United: a brief summary of all the similarities and differences

The most interesting thing about comparing United and JetBlue is the fact that, for some travelers, there is no comparison. In other words, the similarities (and differences) aren’t as cut and dry as you read in my American Airlines vs United comparison.

There are still some rather significant gaps in the JetBlue network that United covers very well, and for those travelers, United is the obvious choice. Here’s how they compare (and contrast) at a very high-level:

Similarities

  • Both airlines have hubs in New York (JFK for JetBlue and EWR for United).
  • Both airlines feature what I consider to be the best lie flat business class seats in the US (United Polaris and JetBlue Mint).
  • Both airlines have a substantial fleet of Airbus narrowbody aircraft (they are both heavily dependent on the A320).
  • Both airlines are in the process of completely revitalizing the interiors of their aircraft. This will include state of the art video entertainment, more premium seating options, and a better overall passenger experience (larger overhead bins, mood lighting, etc). 

Differences

  • United is considered to be a global airline, in the sense that they serve over 120 international destinations. JetBlue, on the other hand is primarily a domestic US airline. Their only international destinations at the time of this writing are Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, and London.
  • United is part of a large global alliance (the Star Alliance). JetBlue is an independent airline, although they do code share with a wide variety of other airlines.
  • United Airlines has lounges for premium passengers in a number of airports across the US. JetBlue does not have any lounges.
  • United operates a wide variety of aircraft types (both narrowbody and widebody from Boeing and narrowbodies from Airbus). The JetBlue fleet consists of narrowbody aircraft from Airbus and Embraer.
  • United has a regional brand called United Express (which is outsourced to SkyWest). JetBlue does not have a regional brand, and all flying (including regional routes) is done in-house.
  • United has two premium seating options (domestic first class and international business class). JetBlue has a single premium product (for both domestic and international routes) which is very good.
Jetblue A321LR
Fun fact: the latest livery of both airlines follow the same formula: blue tail, white fuselage (with color on the lower section), and large titles. Not that this’ll help you choose one over the other for your next trip, but…as a hardcore AvGeek, I can’t resist mentioning it.

2. JetBlue seats vs United Airlines seats

By far the most challenging part of this United vs JetBlue comparison is the part about the seats. Both airlines have recently announced all new interiors for their aircraft, and they will be rolled out slowly but surely over the coming years.

This (unfortunately) means that there is no guarantee you’ll get the latest and greatest seat on either airline. At least not for now.

JetBlue seats

JetBlue has always been somewhat revolutionary when it comes to the interiors and seats on their aircraft. They were one of the first to feature free live TV at every seat, and they turned the industry on its head with the first version of Mint business class in 2014. The good news is that things just keep getting better.

First class (Mint)

JetBlue first class is technically considered business class. I think. They simply refer to it as their “premium” seating option, but they also gave it a clever name: Mint. It’s essentially the best lie-flat business class seat in the US.

I’d even go as far as to say that, thanks to how stylish and private it is, it’s one of the best premium seats on any airline. I would totally choose JetBlue Mint over a United Airlines lie-flat business class seat.

Jetblue mint suite
The JetBlue Mint Suites. Game over / end of comparison / that’s it. This is the best lie flat seat on any US airline.

Premium economy

JetBlue Premium economy seats are officially known as Even More Space seats. These are simply the basic economy seats with a few inches of extra legroom – along with a few extra little details (such as orange accents in headrests). They’re nice.

Jetblue even more space seats
JetBlue’s Even More Space seat is nice. The fact that they even have more orange on them than the regular economy seats is just a bonus.

Economy class

Basic economy class on JetBlue is pretty good, and just about as comfortable as basic economy on United Airlines. I don’t have a strong preference between United and JetBlue when it comes to basic economy seats. They’re basically the same. See what I did there?

Jetblue basic economy seats
The basic economy seats on JetBlue (as seen here from my JetBlue A321neo economy review) are maybe a little better than the basic economy seats on United. But maybe a lot more blue (duh).

