Understanding private jet charter pricing

By Doug Gollan, August 20, 2020

If flying privately makes travel safer and easier, figuring out private jet rental pricing can be confusing. We explain some of the variations

You want to charter a private jet from New York to Aspen and you want a large-cabin aircraft. A Gulfstream GIV or something similar sounds nice. You want the lowest price, and you notice checking around there is a big variance. Quotes for GIV and G450 types vary by as much as $25,000! You see other large-cabin jets with prices for much less, and then you see prices double your Gulfstream quotes.

We checked in with one large broker’s site. We found pricing for large-cabin private jets ranging from $38,695 to $106,395. They were all for departures on the same day and the same New York to Aspen route. That’s quite a gap. Still, among even among the GIV genre we saw gaps of over $10,000 each way.

Yes, you thought airline pricing is crazy!

So, let’s talk about the critical question. Why is there so much disparity? How different can large-cabin jets be?

As you probably figured out, quite a bit. For the most part, I don’t believe it is price gouging by brokers. It’s easy to say, these guys are just trying to get whatever they can squeeze out of me. I think that’s a false answer.


All brokers, especially the smaller ones with limited marketing dollars, rely on referrals. Recommendations in some cases account for 90% of new business. Gratuitously overcharging customers is not a good strategy. I don’t want to say it never happens. It probably just doesn’t explain the price differences in like aircraft you are seeing from two different brokers.

Factors that impact Private Jet Charter pricing

So, what are some of the factors that impact the differences in private jet charter pricing?

