Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton
Photo by Shutterstock
Private jets offer access to destinations that you might not be able to get to otherwise.
Demand for private jet travel is on the rise. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for chartering a private jet or for purchasing individual seats on a private flight.
If you are dreaming about flying on a private jet, skipping the security lines, the crowds, and the cramped seats of flying with the masses—you have options.
Demand for private jets is on the rise as travelers look for alternatives to commercial flights during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, private jet charter company Air Partner reported a 210 percent increase in requests for future flight bookings both from leisure and business travelers—many of whom are first-time private jet fliers.
That demand has also been fueled by how much easier it is becoming to book a private jet, thanks in part to technology. Booking a private jet can be as simply as downloading an app. For instance, private jet app UberJets (no relation to the ridesharing app) is a booking tool that connects private jet seekers with available charter aircraft.
David McCown, president of Air Partner U.S., stated that as more travelers begin to head back out into the world following the lifting of global coronavirus lockdown measures, the company is expecting to see “an influx of [passengers] who have never flown privately before.”
A June survey of more than 1,000 luxury travel agents conducted by the event group International Luxury Travel Market found that among the key trends driving a rebound in travel was clients’ desire for private villas and private jets. Not surprisingly, several private jet charter companies and luxury resort and villa properties have partnered up to offer travelers just that—private flight service directly to a private villa.
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve on Puerto Rico’s Atlantic coast recently partnered with Embark Beyond, a luxury travel advisory, to offer a bespoke luxury camp experience for families that includes accommodations in one of the Reserve’s two-bedroom residences, a full calendar of family-friendly activities, a dedicated camp counselor, and the option to book a private flight to Puerto Rico with Jet Linx Aviation.
Private jet charter company Paramount Business Jets has linked up with luxury vacation rental firm Exceptional Villas to allow clients to book discounted private jet charter flights to the destinations Exceptional Villas serves, including the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, and Necker Island.
You could, of course, go all out and buy a private jet. Depending on the age, make, and model, private jets cost anywhere between several hundred thousand dollars for an older used model, to tens of millions of dollars for a state-of-the-art private jet with all the bells and whistles. Add to that how much it costs to operate and maintain the aircraft, which can be up to several million dollars per year, and we’re looking at quite the investment.
Dream quashed? Not necessarily. From private jet charter services to companies that sell individual seats on private planes, private jet travel is more accessible than you might think.
According to private jet charter company Air Charter Service, you can expect to pay between $1,300 and $3,000 per flying hour to charter a turboprop or smaller jet plane, which typically seats 4 to 6 passengers; between $4,000 and $8,000 per flying hour for a midsize jet, which typically accommodates up to 9 passengers; and between $8,600 and $13,000 per flying hour for larger private jets, which usually seat from 14 to 19 passengers. You can see how that translates into a cross-country flight below.
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A common way to access private jet service is through a private jet card membership. You pay a fee upfront—typically in the range of $100,000 to $200,000, according to Private Jet Card Comparisons, a site that allows users to compare the different programs that are available. Then, private jet flights will be deducted from your initial deposit, typically at a set cost per hour. Hourly rates range from about $2,000 to $4,000 for a turboprop or smaller private jet up to $20,000 or more for a midsize or larger private jet that can fly longer-haul journeys.
“A jet card refers to debit card-style program that typically enables you to prepay for private jet flights at a fixed hourly rate with guaranteed availability,” Private Jet Card Comparisons explains on its site.
There are dozens of companies that sell private jet cards, including Air Charter Service, Air Partner, Airshare, Airstream Jets Inc., Alliance Aviation, Charter Flight Group, Delta Private Jets, Inc., Flexjet, International Jet, JetSuite, Jettly, Magellan Jets, Netjets, PrivateFly, Prive Jets, Quantum Jets, Unity Jets, VistaJet, and Wheels Up, among numerous others.
Some companies specialize in shorter, domestic flights, while others offer access to global destinations, such as VistaJet.
If you’re new to private jet card membership and aren’t sure whether you would use the entire deposit, according to Private Jet Card Comparisons, some jet card providers will provide refunds, including Air Partner, Delta Private Jets, and PrivateFly. Also, take note that private jet card funds can have an expiration date of anywhere between one to three years from initial deposit, and cancellation policies run the gamut from requiring just several hours’ notice prior to the flight to requiring up to a week’s notice—make sure to familiarize yourself with the cancellation policy.
