Here’s why jet cards are the hot spot of private aviation

The diversity of jet cards has never been wider with more options and more programs from pay as you go membership to global products.

By Doug Gollan, April 26, 2018

The diversity of jet cards has never been wider with more options and more programs from pay as you go membership to global products


When Sentient Jet pioneered the jet card in the late 1990s, the jet card was a defined and narrow niche. Sold in increments of 25 hours, the jet card was thought of specifically for folks who flew privately between 25 and 49 hours over the course of one to two years. The offerings were based on private jets alone. Wow, times have changed. Today there are over 35 providers and more than 250 programs. Private Jet Card Comparisons has identified over 65 variables that differentiate the offerings. What’s more, you can now find programs offering turboprops and even piston aircraft up to airliner size jet access. 


What’s spurring the growth of jet cards?


Coming out of the 2008 recession, the number of orders for new private jets plummeted, the inventory of used jets for sale spiked and fractional ownership, a hot spot before the downturn cooled, in part because the residual value of shares dropped with the market and there was less interest in commitments of three to five years.


At the same time, the need for private aviation solutions was increasing. Increased security at airports meant more wasted time while commercial airlines continued to cut service standards and flights to many smaller communities dropped. Airlines restructured their hub operations with longer connections. What would have been a 90-minute nonstop flight or perhaps even four or five hours by commercial airline stretched to a whole day affair. Airline mergers meant less capacity meaning when there are cancellations, including weather disruptions the next available seat might be a day or more away.


Airlines also cracked down on carry-on baggage to help drive more fees from checked baggage. It meant for business travelers more wait time on arrival and it made it harder to bring onboard large business presentations and displays. Traveling with families became a real ordeal – trying to bring baby formula through checkpoints. And nobody likes having their carry-on baggage unpacked by government employees for everyone to see at security checkpoints.


Business executives and affluent families wanted something that filled the gap between time-consuming on-demand charter which generally takes several hours of work for each trip and the long-term commitment of full and fractional ownership. The result is you can now find jet card programs starting at just 10 hours and up to 100 hours. Wheels Up and Jet Linx Aviation introduced membership models where you pay to join, but you then pay as you go, meaning you no longer had to fund cards in advance. The point of entry dropped from over $100,000 to under $20,000.


Other providers such as XOJET eschewed the traditional guaranteed fixed rate for one-way flights model by offering dynamic pricing options. On-demand charter brokers like to say that jet cards are more expensive – although research we’ve done shows it’s truly a mixed bag. Dynamic pricing means you could play the market for on-demand rates while still having the security a jet card program provides in terms of aircraft and flight crew sourcing standards and survey recovery guarantees.


In 2010 NetJets, which had only sold fractional ownership and leases, acquired Marquis Jet Partners, jumping into the jet card market and adding both credibility and momentum. In fact, the number of providers and programs has more than doubled in the past 10 years.


Another change has been an original core benefit of jet cards – guaranteed availability – is no longer guaranteed in all programs. It reflects that many of the original jet card sellers were charter brokers while fleet operators who joined the jet card game wanted to offer products, yet when their fleet was fully utilized, they wouldn’t have to go outside to charter. Today guaranteed availability varies regardless of how the aircraft are sourced.


Jet cards have also expanded geographically as well with Air Partner, NetJets, PrivateFly, Fly Aeolus and GlobeAir each offering dedicated European programs. VistaJet launched a global program last year that eliminates ferry fees for most parts of the world.


The areas programs vary have also increased. Some programs come with WiFi, each vendor has different policies for transporting pets and the minimum age for flying unaccompanied minors. They all have different peak days – ranging from under 10 to over 100 – and on those peak days, some programs charge as much as 40% above your contracted rates while others have no surcharges. You will also find lead-time for reserving a flight and canceling it change during peak days. To remain competitive with on-demand charter pricing for quick trips, many jet cards provide roundtrip discounts that can be as high as 40%. However, each company has a different definition for roundtrip flying, in some cases even allowing you to make multiple stops as long as you are flying on consecutive days. Service areas for each jet card program also vary.


One benefit of jet cards is you know the standards of sourcing the aircraft and flight crews, for example, how many hours your pilots have – however, each provider has different sourcing standards, and in some cases, the same company has different standards across their programs. It means you really need to take the time to compare before you buy.


Private Jet Card Comparisons helps you identify the programs you want to focus on by doing the work for you. Our database encompasses over 35 suppliers, more than 250 programs compared by 65 + variables. We put it in spreadsheet format you can download so you can focus on what’s important to you.


With more and more players entering the market and more and more variations, doing your research before buying has become even more important. We’re here to help, and hope you will become a paid subscriber. It’s only $250, and you can find more information here.

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