Each week I have the opportunity to help out Private Jet Card Comparisons’ subscribers identify the jet card programs that best fit their needs. It can be a big investment, ranging from $50,000 to over $500,000 annually. To help me help them, I ask that they fill out our brief VVIP Jet Card Decider form which asks them a bit about their planned private travel, including basics such as where they are going, when, how long they are going for, how many people they are traveling with, will there be pets or unaccompanied minors, do they need WiFi, if there is any oversize luggage, are they interested in turboprop solutions, and preferences for specific aircraft types.
I also ask if they want guaranteed availability and fixed one-way pricing. While I would estimate that probably 60% say yes, many of the others either write in they don’t know or what’s that?
Every industry has its lingo. I remember decades ago when the cruise industry was still in its early stages, they realized defining accommodations as inside or outside cabins was problematic. After all, who wanted to sleep on the “outside” of the ship. Today you will find the term used for outside cabins is mostly along the lines of “ocean view.”
When it comes to jet cards it means that per your contract your provider guarantees an aircraft within a set time, often referred as “call-out” but more simply the lead time required for making your flight reservation. Typical call-outs run from as little as six hours to three days and can stretch to seven days, or 168 hours during designated peak days. The gist is if you call to book your flight outside that window, you are guaranteed a jet. In some cases, your provider will have to go to extra expense to obtain one. Of course, if you need to fly on shorter notice, your provider will do its best, but it could well mean a higher rate.
When jet cards were born and ever since, fixed one-way rates were one of the key selling points. Simply put, a fixed one-way rate is a contracted hourly rate so you know what you will pay in advance. For many jet cards, rates are priced by cabin size – light, midsize, super midsize and large, or in some cases by specific aircraft type. So typical you might find a jet card advertising a fixed one-way rate of $5,500 or something to that effect.
Your one-way rate means you don’t have to pay ferry fees to reposition your aircraft before or after your trip, something you pay for with on-demand charter. In other words, if you are flying from Des Moines to Oklahoma City or markets where the provider might have to fly an aircraft to pick you up and then back to its base or somewhere else for its next flight, having fixed one-way rates can save lots of money. If you are using a jet card for your business and you deposit $250,000, having a fixed one-way rate means you have a pretty good idea how far your money will go versus dynamic pricing where you are paying different rates for each flight. Many jet card providers that offer fixed one-way rates offer discounts for qualifying roundtrips since they are less likely to have a repositioning leg, hence are more efficient to operate.
If you have guaranteed availability but don’t have fixed rates, it means your provider will get you an aircraft, but it will be priced at a market rate which if you are traveling on peak days or busy periods, or possibly trying to escape a hurricane can be much higher than you expected. At the same time, having fixed one-way rates doesn’t do much good if you call up and your provider says there is no availability. In other words, like a horse and carriage, guaranteed availability and fixed one-way rates are more effective when you get both.
There are a growing number of jet cards that provide one or neither but not both. These programs do generally provide traditional jet card benefits such as service recovery at your contracted price, ease of booking since you have already transferred the money, set standards for aircraft and pilots so you don’t have to spend time reviewing various options.
Proponents of dynamic pricing or on-demand charter will argue that the costs of guaranteeing availability at a fixed hourly rate is simply spreading the costs across all members so that a broker will be able to beat your fixed jet card rate. I’ve tested this thesis several times and found it to be a 50/50 proposition. In other words, sometimes I could get better on-demand pricing from brokers than the rates from leading jet card providers, but in other instances, the jet cards had lower prices.
If you are flying from or to airports without a lot of private jet traffic, chances are a jet card is going to be more cost-effective as your on-demand trips would likely include some type of ferry fees. If you are flying in busier markets such as between New York and South Florida, a broker is likely to have a better chance to beat jet card pricing, however, remember a lot has to do when you are traveling. In the winter flying on a Thursday or Friday south is a high-demand period. If you wanted to fly from Palm Beach to New York on a winter Friday, no so much, so better pricing.
Other jet card benefits include the aforementioned service recovery. With on-demand charter unless you are a significant customer, if there is mechanical or a pilot gets sick, chances are you will get a requote, which since it’s last minute can be expensive. Through no fault of your own, you now have to pay more. Jet cards generally provide a replacement aircraft like or better at your contracted fixed rate, so they take the hit.
In terms of booking, anyone can book a quickly charter flight if they don’t care who the operator is and the qualifications of the pilots. Again, jet card providers – and this is something we cover in our comparisons – have sourcing standards for planes and flight crews, so you know what you are getting. With on-demand charter, you end up getting several quotes and then have to review each option, the plane, when it was refurbished, any particular restrictions and varying cancellation policies.
I think the place jet card antagonists get it wrong is believing buying a jet card is entering into a marriage. I would estimate 50% of jet card users have more than one private aviation solution. In other words, use your jet card for trips where you think it is providing advantageous pricing or you just don’t have time to spend the time it takes for on-demand charter. If you are convinced you can beat your jet card hourly rates for certain flights, use it for those trips. In other words, jet cards should be viewed as a tool that fulfills certain parts of your private travel needs, just like on-demand charter.