For a fee of $250, Private Jet Card Comparisons breaks down the options and what each card and program have to offer.
Beyond charter options, a growing number of companies are offering travelers the ability to book a single seat—similar to how you would on a commercial flight—on a public charter private jet flight.
One example is JSX (formerly JetSuiteX), which launched in 2016. Current JSX routes connect Los Angeles, Orange County, Northern California, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Seattle. One-way fares start as low as $69 on 30-seat planes, and passengers board directly at the private JSX hangars. The carrier recommends arriving 20 to 30 minutes before your flight is scheduled to take off.
The waiting lounges are Wi-Fi-equipped, and the planes are outfitted with cushy leather seats and tray tables that are a respectable distance away from your knees. JSX flies the Embraer E135 aircraft, a shorter version of the exceedingly common Embraer E145 Aircraft operated by many U.S. regional airlines.
Surf Air is a private jet membership service that flies between Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco. For $2,500 per year, you can access à la carte private jet flights starting at $500 per flight, and for $1,950 per month you can unlock an unlimited flight plan.
There are also several private jet startups that are based on a sharing economy-style model for booking private jets. One of them is XO, an app that allows passengers to book a private charter, a shared charter, or book seats on an available private flight. XO has two styles of payments, a membership fee model and a pay-as-you-go model. Memberships range from $595 per year, which allows you to skip the $395-per-flight service fee that applies to individual private flight bookings, up to a $1,000 per month Elite Access membership with a minimum $100,000 deposit that includes set hourly private charter pricing and no added fees.
As mentioned in the introduction, private jet app UberJets also helps users find and book charter aircraft. It doesn’t own or operate a fleet of aircraft and simply serves as a booking tool.
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An empty leg is a nonrevenue repositioning private jet flight—a private jet that has dropped passengers off on a one-way leg and would otherwise return to its home base empty. Because these are noncommissioned flights, they can often be accessed at a much lower price than a standard private jet flight as operators are happy to recuperate any of the costs and sell the flight for a deal—well, a deal for an entire private jet.
If you fly a private jet out of a major airport, you won’t be going through the main commercial air terminals. Most private jet operators use a designated area adjacent to a major airport for check-in, security, boarding, and disembarkation. Some have converted these areas into sleek lounge spaces for more comfortable waiting environments.
But the bottom line is, you won’t be going through the same check-in procedures and security lines as everyone else at the airport—you will have a separate, more secluded area just for private fliers. (Prior to check-in, make sure to establish what the luggage restrictions are as well as those for flying with animals—they will vary depending on the size of the aircraft and by operator, though many typically have standard luggage allowances and allow pets to come along.)
Many private jet flights skip the larger, more bustling hubs opting instead to take off and land at smaller airstrips that are less congested. Those smaller airports can often get travelers even closer to their destination than a larger hub would, meaning less travel time to and from the aircraft itself. With commercial flight schedules having been massively downsized during the coronavirus pandemic, access to destinations that don’t have regular commercial service or any service at all is another huge potential bonus of flying private (just remember that all domestic and international travel restrictions apply to private flights as well).
When looking to book a private jet, travelers can customize the experience to their needs and wants (and budgets), including the size and style of the aircraft and the level of service. This can also translate into more work for the customer as it’s not as easy as simply going online and booking a flight—some back-and-forth communication is required between the private jet operator and the clients as they establish exactly which aircraft, flight routes, and service will be needed. The payoff is arguably worth it when you find the private flying experience that perfectly suits your desires.
There are several things to take into consideration when booking private jet travel during the global coronavirus pandemic.
First off, private jet travelers are not exempt from international travel restrictions. Take into consideration where you are traveling from and to because there are numerous travel bans and restrictions in place in countries throughout the world. In June, the International Air Transport Association created an interactive world map that offers travelers updated COVID-19 entry regulations by country. This can serve as a handy guide for private jet fliers.
Just as commercial airlines have done, private jet companies have implemented coronavirus health and sanitation measures that include everything from enhanced cleaning onboard to mandatary masks for crew and passengers. You will need to check with each individual private jet company to find out what kind of policies they have developed to reduce transmission risk during check-in, boarding, in-flight, and upon arrival.
You can also expect a different level and type of service onboard. Snacks and meals might be prepackaged to reduce contamination risk, and some private jet companies may offer passengers the option to have minimal service to limit their interactions with crew. Make sure to read each company’s COVID-19 policies.
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