United Airlines seats

My biggest gripe about United Airlines is the fact that they’ve been very slow to update their aircraft interiors. They recently announced an all new aircraft interior design featuring all new seats, but the pace has been nothing short of glacial when it comes to rolling that out.

Once a majority of their airplanes feature these new interiors, things are going to be great. But for now, it’s nothing to get excited about.

Domestic First class

The domestic first class seats on United airlines aren’t even close to being comparable to JetBlue Mint seats. These are slightly larger seats (compared to economy) in a 2-2 layout – with just a few extra inches of legroom. It’s highly comparable with the domestic first class seats on other US airlines, but JetBlue has got them beat (by a long shot).

United airlines domestic first class seats
United A319 first class is typical of the domestic first class product you’ll get on most UA aircraft these days. JetBlue doesn’t offer anything like this because, well, I don’t think they really want to.

International business class

International business class seats on United Airlines (officially known as Polaris) is nothing short of fantastic. These are very spacious and incredibly private seats, almost as good as the JetBlue Mint seats. The only reason why I prefer JetBlue Mint is because they are actually suites with a closing door instead of a more traditional (open) design like United uses.

United Polaris business class
Polaris business class seats (as seen here from my United 777-300/ER business class review) are almost as good as JetBlue Mint seats. Right down to the skin-staining blue mood lighting.

Premium economy

Economy Plus is United’s domestic premium economy product. Although, it’s important to note that they don’t officially refer to Economy Plus as “premium economy” for domestic flights. These seats, just like on JetBlue, are regular economy seats with a few extra inches of legroom.

United 737 max 9 economy plus seats
Wanna know the best way to trigger United fanboys (and fangirls)? Refer to Economy Plus (seen here from my United 737 MAX 9 Economy Plus review) as “premium economy.” RIP to my inbox.

Economy class

Economy class seats on United aircraft are just about the same as the economy seats on JetBlue. Honestly, I don’t have a preference.

United airlines 737-800 economy seats
United economy seats (seen here on the 737-800) are nearly the same as the economy seats on JetBlue (but without the video screens). It’s basically the same. But different.

3. JetBlue food vs United Airlines food

As I’ve already mentioned at the top of this comparison, JetBlue serves much better food than United Airlines in all classes of service. If food is the most important thing to you on a flight, choose JetBlue.

JetBlue food

I’m not sure what else there is to say about JetBlue food then I haven’t already mentioned in the intro to this section. JetBlue has the best food of all the airlines in the US – especially United.

First class (Mint)

The food served in JetBlue Mint is what I consider to be some of the best airline food that I’ve ever eaten. I’ve flown in Mint many times over the years, and every time, the presentation (and quality) is outstanding.

Jetblue mint food
An example of the kind of food you’ll be served in JetBlue Mint. I say again: Game over / end of comparison / that’s it. United can’t even come close to offering food like this!

The neatest thing about the JetBlue Mint meal service is that you’ll get to choose three items off the menu (out of six total options). It’s an extremely convenient way to get exactly the kind of food you want to eat.

Premium economy

There’s good news and bad news about premium economy food in JetBlue. The bad news is that it’s not very fancy. All you’re going to get are little bags of snacks and a complementary drink. However, the good news is that those snacks are virtually unlimited on many flights, and you can eat as much as they’re willing to give you.

Not only that, there’s a decent food for purchase menu available on most flights. It’s a convenient but somewhat expensive way to get something more substantial to eat.

Jetblue food for purchase menu
The JetBlue food for purchase menu is fairly well stocked. It’s a little tiny (either that or I’ve got gorilla hands), but there’s lots to choose from.
Jetblue food for purchase cheese and crackers
Don’t get excited though. This is what $9 gets you from the JetBlue food for purchase menu.

Economy class

Economy class food is the same as what you’ll get in premium economy (unlimited snacks and the option to purchase something off the menu).

Unlimited snacks jetblue mint economy
Does this picture make me look greedy? There was an unlimited supply of snacks on my last JetBlue flight in economy class, and it was as gloriously excessive as it looks.

