Editor’s note: Forbes.com contributor Doug Gollan has undertaken an analysis of jet card companies for his new business providing a paid analysis of jet card programs.
The first installment takes a look at private jet cards, their companies and programs:
There are many ways to fly privately. Two years ago I took an in-depth look at the on-demand charter market, which at the time was being pelted by new entrants making claims that hiring a private jet would be similar to ordering an Uber. My goal was to clarify how the process actually works and hopefully leave readers feeling a bit more educated about what is a pretty complex process. It was frustrating to read so many stories where the writer was basically just going off the press release enamored by tech jargon and missing what actually goes on, the considerable human element of business aviation professionals that makes the process actually work.
If you don’t fly enough to own your own plane (typically at least 400 hours or more per year), and don’t even need to fly regularly by private aviation, the on-demand charter market generally makes sense. However, if you fly privately more than 25 hours per year, but still not enough to own your own jet or you don’t want to, the other two options are fractional ownership and private jet cards, which I will group together with prepaid private air charter programs, sometimes also called block charter.
Fractional ownership is perhaps synonymous with NetJets, which is synonymous with Warren Buffett. With fractional ownership, you are actually buying a share of a plane and typically make a three to five-year commitment. Jet cards are more flexible, a bit like filling a debit card for future private air travel. Typically you are choosing either a dollar amount or a fixed number of hours, for example, $150,000 or 25 hours.
According to Business Jet Traveler, a trade publication for jet owners and their pilots, jet cards are popular even with private jet owners who need additional lift or perhaps a plane that can fit a different mission, maybe a longer range jet, a bigger jet with more capacity or even a smaller plane that can get into out of the way airports or is more cost-effective for flights under two hours. Maybe you are using your jet during the week for business, but need to fly your spouse into your weekend house. Buy him or her a jet card. For all of the above reasons, jet cards and prepaid private air programs have become extremely popular, with estimated annual sales of about $2 billion in the U.S.
There are some very good reasons to buy a jet card or a prepaid program over just chartering. Firstly, you lock in a specific hourly price instead of having to negotiate a deal each time. Secondly, like fractional programs or owning your own plane, most (but not all) programs guarantee you access with varying parameters for advance reservations and peak periods, typically ranging from four to 24 hours. Some of the programs have put together value-added benefits for their customers ranging from VIP access at sporting events to free nights at luxury hotels and even significant credits at high-end jewelers and fashion houses.
I began to research what I thought would be a straightforward, thorough overview for Forbes.com on jet cards about nine months ago, similar to the piece I wrote about how on-demand private jet charter works. As I got started, I realized there were a lot more vagaries than I thought. As I discussed the story with various providers, it became clear for the similarities there were an array of differences.
First of all, I found 18 companies that offer either the traditional jet card or some type of pre-paid private jet charter program, including Air Partner, Inc.; Clay Lacy Aviation; Delta Private Jets, Inc.; Flexjet; Jet Linx Aviation; JetSuite; Magellan Jets; NetJets; Nicholas Air; Private Jet Services Group (PJS Group); PrivateFly; Prive Jets; Sentient Jet; Solairus Aviation; Star Jets International LLC; VistaJet; Wheels Up; and XOJET. All together, they offered 75 core programs with even more opportunities for customization.
Then as I spoke to executives at the companies and kept adding to a list of variances in the programs, any one of which could be important to you, I all of a sudden had a spreadsheet with over 60 different columns, including who owns the company, how large they are, when they were founded, the service area where you can fly, policies for flying your pets, pricing, surcharges, how much time you are charged for taxing, what type of catering is included, how they source their pilots, what type of experience the pilots need to have, what are their policies for service recovery, will you have WiFi, what type of toilet is onboard, what’s the minimum age for children traveling alone and so on.
Needless to say, it is too much to cover in one column, but to make it a bit easier to digest, I will be covering the various aspects of buying a jet card in a series of articles. If you want to jump ahead, you can visit the site I put together PrivateJetCardComparisons.com where there are nifty spreadsheets so you can quickly compare any of the 62 points of differentiation across the 18 companies and their 75 different programs.
Next I will cover who the players are and some basic background. Since the typical purchase price for a jet card starts at $100,000 (although you can get jet cards for $25,000 or less), customers like you often spend into the hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars on prepaid private jet programs, so I hope this and the subsequent installments will be helpful.
From Forbes.com article by Doug Gollan
The FlightList PRO multi-search platform which includes all 16,631 charter aircraft and 3,419 charter operators worldwide. FlightList PRO is used by the most successful and experienced brokers and travel professionals in the industry; 80% of users have arranged charters more than 10 years, 25% more than 20 years.
Air Charter Alerts by FlightList PRO, are the latest announcements in the private air charter industry about operators, brokers and charter aircraft, and geared towards active participants in the industry.