What’s the best fractional jet card?

Fractional jet cards are sourced from the fleets of companies that sell fractional ownership shares such as NetJets, Flexjet and Nicholas Air. But not all fractional share providers sell jet cards with PlaneSense as an example. .

By Doug Gollan, May 6, 2018

Fractional jet cards are sourced from the fleets of companies that sell fractional ownership shares such as NetJets, Flexjet and Nicholas Air. But not all fractional share providers sell jet cards with PlaneSense as an example.


When you buy a jet card, there are several sources for the airplanes you will be flying on. So before we get to fractional jet cards, let’s look at a quick overview. Charter broker are the mainstay of the jet card market. Broker cards access aircraft from charter operators, which are either management companies or fleet operators, that sell time on their aircraft to the brokers who market it in the form of jet cards. Sometimes this is done on an ad hoc basis for each trip, while the larger players have whittled it down to a select group of operators that meet specific standards and may have long-term arrangements either with the operator or select aircraft. Brokers may gain efficiency through either buying in bulk or essentially scheduling an aircraft for the trips of several different members they can link together. Sentient Jet, PJS Group, Air Partner and Magellan Jets are four examples of jet card brokers. They don’t own, operate or manage the planes you will be flying on.


Then you have the likes of VistaJet, Wheels Up and JetSuite that own the jets you will fly on, although the latter has also started to manage aircraft. Sometimes you can charter single trips from these companies. Sometimes you can’t with Wheels Up being an example of a company whose fleet you can only access via its jet card membership program.


Jet Linx, Clay Lacey Aviation and Delta Private Jets are examples of management companies that sell jet cards using time on aircraft they are managing for various owners. Hybrids like XOJET both sell cards based on aircraft it owns as well as brokers. Solairus mixes aircraft it manages and brokers for its jet cards. Then there are what are often referred to as fractional jet cards, which is a bit misleading.


A fractional jet card does not mean you are buying part of a jet card. With fractional jet cards, you are getting the entire jet card. It instead refers to the source of the aircraft you will be flying. Fractional jet cards are sourced from the fleet of operators who sell fractional shares and leases into the aircraft in their fleet.


Benefits of fractional ownership


Driven last century by Richard Santulli, the idea of fractional ownership was to expand the market of private aviation users to people and companies that couldn’t justify that cost and bother of owning an entire aircraft. In some cases, buyers of fractional shares do own their own planes, but often needed access to a second or third aircraft on a regular basis. While on-demand charter is always an option, the target customer for buying a fractional share wanted the consistency of ownership and didn’t want to spend time shopping brokers for each trip, viewing aircraft profiles and reviewing the various rules of each proffered jet. They also wanted the security that if there was a mechanical or their aircraft somehow got delayed downstream, they would be assured of getting where they were going, in other words, somebody was going to get them another aircraft.


How does fractional ownership work?


Fractional shares start at 1/16th of an aircraft, which equates to 50 hours of flying. The idea is that the aircraft has 800 hours of flight time annually. It may seem like a random number, but it was Santulli’s calculation more than 30 years ago, and it still the industry standard. Contracts can be as short as three years and extend to 10 years. While companies that sell fractional shares also provide lease options, the idea is you are buying that slice of an aircraft. If you are buying a quarter share in a $20 million jet, you are getting 200 hours per year of occupied flight hours (excluding positioning flights) for the duration of the agreement and paying $5 million to enter the program by buying your share of the plane. When the contract is up, you get back your portion of whatever the aircraft’s sale value minus transaction fees. When buying you also sign a management contract paying a monthly fee to cover operations and the pay an hourly rate for flight hours you fly. There are additional charges to cover things like your preferred catering. Some fractional ownership are happy with sandwiches, others want filet mignon and caviar.


At one time, the idea with fractional ownership fleets was each aircraft type was configured the exact same way and the cabins were each identical. The idea was like Marriott hotels of yesteryear. Whether you were in Hong Kong, Los Angeles or Milwaukee, you were going to get a similar experience. In other words, you couldn’t tell if you were in the aircraft you actually owned a piece of somebody else’s.


With fractional ownership, unlike most jet cards, you are accessing a specific aircraft type you bought into, for example, a Gulfstream G450, as opposed to a category such as Light or Midsize Jet which is typical with broker jet cards. To make it work, the providers needs several additional aircraft in each aircraft type so that even during peak periods there is enough capacity to satisfy the flying needs of owners, and contracts allow during those peak periods the operator discretion to move your flight times a few hours here or there. When push comes to shove, the fractional operator charters aircraft just like brokers to meet the needs of its owners.


All of the above said, there was still extra capacity in fleets – unsold shares. Fractional jet cards represent portions of aircraft not sold to an individual customer – owned by the operator or a third party. For example, Marquis Jet Partners, before being purchased by NetJets, was an independent company buying shares in the NetJets fleet and then selling them in 25 jet card portions.


Fractional Jet Card Benefits


So what are the plusses of buying a fractional jet card? For the most part, you are buying a specific aircraft type instead of just a category. For some people, it’s worth a premium. The aircraft you will be flying on is going to look similar both inside and out, and you will have the same standards of amenities for each flight. Fractional operators are essentially an unscheduled airline flying at the behest of their owners so your flight crew and cabin attendants all wear the same company uniform, have the same grooming standards, and you also know the company’s standards for aircraft safety and minimum experience requirements for the crew.


Fractional jet card pricing


What are the downsides for fractional jet cards? Some folks will say that jet card customers are second-class citizens maybe a bit like renting a condo. Expect higher hourly rates than a broker or managed fleet jet cards. You may also find the program rules are designed around the needs of owners. For example, Flexjet’s Challenger 350 jet card carries a steep 40% hourly surcharge for peak days. That’s because of the high demand from owners during the holidays. So if you do buy into a fractional program, take a hard look at peak day policies as well as the regular program. While opponents will say jet card fliers who buy fractional jet cards are more likely to find themselves on a chartered jet than a fractional owner, logistics may say otherwise.


Who sells fractional jet cards?


There are only a handful of fractional share operators as building out a national program is quite an undertaking. NetJets, Flexjet and Nicholas Air have national programs while Executive AirShare services markets in the Midwest and Northeast. The Flexjet programs are designed in large part to service its fractional owners who need more hours. In fact, corporate owners of shares use the jet cards to buy flight hours for executives’ personal use as a way of segregating personal travel from business-related flights. NetJets has a broad range of jet card products serving both North America and Europe. Nicholas Air and Executive AirShare both focus on Light and Midsize aircraft and both have turboprop programs with the former using the Pilatus PC-12 and the latter featuring the King Air 350i. Not all fractional share operators sell jet cards, PlaneSense being an example.


Fractional jet card providers represent just four of the nearly 40 jet card providers in the Private Jet Card Comparisons database, however, NetJets is the largest operator of private jets in the world with a fleet exceeding 700 and is synonymous with private jet travel, so even if you are just shopping for a jet card, chances are fractional jet card providers will be part of the companies you review. Of course, you can compare more than 250 jet card programs across over 65 variables by subscribing to Private Jet Card Comparisons.

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