United Airlines food

United Airlines has never been great when it comes to food. I can’t remember any meal that I’ve eaten on United Airlines in any class of service that left me feeling totally satisfied. It’s cafeteria food at best.

Domestic First class

Domestic first class food on United is very low quality compared to the food you’ll be served in JetBlue Mint. To me, the food seems highly-processed and very similar to what you would get in the frozen food section at your local supermarket.

United airlines domestic first class breakfast waffles
“I’ll have the sugar. With a side of waffles, please.” This is a typical first class breakfast on United these days.

International business class

International business class food on United Airlines is not any better than what they are serving in domestic first class IMHO. Which means it’s nowhere near as good as the food you’ll get in JetBlue Mint. 

United airlines business class breakfast
Go back up to that pic of JetBlue Mint food that I posted and compare it to this (the same meal I was served in United 777-200 business class). It’s like United isn’t even trying to compete.

Premium economy

Premium economy food on United airlines is about the same as what you’ll get on JetBlue. The only difference is that it’s not unlimited. Also, just as it is on JetBlue, you’ll have the option to purchase something off a menu on many flights.

United airlines economy snack
No United snack service is complete without a Stroopwafel (which I always bring home for friends or family to eat). I don’t like ‘em! Nobody’s getting my pretzels though…

Economy class

United Airlines economy class food is exactly the same as premium economy. However, it should be noted that on long-haul international flights, you will be served a hot meal in economy. It won’t be great, nor substantial, but it’ll keep you alive.

4. Comparing JetBlue and United Airlines in-flight entertainment

If I was writing this comparison just a couple years ago, JetBlue would’ve easily won the in-flight entertainment portion. JetBlue has always been really good with their in-flight entertainment product, whereas United has typically given it less priority.

However, they’ve recently had a change of heart, and United’s all new aircraft interior (which is just starting to roll out) features state of the art video entertainment at every seat. With these changes, JetBlue and United are nearly equal when it comes to in-flight entertainment. That’s my opinion anyway.

JetBlue in-flight entertainment

Just as how it’s been since the very beginning, you’ll get free satellite TV at every seat on JetBlue. Their newest aircraft feature large and highly responsive video screens, and a pretty good selection of movies and TV shows as well.

Jetblue in-flight entertainment
JetBlue in-flight entertainment is on point. My apologies if the theme song from Shaft gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day after looking at this pic.

The main advantage that JetBlue has over United is the fact that they offer free Wi-Fi. It’s not incredibly fast, but it’s decent enough for browsing social media or sending and receiving email. If you want to stay connected while in flight, JetBlue is the airline for you.

United Airlines in-flight entertainment

At the time of this writing, you won’t find very many aircraft in the United Airlines fleet that feature video screens at every economy class and domestic first class seat. There are video screens at every seat in international business class though.

United airlines in flight entertainment system
The United in-flight entertainment system (seen here in United 787-8 business class) is pretty good. There was no sign of Shaft though. Bummer.

Note: video screens are coming to every seat in the fleet, and from what I’ve experienced so far, they’re really good. Just as good as what JetBlue is offering.

You’ll get a great selection of movies and TV shows, along with live network TV. However, if you want Wi-Fi, you’re going to have to pay for it.

Despite the lack of video screens on many aircraft, United does offer a free streaming entertainment service on nearly every flight. This means that you can stream content to your own device for free whether or not the aircraft your on has personal video screens.

United streaming in-flight entertainment
No video screens on the United aircraft that you’re flying on? No problem! There’s a free streaming option that works pretty well.

5. Comparing the JetBlue and United Airlines frequent flyer programs

If you are a frequent flyer who travels all over the globe, the United Airlines frequent flyer program is probably going to be better for you. JetBlue does offer great benefits to its frequent fliers, but you’ll be far more limited in how you can earn and redeem points.

JetBlue TrueBlue

The JetBlue frequent flyer program (officially known as TrueBlue) is fairly decent and somewhat similar to the way that the United Airlines frequent flyer program works. You’ll earn points the fastest by spending more money, and from what I’ve experienced, it’s fairly easy to redeem points for booking flights.

