Everyone wants to fly privately, says Kenny Dichter, the CEO and co-founder of Wheels Up. And the idea is the cheaper it is to fly privately, the more people who will do it. Dichter says that was his idea using the eight-seat King Air 350i to “democratize” short flight.
In the world of chartering your entire aircraft, he cut the price for a one-hour flight for eight people to around $5,000 compared to a cost of $8,000 to $10,000 for the same trip on a jet. His argument was that there was a minimal time penalty since landings and takeoffs are not at full speed, and often as you get near to your destination airport, airplanes are slowed down to similar speeds.
A pioneer in the segment, JetSmarter used funding of more than $100 million to subsidize the launch of its jet sharing concept. Initially, it started by paying an annual membership, in some cases under $10,000, and then snagging free seats on private jets at no additional costs. However, as it pivoted to a model where members had to pay for their seats, it was hit by more than a dozen lawsuits.
Today, JetSmarter no longer exists. It was purchased by Vista Global, parent of VistaJet, and merged with another acquisition XOJET. Operating as XO from FlyXO.com, the company remains an aggressive proponent of the jet sharing concept.
Now, with Jet Linx, which operates a fleet of 115 managed jets entering the fray, the concept may be ready for primetime.
“The answer to whether it’s going to be a niche thing or not is probably answered that you have two more companies that believe in this part of the market,” says Ian Moore, chief commercial officer of Vista Global, adding, “It’s not only one or two routes in North America, but taking it on a global scale.”
Unlike scheduled shuttle operations such as JSX, Tradewind Aviation, Surf Air, and several others that publish schedules in a similar fashion to the airlines, but reduce travel time by operating out of private jet terminals, the essence of jet sharing is crowd-sourcing flights at a time and route that at least two parties agree on.
Sometimes jet sharing might involve 10 people each buying a single seat on a private jet, while in other cases two families who don’t know each might decide to share a flight and divide costs up however they see fit.
Typical examples of where shared private jet rentals work include the Super Bowl and major sporting events as well as weekend routes, for example, Fridays New York to Palm Beach in the winter or Teterboro to Nantucket in the summer.
With fully private flights typically costing $4,000 to $15,000 per hour, the savings of sharing versus taking an entire plane can be significant, even if it’s still more expensive than flying commercially.
For folks who normally charter an entire aircraft for themselves, don’t mind sharing the flight, and are willing to lock in departure times, sometimes weeks and months in advance, there are big savings.
Your options to jet share will be based in large part on where you live, although keep in mind, just because the service is available, does not mean you will find others who want to fly to the same place from the same place at similar times.
XO (formerly JetSmarter): Worldwide
Wheels Up: Continental U.S., parts of Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada
Jet Linx: You live in one of the cities it has bases: Currently Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Ft. Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Omaha, San Antonio, Scottsdale, St Louis, Tulsa, and Washington D.C. with plans to add California, and South Florida.
On the XO website, the cost for a light jet seating seven passengers from New York to South Florida can be had for around $15,000 each way. If you do 10 roundtrips during the winter, that’s roughly $300,000. If you are flying alone or with one or two other people, and you were able to share even half of the flights, you might save $75,000!
For those of you who can’t afford to charter an entire airplane, buying seats provides possibly a nonstop routing instead of a connection and you also escape airport turmoil. You give up the ability to switch flights at the last minute as you get with the airlines, but with load factors at record levels, switching may be easier said than done.
David Zipkin, vice president of Tradewind Aviation, is bullish on jet sharing. His company operates scheduled shuttles on a fleet of Pilatus PC-12 turboprops. He said the flights, which include routes like White Plains to Nantucket, evolved from a crowdsourcing model. On a Friday in late August, its website listed nine flights each scheduled at 58 minutes. Passengers have to show up 15 minutes before departure.
“I think it works really well on short flights where the costs are lower,” he says.
However, the feeling is not universal. “Flight sharing is contradictory logic when it comes to comes to using business aviation,” says Christophe Kohler, managing director of WingX, a research firm that specializes in business aviation.
He adds, “Usually the reason you join one of these programs or you charter a private jet is because you want to define your schedule.”
Whether the pool is big enough, or sharing creates new demand, is something that will probably be evident over the next couple years.
Below is a look at how XO, Wheels Up and Jet Linx are each offering their versions of jet sharing:
Starting membership price?
Vista Global executive Ian Moore says there is a triangle between New York, Miami and Los Angeles that generates enough demand for flight-sharing, plus he adds Boston and Chicago as other promising markets.
Some routes will be seasonal, he notes, for example, during the summer between Moscow and Nice. He says there is also traction around major events, such as The Kentucky Derby, The Masters as well as big soccer matches in Europe and the like.
XO is the result of Vista Global’s purchase of JetSmarter and XOJET, and the merger of the two together. While JetSmarter might be the best known for its pay one price annual membership which enabled you to snag seats for free, that model was dropped over a year ago and it is now you pay for seats on each flight.
The evolution means there are two ways XO enables sharing. The first is that you can start a flight by going to its FlyXO.com website and enter where you want to fly and when.
You then confirm the flight by buying a specific number of seats. That means regardless of whether or not others join your flight, it is set to go. If you don’t need all of the seats you purchased, you can let XO sell them for future credits.
