When Wheels Up’s Kenny Dichter told Squawk Box on CNBC in January that it was working on strategic initiatives, common wisdom in the industry was the founder and CEO was following a similar move by XOJET in 2018, which ultimately led to its acquisition by Vista Global and merger with JetSmarter.
It hasn’t turned out that way.
Shortly after that, it was an off-fleet light jet program, filling the gap between its King Air 350i and midsize Citation Excel/XLS fleet.
Then in June came the acquisition of Travel Management Company, mostly known as TMC Jets and its fleet of two-dozen Hawker 400XPs.
Last week Wheels Up announced it raised $128 million in equity capital giving it a valuation of more than $1.1 billion.
Now, more news and another gap filled. Wheels Up has launched a rate capped, guaranteed availability super-midsize program using the Citation Sovereign, Citation X, and Hawker 4000.
“The big takeaway is that Wheels Up is a total private aviation solution to fit anyone’s travel needs through our multiple membership options and aircraft types that range from the from the King Air 350i to super mid jets and everything in between,” Dichter tells Private jet Card Comparisons.
The super-midsize members-only program uses both the Wheels Up fleet – its six Citation Xs – as well as off-fleet via operators that meet its partner safety standards. Gama Aviation, which owns top safety ratings from IS-BAO (Stage 3), Wyvern (Wingman) and Argus (Platinum), operates Wheels Up owned aircraft.
The new super-mid program offers capped rates and guaranteed availability on non-peak days with a 72-hour lead-time for reservations and includes deicing. There is a 2.5-hour segment minimum, but no taxi time charges since each trip is priced not to exceed the rate cap.
The super mid jet category hourly rate is capped $9,295 plus 7.5% FET and service area is the Continental U.S. This capped rate means that’s the maximum price, and in many cases will be less depending on where and when you are flying. There are no formal long-flight or roundtrip discounts since the actual dynamic rates take those discounts into account.
The new offering provides a nice complement to the eight-seat Excel/XLS with a 60-minute taxi time inclusive minimum, so clearly, the super-midsize program is aimed at customers who want longer nonstop flights, including coast-to-coast range.
Annual membership is $17,500 in the first year and then $8,500 annually and includes four authorized lead passengers. The King Air is priced at $4,695 per hour excluding FET, while light jets are $5,795 plus FET, and the Citation Excel/XLS is $7,695 per hour on the same basis.
While Wheels Up is a pay-as-you-go program, you can guarantee availability on 60 peak days by making a deposit. For example, a $50,000 deposit provides 330 guaranteed days on the King Air and at $100,000 you get 365 days of guaranteed availability. For $200,000 you can guarantee availability 365 days on the Excel/XLS and super-mid program as well.
Members are able to reserve a Wheels Up Citation X on an as-available basis at $9,695 per hour, plus FET.
Earlier this year Dichter said he expects his light jet to go nationwide. Currently, it is available for departures east of the Mississippi.
The value of Wheels Up isn’t always apparent at first blush.
If you are making short hops, such as Los Angeles to Las Vegas or New York to Washington D.C. with eight people, most category jet cards require you to fly in a super-midsize to guarantee eight seats. The King Air 350i seats eight and eight golf bags and is $4,695 per hour, so about half the price of a jet in many cases, and only minutes slower on flights under 250 miles.
Its Citation Excel/XLS fleet also has eight seats, so again, if you need the entire capacity, you need to compare pricing against the super-midsize rates of most jet card programs, since the typical midsize guarantee is seven seats.
Even its off-fleet light jet program offers seven seats compared to the typical six, so if you are flying seven people, many programs require a midsize jet.
Add to that top-line safety ratings, 60-minute minimums on everything except off-fleet light jets and super mids, the latter which are meant for longer flights anyway, de-icing included, guaranteed pets and Wifi.
What’s still not clear is what’s next as IPO rumors continue. What’s clear is in just over six months Wheels Up is now a much more well-rounded program that can serve a vaster array on one’s private aviation needs.
Compare Wheels Up with over 50 jet card membership providers here.