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.
The booking process was intuitive with lots of helpful information along the way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.