Buying a Jet Card: What to know before you call

By Doug Gollan, February 5, 2020

Taking a few minutes to assess your needs before contacting jet card providers will help them help you

Jet cards make private jet charter easy. Many cards offer fixed rates and guaranteed availability.

That means as long as you call, email, text or tap your app based on the rules of your program, you know what you will be paying in advance.

By far, most complaints I get are from buyers who didn’t do proper research or hadn’t thoroughly considered their needs before buying

That said, everyone’s needs are slightly different.

To get the best assistance, I recommend considering the following before you call or request information.

Being prepared will help you figure out whether or not a company is a fit. There are lots of excellent companies, but in jet cards, it’s not one size fits all.

By far, most complaints I get are from buyers who didn’t do proper research or hadn’t thoroughly considered their needs before buying. In other words, it was a good program, just not a fit for them.

How many hours of private travel do you expect to need in the next 12 months?

Why 12 months? Most programs require a deposit, and typically rates are only guaranteed for 12 months (subscribers to Private Jet Card Comparisons can compare over 250 programs side-by-side in minutes). In other words, there is often limited incentive to buy more hours than you will need in the next 365 days.

Where do you plan to fly?

Map out dates if you know them, departure and arrival airport, the number of passengers for each flight, whether you will have oversized luggage and if you are bringing pets.

Most programs have peak days and many have surcharges – some as high as 40%. By listing out any ‘must fly’ dates you can figure out if you will need to travel on peak days, and how much more you might have to pay.

Another issue is short legs. Fixed-rate programs all have daily minimums. They often vary by size of aircraft and range from 60 minutes to 210 minutes.

If your daily minimum in 120 minutes, guess what you will pay for a single 60-minute flight? Right, 120 minutes.

If you don’t how long your flights will take, use our free trip private jet flight time calculator.

Not all jet card companies guarantee pets, so if you fly with pets, that will discount a number of providers.

Knowing how many people will be flying will help tell you the size aircraft you need.

Private Jet Card Comparisons not only provides data on aircraft size and types offered by over 55 providers, but we also give you the seat guarantee.

In some cases, you can find a light jet program with a seven or eight-seat guarantee while other programs require a super mid to guarantee eight seats.

Lastly, some programs are regional, others are national, some include the Caribbean and Mexico, others don’t. There are also programs that provide transatlantic fixed one-way rates and European programs. By listing out the places you plan to fly you can make sure that your provider can accommodate you with the benefits you are buying.

Do you ever need more than one aircraft at the same time?

Not all programs guarantee access to more than one aircraft at the same time, and pricing for a second plane varies. If you are coming from one direction and family members are coming from someplace else, and you want to do it with one jet card, this is an important feature.

Do you want to upgrade or downgrade the size of aircraft based on need?

The reasons to want to switch aircraft size generally have to do with the length of the flight. You want to fly nonstop! And then, the number of passengers.

For many people, one cabin type often fits most of their needs, but again, this is why it’s good to think about the places you want to fly.

While some programs allow you to upgrade or downgrade size or aircraft type, not all guarantee it, and some have an interchange fee. Others just don’t offer fixed rate programs in all categories, particularly very light jets, turboprops, and large-cabin aircraft.

While most providers will accommodate your trip, they will do it at a market-based price, which could well be significantly more if you are booking on short notice.

In other words, it’s not a bad idea to ask about ability to upgrade and downgrade and the rules. Again, this is something we compare for subscribers.

Do you want a specific private jet category or aircraft type?

Most jet card programs sell by category – light, midsize, super-midsize, and large cabin. Some also have turboprop, very light jet, and ultra-long-haul private jet options.

For cabin category programs, you get an aircraft from that cabin type or better.

If you want a specific aircraft type, be it a Challenger 300 or Phenom 300, there are programs that can accommodate you as well. If you have a preference, it will drive you to specific providers.

Do you want guaranteed availability and fixed one-way pricing?

