Written by Doug Dvorak
The most common question I’m asked is, “What is the best way to fly private?”, and by best they most often are referring to the most cost effective way to fly private. My initial answer is always the same, “Have a close friend that owns and airplane that lets you fly for his direct operating costs.” Since those friends are very hard to come by, I have outlined two of the most common ways to fly private today, Jet Card/Membership Programs and Charter. Another question, I am often asked is, “Which is better a Jet Card/Membership program or Charter?” My answer is almost always both.
Below is a discussion on Jet Card/Membership Programs and Charter and how they may be of use for you.
Jet Card/Membership Programs
Jet Card or Membership Programs (as different providers may refer to them) are a very attractive way for many individuals and corporations to meet their private aviation needs. Most programs are very similar in that they offer the following:
- Fixed Point to Point pricing with no repositioning costs
- Guaranteed Availability with some restrictions depending on the program
- Guaranteed Aircraft Size and passenger count
- Predetermined safety and insurance standards
As with most things in life, Guarantees will cost you more. If you are a member of a country club or dining club, you are paying a premium for the guaranteed availability of their services, be it golf, tennis or dining.
There are several important areas within the Jet Card/Membership Contract that need to be looked at closely in order to assess what your really getting for the money your committing up front to the Jet Card/Membership Program:
- Annual Member Fees – Are there any annual membership fees associated with the program? If so those fees need to be added to the hourly rate you are being quoted to get a true effective hourly rate.
- Peak Day Surcharge – What are the Peak Days and how much is the surcharge on those days. Typically this can range from 5-15% in most programs.
- Booking/Cancellation Notice – Required Notice to Book an aircraft and be guaranteed availability and required notice to cancel and not be charged for a booking. This can range from 8 hours to 5 days depending on the program and can be greater during Peak Days.
- Fuel Surcharges – are there any fuel surcharges, if so what are they. Make sure it is outlined in the agreement as these have to be included to calculate your true hourly costs
- Hours Expiration – Do the hours purchased/funds on account expire? If the hours are not used, are they forfeited completely?
- Length of Term – What is the length of term of the program? What happens when that term is up?
- Aircraft Upgrades and Downgrades – What if you have more people for a particular flight and need a bigger plane? Can you upgrade to a larger plane, if so is there a surcharge to do so? Also, what if you can use a smaller plane for a particular mission, is there the opportunity to downgrade as well?
- Aircraft Age – Is there a guarantee on the age of the aircraft that will be used for each mission?
- Program Refunds – Is the program refundable or cancellable if you don’t like the service?
- Aircraft Mechanical Issues – What happens in the case of an aircraft mechanical issue? An unpleasant reality of all aviation, commercial and private, is that planes have mechanical issues that prevent them from flying. Does you program guarantee you a backup aircraft at no additional cost and how long is the wait for a new aircraft?
- International surcharges and destination guarantees – Most programs will charge a surcharge to travel internationally or won’t guarantee certain destinations, such as Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico and the Europe.
Private Jet Charter
Unlike a Jet Card/Membership program, Charter offers you a pay as you go program. For most missions, the pricing of Charter Flights will be lower than that of a membership program when working with an experienced Aviation Professional.
What to know about Charter Flights:
- Charter does not offer guaranteed pricing or availability.
- Embedded in most charter quotes are the repositioning costs for the aircraft.
- Aircraft size, age, and type are all based upon current market availability.
- Additional costs can be incurred if there is a mechanical issue and another plane is needed.
- Safety rating and insurance standards will vary with each aircraft and or operator of that aircraft.
- Potential for substantial savings if One Ways or Empty Legs are available and match with your mission’s schedule.
Important Considerations for Charter Flights:
- Is the quote you are receiving all inclusive? Does it include all taxes, landing fees, repositioning and fuel cost?
- What is the safety ranking of the operator of the aircraft? The most common outside rating agencies are Argus and Wyvern. Make sure you ask for the safety rankings.
- What is the insurance on the aircraft?
- Does it include two pilots?
- What are the cancellation terms if you need to cancel?
Charter V.S. Membership
In an effort to consult with my clients and create solutions that maximize the amount of time they get in the air for the dollars they spend, we look at each of their potential missions to analyze which solution is best. Here are some examples:
Charter Solution Desired
- Round trip in and out of the same location over a 3 days or less
- One Ways along what I call the “Aviation Highways” Northeast To Florida and the reverse and New York to California and the Reverse
- One Ways and Empty Legs when they match your mission
- Travel to and From Europe
Membership Solution Desired
- Family Vacations during Peak Travel Periods around the holidays. Usually these missions are over 7 days or more and aircraft availability is tight.
- One Way and round trips over 5 days
- One Way and Round Trips to less populated US Destinations
With 7 Billion people living on this planet and no two being the same, customizing a solution to match your needs is the most comprehensive approach when looking at whether a Jet Car/Membership program or Charter is right for you.