On-Demand Charter vs. Jet Cards pros and cons

You can charter a private jet trip by trip – On-Demand Charter – or buy into a program – Jet Cards.

Jet memberships or calling a broker or operator each time. Which is right for you?

Both jet cards and calling a broker to rent a private jet are forms of private jet charter or private jet rental as some call it.

In both cases, we are referring to the entire aircraft as opposed to jet sharing or buy-a-seat models.

However, when it comes to full aircraft charter, which is better – jet cards or on-demand charter?

Should you buy a jet card? Should you just reach out to several brokers before each trip, and then play them off against each other?

The debate would make the Hatfields and the McCoys proud!

Even though many jet card providers also sell on-demand charter, charter brokers and operators who sell on-demand charter don’t necessarily sell jet cards.

There are thousands of brokers and operators that sell on-demand charter. However, there are only around 60 companies promoting jet cards.

private jet charter
There are good reasons to both buy jet cards as well as charter trip-by-trip.

On the side of private jet charter operators, the reason for not selling jet cards is usually two-fold.

Jet card providers are already wholesale customers. They don’t want to be seen competing with those often high-volume B2B clients.

Another reason is they operate from only one or two bases. They have to position planes back to base and bake in those costs.

Also, many have a limited fleet. They would have to go to third parties to fulfill the contracted commitments of selling fixed-rate, guaranteed availability jet cards. In other words, they would rather focus on managing and operating private jets.

Some Jet Card flights lose money – for the provider

However, many private jet charter brokers don’t sell jet cards for other reasons. They don’t want to take the risk that fixed-rate jet card flights are a mix of profitable and lossmaking trips.

Some jet card sellers workaround that concern by offering jet cards that use dynamic pricing. In some cases, they offer published markups over their wholesale cost as a hook. In others, they provide service recovery guarantees or catering credits and the like.

Then there are some brokers who just believe jet cards are a rip-off and they will tell you that. They say they can beat jet card prices on nearly every if not all trips.

Research by Private Jet Card Comparisons shows it’s more of a mixed bag when it comes to cost. Like with great travel agents, a good broker can work magic.

Of course, the key is finding a great broker.  That said, it’s not easy to syndicate the knowledge that separates the vast sea of brokers from the ones who become trusted advisors.

You aren’t sure which way to go? Here’s my take on on the pros and cons of jet cards versus chartering your flights as you go.

Reasons to buy a Jet Card

  • Convenience – With guaranteed availability, fixed-rate jet cards you know what you are going to pay in advance. You don’t have to spend time comparing quotes every trip. Since in most cases, you have money on deposit, you don’t have to worry about transferring money on short notice.
  • Standards – When you buy a jet card, you can choose the standards one time. That includes requirements for pilot experience and aircraft sourcing you find acceptable. You don’t have to research a dozen quotes to find out who will be flying you on each trip.
  • Flexibility – There are fixed-rate jet cards that guarantee availability with as little as six hours notice. Virtually all will do it with at least 48 hours advance booking. At the same time, with jet cards, you can often cancel (it varies by program – we compare over 300 programs) with as little as 10 hours notice, and in most cases, for off-peak flights 24 hours. With an on-demand charter, you will find the terms vary by trip based on the operator.
  • Budgeting – Whether you are CFO of a company or your family, fixed-rate jet cards enable you to accurately budget private travel expenses in advance.
  • Control – Jet cards will allow you to fly family, business clients and colleagues with one phone call. You want your daughter and the new grandson to fly from Buffalo to Birmingham to come to visit. One call and you can book her private jet flight, again, without having to compare operators and airplanes.
  • Inclusions – Many jet cards include extras in the hourly rate you pay for additionally with an on-demand charter. That includes catering or catering credits and free Wi-fi, plus FBO fees. Some include deicing, which can run up into the thousands of dollars per incidence. Most of all, if your provider offers fixed one-way rates, ittt means you won’t be charged for ferry fees when you are flying within your Primary Service Area. When all is said and done, these can even out the price comparisons.
  • Insurance – Jet cards often provide additional insurance to what the charter operator of our flight carries.
  • You Travel With Pets – The more parameters you give your broker – the more you limit their supply. Not all private jets allow pets. Limiting your broker to only planes that allow pets, lessens the chance they will be able to beat your jet card rate. However, many jet card providers will guarantee to transport your pets with you (and without you) at your fixed rate.
  • Service Recovery – If something goes wrong on the day of departure, you won’t have to pay extra for a replacement aircraft. With an on-demand charter, unless you have a special arrangement with your broker or operator, you will need to pay the difference. It could also mean having to fly a plane in, creating a ferry flight charge.
  • Location – Do you are flying to or from airports that don’t have much private jet activity? Jet cards with fixed one-way rates have any repositioning charges baked in so you won’t pay for empty legs.
  • Holiday and Peak Day Travel – Some jet cards have no Peak Day surcharges or limit them to 5%. On high demand days, it may be harder to beat your jet card price.
  • Duty of Care – For companies, you don’t have to go through Duty of Care analysis for each trip, just when you source your jet card provider.

Reasons to Charter your private jet trip by trip (On-Demand Charter)

  • Cash – You don’t need to tie up six figures of your cash sitting in somebody else’s account.
  • You Have Time – If you are retired or like to do-it-yourself, on-demand charter could make sense. For each quote, you need to examine who the operator. You will also want to understand if they operate at standards above the government’s Part 135 requirements. You also need to make sure policies for payment and cancelations are acceptable. They are usually based on the operator, so three quotes from one broker may each have different terms. That includes bringing pets or even oversize baggage, golf clubs, and skis.
  • You Plan in Advance – You book weeks or months in advance. You never book within a couple of days of departure.
  • Lowest Price Focus – You don’t care about aircraft age, condition of the interior, or amenities like Wi-fi. Any jet will do. The fewer conditions you give a broker, the better their chance to beat jet card pricing.
  • You Fly Between Busy Private Jet Destinations – If you are flying between airports and areas with lots of private jet activity, you minimize the need for repositioning flights you pay for.
  • You’re Flexible on Dates – A good broker can sometimes find a better price if you are flexible to move departure days or sometimes even the time.
  • You Don’t Change or Cancel Last Minute – You don’t need the flexibility of jet cards to change at the last moment.
  • Cancelations Are Not A Problem – You don’t need the replacement guarantees jet cards provide.

Deciding Jet Card or On-Demand Charter

Here’s the good news. You don’t need to choose. About 70% of private aviation users have more than one solution. Fractional shareowners buy jet cards and charter on-demand when they need extra hours as an example.

If you plan to fly privately 10 or more hours in the next two years on multiple trips, chances are you will benefit from a jet card. You can buy jet cards starting at 10 hours or $25,000. Some are even refundable!

Even if you believe overall you will do better on price with on-demand charters, chances are you will start to find trips where your jet card makes more sense.

You may end up doing more of your flying on your jet card just because it’s easier. You may also find your jet card saves you big bucks for the times on-demand charter rates are high, or you can’t find a quote where the aircraft or operator meets your standards.

Like having a balanced financial portfolio, both jet cards and on-demand charter each have a place.

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Compare over 300 jet card programs in one place when you become a paid subscriber to Private Jet Card Comparisons here.

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
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