If you are looking for the lowest price, our fastest two minutes of comparing private aviation options (again) shows an answer that might be a surprise

 

If you are flying between 10 and 100 hours per year (fractional ownership starts at 50 hours and requires a three to five-year commitment plus financing your share) jet cards and on-demand charter are generally the two easiest options. While on-demand charter enables you to choose a specific aircraft, due to operational reasons the aircraft you select sometimes changes, and if your broker is sourcing your plane from a fleet operator, often times your tail number isn’t confirmed until close to your flight time. With jet cards you are more typically buying into a jet size category – Light Jets, Midsize Jets, etc. although some programs offer specific jet types. 

 

Each time you charter, most folks general contact two or three brokers who then come back with five or six quotes, meaning you then need to sort through more than a dozen aircraft and operator profiles, reviewing policies specific to each jet as well as varying cancellation policies. If something goes wrong on travel day, you’re pretty much at the mercy of what your broker can arrange. Brokers counter that on-demand charter beats jet card pricing, and while I do not think anyone should buy private aviation based on lowest price alone, nobody wants to pay more than they need to.

 

On the jet card side, jet card sellers promote features such as guaranteed availability, roundtrip discounts, fixed one-way prices so you don’t pay ferry fees to position your jet, service recovery guarantees, more generous cancelation policies, 24/7 customer service, inclusion of catering, published standards on how what type of aircraft are used and minimum qualifications for the pilots that will fly you. What’s more prepaid programs mean you don’t have to worry about transferring funds and many jet cards enable you to access multiple jets at the same time, good for families and businesses.  Depending on the program you choose, you can also upgrade or downgrade the size of your jet based on your requirements.

 

As we did with the Mayfield vs. McGregor fight, we decided to see how jet cards and on-demand charter compares using the Kentucky Derby this time. Since we appreciate broker quotes, we didn’t use the names of providers, but we did want to see how charter rates stacked up against jet card pricing. We picked three jet card companies to compare on pricing. We choose Sentient Jet just because they are a Kentucky Derby sponsor. We choose Jet Aviation because they offer a 40% roundtrip discount if you qualify, and we picked the third company randomly. It ended up being Delta Private Jets.

 

Our mock trip entailed needing a jet (we decided against turboprops) to go from any New York area airport to an airport serving Louisville, Kentucky so we could get to Churchill Downs. We said we wanted to leave Saturday morning before 10 am and return Sunday no later than 3 pm, and there would be four people for our junket.

 

We used the comparison charts of Private Jet Card Comparisons to calculate hourly rates including Federal Excise Tax, the 12 minutes per segment taxi time each of the jet card providers we used charges and also any roundtrip discounts. While we calculated roundtrip flight time at 3.4 hours excluding taxi time. To get Jet Aviation’s roundtrip discount we needed a two-hour flight minimum, but the program enables us to buy the difference, so with Jet Aviation, we used four hours of flight time to qualify. We also added a total of $300 to covering catering for the charter brokers, which comes to $75 per flight per person.

 

New York has a high concentration of private jets so we knew there would be plenty of options, something that should work in favor of brokers. If you live in an area where there isn’t a high concentration of available aircraft, jet cards with guaranteed availability and rates become even more advantageous – that supply and demand thing. With charter, if you are based in a smaller city,  you might up paying positioning fees which can increase costs by 50% or more over regular charter rates. In fact, with one online broker when we checked for flights to Louisville from either Des Moines and Oklahoma City for these same dates, we got a message none were available.

 

A couple of other points our comparison highlighted was the cancellation policies of jet cards versus charter. In some cases with charter as soon as you book, you lose 100% of your money if you cancel. To not be penalized, most of the charter offers we received needed at least 28 days of notice. Sentient allows you to cancel with only 10 hours notice while Delta Private Jets and Jet Aviation have 24-hour windows before your flight. What’s more, all three only require 10 hours of advance notice to book, whereas to secure the rates we found for charter, immediate and nonrefundable payment was necessary. To make things as even as possible, we used the entry-level jet card prices for the three providers, so in other words their highest rates, as the more hours you buy, your hourly rate typically goes down.

 

So who won? Jet cards had four of the five lowest price options, including the lowest price – a light jet from Jet Aviation for $14,280 roundtrip. We were able to snag a 1991 light jet from a charter broker for $14,929 with light jets from Sentient Select (pre-2000) and Sentient Preferred (2000 or later) coming in with the third and fourth best prices.

 

When did our McGregor vs. Mayweather test jet cards had the six lowest prices we could find although in that case our New York to Las Vegas trip was focused on Midsize and SuperMid jets.

 

While we don’t know who will win the Kentucky Derby, jet cards (again) in this instance disproved the myth that they are necessarily more expensive than on-demand charter. One thing I always tell readers who are thinking about buying a jet card is if you buy a jet card, that doesn’t stop you from getting broker quotes for specific trips and using your card when you think it’s advantageous. Most cards are valid for at least two years and in some cases, funds never expire. I typically hear that 30-50% of regular private aviation users have multiple solutions so you might compare buying a jet card to an open marriage. Either way, if you do want to compare over 250 programs by more than 65 variables, click here.

Comparing On-Demand Charter vs. Jet Card Pricing 

Solution Provider/ Program Total Cost Minimum Lead Time to Book Size Year Leadtime to Cancel
Jet Card Jet Aviation $14,280 10 hours Light NA 24 hours
Broker Charter $14,929 Instant Light 1991 28 days
Jet Card Sentient Select $16,756 10 hours Light 1999 – 10 hours
Jet Card Sentient Preferred $18,727 10 hours Light 2000 + 10 hours
Jet Card Jet Aviation $19,460 10 hours Midsize NA 24 hours
Broker Charter $20,001 Instant Midsize 2001 48 hours
Broker Charter $21,204 Instant Light 1990 28 days
Charter Charter $21,333 Instant Light 1998 28 days
Jet Card Delta Private Jets $21,622 10 hours Light NA 24 hours
Jet Card Sentient Select $22,632 10 hours Midsize 1999 – 10 hours
Charter Charter $23,245 Instant Light 1998 At booking
Charter Charter $25,095 Instant Midsize 1990 28 days
Jet Card Sentient Preffered $25,195 10 hours Midsize 2000 + 10 hours
Charter Charter $25,401 Instant Light 1995 28 days
Jet Card Delta Private Jets $27,702 10 hours Midsize NA 24 hours

About the Author Doug Gollan

I am Founder and Editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, the only independent buyer's guide to jet card membership programs, and DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly luxury travel e-newsletter for private jet owners. I am also a contributor to Forbes.com