The ABCs of Private Aircraft Access
When it comes to accessing a private jet, you might wonder which option is right for you. After all, you can charter private flights individually, obtain a jet card if you are a frequent flier, or get into fractional ownership: Which is the best choice for you?
Private aviation offers convenience, speed, and service many travelers only dream of. Yet, while commercial carriers have reduced services, and airline cabins have grown more congested, the private aviation world has been developing new programs and plans that make it easier and more economical for passengers of all stripes to get onboard for business or pleasure. In fact, the options among the programs can make choosing the best solution difficult for would-be private aviation travelers. But broken down into their core elements, the major choices — private jet charter, jet cards, and fractional ownership — are simple to understand. Here are the basics that every private flight traveler should know.
Your Own Private Jet Charter
Chartering a private jet involves arranging a one-time trip without further commitment. It is the simplest private aircraft access option. It is also the choice for travelers who have only occasional or a one-time need for a private flight. This applies whether that flight is a one-way, round-trip, or multi-leg journey. But it’s also preferred by many regular, value-conscious private fliers.
Chartering is also the most flexible option: You can choose the type of aircraft best suited for each trip, without restriction on where or when you travel. The cost of chartering a private flight is based roughly on the number of flight hours multiplied by the hourly rate of the aircraft, which is determined by size, onboard amenities, and other factors. Chartering can also be the most economical way onboard, as travelers with flexible schedules can take advantage of low-demand periods to get lower rates, just as airline travelers can. On many popular routes, one-way rates or round-trip discounts may also be available. Alternatively, charter flights may incur repositioning fees — the cost of bringing the aircraft to you and/or returning to its home base following your trip.
Moreover, chartering a private plane doesn’t offer guaranteed access — perhaps its greatest drawback. If you need to book last-minute travel or fly during peak demand times, no airplane may be available.
Charter flights can be arranged through operators (the companies that manage the aircraft and their crews) or brokers, who work with a network of operators. Brokers receive a discount on their bookings, so charter customers pay comparable prices in either case. The distinctions separating the more than 1,000 operators and brokers in the charter market include their levels of experience and safety standards.
Best Jet Card Membership
The Paramount Platinum Card
The Paramount Black Card
Jet cards are flight-time debit cards. They are denominated in flight hours or cash value. This makes them something of a misnomer, as some cards provide access to turboprop aircraft. As cardholders fly, the hours or dollars spent are deducted from the card account. Jet card memberships are popular with travelers who fly from 10 to 50 hours per year and seek convenience, consistency, and guaranteed availability in their private air travel. (Some regular charter customers keep a jet card for times when no suitable charter aircraft are available for a trip.) From an economic standpoint, cards charge only for time onboard — no repositioning fees — providing a cost advantage over chartering for some customers.
Dollar-based cards are often sold in $100,000 to $500,000 denominations. Flight-hour cards may be sold in denominations as low as 10 hours, though 25-hour cards are the standard.
With well over 100 jet cards marketed in the United States, by operators and brokers, customers can find one that best fits their individual travel profiles. For those whose range and passenger loads vary, some card programs offer access to a fleet of aircraft with light, midsize, or large cabins. For travelers who want access to a single, high-demand aircraft model, some cards deliver just that.
Beyond differences in fleet composition, a wide spectrum of program features distinguish the offerings, including the service area, peak-day travel policies, category interchange fees, flight cancellation policies, call-out times, minimum flight times or daily usage, round-trip discounts; membership periods, and, critically, what happens to unused flight hours or dollars at the end of the membership term.
Private Jet Fractional Ownership
Fractional ownership offers the access benefits and tax advantages of aircraft ownership while eliminating its administrative responsibilities and burdens, all for a fraction of the cost of owning a whole airplane. The access model is based on the fact that while most business aircraft are designed to operate 800 or more hours per year, private aircraft users typically fly only a fraction of that number of hours annually. Thus, a fractional program’s minimum share is usually 1/16, entitling an owner to 50 hours of flight time each year, with eighth, quarter, and half shares also available.
Upon joining the program, an owner pays the proportionate amount of the aircraft’s retail purchase price. Thereafter, the owner pays a monthly management fee and hourly charges for flight time used. The private jet fractional ownership contract term is typically three to five years, after which the owner usually has the option to return the share in exchange for the aircraft’s fair market value, renew the ownership, or to roll the equity into a newer aircraft.
Though owners have title to a portion of a specific aircraft in the fleet, they rarely fly aboard their own airplane. Instead, the program provides access to any like model.
For business aircraft users who want to fly on the newest aircraft, fractional ownership is usually the quickest way onboard: fractional programs often serve as launch programs for customers to acquire new models, taking delivery of their first plane even before individual buyers. Additionally, fractional aircraft are usually well outfitted with optional equipment offering a premium travel experience. Some fleets feature custom, branded, and bespoke interiors. Unlike the wide choice available in strictly jet-chartering brokers, only a handful of companies offer fractional ownership plans.
Each private aircraft access option and program offers unique benefits that can make it the best choice for a particular traveler or trip. However, many private flight consumers use more than one in meeting their unique and ongoing travel needs.