Private Jet Empty Leg Flights
These days, over 30 percent of private jets are flying empty either to be in position for the next booked flight, or to return to home base. These flights are known as empty legs and are one-way private jet flights without any payload or passengers on board. Often, these empty legs have been paid for in part by the original flyer and are thus offered at reduced rates. Empty legs offer price advantages with cost savings of up to 75% when compared to standard private jet travel prices.
At any given time, there may be more than 3000 empty legs available worldwide. Once you give us your preferred routes and dates, we can match your schedule with empty legs available in the market. Using multiple platforms, PBJ offers one of the most comprehensive empty leg search capability in the market.
How do empty legs work?
There are two main ways that empty leg flights occur:
- When an aircraft is positioned from one airport to another to pick up the passenger.
The client has usually already paid for the aircraft to be positioned, which means they’ve paid for that flight time. If possible, the operator will look to fill that empty leg by taking it to a broker, who will then offer it to their clients.
- When somebody goes back to that position.
For example, let’s say a client is on a one-way flight from New York to Nashville. After dropping them off, the aircraft must return to base empty. The operator will put that empty leg on the market.
Often, the broker is the one who secures the empty leg. They’ll ask to have both legs of the journey listed when booking a one-way trip for a client, as they know they’ll be charged for it. They’ll then own the empty leg and can sell it.
In some instances, the owner of the aircraft will need to have it flown to their location to pick them up. This will be an empty leg, which costs the owner money; therefore, they may ask the operator to try and sell it to recoup at least some of the cost of having the otherwise-empty aircraft travel to them. The owner might be keen to fill the flight, and so they’ll offer a discount – but, they will still expect a fair price, or else they simply won’t sell it. Because of this, jaw-droppingly low empty leg flight savings are often exaggerated.
However, empty flights are based on classic supply and demand. If there are multiple empty legs flying in the same direction, there may be more room to negotiate. For example, let’s say you want to book a flight around Christmas on a popular route like from New York to Florida. This means there will probably be a lot of empty leg flights on the return journey, from Florida to New York. If that’s the route you want to take, you’ll realize bigger savings as operators attempt to beat the competition and fill their empty legs.
At a given time, around one-third of all private jet flights are empty. In the United States, the figure is around 250 per day. Brokers have access to all of these empty legs, wherever they are heading. This means a broker has access to cheaper flights for you. It’s a great position for clients, as they don’t need to buy a return journey. The savings can be significant, especially on long distance international flights.
For example, a private flight from New York to London on a large jet, such as a Gulfstream G-IVSP, costs around $75,000. A broker could buy that same flight on an empty leg for around $40,000. They could then sell it on for the full $75,000, but if they’re honest with you, you could pay just that cost of $40,000 plus a fixed management fee of around 10%, for a final cost of $44,000. That’s a saving of more than 40 percent – but, it’s imperative that your broker is honest for you to achieve such savings.
If you’re flying from the US to Europe – or from Europe to the Middle East or Asia – empty leg flights could save you upwards of $100,000. Closer to home, cross-country flights in the U.S. can produce savings of $30,000 - $50,000.
Smaller jets and shorter flights produce smaller savings. On light jets heading up and down the East Coast, you’ll save around $5,000 - $6,000. Longer flights and larger jets can offer huge savings.
Where do brokers find empty leg flights?
Brokers use multiple methods to hunt down empty legs, including specialist aviation forums, private companies that track aircraft availability, and more. The broker may purchase the empty legs, or they might set clients up together to help them. For example, if one client from a brokerage is paying for a round-trip for a one-way flight, and another is flying in the opposite direction only, the two cancel each other out. One purchases the round-trip, and the other purchases the empty leg. This is referred to as ‘matching’ two trips together.
Clients can try to find their own empty leg, but it’s difficult to do. For example, if you know that New York to Los Angeles is a popular route for empty leg flights, you could search for one yourself but you may not be able to find one without the resources available to brokers. Our team at Paramount Business Jets are experts in matching flights. With common routes running from coast to coast, East Coast to Europe, the Northeast to the Southeast and more, we’re able to offer prices which are often close to empty leg prices.
If your aircraft needs to be repositioned, this will bump up the price. For example, if an aircraft flies from New York to Atlanta and you’re flying from Rhode Island to Miami, that’s a lot of additional flight time; the aircraft would need to fly from New York to Rhode Island to queue up, take you to Miami, drop you off and then fly back to Atlanta.
All of the above would incur extra charges, which means the final cost might not be far off a round-trip. For this reason, only empty legs that closely match the client’s routing can produce great savings.
What should I consider if I want to book an empty leg flight?
When you book a round-trip, you’ll usually be able to cancel as long as you give 72-96 hours’ notice. However, with an empty leg flight, you own it – which means no refund if you choose to cancel, because the operator has made a commitment to the client flying on the other leg of the flight. They can’t refund you without then charging their original client more.
Mechanical issues can also ruin your plans with empty legs. If your plane is grounded, there may not be another empty leg anywhere near the price you expected to pay. In this event, your broker will provide you with options – such as another empty leg, or a round-trip – and the prices available. Because empty legs are based on very specific days, times and pricing, it can be very tricky to find a replacement.
Despite this, empty legs do have range. For example, an aircraft may be available from 14:00 on July 2nd until 20:00 on July 4th. Clients may use the aircraft at any point within this timeframe, although it will need to be back at base by the end for the next planned trip.
All of this information should be provided by the operator. They’ll convey dates and times that the aircraft is available. If it matches with the client’s routing, it’s a suitable choice. The client may also opt to adjust their plans slightly to capitalize on savings; for instance, they might leave a little later than planned to catch an empty leg.
To make sure your empty leg is safe and viable, ask the broker if they own it. If their client paid for the round trip, this should be the case. And If they claim they do, they should be able to give you the operator’s details. This means you can verify the trip directly with the operator. But, if they can’t, this is a red flag.
At PBJ, we typically only buy empty legs directly from the operators that own those empty legs. Buying directly from the source is the best approach, because brokers don’t own or operate the aircraft, which means they have little to lose. By contrast, the operator puts their reputation and certification on the line. It helps to proves that the aircraft is actually available.
How much does an empty leg cost?
Empty legs can produce excellent savings. But it’s important to remember that they will always cost a lot more than commercial tickets. You’ll pay the normal hourly rates for your flight. This is key to managing expectation of empty leg flight prices.
Here are some examples of what you might pay for an empty leg flight:
|Type of Jet||Departing||Arriving||Estimated Cost|
|Large jet||New York||London||$65,000|
|Super midsize jet||New York||Los Angeles||$30,000|
|Light jet||New York||Miami||$11,000|
|Light jet||Chicago||Fort Myers||$7,800|
|Light jet||Los Angeles||Las Vegas||$4,500|
The above are only estimates. The final cost will depend on the routing, what's available, the size of the aircraft, flight time and hourly rate. As long as the broker is transparent with you and your journey requirements match with the empty leg details, you’ll enjoy the savings.