Wheels Up highlights the time savings of jet card membership for summer travel plans

Wheels Up membership programs start at $4,295 per hour for a King Air 350i.

By Doug Gollan, May 6, 2018

Wheels Up features its own fleet of Citation X, Citation Excel/XLS and King Air 350i


Of the more than 20 new jet card programs launched since the Great Recession, Wheels Up has been one of the most notable providers. Founded by Kenny Dichter, who in 2001 started Marquis Jet Partners before selling it to NetJets, Wheels Up can be credited with popularizing the use of turboprops and a membership model. 

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How much does the Wheels Up membership cost?


While traditionally jet card programs were sold in increments of hours or dollars. You buy a 25-hour jet card or you buy a $100,000 program, and in fact, Wheels Up has deposit programs that range from $50,000 to $400,000, Wheels Up membership includes a membership fee of $17,500 for families or individuals or $29,000 for businesses as a starter. Currently annual renewals are $14,500 and $8,500 respectively. After you pay to join, Wheels Up also allows you to pay as you go, meaning you would only pay for your actual trips when you are going to take the trips. If you choose a deposit program, the more you pay the fewer peak days, as few as 10 as opposed to 65 for pay as you go members. While there isn’t a peak day surcharge, you don’t have guaranteed availability on peak days. The program also includes deicing, which if you are doing a lot of winter weather flying can be significant. If you are a member of Costco, you get a cash card for $3,500 when buying your membership through the big box retailer.


How much does Wheels Up cost?


Based on the program you choose, Wheels Up hourly rates for the King Air 350i start at $4,295 and $7,495 for the Citation Excel/XLS including 7.5% Federal Excise Tax (FET). We haven’t seen rates or policies yet for the new Citation X fleet but current segment and daily minimum is an attractive 60 minutes.


Where can you fly with Wheels Up?


The King Air 350i is the backbone of the Wheels Up fleet and while turboprops are now part of several other card providers, including Nicholas Air, Concord Private Jet, Paramount Business Aviation, Executive AirShare and StraightLine Private Air as examples, Dichter gets credit for erasing the stigma of props versus jets by comparing the King Air 350i to the durable jeep.

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We just received a promotional email from Wheels Up and it provides good insight into the provider’s sweet spot. The three city pairs the company highlights are Carlsbad, California to Las Vegas, Nashville to Panama City, Florida and Philadelphia to Hilton Head. Not only does the email compare travel time via private aircraft to commercial airlines where you end up committing an extra two hours for the airport experience at either end, but there is also a comparison to driving time. For example, a 260-minute drive to Vegas is just 60 minutes flying privately while seven hours on the road from Tennessee to Florida in a 90-minute flight. “With the King Air 350i, you can turn grueling 7-hour drives into easy 1-hour private flights at a cost that makes sense—all while landing minutes from your final destination at airports where other private planes can’t,” the copy reads.


The email we received reads, “Does your summer travel solution check all the boxes?” While critics may hit Wheels Up on the membership fee and hourly rates, the Wheels Down program includes significant benefit featuring partnerships and discounts with Canyon Ranch, Disney, Inspirato, Ermenegildo Zegna, Hertz, Kwiat, MGM Resorts, PXG, Squaw Valley, Telluride, Barton & Gray and more plus access to exclusive experiences throughout the worlds of sports, business, culture and entertainment (e.g. Super Bowl, Masters, Art Basel and exclusive intimate events with Wheels Up Ambassadors and celebrities).


While Wheels Up doesn’t operate its fleet, the operator it has contract GAMA Aviation is Wyvern Wingman, ARGU Platinum and IS-BAO Stage 3, the highest level which each safety firm. There is also an in-house EVP of safety at Wheels Up. Pilots need to have 2,500 hours minimum, there are always two pilots. Each pilot must hold an FAA Airline Transport Pilot license (the highest available) and each pilot must receive simulator-based flight training twice yearly. Further, both pilots must be captain qualified and type rated in the aircraft. Last year Wheels Up raised over $200 million it plans to use for expansion.

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