The by-the-seat private jet membership program is being sued for not delivering on its promises of free flights
JetSmarter appears to be headed for stormy skies once again. On Friday a couple from New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the Ft. Lauderdale-based seller of seats on scheduled private jet flights. The complaint by Kathleen and Ronald Jackson alleges they were misled by a salesperson and after spending $23,000 with the promise of free private jet flights, they learned that for the flights they wanted there were, in fact, additional charges – some more than $5,000 per seat, per flight.
The Jacksons apparently purchased two memberships in December 2017 with the understanding that they would be able to fly on the JetSmarter scheduled private jet charter flights at no additional costs. After signing up they say they were notified that there were per-leg charges ranging from $990 to $5,885. They are seeking at least $250,000, plus punitive damages, counsel fees, and additional relief.
The action comes as JetSmarter members on the website Flyertalk say they are contemplating a Class Action lawsuit claiming that the most recent changes the provider made during May and June have dramatically impacted the value of the memberships they purchased.
In the filing, the Jacksons claim that the additional fees JetSmarter wanted to charge were such that they couldn’t use the service and instead had to pay for commercial airline tickets for multiple flights to Europe, Morocco, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami. The eight-page action filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey does not mention if the defendants tried to obtain a refund for their membership. The lawyer representing the Jacksons responded to our request for comment by saying he was on vacation this week and did not answer our written questions as we publish this article.
In the filing was correspondence from a JetSmarter salesperson to the Jacksons that read in part, “On December 1 (2017), Jetsmarter membership fees are going up. If you join prior, pay $11,000/YR + A ONE TIME $4,000 INITIATION FEE. You can get seats on private planes – with no additional fees – to cities including NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Vegas, SF, Europe, the Middle East and more. Join now.” The lawsuit also states JetSmarter charged the Jacksons $11,500 per membership, $500 more than they had been told.
When JetSmarter first launched flights five years ago members paid an annual membership fee and they were able to book free seats on all of the scheduled private flights using a token system. Longer flights took an additional token. Members could also scan the App to find empty legs, repositioning flights where an aircraft is flown from where it dropped off its last past paying passengers to pick up the next ones or in some cases back to its base. For empty legs, the giddy members would have the entire aircraft. A private jet flight that might normally cost $10,000 or $20,000 was free!
JetSmarter Changes Upset Members
Since then, terms have gradually become more restrictive. For flights over three hours, there were additional fees added except for some top-tier members who were paying as much as $50,000 per year. Then empty leg flights were reduced from having the entire aircraft to a set number of seats. Earlier this year, JetSmarter began charging members for empty legs on a per seat basis.
Bigger changes followed in the past quarter. Entry level prices that had been hiked the year before were dropped to $4,950 per year, plus a $3,000 initiation fee in what the company said was an effort to attract more members. Then came a bigger change: No more free flights! Even flights under three hours would be charged on a per flight basis, although the company said rates would be comparable to first class fares on scheduled airlines. For the most part, they were higher.
That wasn’t it – weeks later JetSmarter announced it would allow non-members to book flights albeit at higher rates, however, since that point the company has offered a “Christmas in July” promotion allowing non-members to book seats at member rates.
JetSmarter had said it was protecting members who signed up under the promise that their flights under three hours would be free, however, on Flyertalk posters are saying it has become harder to find free seats. Poster EricSM wrote on June 25, “Nearly every seat on every flight is now a pay ticket unless you’re booking far into the future when a new block of flights open up for the subsequent month. This model will either click if people are willing to pay the $700+ on regular routes or highly more likely not if they won’t. Then it becomes a question of when they burn through the rest of their cash and it will be over. Unless someone understands this in a way much differently than I do I don’t see any other scenario.”
On June 23, Flyertalker combakkid wrote in part, “Next up…Class action lawsuit? I think execs are well aware a change like this will eliminate at least 90% of their customers.” On June 25, arthckr posted, “I’m hearing the words ‘class action’ more lately.”
JetSmarter doubter Peter Maestralers, CEO of Airstream Jets, a charter broker which also sells jet cards, has previously posted articles on his website questioning if the sharing economy start-up is a Ponzi Scheme. Yesterday, he teased a new, yet to be published post which he has titled, “JetSmarter (Part 4): A Fyre Festival in the Sky.”
Still, JetSmarter members seem hopeful that if JetSmarter can’t make it work, somebody else will. Arthckr on Flyertalk noted, “I really do like this flight share model and I really do hope it succeeds in the future with a company who’s learned from these mistakes, but if these changes end up sticking, I’ll be asking for my money back or filing suit.”
JetSmarter did not respond to our request for comment about the lawsuit. You can read a copy of the 385590154-D-nj-Complaint-Jackson-v-JetSmarter