The private aviation definition of a roundtrip is different than commercial airlines, but you can find discounts as high as 40%
When buying a jet card we always say it pays to do some homework upfront from a multitude of reasons. Some of it involves kicking the tires of the providers, comparing their standards for sourcing airplanes and flight crew, assessing who they are, how long they’ve been around and so forth. However, in making the best decision it really helps if you can as best possible map out the trips you expect to be taking, and yes, how many people are traveling, but also how long each trip is and if it includes multiple stops, the time between each flight segment.
It may take you five or 10 minutes to do a thorough job, but the payoff can be big. While less than half of the more than 100 programs analyzed by Private Jet Card Comparisons offer roundtrip discounts, those that do offer anywhere from 5% to 40% off. Even a program with a 10% discount means that you are essentially getting an 11th trip free.
Of course, you have to qualify, and if you think roundtrip, that’s pretty straightforward, I have to tell you it isn’t. While commercial airlines now pretty much sell one-way fares at the same price as roundtrips, many of us remember when roundtrip fares were cheaper than one-way fares. The roundtrip fares often had a Saturday night stay over and they were designed to attract leisure travelers but fence out business travelers. The idea was the business traveler had to make the trip, so extract maximum amounts of money from that person, whereas the leisure traveler would only go if the price was right, so offer an enticingly low fare, and there you go, Airline Pricing 101.
In analyzing Jet Card membership programs, you may find that pricing works almost in reverse, however, in the case of private aviation, it is less of a strategy and more of a reflection on the direct costs of flying you around on a private jet. In some cases, there are what is called floating fleets. XOJET and JetSuite come to mind as two of the major players that also sell jet cards. Their aircraft don’t have a single home base but based on demand fly from Point A to Point B, then may do an empty leg to Point C to bring a different revenue customer to Point D, and then again. The floating fleet operators are trying to minimize the number of empty legs or at least minimize the distance and typically offer one-way pricing, meaning they have built in some type of average of all empty let ferry expenses into the price.
On the other hand, you have fixed based operators. If that name sounds familiar the acronym FBO is what is known as the private jet terminals. But the fixed based operator, in this case, refers to the management company that has aircraft based at that airport. While some charter operators own their own aircraft, much of the Part 135 charter fleet is managed by a third party management company on behalf of the owner. You can think of Jet Aviation, Jet Linx Aviation and Delta Private Jets as just three of many examples.
In the case of these companies, the aircraft are based where the owner wants, so generally where he or she has their primary residence. I was once told by a management company that if they had 50 aircraft under management, they had 50 different contracts. Each owner puts in various stipulations about when and for what type of flights their aircraft can be used for charters.
If they want to maximize their income from having their management company charter their airplane, they can be fairly liberal. In other cases, they want to make sure their plane is available when they need it, so they are less flexible. In some cases, particularly with Large Cabin jets, the owner may be happy to see charter flights of four, five or six hours, but not want a bunch of 40-minute segments. That’s because expensive maintenance is often driven by the number of cycles, the number landings and takeoffs.
For a fixed base operator, there is a lot of efficiency in being having a customer use the aircraft for a roundtrip. However, in this case, a roundtrip doesn’t mean just starting and returning from the same place, it means either returning the same day, the next day, or putting together a trip over consecutive days where you are flying each day, generally a rule of thumb is two to three hours of billable flight time, and that the schedule is such that one flight crew can handle the entire trip for you. For the operator, it means that it doesn’t have to ferry the plane empty back from where it dropped you off and then several days ferry an empty plane to pick you up.
While commercial airplanes may log 10 to 12 hours per day 365 days a year, believe it or not, getting two to three flight hours per day on a private jet is considered very good. What it also means is your round trip from Charlotte to Vail where you leave Sunday and come back the following Sunday is not a roundtrip in the sense you are going to get a discount from your jet card provider.
While some jet card programs don’t provide any roundtrip discounts, you can find discounts of typically 10% to 20% and as high as 40%. Of course, you will have to factor in the hourly rate the discount is based on, if that includes the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax (FET), fuel surcharges and anything else that goes into figuring your final price.
The structure of earning roundtrip discounts in the private aviation sense means that it more likely fits business trips than vacation travel, although if you wanted to do a golf trip with some buddies, you might be able to save some money hopping around to play several courses over several days and get the roundtrip discount.
Some programs enable you to actually pay for extra flight hours to qualify, so if the minimum daily flying was two hours and you only had a one-hour flight scheduled on a day, you could pay for the missing hour. You will also need to figure in crew overnights and per diems which some programs charge.
Either way, when mapping out your expected flying, remember to think not only about how many people and from where to where but the duration of each trip and if you have the ability to cluster your flights on single or consecutive days.