Travel: Thinking of Taking a Private Jet Instead? Here’s How You Can

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  Thinking of Taking a Private Jet Instead? Here’s How You Can © Provided by AFAR

Demand for private jets, which skyrocketed during the pandemic, continues to be strong as travelers look to create over-the-top vacation getaways and for alternatives to the crowds and mass cancellations of commercial flights. Last year was the busiest year on record for private flights globally, according to business aviation tracker WingX. And in March 2022, private jet charter company Wheels Up reported another record quarter of revenue growth with a 30 percent jump in members.

"We are now working to increase our capacity to serve the strong demand we are seeing," Eric Jacobs, chief financial officer at Wheels Up, said in the company’s latest earnings statement.

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That demand is expected to continue on its upward trajectory, according to Gregg Brunson-Pitts, founder and president of Arlington, Virginia–based private jet charter company Advanced Aviation Team. "As the world reopens and travel restrictions are lifted, Advanced Aviation Team expects a surge in travel to faraway destinations including increased flying to Europe," stated Brunson-Pitts.

A January survey conducted by global luxury travel agency consortium Virtuoso found that as travel rebounds, travelers are seeking once-in-a-lifetime trips with privacy and personalization being paramount. "Whether it be an around-the-world trip by private jet, a hotel takeover in Paris, or a private guided tour of the Acropolis of Athens, ultraluxe travel is all about curating exclusive itineraries," Virtuoso reported.

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Not surprisingly, several private jet charter companies and luxury resort and villa properties have partnered to offer travelers just that: private flight service directly to a private villa or resort destination.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts recently unveiled its around-the-world private jet itineraries for 2023 (which join the existing 2022 roster), epic journeys that include a 13-day African Wonders trip with stops in Athens, Greece; Egypt; Serengeti, Tanzania; Mauritius; Rwanda; Victoria Falls, Zambia; and Johannesburg, South Africa. Flights take place on the Four Seasons private jet and guests stay at Four Seasons luxury properties around the world.

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 that Exceptional Villas serves, including the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, and Necker Island.

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Additionally, the Resort at Paws Up partnered with private jet service XO to offer on-demand private flights to and from Missoula International Airport, 30 minutes from the luxury ranch property.

There are other positive developments in the private jet space as well. Just as the automobile industry is increasingly moving toward electric vehicles in an effort to help combat climate change, private aviation companies are starting to explore new electric flight options, too; private jets definitely have a very long way to go in lessening their impact. In March 2022, NetJets Inc., one of the largest private aviation companies in the world, signed an agreement that would give it the right to purchase up to 150 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) jets. And there are numerous other electric flight initiatives under way in the private aviation space (more on that below).

Fly to the Four Seasons Resort Safari Lodge in Tanzania on a Four Seasons private jet. © Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Fly to the Four Seasons Resort Safari Lodge in Tanzania on a Four Seasons private jet.

How much does it cost to buy a private jet?

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.

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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.

How much does it cost to charter a private jet?

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.

The cost for a six-hour cross-country private jet charter flight

  • On a turboprop or smaller private jet: $7,800 to $18,000 (4 to 6 passengers)
  • On a midsize private jet: $24,000 to $48,000 (up to 9 passengers)
  • On a large private jet: $51,600 to $78,000 (14 to 19 passengers)

Beyond Air Charter Service, other companies that offer private jet charters include Air Partner, PrivateFly, and Jettly, booking platforms for on-demand private jet charters.

Pricing for private jet charters depends on the size and type of aircraft—and the distance you need to fly. © Photo by Shutterstock Pricing for private jet charters depends on the size and type of aircraft—and the distance you need to fly.

What is a private jet card membership and how does it work?

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.

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“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 only 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.

How to book a seat on a private jet

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 or a semi-private jet.

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One prominent example is JSX (formerly JetSuiteX), which launched in 2016. Current JSX routes connect several California hubs, including Burbank, Concord, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange County, Oakland, and San Diego. The airline also flies to Reno-Tahoe, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Austin, and Houston and more recently added Miami and Westchester County in New York to its roster.