The main drawback with the jetBlue TrueBlue program is that you’ll be far more limited in the ways you can earn (and redeem) points compared to United MileagePlus. JetBlue doesn’t have as many airline partners as United does, so just keep that in mind if you’re thinking about making JetBlue your primary airline.

If you want to learn more about the JetBlue TrueBlue program (and all the latest requirements and benefits), click here.

United Airlines MileagePlus

The United Airlines MileagePlus program is better for me than JetBlue TrueBlue, since my travel patterns usually have me flying on other airlines in the Star Alliance fairly often. Because of this, I can earn MileagePlus points quickly – without even having to fly United.

The way you earn points and United is very similar to how it works on JetBlue. There aren’t many differences that are worth noting when it comes to the basics.

However, the biggest advantage to United MileagePlus has over JetBlue TrueBlue is the fact that United is part of a global alliance of other airlines that can take you nearly anywhere in the world. Being able to earn (and redeem) MileagePlus points for things like Singapore Airlines A350-900 business class is nice if you’re a frequent global traveler.

For more information on United MileagePlus (and all of the latest requirements and benefits), click here.

United airlines 787-9
I’ll admit it: even though I generally prefer the onboard service of JetBlue, it’s hard not to be swayed by United’s fleet of interesting aircraft types. It’s not an easy choice!

6. Comparing the route networks

United Airlines is a global airline, whereas JetBlue is primarily a domestic airline. That being said, there is a lot of overlap between them here in the US, and their route networks have a lot more overlap to them than they did, say, 10 years ago.

JetBlue route network

JetBlue is focused primarily on the eastern half of the United States. They are slowly filling the gaps in the west though, especially with the traction they are gaining in key markets such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Not only that, they are expanding internationally. In addition to a handful of destinations in the Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean, they now serve London.

The bottom line is that JetBlue is the perfect airline for anyone who does a lot of flying in the eastern half of the US. Yes, you can get to the West Coast fairly easy with them, but their route network is nowhere near as vast as United’s.

JetBlue‘s hubs and focus cities include:

  • Boston
  • New York (JFK)
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Los Angeles

United Airlines route network

There’s not much to say about the United Airlines route network other than the fact that it’s one of the largest in the entire world. They fly to over 210 locations in the US, and 120 destinations abroad.

Compare that with the 104 total destinations of JetBlue, and it’s easy to see the JetBlue is almost out of its league when being compared with United.

United‘s hubs and focus cities include:

  • New York (EWR)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Washington DC
  • Houston (IAH)
  • Denver
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
United airlines logo on glass
Cheers to anyone who made it this far and still can’t decide. I told you this wasn’t going to be easy!

7. Why would you choose JetBlue over United Airlines (or vice versa)?

If it wasn’t obvious by now, these are vastly different airlines catering to completely different customers in many markets. However, there has been an increasing amount of overlap in some areas (such as New York and California) – and the differences are becoming fewer as time goes on.

If you find yourself in a situation where either United or JetBlue could work for you, and you’re still undecided, consider this:

Choose JetBlue if:

  • You fly between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco on a regular basis. JetBlue offers the best premium lie flat seat in these markets.
  • You want the best food in domestic and international business class.
  • You like fast (and free) Wi-Fi. It’s good!
  • You like the idea of all you can eat snacks in economy class.

Choose United Airlines if:

  • You need a global airline that can take you nearly anywhere in the world.
  • You want the ability to earn and redeem points with other airlines in the Star Alliance.
  • You travel domestically (a lot) and you need an airline that can take you nearly anywhere in the US.
  • You’re a premium flyer and you like having lounge access at the airport (remember, JetBlue doesn’t offer lounges).
  • You prefer flying on large widebody aircraft on longer flights. United’s long haul fleet consists of larger aircraft such as the 777-300/ER and 787 (all variants). JetBlue’s fleet consists entirely of smaller narrow body aircraft such as the A320 and A321.

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