When looking to fly by private jet there are several options. At first glance, this can seem somewhat overwhelming.
There are six key methods that someone can fly by private jet: seat share, empty legs, charter, jet card, fractional ownership, and whole ownership.
Despite the numerous methods to fly by private jet, selecting the right one for your needs is a relatively simple process. The key is to understand the pros and cons of each method, along with the relative costs.
Additionally, within each method, it is important to understand how you can go about making your mission happen.
Flying Private Overview
With the exception of the seat share method of flying by private jet, prices are quoted for renting the entire aircraft.
Private jets are just that, private. You decide which passengers join you on the flight.
As a result, you have total control over the mission. You choose when the flight leaves, where it takes off from, where it lands, and (in most cases) the aircraft that is used.
Of course, there are limitations within this. For example, flying by private jet using an empty leg does not afford this level of flexibility.
Moreover, there are certain operational limitations that will restrict some of the freedoms. For example, there are some airports that do not have long enough runways for certain aircraft. There are time restrictions for arrivals and departures at some airports. Sometimes an aircraft needs to be switched last minute.
However, generally speaking, one of the great benefits of flying by private jet is absolute freedom, flexibility, and customization.
And, of course, this is before you get to the luxury and comfort aspect of flying by private jet.
Private jets are, for the most part, far more luxurious and comfortable than commercial airliners.
Many private jet cabins are quieter than commercial aircraft. Some have a lower cabin altitude than airliners. Most provide more space per passenger than airliners.
Consequently, most benefits of flying by private jet can be placed into five categories: save time, safety, increased privacy, comfort, and convenient airports. You can learn more here.
As mentioned, there are six key methods to flying by private jet.
In order of least expensive the most expensive, these methods are:
- Seat share
- Empty legs
- Private jet charter
- Jet card
- Fractional ownership
- Whole ownership
All these methods of flying by private jet will enable you to actually travel using a private jet.
However, as you would expect, the more you that you pay the greater the mission customization, service, and reliability.
For example, if you wholly own a private jet you are the person in charge of its movements. Therefore, it is available whenever you need it. There are no peak days. No surcharges. It’s yours to use as you please. Of course, there are scheduled (and sometimes unscheduled) maintenance events, however, for the most part, it will always be available.
On the other hand, empty legs are flights that take place no matter what. Therefore, it is much more similar to flying commercial. Sure, there is some flexibility in origin and destination, but not to the extent that other methods afford you.
With the exception of the initial March 2020 global lockdown, the private aviation market has experienced strong growth in the last two years.
2021 saw greater demand than 2019 (the last “normal” year), and 2022 is currently trending above the already strong 2021 demand.
However, the one area of the private aviation market that hasn’t fared quite so well has been the seat share market.
This has primarily been due to the cause of the surge of private jet popularity, driven mostly by COVID. Private jets have rapidly gained in popularity from passengers wishing to avoid the crowds and risks of commercial aviation.
However, seat sharing does not resolve this issue.
A seat share private jet is when you book just one seat on the aircraft.
Either this is a genuine private jet with just one seat booked out for you, or it’s a hybrid aircraft between a private jet and a commercial airliner.
Flying using a seat share is by far and away the cheapest way to fly private.
For example, you can book a single seat with JSX between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for just $308 return. (See image below).
Of course, this is considerably cheaper than chartering an entire jet. If you were to charter an entire jet for the same dates you would be spending at least $15,000.
Therefore, seat shares allow you to have the private jet experience at a fraction of the cost.
However, arguably, it’s not truly flying private. This is because you are not alone on the aircraft. You do not have control over who the other passengers are.
Moreover, you cannot choose the time of departure or the exact airport within the city of your choice.
And finally, one additional downside of a seat share private jet flight, is space.
This is primarily a concern with light jets or smaller, there isn’t a great amount of space. And yet, you will still be paying thousands for the experience.
Therefore, it is often hard to justify the value of a seat share private flight compared with commercial. It costs more, however, you don’t get the true benefits of flying by private jet.
As a result, seat share private jet flying exists in an awkward middle ground between true private flights and commercial.
Empty legs are private jet flights that have been scheduled to fly with no passengers. This usually occurs when an aircraft is being repositioned for its next paid flight.
Operators will then sell off these flights at a significant discount in order to reduce their costs.
Empty legs are often last minute, not very flexible, and at risk of last-minute cancellations. This is because the flights are scheduled around the customer paying full price.
So why are these flights discounted?
Quite simply, flying by empty leg massively reduces the flexibility and options that you have when arranging a private jet flight. However, empty legs provide the same level of privacy and luxury as regular private jet flights.
