A Beginner's Guide To Flying By Private Jet

The basics of flying by private jet, from shuttles to sharing, jet cards, charter and empty legs.

By Doug Gollan, June 2, 2017

The rich are getting richer. Commercial airline service is getting worse as is the airport experience. Luckily, there are more ways to fly via private aviation where you don’t have to be worth $50 or $100 million and more.


It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, the private aviation industry was only open to a very narrow section of the Super Rich, celebrities, and big company bosses. Back in the late last century, it was commercial aviation that was seeing a host of innovative entrants. Think People Express, Midwest Express, MGM Grand Air, New York Air, Air Florida, Southwest Airlines and others. Now with the domestic commercial market being strangled by a few mega carriers that control over 80% of the market, innovation is coming from the private aviation sector.


For the private aviation sector, the change was slow. In the late ‘90s, Richard Santulli with the backing of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway made fractional ownership and NetJets required jargon at upper-end country clubs and board meetings. By selling shares in planes instead of the entire plane, it meant a person worth $50 million could now afford to buy a piece in a $30 million Gulfstream 450, once only the purview of billionaires and Fortune 500 CEOs. For smaller companies and various industries, it provided a smart way to become regular users of private aviation.


In the early part of this decade, the smart money was on the concept of the air taxi which was being propelled by a new generation of smaller private jets, today referred to as VLJs, or very light jets. However, the air taxi concept never really took off. Yet, private aviation is now seeing a variety of concepts that are opening up various forms of private travel to virtually everyone.


Private Aviation Shuttles


How rich do you have to be?


JetSuiteX fares start under $100


What can I expect?


Shuttles are best described as scheduled flights that use private jet facilities, usually FBOs (private jet terminals) at the airports they serve. You will be sitting on a plane with other people you don’t know, just like a regular commercial flight. And while the seats might be a bit more comfortable than coach on a commercial flight, don’t expect a lavish experience like you’ve seen on President Donald Trump’s personal Boeing 757.


Examples would be Surf Air in California and Europe and JetSuiteX in the Western U.S. both of which appeal to the business traveler with several daily flights in the markets they serve. While the former uses a membership model where you pay a monthly fee and fly as much as you want and the latter sells individual seats on each flight, you are basically buying a seat on a flight shared with other passengers. You show up 15 minutes before your flight and you have a quick exit when you get off. The main benefit is for short flights you cut out the time spent in commercial airports.


Another pioneer with the shuttle concept is JetSmarter, which uses actual private jets for its services. The JetSmarter shuttles are open to members. There are different membership tiers, with high paying members accessing shuttles for free and lower paying members having to pay surcharges for shuttles. The JetSmarter shuttles operate in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East and include routes such as New York-London and Los Angeles-New York, however, these shuttles only operate a couple times a week.


Empty Legs


How rich do I have to be?


JetSuite offers SuiteDeals the night before for as little as $500


What should I expect?


Empty legs are ferry flights where a private jet is being flown back to its base after dropping off a revenue charter passenger or flying empty to pick up a revenue charter passenger. Operators often sell these flights at a discount, however, they are not a reliable way to fly if you need to get somewhere. If the revenue passenger changes his or her plans, your empty leg will get canceled and in most cases, you will need to find an alternate way to your destination at your own expense. Most charter operators and brokers promote empty legs on their websites. You can sign-up to receive alerts, and you can find empty legs being promoted on Twitter.


Seat Sharing


How rich do I have to be?


You are probably worth at least $5-$10 million or more


What should I expect?


Some private aviation operators, including Wheels Up and JetSmarter, have created apps allowing you to sell seats to other customers after you have booked your charter flight, thus off-setting some of your expenses. For a Wheels Up customer, four people splitting a KingAir 350i for a two-hour flight would each pay about $2,000. Of course, you would have already paid a membership fee of approximately $17,500 to join and are paying hourly rates of $4,000 or more when you fly on your own.


On-Demand Charter


How rich do I have to be?



A roundtrip weekend charter for six people from Chicago to Aspen on a 2001 Citation Bravo runs about $30,000.


What should I expect?


On-demand charter simply refers to working with a broker or operator to charter a private jet to suit schedule and needs. You enter into an agreement for the charter selecting the plane you want to fly on. Depending on the type of plane, where you are going and for how long you are staying (You will be charged for flying the plane back to its base if you are staying for awhile.) hourly charges range from around $3,000 to over $15,000. You will need to negotiate pricing and terms each time you fly, and the owner of the plane may have the right to pull his or her plane back meaning your broker will need to find a replacement. If you have one trip planned, and are not sure about your future needs, charter makes sense.


Jet Cards


How rich do I have to be?


$10 million + Net Worth


What should I expect?


Jet cards are a way to prepay for a fixed dollar amount or number of hours of private jet travel. The more hours you buy or dollars you prepay, the higher discount you receive. Jet cards are an effective way of budgeting for private air travel and take away the time and hassles of having to quote pricing for every trip individually. Many programs also guarantee availability. By buying into a program, you are also guaranteed certain standards of service, performance as well as sourcing of the planes and pilots you will fly with.


Private Jet Card Comparisons is the only independent buyer’s guide comparing over 100 private jet card membership programs across 65 variables in easy-to-use comparison charts.

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