Among the many differences between flying privately and commercially are the rules that govern one-way and roundtrip fares.
One regular comment I get from subscribers is that there is a lot of jargon and lingo specific to jet cards and on-demand charter. In some ways one-way pricing may be among the most straightforward, but that’s only because roundtrip is confusing.
If you fly commercially from time to time, you know that roundtrip fares are sometimes cheaper than one-way tariffs, and roundtrip prices often have requirements that are designed to prevent business travelers from using them. In other words, airlines use the way they price their seats to maximize yield trying to charge more to people who are willing to pay more but still attracting folks who want the lowest possible price. It means sitting next to one person who paid $800 to fly from New York to Dallas could be another person who paid $80. The goal is to fill the highest percentage of seats at the highest possible fares.
Private aviation charter pricing is based on the cost of operating the flight, including things like crew. Roundtrip pricing on the charter market is often 30% less than one-way pricing when you are chartering a jet. However, the discounted roundtrip pricing doesn’t mean just beginning and starting in the same place. It usually means returning on the same day and using the same airplane and completing the trip within the duty limits of your crew. By doing so a local operator saves the expense of having to reposition the aircraft back to base, something that is built into one-way rates, which are essentially flights that don’t qualify as roundtrips.
Of course, it’s not that easy, and depending on how your travel, can be quite advantageous. For example, the qualification for roundtrip pricing is usually at least two billable flight hours per day, on consecutive days, so it could be a trip that involves four or five stops spread over four days, but one where you had a total of two billable flight hours each day.
That said, different companies have different policies, so one company might allow you to qualify for a roundtrip discount for a five-day trip as long as there were 10 billable hours. Some providers will allow you to buy up to the two-hour minimum to qualify for roundtrip discount. In all cases, your trip will need to be with the same aircraft and flight crew. That means depending on how your provider crews its fleet, the maximum away time might be from three to seven days.
When it comes to jet cards, roundtrip discounts across the over 300 programs tracked by Private Jet Card Comparisons varies from zero to 40%, so if your travel might qualify for these discounts, comparing roundtrip discounts and qualifying restrictions can save lots of money. For example, flying 50 hours at a $8,000 one-way rate would cost $400,000. Even a 20% discount would save $80,000.
A primary attraction of buying a jet card is one-way pricing. Typically one-way pricing means as long as you stay within your Primary Service Area you won’t be charged a ferry fee.
In other words, you fly from New York to Palm Beach and stay for a week, you pay your normal hourly rate whereas if you chartered on-demand the operator would build in the empty leg ferry flights into your trip quote.
One-way pricing is particularly attractive if you are flying to or from places where there are few charter jets based or during low demand times when there probably is no revenue passengers that operator might be able to pick up after they drop you off.
Whereas local operators probably are the best chance of having the best price for a qualifying roundtrip, floating fleet operators, where the aircraft and pilots aren’t tied to a base, are your best chance to beat jet card pricing for one-ways. The best place to find those prices is to imagine a giant U beginning in New York and running through South Florida across Texas and up through Southern California and Las Vegas to Northern California. Then you have to think about the time of year and the direction of travel. One-way on-demand rates on a Friday from New York to Palm Beach during the winter are going to be higher than a Thursday from Miami to New York when the aircraft might have needed to reposition to a northern point to pick up some sunbirds anyway.
Jet cards mitigate the insanity of trying both nail down the best charter prices and at the same time make sure you are getting an operator, aircraft and pilots who meet your standards. By having fixed one-way hourly rates and roundtrip discounts or rates, you know ahead of time how much trips will cost you as long as you follow lead times for making your reservations, which can be 10 hours or less. Another advantage many jet cards bring is more generous cancellation policies than on-demand charter.