Additionally, there are some impressive deals to be had, providing you are flexible and can fly one way at extremely short notice.
Empty leg flights are usually released a day or two before the flight takes place.
Of course, there is some flexibility in terms of changing airport or time, however, most changes will likely cost you. Therefore, it is a fine line between getting an unbelievable deal and paying just a little less than the charter retail price.
Private Jet Charter
Flying by private jet charter is the method that most people will think of when considering their flying options.
This is when you rent a private jet for one specific journey. The result is a high level of luxury, customization, and flexibility.
You choose the airport that you fly from, the airport that you fly to, the time of departure, the passengers on board, and the type of aircraft. However, all of these options are from a pre-determined list.
For example, if you wish to fly a specific route on a specific date at a specific time, there are only a selection of aircraft that will be available. Therefore, you will have the freedom to choose from a provided aircraft list. However, you can’t pick just any jet in the world.
Of course, flying by private jet charter is more expensive than the two above options. This is due to the bespoke nature and privacy.
Additionally, it’s due to the current industry system.
Brokers and Operators
When it comes to renting a private jet there are two key terms to be aware of, brokers and operators.
Operators are the companies that actually handle the flight. They are the ones that have the aircraft on hand, the crew, file the flight plan, etc.
Brokers are the middlemen. They are the ones that are between you and the operators. Brokers have connections with the operators and field all the quotes. Brokers then present the best options to the customer, along with their markup.
The result is a lack of transparency. There is no breakdown of the operator cost and the broker’s margin, it is simply added on.
However, the issue with operators is that they are heavily localized to their region. For example, it is no use contacting an operator with an aircraft in New York when you wish to fly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Unless, of course, that aircraft is already in the local area.
In this situation, a broker would know of the aircraft in the area that you wish to fly.
However, with the advancement of technology and transparency, new systems and products are coming to the market that tries to increase the transparency of cost.
For example, Jettly provides an open marketplace for users to instantly compare direct costs from operators. In exchange, you can pay for a monthly membership or a one-off fee.
Additionally, Jet ASAP wants to break into this market by posting flights and receiving bids from operators. In order to use this service, they charge an annual fee.
This isn’t to say that brokers don’t do anything. They make the process much easier. All of the comparisons between operators are done for you and only the most suitable options are provided. There is one point of contact that can arrange catering and ground transportation, for example.
Furthermore, brokers don’t charge upfront fees. Therefore, you don’t have to take the risk with something like Jet ASAP of charging an upfront fee before you know the cost of your flight.
Should You Use a Broker or an Operator?
Ultimately it comes down to price vs effort.
If you are happy to put the effort into researching the market (such as the different safety standards and aircraft), along with fielding multiple quotes from operators, then an operator is the way to go. Additionally, this is a great option if you want to save a few thousand dollars.
However, a broker is a great option if you are new to the market and want some guidance. Additionally, a broker is a great option when you want just one point of contact and ease of use for your whole journey. It is also much easier to build a relationship with a broker if you fly a lot compared with an operator. This is because the broker will remain the same for every flight but the operator will change depending on your mission profile.
Private Jet Card
A private jet card is a next level up from ad-hoc charter flights. Typically, jet cards make sense when flying more than 25 hours per year.
A jet card is a pre-paid membership program that allows you to fly on private jets at a fixed rate.
A key benefit of jet cards over on-demand charters is the consistency of price. Most jet card providers will provide fixed hourly rates for each aircraft.
Additionally, given that you fund the card upfront, you don’t have to complete individual transactions for each flight.
Furthermore, jet cards typically offer greater guarantees of flights – especially around peak days – along with a typically more generous cancellation policy.
Jet cards start to make sense when you are flying by private jet regularly, typically for similar missions. For example, flying once a month from Miami to New York.
Fractional ownership is a great option when you want the freedom of whole jet ownership but without the complex logistics and financial cost.
Compared with the above options, fractional ownership is more expensive. As a result, there are only a handful of companies that offer fractional ownership.
Fractional ownership is when you purchase part of an aircraft, typically from 1/16 to 1/2.
The amount of time that you can fly per hour is determined by the size of your share, with most programs assuming each aircraft can fly for 800 hours per year.
As a result, your ownership stake is in proportion to the 800 hours per year.
For example, if you own 1/16 of an aircraft you would expect to be able to fly for 50 hours per year. 1/2 ownership would result in having 400 hours at your disposal.
A common misconception with fractional ownership is that you will always be flying on “your” aircraft. Generally speaking, fractional ownership companies operate a large fleet of aircraft. This means that if “your” aircraft is down for maintenance or in use by another customer, a different aircraft can be sourced. Moreover, it is far more efficient for the fractional ownership company to provide an aircraft that is close to your point of origin.