JSX is by far one of the most affordable options for semi-private travel with one-way fares starting as low as $119 on 30-seat planes, which includes up to two checked bags as well as snacks and drinks onboard. Kids (including infants) and pets are welcome to fly.

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.

Another semi-private option is Aero. Launched in 2020, Aero offers a slightly more elevated product than JSX, at more elevated prices. One-way flights from Los Angeles to Las Vegas start at $950, one-way flights from San Francisco to Aspen start at $1,900, one-way flights from L.A. to Los Cabos start at $1,900, and one-way flights from London to Milan start at $1,625. Prices include one checked luggage and one carry-on, drinks and snacks onboard. Kids (including infants) and small pets are welcome onboard.

Aero flies to and from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Los Cabos (Mexico), Las Vegas, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and Aspen and Vail in Colorado. It also flies between some European hubs, including London, Milan, Nice in France, and Geneva, Switzerland. Flights take place on custom-designed black jets complete with leather seats that accommodate up to 16 passengers.

Additionally, Oxford, Connecticut–based Tradewind Aviation operates on-demand and scheduled flights to and from Westchester County in New York, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and Stowe, Vermont, in the Northeast. Tradewind also flies between the Carribbean destinations of Anguilla, Antigua, Nevis, San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Bart’s.

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Flights run anywhere from $200 to hop between Caribbean islands to an opening rate of $750 to fly to Stowe or Nantucket from Westchester. The aircraft fly out of private air terminals and flights include onboard refreshments. (As of January 1, 2022, Tradewind said it has committed to purchasing carbon offsets for all of its flights.)

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’s a private jet app for that

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.

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.

What is an empty leg deal?

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.

Private jet services such as Jettly and XO will often list their current empty leg deals and routes online.

The benefits of flying private

By flying private, you can bypass the crowds at the airport. © Photo by NadyaEugene/Shutterstock By flying private, you can bypass the crowds at the airport.

Avoid the crowds at the airport

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.)

Access to more destinations

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).

Customized travel

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.

The environmental impact of flying private

We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Flying private does not have a good track record when it comes to the environment. In a November 2019 report, U.K.-based nonprofit group Fellow Travellers together with economic democracy advocacy organization Common Wealth estimated that on average a private jet passenger journey within Europe emits around 7 times the greenhouse gases as the same business-class flight and around 10 times as much as an economy-class flight. Consequently, the report advocates for the rapid electrification of the private jet sector, which it notes is the segment of the air industry that is most amenable to going fully electric in the very near future.

That was confirmed by writer Elissa Garay in the recent AFAR article “Electric Planes Are Coming Sooner Than You Think,” which noted that some of the biggest gains in electric air travel include smaller two- to nine-passenger private electric planes.

Investments in electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are being made by companies that include Boeing, Airbus, NASA, and Toyota, as well as startups, such as California’s Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, Germany’s Lilium, and the U.K.’s Vertical Aerospace, writer Garay reports.

Additionally, Israel’s Eviation has developed a nine-seat electric plane called Alice, which regional U.S. carrier Cape Air is set to fly starting next year. Alice’s electric propulsion engine was built by its sister company MagniX, based in Washington State. Canadian seaplane carrier Harbour Air is also testing the MagniX system to retrofit its fleet, with hopes of debuting commercial service on the newly electric seaplanes later this year.

While the Biden administration is making a big push to reduce air emissions by focusing on a switch to more sustainable aviation fuels, environmental organizations continue to emphasize that the biggest impact in the private aviation space will ultimately be a gradual conversion to fully electric flights.

How private jet flying has changed during the pandemic

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 travel regulations continue to change in countries throughout the world. The International Air Transport Association has developed 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 COVID-19 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 it has 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.

This story was originally published on August 6, 2019, and has been updated to include current information.

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