There are a number of programs that provide fixed rates, as available, which means when you call, if they have a plane, you know the rate. Others offer fixed pricing, but only for roundtrip bookings. This usually requires a same day or next day return. Others just price each trip like an on-demand charter.

Fixed one-way pricing means you don’t pay for repositioning your aircraft, Guaranteed availability gives you those fixed rates as long as you call in advance of the booking deadline, which can vary by provider from six hours to as much as a week on peak days.

Fixed one-way pricing with guaranteed availability is by far the most popular as you have a good idea of what you will pay without pricing out each trip.

What’s the minimum lead-time before departure you want for booking flights?

One of the benefits of jets cards is being able to access private travel quickly. Typical non-peak booking deadlines are six to 72 hours. The shorter notice period you require, you whittle down the number of choices.

On the flip side, if you like to know you will be making trips on short-notice, if your program has a 48 hours window, if you try to book 12 hours in advance you may have to pay a custom quote or find that an aircraft isn’t available.

Are your flight plans likely to change or cancel within 24 hours of the scheduled flight?

Cancelation windows often vary from the booking window. Some broker programs base them on the policy of the operator. If you are likely to change plans after booking particularly in the last 72, 48, 24 hours or less, keep in mind you could lose your trip cost.

The good news is there are programs that allow you to change or cancel even with less than 24 hours notice. If you use your card for business trips and you have clients who are likely to change meetings, a more flexible cancelation policy may be more advantageous than a lower hourly rate.

Do you need Wi-Fi on your private jet?

Not all private jets have Wi-Fi and it’s not always turned on, at owner request. Somebody has to pay the bills! If you need Wi-Fi, check with your provider as in many cases it’s available on larger aircraft, but not always on light jets.

Again, a bit of shameless promotion for Private Jet Card Comparisons, subscribers can compare Wi-Fi across over 250 programs in seconds.

What percentage of your trips are roundtrip?

In talking about roundtrip pricing for private aviation, it doesn’t just mean starting and returning to the same airport. The general requirement is at least two billable hours with and the return needs to be within 14 hours or less – the duty time for Part 135 pilots.

In many cases that could mean two hours out on day one and two hours back to the origin on the next day. Some programs allow you to multiply that two hours, so a trip that is three hours out on day one and three hours back on day three would qualify for roundtrip discounts.

Discounts for roundtrips can be as high as 40%, and often in the 15% to 20% range, so if you fly a lot of qualifying roundtrips, again that will impact pricing.

Private Jet Card Comparisons now includes a roundtrip pricing calculator which enables you to compare trip costs, including applicable roundtrip discounts.

Are you flexible to avoid peak days?

We don’t like peak days. In addition to longer booking and cancelation windows, there are often surcharges. Even more, most programs can move your flight departure for three hours in either direction.

In other words, instead of getting those last runs down the slope and flying out at 5 PM, you might need to leave at 2 PM.

The number of peak days ranges from single digits to over 100 peak days, so it’s a smart move to at least review peak dates and policies before you sign, particularly if you have limited flexibility.

Jet Card pricing and costs

Many folks focus on hourly rates first, however, the lowest hourly rate may not be what you end up paying if your flying needs don’t fit nicely into the program’s rules.

There are other considerations such as fuel surcharges and membership fees (our trip calculator factors in both), if you do winter weather flying, the inclusion of deicing and so forth.

However, taking the time to think about the questions in this post will help prepare you for a productive discussion.

Protecting your privacy

Of course, I’d encourage you to subscribe to Private Jet Card Comparisons. The $250 fees give you access to our easy-to-use spreadsheet comparisons. I am also available to help, via phone or email. You can also fill in our Jet Card Decider, which mirrors the above questions, and we can advise you on which programs fit your needs.

And just as a note, we are the only jet card comparison website that doesn’t sell your data or accept referral fees from any private jet providers like the lead generation sites you might find.

Our view is that on a purchase as important and expensive as a jet card, you want unbiased, 360-degree advice, which is what we promise and deliver.

Either way, by taking the time to think about these questions, you will be better prepared to be a smart shopper.

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