Most fractional ownership programs will have ownership terms of 5 years. At the end of the ownership term, the operator will typically buy back the aircraft at a fair market value. However, keep in mind that fractional ownership aircraft are typically flown far more than wholly-owned aircraft, therefore, the market value will likely be lower.
At this point, fractional ownership sounds a lot like buying into a jet card program. Being that you pay a large upfront fee to block book hours on an aircraft.
However, one of the key differences is the asset depreciation benefits. Therefore, companies can benefit significantly from flying through a fractional ownership program over a jet card program as the aircraft depreciation can be written off.
Private Jet Whole Ownership
And finally, the ultimate way to fly by private jet, whole ownership.
Private jet whole ownership is when one individual or entity has complete control over the aircraft.
Whole jet ownership is far more complex than the other options above, is more expensive, and requires greater logistics.
One of the key benefits of owning your own jet is that you can use it whenever you want. There are no hour caps. No peak days. It will be where you last landed.
Additionally, you can customize the aircraft however you want. Depending on your preference and type of mission, you can outfit the interior with the necessary seats and upholstery.
The aircraft is truly yours and a significant amount of status comes along with it. Unfortunately, so does cost.
Generally speaking, the more hours that the aircraft is flown per year, the lower the per hour cost. This is due to the existing annual fixed costs, such as crew and insurance.
Additionally, the hourly variable cost with factors such as fuel and landing fees, are typically lower than an on-demand charter.
Therefore, whole jet ownership can start to make sense when flying more than 200 hours per year. However, to really justify wholly owning a jet flying more than 400 hours per year is typically the norm.
An additional cost that is important to consider when owning a private jet is depreciation. And, as you might expect, not all jets are made equal. That’s to say that some aircraft depreciate much quicker than others.
In many cases, private jets can lose around 50% of their value in the first five years of ownership. For example, if you were to purchase a brand new Bombardier Challenger 650 for $32 million today, in five years it is estimated to be worth around $15 million. So, over a five-year ownership period, it will lose $17 million.
Of course, if you are able to claim tax benefits for aircraft depreciation this loss isn’t quite so bad.
Another drawback of aircraft ownership is maintenance and logistics. With a fractional ownership program, for example, if “your” aircraft is undergoing maintenance you are able to fly using another aircraft.
However, if you wholly own an aircraft when it is undergoing routine maintenance you will either be unable to fly or have to pay in order to get an on-demand charter. Therefore, you will need to ensure that your private jet management company is able to schedule aircraft maintenance around your schedule.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes be tricky to schedule around maintenance, especially when it is unexpected.
Choosing the Right Way to Fly by Private Jet
So, which is the best option for you?
Below is a table that you can use as a quick overview of all the methods of flying by private jet, along with the pros and cons of each one.
When assessing the table there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, how often will you be flying? If it is a one-off then consider an on-demand charter, empty leg, or shared seat flight. If you will be flying regularly consider a jet card, fractional ownership, or whole ownership.
Secondly, how flexible are you? Are you able to fly on short notice with little flexibility on your departure date and exact destination? If you are flexible, a shared seat flight or empty leg is a great option.
Thirdly, what’s your budget? If you are seeking out the best deal then an empty leg is the optimum method of flying. If you have a strict schedule and your time is extremely valuable, then fractional or whole ownership will likely make the most sense.
|Shared Seat||Cheap||Not private, little flexibility|
|Empty Leg||Luxury experience, cheap||Short notice, risk of cancellation, little flexibility|
|On-Demand Charter||Flexible, easy to use, no commitment||Peak surcharges, complex if flying regularly|
|Jet Card||Upfront payment, better guarantees, easy to use||Lots of research required, risk of hidden costs*|
|Fractional Ownership||Guarantee hours, offset depreciation||High upfront cost, long ownership period|
|Whole Ownership||Status, flexibility, customization||High costs, depreciation, complex|
The table above highlights just some of the pros and cons of each method of flying by private jet. Of course, there are more nuanced cases of pros and cons, therefore the above table serves as a general overview.
*Risk of hidden costs with a jet card – this depends on the program that you are on. Some providers will adjust prices depending on rising fuel prices, de-icing, major events at destinations, and more. However, with something like an on-demand charter, all these prices will be factored into the final price as you are paying per flight. Although note on-demand charters can still see price rises, for example, an increase in fuel price or de-icing expense.
In conclusion, there are six methods that you can use to fly by private jet.
Each method has its own set of pros and cons. Therefore, there is no universal best method of how to fly private. Rather it comes down to your individual requirements, flexibility, and budget.