Private Jet Empty Legs: What you need to know before you buy

By Doug Gollan, August 3, 2020

The private jet repositioning flights are often held-out as a siren’s song as a way to fly privately on the cheap. They can be, if you are flexible…

Empty leg flights are sold at discounts compared to regular private jet charter prices. What can be better than that?

In fact, if you are flexible, they can be a lot of fun. Delta Private Jets used to offer a program called SkyAccess. For $8,500 in the first year and $6,000 per year after that, you could fly unlimited times. You got the entire private jet. You just had to be ready to go. Most flights were posted within 24 hours of departure.

Of course, you had to find your way back from wherever you went, and you would be smart to check hotel prices before you book. That said, it was one of the best programs in the market, although it is no longer being sold.

Empty-leg private flights are listed on several websites.

Some jet card companies offer these highly discounted flights to members, sometimes for under $500.

What are empty legs?

Empty legs are also referred to as repositioning flights, ferry flights, or dead legs. They are the flights a private jet makes to pick up a charter, jet card, or fractional share customer or return to base or the next revenue trip after dropping off that patron. Since they are flying without passengers, hence the term empty leg or dead because there is no revenue.

Why should I book an empty leg?

The only reason to use an empty leg is to save money.

How much money can I save with a repositioning flight?

You can save 30% to 60% compared to a normal private jet charter, sometimes more.

Can I specify airports?

Usually, no. You would scan for legs from wherever you are to wherever you want to fly. The airports and FBOs will be based on the preferences of the operator or the customer on the high-priced side of the equation. There are ferry flights across the Atlantic as well as to Hawaii.

However, savvy brokers can create an empty leg for you. I recently had a subscriber who wanted to fly from Baton Rouge to Boston. Her broker spotted an empty leg from San Antonio to Dallas and negotiated a price for her desired routing. For the operator, a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. The revenue for the empty leg more than offset the stop and additional flying.

Do I have any say in departure time or date?

In some cases, empty legs are posted for a date range. The operator knows the specific private jet doesn’t need to be in London until the end of the week. Or, somebody booked a one-way from Athens to New York at the end of the month. The operator might market the empty leg to Athens as available for the five or six days before.

Are empty leg prices negotiable?

Yes. Keep in mind there is also a downside for the operator beyond incremental cleaning and extra fuel from your added weight. If you damage something and the aircraft goes out of service or isn’t in optimum shape, the high-paying customer’s flight might be impacted. In other words, while you are getting a deal, it has to be worth the chance you’ll spill red wine on the carpet.

What are the risks?

In the case of the above example, the private jet was headed to Boston to pick up its owner for a Monday morning business trip. If the owner’s meeting had been canceled or he had just changed his mind, the empty leg would have been canceled. Empty legs can be canceled anytime up until departure.

If you are flexible and don’t have to travel that day, empty legs are fine. Do keep in mind that since private jets often use alternate airports, you may not be at a field where you can hop on an airline flight.

With airlines having reduced schedules due to COVID-19, getting there at the last minute may not be easy. In other words, empty legs are a bad idea if you absolutely have to be there at a specific time.

Should I book with the operator?

You certainly can. Brokers will add some type of mark-up. That said, they may find or create flights you don’t see or miss. A good broker will also proactively monitor your trip in case it goes south. They are also in the best position to find another empty leg or the best possible charter rates.

Empty Leg Resources

Private Jet Card Comparisons now has an Empty Leg Resource center and has added a search function for jet cards that offer discounted repositioning flights for members.

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