The inventor of the Jet Card 20 years later finds itself atop the growing category it created

Founded in 1999, Sentient Jet lays claim as inventor of the jet card. Twenty years later the company is no longer a start-up trying to prove a concept, but with 6,000 members a category leader, by our estimates definitely in the top three in revenues out of more than 50 providers. It’s also is part of the Directional Aviation family of companies which includes flight providers Flexjet, Skyjet and PrivateFly (acquired in September) as well Nextant Aerospace (remanufacturing of business jets), Sojourn Aviation (aircraft sales), N1 (aircraft engine parts), Air Services (off-wing services), and Constant Aviation (aircraft modifications and structural repairs). In 2017, Ken Ricci, privately held Directional’s chairman told Forbes the company had $2.5 billion in sales and around 3,000 employees. Sentient and Skyjet revenues were north of $300 million last year.

Sentient Jet Overview

In a market where 40% of the broker jet card providers we track have under 20 employees, Sentient Jet with a headcount of around 100 and the breadth of Directional brings scale to the party. Andrew Collins, who serves as CEO of the Sentient, Skyjet and PrivateFly group, says Directional is one of the industry’s biggest purchasers of Part 135 charter. Aggregating so much demand means Sentient is often buying blocks of time on an aircraft instead of single segments. That gives it three key advantages, including low lead time for reservations (only 10 hours), flexibility (only 10 hours for cancellations) and low segment and daily minimums that include taxi time (60 minutes for light and midsize jets, 90 minutes for super midsize and large cabin aircraft). For business travelers who need to change plans on short notice and those of you who make shorter flights it means even when Sentient’s hourly rates are higher, the actual cost of flights is lower than cards with higher minimums.

Sentient also takes a consumer friendly approach to pricing. The numbers you will find on its website (and in the spreadsheets here at Private Jet Card Comparisons) include 7.5% Federal Excise Tax and deicing. There are no fuel surcharges and no CPI escalators. There are also no membership fees or dues. From a delivery standpoint, Sentient was Business Jet Traveler’s winner for overall customer satisfaction including a 100% satisfaction score.

The Jet Cards

Sentient offers nine jet different cards in increments of 25 hours. There are two cards for each aircraft size category (light, midsize and large) except super midsize which has three. In each category, Preferred refers to aircraft manufactured in 2000 or later. Select offers aircraft delivered 1999 or before. The ninth card – SJ25+ is for super midsize aircraft with guaranteed Wifi. Collins says to expect a similar large cabin card sometime this year.

In a curious pricing twist, the SJ25+ super midsize card with Wifi card is priced lower ($224,275) than both the super midsize Preferred ($249,275) and Select cards ($227,050). That’s because the latter two only exist to provide a guaranteed hourly rate that can be used if you buy one of the other cabin categories and need to trade up or down to a Super Midsize. If you are buying the SJ25+, you also can trade up or down without interchange fees. It’s a bit confusing if you are just browsing.

Collins says the typical customer runs through their deposit in eight months. Aside from infrequent promotions, the minimum commitment is 25 hours and funds are non-refundable.

Part of the Sentient offering is an impressive array of lifestyle partners. The 2018 catalog offered over $125,000 in discounts and freebies, including free nights at luxury hotels and waivers on partner memberships and so forth.

Safety

In terms of the planes you will be flying on, Sentient uses what is referred to as a closed fleet of aircraft. Out of the more than 7,000 Part 135 aircraft and 2,000 operators that can be sourced for charter, Sentient has certified over 1,200 planes from 160 operators. With the operators it uses, not all aircraft of each operator are used by Sentient. The company will not go outside of Sentient Certified aircraft under any situation. It also audits aircraft it uses twice a year with inspectors based in Los Angeles, Teterboro and Westchester County Airport, a good way to catch jets coming and going through these high traffic ports.

Sentient has an additional team of five directors who spend much of their time on the road visiting the operators Sentient uses. During those visits, in addition to technical and operational audits, the company takes photographs of cabin interiors and verifies amenities the operator has listed for each aircraft such as WiFi. The Sentient Certified safety program is built like an airplane with multiple redundancies. Crews for each flight are run through the system three times before departure. Average flying time for captains is 9,400 hours. The company has a Safety Advisory Council chaired by Tom Haueter, former NTSB Office of Aviation Safety Director and Greg Phillips, former lead investigator. The company also re-inspects its operators after material changes, such as ownership, new chief pilot or executive staff. He says that these changes can impact culture at an operator, and Sentient would prefer to put that operator on hold until it can review the company first hand. Sentient uses its own internal process in place of touting ARGUS, Wyvern and IS-BAO ratings in its marketing.

Sentient Jet Key Selling Points

– Guaranteed availability and fixed one-way pricing, including Europe in addition to North America

– Pricing transparency

– Competitive hourly rates

– Lead-time for reservations

– Lead-time for cancellations

– Taxi time is included in minimums

– Lower segment and daily minimums than most other broker programs

– Deicing is included

– High customer ratings

– Comprehensive safety program

– 15% discount for qualifying roundtrips

– Low 5% peak day surcharge and only 21 peak days

– Industry leading lifestyle partnerships offers some serious savings and are worth taking into consideration before buying

Sentient Jet Shortcomings

– Entry-level programs start at 25 hours

– Program is non-refundable

– No fixed rate turboprop options

Sentient Jet Toss-ups

– Wifi is only guaranteed on super midsize

Final Thoughts

We’d love to see Sentient come out with a 15-hour card for new members. While it offers an escrow account option and funds never expire, we see enough people who want to move from on-demand charter to a jet card but are only looking for less than 25 hours to start. In looking at its ratings from Business Jet Traveler, every respondent rated it Excellent/Very Good in terms of Overall Satisfaction.

In a recent survey of Private Jet Card Comparisons subscribers, those who bought from Sentient used value, safety, perks, service and transparency to describe why. One subscriber wrote, “Decent hourly rates…no two-hour minimum per leg like other companies. For short New England and New York City trips Sentient made the most sense. (I’ve) used them before, and I always liked their customer service.” Whereas as only 30% of PJCC subscribers say a jet card is their only private aviation solution, with those who use Sentient it’s 70%, which probably speaks to both the flexibility to upgrade and downgrade cabin size as well the attributes we’ve outlined in this report.

Use our New QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING Tool to compare fully loaded Jet Card flight costs and Safety Standards in seconds. Click here to get started…

About the Author Doug Gollan

I am Founder and Editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, the only independent buyer's guide to jet card membership programs, and DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly luxury travel e-newsletter for private jet owners. I am also a contributor to Forbes.com