  • Your request: This is particularly true if you gave one broker more information than another. It easily happens via varied online request forms or a conversation.
  • Hard Quote vs. Estimates: For all the talk about Uber for private jets, the ‘live’ pricing you will see on most sites is not really live. Some sites provide true live pricing to members. However, COVID-19 operational related challenges mean most of what you first see is estimated pricing, with a hard quote followed-up via a request form. Until you get the hard quotes, it’s hard to tell what you are comparing. It also makes it more time consuming, unfortunately.
  • The Number of Seats: Some large-cabin private jets have as few as 9 or 10 seats. Others seat up to 16. One G450 might have 12 seats, while another has 15.
  • Departure and arrival airports: Just saying New York to Aspen could mean different pricing than being airport specific. Operators have to price repositioning flights. If you want to leave from Teterboro, but the aircraft is based at Westchester County, it could result in a higher quote.
  • WiFi, Pets, and Oversized Luggage: Owners of private jets who rent them out via Part 135 charter operators often have restrictions. The more criteria you have about what you need limits inventory, so if one broker is working on your behalf with that added knowledge, that might exclude lower-priced like private jets.
  • Medical Equipment: Does the aircraft include a defibrillator? What type of emergency medical training will the crew have? Is there in-flight emergency medical support?
  • Flight Attendants: You typically only have a flight attendant on super midsize or large-cabin private jets. Some quotes will include flight attendants. Others don’t.
  • Aircraft Age and Refurbishment: It’s not unusual to see 40-year old private jets on the charter market. Private jet age as well as how recently it was refurbished impacts price.
  • Operator Reputation: There are 573 Part135 operators with at least one private jet in their fleet, according to Tuvoli, a B2B transaction platform. While they all have to meet the government’s regulations, some exceed them. Third-party ratings from Argus, Wyvern, and IS-BAO shed some light. Good brokers dive deeper. What type of ongoing training do pilots receive? Training is expensive and has to be factored into pricing. Are pilots full-time or independent contractors? Do their pilots receive specialized training for mountain or island airports, if indeed that’s where you are flying? What’s the operator’s history of accidents, incidents, and FAA enforcement actions? How often do they end up canceling? In other words, are they dependable?
  • Owner Reputation: Most of the private jets on the charter market are managed, not owned by the operator. Many require owner approval for each charter, particularly for larger types. Some owners can be picky. They don’t want kids or rock bands. They don’t want guys groups. When you consider replacing a fold-out table can cost over $10,000, you understand why owners want to make sure charter customers show a proper level of respect for their expensive assets. While you would be billed for damages, the time the jet is on the ground for repairs could impact other charters or the owner’s flights. On the flip side, there are owners who don’t care much about you and are known to pull their aircraft at the last minute leaving you in the lurch. A good broker factors both operator and owner reputation into the aircraft they present to you with quotes. Their goal is for you to be happy and refer more customers to them.
  • Empty Legs: Empty leg repositioning flights are often sold at discounts of 50% or more. But, they come with specific risks. Make sure that a low rate isn’t an empty leg, or buy it knowing the potential downsides. You can read more here.
  • Insurance: Some operators and owners carry more insurance than others. Insurance premiums vary in part by the amount of coverage you are taking and a variety of other factors. The cost of insurance has to be built into the quote.
  • Insider Information: While the rating agencies are certainly relevant, they are a snapshot view of an operator. Good brokers monitor the operators they use, and some even only use operators where they have a personal comfort level. That can mean putting an operator on a ‘do not sell list’ because of high turnover in executives, the chief pilot, or other relevant employees. Some brokers only sell operators where they perform proprietary due diligence. These are sometimes referred to as a closed fleet, meaning the aircraft from a select group of operators that meet your broker’s standards.
  • Your Flexibility: Again, it’s not unusual for consumers to give three brokers three slightly different data sets. If you are requesting quotes through an online form and you need to enter a specific departure time, that may impact the private jets you are quoted. Particularly, if you tell another broker your departure time, day or even local airport are flexible.
  • Pre-Flight Safety Check: Will your broker provide an Argus Tripcheq, Wyvern Pass, or proprietary report prior to your flight? These reports provide assurance that the pilots assigned to fly you both have the minimum experience required by the FAA or higher level you specified. They also ensure that the aircraft you are flying is indeed on a Part 135 certificate.
  • Roundtrip Pricing: When are you coming back? If the trip can be done by an aircraft based near you and with the same airplane and crew flying you out and back without returning to base in between, you can get roundtrip pricing. It can cut costs by 50%. This typically means returning the same day or the next day. A rule of thumb is averaging at least two billable hours per day.
  • Base Aircraft vs. Floating Fleets: Base private jets are located at a particular airport. It’s likely that the pilots live in the area. For any flights that start or end at another airport, pilots have to ferry the aircraft to pick up passengers and then return to base after dropping them off. Local operators, therefore, often have the most attractive pricing from their base and nearby airports for trips where they can keep the same aircraft and crew with you for the outbound and return legs. Floating fleets schedule pilots much like the airlines, usually something like seven or eight days on duty, then six or seven days off. The pilots fly to meet an aircraft at the start of their trip, but might then switch to another they are typed for. The jets don’t return to base but float around the country. In other words, after they drop you off, they might stay at that airport until they get the call for their next trip. Floating fleets therefore generally provide the lowest price for longer one-way flights.
  • You Cancel The Flight: I often see the lowest priced quotes are non-refundable. Yes, you save money. But, if you need to change or cancel, those savings can turn into a big hole in your pocket. While everyone likes to say they won’t change, sometimes, life happens. Make sure you are comfortable with the terms of the legally binding contract you are signing.
  • Legal Resolutions: Where and how do you adjudicate disputes? Does that cheap price come with onerous conditions?
  • The Operator Cancels Your Flight: Ask what happens if the operator cancels because of a mechanical, a sick pilot, or the owner pulls the aircraft? Who pays the difference if the requote is more, which on short notice it often is. Again, that low price can become expensive if the operator can’t fulfill your flight and you have to pay more with a requote.

Private flying nirvana

A big reason jet cards are popular the issues I’ve covered are sorted out by your provider in most programs. It’s their worry, not yours. Of course, the terms and policies of each jet card and their various programs vary quite a bit. I’ve identified over 65 variables that can impact which program is right for you. If you want to look into jet cards, our paid subscription service – $250 for the year – is very helpful. We also offer a vetted guide to charter brokers. That said, you’ll still need to consider the above. You can also do what a lot of folks do, using a jet card and a broker, then managing usage based on what works best on a trip-by-trip basis.


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