Unlike when you normally charter a private jet, once you offer seats for sale, you are locked into that date, time and routing.
You can also select the routing and for a designated price per seat see if there are enough other people who want to join. You provide your credit card, but you aren’t charged unless enough other people buy a designated number of seats. If you get the crowd you go. If you don’t, you need to find another way, but you aren’t charged.
Joining starts at $5,000 and members get discounted rates, although you do not have to be a member to buy seats or start your own shared flight. On Aug. 21, from Los Angeles to New York, I found a flight that had one seat booked and required nine more seats being sold. Prices were either $4,495 or $3,495 per seat with members saving $1,000.
Between Chicago and New York, I could start a flight on a light jet for $2,560 per seat, or save $565 if I was a member. For this flight, it would require five other people to buy seats. By comparison, XO would allow me to charter an entire six-seat light jet for $11,800.
One interesting benefit for members of XO’s jet cards that use dynamic pricing is you can now sell seats on your flights in exchange for credits.
With XO you don’t interact with other passengers. It all happens online via its website or app. You just show up at the designated FBO at least 30 minutes before scheduled departure. Since launching its jet sharing, Moore says they have sold over 160,000 seats.
Starting membership price?
$2,950 in first year; $2,500 thereafter
Wheels Up has been offering to share for a couple of years, however, earlier this year it moved to expand the pool. Previously, sharing flights was limited to members who pay $17,500 to join, $8,500 in subsequent years, and then mainly charter a full aircraft.
The launch of Connect, priced at $2,995, allows members of the new tier to visit a community board and network with other members to discuss sharing. The board has sections divided by home base, popular routes, big events, and also universities.
“Take Syracuse University for example. Think of all the people in the New York area who are alumni or have kids who are students there now. From homecoming to parents weekend, basketball games to taking the kids back to school, there are tons of opportunities to share flights with other parents and alumni to and from college towns,” co-founder Steve Nitkin says.
Full members propose flights they want to share and wait for others to ask about joining or go into the forums to highlight a shared flight. By the same token, members can message on various threads about trips they would like to take and see if others want to share.
Unlike XO, Wheels Up doesn’t set pricing. Members let the company know how they are splitting the cost, and then the company charges them for the shared amount.
Nitkin says the sweet spot is short flights using its King Air 350i fleet, with each aircraft seating eight passengers and able to carry eight golf bags. The cost for the roughly one hour flight from Westchester County Airport to Syracuse would be $5,025 including tax, so split eight ways, $628 per seat.
Many of the most popular routings, Nitkin says, are to places that either don’t have nonstop flights. For example, flying from any New York airport to University Park Airport, which serves Penn State University, would require changing planes, and not including time spent at the airport, take close to four hours. The King Air takes under an hour, about 3.5 hours faster than the other alternative, driving.
“In our community forums you can find other members to fly with, tailgate, see the game, and be back home in time for dinner all while sharing the price for the flight,” Nitkin says.
Yes. In fact, you must be a jet card member to become a member of the Open Seat Exchange shared flight program
Starting membership price?
$12,500 in first year + $5,000; $3,500 annually
In the case of Jet Linx, it manages private jets for their owners in 18 markets across the U.S. When owners aren’t using their aircraft, its over 2,100 jet card members use them for flights, again taking the entire plane – until now.
Jamie Walker, its CEO, says with its customers clustered around the airports where it has bases, he thinks Jet Linx has a high probability for success. “For competitors, they may have 5,000 members or whatever they have, but they are spread out across the country, where for Jet Linx, our members are concentrated around the cities and airports we have bases.”
“Last year there were over 40,000 empty seats on the flights we operated,” he says, noting that each market has its own popular routes for jet setters.
As an example, he notes its Omaha based customers frequently fly to Scottsdale, Chicago, and Aspen whereas from St. Louis there is a high frequency of flights to and from New York, Naples, Florida, and Washington D.C. From its Houston Hobby location, the top destinations for its community there are San Antonio, Dallas, and New Orleans.
While Wheels Up and XO are trying to broaden the pool with either lower-priced memberships or allowing non-members to booked shared flights, Jet Linx is adding jet sharing exclusively as a benefit for the owners of the jets it manages and its jet card customers who charter full aircraft.
Joining the Jet Linx jet card program costs either $12,500 or $17,500 and then $3,500 in subsequent years. There is a one-time $5,000 fee to participate in Open Seat Exchange.
Of the three, Jet Linx is the only one that manages aircraft, which gives it a unique pitch when talking to aircraft owners who might be open to deferring costs by allowing other members to fly with them.
The flight starter can designate how many seats they want to sell, so even if they only need two of eight seats, they may only want to sell only two seats instead of traveling on a full aircraft.
Buyers can view posted shared flights on its app but can’t see which member posted the flight to protect privacy. At the same time, the starters can see the names of members who are requesting to buy seats, and can accept or reject the request. You have normal flexibility to change or cancel your flight after posting until somebody else buys into it.
The two biggest operators of on-demand private jets are NetJets and Flexjet, which sell access via fractional share programs, multi-year leases and shorter-term, in jet cards starting at 25 hours. So far, no word if either plan to jump in the crowdsourcing pool.