Wheels Up recently opened its private jet charter app to non-members. Here’s our review
Move over Costco. When I read in Wheels Up’s merger filings that it quietly began allowing non-members to access its app, I decided to check it out. Until then, you had to pay $2,950 for the privilege. Allowing non-members to book on the app at less favorable terms seems a no-brainer.
The only complaints I found about the app were from before Wheels Up offered free access, which was the complaint. It’s rated 5-stars by Apple users. Many of the reviews had phrases like the “real deal” and “love.”
In addition to booking flights, the app includes shared flights (above), empty legs, a list of partners, an events calendar, and other worthwhile features.
Booking a flight on the Wheels Up app
The booking process was intuitive with lots of helpful information along the way.
- To start, the location feature shows airports nearest to you on a map, including mileage from your location;
- When you choose the destination airport, it shows mileage from your airport of origin;
- In selecting your travel dates, the flight calendar shows high-demand days;
- The departure time selector shows hours of operation for the departure and arrival airports you selected;
- You are asked to specify golf bags, skis, standard baggage, as well as strollers, skis, or oversize items (which it defines as luggage that weighs over 50 pounds);
- When you select the number of passengers, you can specify children 2 to 17 and children under 2, as well as pets:
- After clicking, the first two options I was presented with were a King Air 350i and a light jet, both noting a possible fuel stop, probably since they were the lowest prices. However, when I clicked on the mid and super options, they noted non-stop flights. At first, it looked like those buttons were shaded out. However, they were, in fact, live. No large-cabin aircraft were offered;
- I selected a midsize aircraft at a $37,163 roundtrip between Miami and New York. Immediately, a pop-up asked if I wanted to upgrade to a Wheels Up Citation XLS for an extra $6,999. On another try, the offer was priced at $4,174. There was a similar offer for a Wheels Up Citation X after selecting super-midsized;
- There was also a link to see flexible date pricing. It provided charter costs +/- two days from my specified date;
- There were teasers that Wheels Up members save up to 30%. That’s enough to justify its Connect membership, which is priced under $3,000;
- There was a notification that Wheels Up would provide operator information as soon as it was possible;
- The next stop was to provide my credit card and complete the transaction, so my review of the booking process ends here.
The private jet to Hawaii Test
Wheels Up also passes what I call the “Hawaii Test.”
I’m currently researching an article about booking private jets online. Besides being mainly unimpressed, it’s shocking how many private jet digital booking platforms provide quotes for light jets and turboprops for flights from Los Angeles to Honolulu. To clarify, neither type has the range to fly the 2,500 miles over water unless there are some elaborate plans to conduct inflight refueling. More likely, it indicates these sites are less about booking and more about collecting user contact data for future marketing.
For my Wheels Up test, it appeared bookings are currently limited to the Continental U.S., Los Cabos, and select Canadian cities. It wouldn’t let me even select airports in Hawaii or the Caribbean.
Best features of the Wheels Up app
The entire process was intuitive and easy. There were prominent notifications about cancelation terms and other potential pitfalls, such as choosing an aircraft that needs a refueling stop.
- The My Trips section enables you to view and rebook past trips;
- The Shared Flights Board showed over 50 different postings of members wanting to split a flight. To book, I would need a paid membership;
- The Flight Time Estimator allows you to choose specific aircraft types, although the bookings for non-members end up being for categories instead of specific aircraft types.
Another positive was the Wheels Up app wouldn’t allow me to book Hawaii. Thus it wouldn’t let me book a light jet or turboprop to Hawaii, something I’ve found other sites allow. It does make you wonder how much artificial or other types of intelligence go into those interfaces. More so, it makes me question if there are other landmines to be on the watch for.
For the bookings I tried, Wheels Up didn’t allow me to make any mistakes, which should be a minimum standard. Unfortunately, this type of basic competence puts Wheels Up in a very select league. In other words, I thought Wheels Up did an excellent job. However, it doesn’t have much competition from what I’ve seen.
What I didn’t like
The pitch to upgrade to the Wheels Up fleet rubbed me the wrong way. It likely costs less to have me on their fleet instead of brokering me to another operator. That makes me think I’ll likely be on a Wheels Up aircraft anyway, whether paying the upgrade or not. It struck me how the airlines pitch upgrades when economy class is overbooked, and they are likely to upgrade you anyway. I don’t think it’s the right approach for a company targeting high-net-worth clients.
- You should be able to easily email the lengthy charter services agreement to your laptop or print it;
- Wheels Up should add the DOT’s recent clarification that you have the right to cancel your booking and receive a full refund after you are notified about the operator if that operator isn’t disclosed before you consummate the transaction;
- You can view the Hot Flights empty legs, although I didn’t see a way to sort them by departure or arrival airport. Still, it’s an attractive enticement to join, bringing back memories of the now gone Delta Private Jets EliteAccess empty leg program.
The Wheels Down section includes dozens of “Hot Nights” offerings for residence rentals from three to seven days. However, you have to join to see pricing, so it’s hard to tell how valuable they are. There’s also a section outlining its various partnerships, including Inspirato, although details are not provided unless you are a Wheels Up paid member. There is also a place listing upcoming events.
Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter has long boasted about his investment in digital and vision of being an online marketplace. Others make lofty claims about their private jet booking technology. However, in this case, Wheels Up delivers. Using the app made me want to join. Overall, it was very easy to use and transparent. It gave me a positive impression of the company. That is more than I can say about quite a few online booking portals I’ve been testing.