There are over 50 different brands selling private jet memberships. Here’s a look at who’s behind these providers.

Since the Great Recession, the number of jet card sellers has more than doubled. During the same period, annual deliveries of new jets remain about 40% below record levels. The number of national fractional share providers is down to just two, NetJets and Flexjet, both selling jet cards too. In Jet Card Buyer’s Tip #1, we look at the breadth of companies selling jet cards.

Who’s selling card memberships?

As of January 2019, there are new 28 companies that started selling jet cards since 2008, as in they didn’t exist before. Add to that 14 previously existing companies launching jet card products during the same span, Of course, the category is relatively new. Sentient Jet founded the concept back in 1999.

Jet card sellers source their fleets in various ways. Some act as brokers (Sentient, as an example) sourcing aircraft from operators, others use their own fleets (JetSuite, VistaJet, Nicholas Air, Wheels Up), aircraft they manage for owners (Delta Private Jets, Jet Linx, Solairus, Clay Lacy), aircraft that are part of fractional share fleets (NetJets, Flexjet, Airshare, Northern Jet, Silverhawk) and in some cases a mix (XOJET).

NetJets sells jet cards, too

Several companies are subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies. NetJets, best know for making fractional ownership popular, and Executive Jet Management, are wholly owned subsidiaries of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Jet Aviation is part of General Dynamics (which also owns Gulfstream) while Delta Private Jets is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines.

There are only two jet card sellers that are publicly traded as stand alone companies. Air Partner, founded in 1961, trades on the London Stock Exchange. Star Jets International LLC, founded by Blue Star Jets founder Ricky Sitomer, trades in the OTC market.

90% of sellers are privately held

While 90% of jet card sellers are privately held, even among this large group there is significant diversity.

Directional Aviation is the power behind Sentient and Flexjet

Sentient Jet, Flexjet, Skyjet and PrivateFly are all part of Kenn Ricci’s Directional Aviation family of companies, estimated to have around $2.5 billion in annual sales. Private Jet Card Comparisons pegs it as the largest of the privately held providers. Ricci has been a staple in business aviation for decades. In 2017 he was presented with the Living Legends of Aviation Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award. The late founder of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher and Jet Blue founder David Neeleman are past honorees. Ricci’s four current flying companies have all been acquired since 2012, PrivateFly, the latest addition just last September. Sentient, Skyjet, and PrivateFly are all managed by a single CEO Andrew Collins out of Boston. Flexjet, which sells only two cards and mainly focuses on fractional share sales and leases, operates separately under CEO Mike Silvestro based at Directional’s Cleveland headquarters.

Vista Group encompasses VistaJet and 2018 acquisition XOJET and is led by Forbes billionaire Thomas Flohr, also a Legends honoree. Flohr’s vision is providing a non-ownership option catering to global travelers with white glove service. Both own fleets, all super midsize and larger. XOJET sells jet cards off-fleet on midsize and light jets via a network of preferred charter operators. 

Wheels Up is using the King Air 350i to build its membership business

Wheels Up, founded by Marquis Jet Partners co-founder Kenny Dichter, uses a fleet of nearly 100 aircraft, mainly the King Air 350i. While it owns its fleet, operations are contracted to Gama Aviation, an IS-BAO Stage 3 operator. The company has a fixed rate program for the Citation Excel/XLS and recently added the Citation X to its fleet. It said it will launch an off-fleet light jet card in the near future.

JetSuite was founded by Jet Blue and Virgin Atlantic Airways veteran Alex Wilcox and now counts Jet Blue, its founder David Neeleman and most recently Qatar Airways as investors. In addition to operating a fleet of Embraer’s Phenom 300s and 100s, it manages a Legacy 650 and recently said it will be adding more large-cabin aircraft. It also relaunched its SuiteKey jet card program last year.

Nicholas Air sells a variety of jet card based on hours and deposits on its owned fleet of new aircraft, which spans from the Pilatus PC-12 and Phenom 100 to the Citation Latitude.

Management companies Clay Lacy (regionally) and Jet Linx Aviation (from nearly 20 bases spanning from Scottsdale to Boston) each sell jet cards on aircraft they manage for owners.

Most sellers are charter brokers

Most of the privately held companies are brokers. Air Charter Service with 440 employees and 20 offices worldwide is the biggest, although it only launched its first fixed rate jet card in 2018. Most brokers have less than 20 employees. With smaller brokers you are often dealing directly with the owners.

Each has advantages and disadvantages, which highlights when choosing a jet card provider, there are lots of differences beyond hourly rates. As part of the buying process, after you’ve narrowed down the options to the four or five providers that best fit your needs (subscribe to Private Jet Card Comparisons and we can help), budget time for getting to know you conversations. Treat the process like interviewing other professionals, like interior designers or financial planners. With bigger providers, ask your salesperson to arrange calls with various executives. Talk to financial, operations, member services or procurement executives so you can have in-depth discussions about issues that are important to you.

You also should get a feel for financial stability and protection. Escrow accounts are an important option not all providers offer. In some cases, because it’s highly unlikely the provider will be going away within the 12 to 24 months you will run through your deposit. With providers where you can’t ascertain financial strength, it’s something that deserves strong consideration.

Of course, the first step is getting to know the company you maybe buying from.

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