Air Partner's big plans for growing its jet card business are not big

By Doug Gollan, May 24, 2018

There’s a lot to like about Air Partner’s jet card program, but don’t tell your friends


Jet cards are in a bull market for several reasons in our opinion. They are the easy way to charter. Once you find the right card program (which is what we help you do) getting airborne is literally one call away. In many ways, jet cards are really the Uber of private aviation. You already know all the various policies – what’s included, what’s not. You know the standards for sourcing aircraft and the minimum requirements for the pilots who will fly you. Jet cards also don’t require the three to five-year commitment that fractional ownership entails, and once you figured out which program is a fit, it’s a relatively easy transaction compared to the consultants and multiple contracts buying a share entails. That’s why many jet card providers rightfully have lofty goals for growth. Air Partner is not one of them. 


You can read our full Jet Card Insider on Air Partner report here, but during a media lunch in New York with U.S. president David McCown, steady as she goes continues to be the growth strategy. Air Partner is a U.K.-based publicly traded company with a number of business interests beyond jet cards and on-demand charter. It has a steady flow of government charter business, which insulated it through the Great Recession. It has a healthy business working with multinationals on big corporate incentives moving as many as 2,000 top performers in one fell swoop. It flew German orchestra Bamberg Symphony from New York to Daytona, Florida when its scheduled flight was cancelled due to a snowstorm.


Its Emergency Planning Division helped evacuate people before the last year’s tragic hurricanes that hit Texas, the Caribbean and Florida. It also worked on bringing in supplies and emergency workers afterward.  In the past, Air Partner has evacuated thousands of people from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran, West Africa, Afghanistan, Indonesia, East Timor, Lebanon and Nepal as well. Its Remarketing division helps airlines, banks and the Super Rich sell airplanes they don’t want to.


Baines Simmons, also part of the group, specializes aviation safety management from providing consulting on safety culture to compliance for aircraft operators. Clockwork Research specializes in fatigue risk management. Anyway, you get the point Air Partner is a diversified company although it revolves around aviation.


Still, aren’t all businesses that have a good product supposed to be strategizing to maximize sales and take market share? The Air Partner card offerings tick the boxes for both guaranteed availability and fixed one-way pricing. There are also primary service areas in both Europe and North America making it a good choice if you need to fly on either side of the pond. It includes deicing, which makes it attractive if you fly to winter weather destinations during the winter. There’s is also the fact that you can start at just 10 hours and you can have any unused funds refunded at any time, something that McCown says has happened “once or twice.”


Funds also never expire and you can add to your account at any time. There are no membership fees, annual dues, fuel surcharges, or CPI escalators and you are charged for planned flight time – not actual time, so you don’t have to stress out over ATC delays. You can upgrade or downgrade size of aircraft without interchange fees. There’s also a 20% roundtrip discount, call out is 12 hours standard and 96 hours peak, and the peak day surcharge is only 5%. Europe has no peak days by the way although the U.S. has 56.


There are a few shortcomings. As a broker program, Air Partner is subject to what the operators and the owners of the jets they fly want to set as policies. For example, it can’t guarantee to transport pets at your fixed rate, however, the program does allow members to use their funds for on-demand charter which will then source an airplane that loves your pet as much as you do. McCown says owners of top-line aircraft don’t necessarily want your pet on the plane (If I had a really nice plane, no offense, but I wouldn’t), so the inference is that if you don’t need to bring Fido you are going to get a nicer plane than broker programs that say any pet every time. To get guaranteed WiFi is also an add-on.


How much does Air Partner’s Jet Card cost?


At any rate, we selected Air Partner as one of our Best Jet Cards For Summer Travel because it doesn’t have lots of nickel and dime charges. Its entry-level price of $47,000 for 10 hours on a light jet makes it a very nice way to dip your toes in at the shallow end of the pool knowing if the program is not for you, you can get your unused money back.


While Air Partner doesn’t disclose exactly how many jet card members it has, McCown does say the program works nicely because it’s not in the thousands. In other words, with a finite source or aircraft that meet its standards at the rates it offers, it would be hard to maintain its flexible approach if the program gets too big. I guess I can understand that. It’s much more difficult to provide attentive 5-star service at a 5,000 room luxury hotel than one with just 150 rooms.


Another area Air Partner runs counter to market trends is its lack of online booking or an app, although he says members should see something in the next year. The thought is that chartering either on-demand or via jet cards is a high touch business with lots of variables that can be better handled via phone, texts and emails. There is 24/7/365 customer service. That said, Air Partner isn’t a bunch of Luddites. McCown ticks off more than a half-dozen areas where Air Partner is applying technology that he believes adds value largely to account management, the stuff that will make your PA and finance team happy.


With its service areas on both sides of the North Atlantic, we’d like to see Air Partner offer fixed-one way pricing and guaranteed availability between key U.S. and European cities, and we are not talking about 12 hours lead time. We think something like seven days or maybe even 30 days would make sense. We see a number of subscribers who know their dates for travel across the pond months ahead. So I guess the point is, if you do sign up with Air Partner and you do like the program, don’t tell too many other people.

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