With record demand, will private jet travel become more expensive? Jet card hourly prices are up 5.8% to 8.7% from December

The recent announcement by market leader NetJets it is raising jet card rates between 2% and 8% raises the question, will others follow suit?

So far the answer seems to be no or maybe. But that may not be the whole story.

Andrew Collins, CEO of Sentient Jet, which racked up $450 million in jet card sales last year, says, “We expect a busy summer after an already significant first quarter and have planned accordingly for it. I’d imagine that anybody utilizing a lower-than-industry pricing strategy will find some challenges on the supply side.”

Wheels Up, which is in the middle of a SPAC merger that will see it become a publicly traded company, pointed us to their first-quarter financial results, which saw gains in revenue per flight. Its public disclosures showed $550 million in flight and membership revenues last year.

A spokesperson for Vista Global’s XO adds, “We currently do not have plans to increase our rates.” However, only 6% of its 2021 jet card bookings are on its fixed-rate Elite Access membership, the rest being market-based dynamic pricing.

2020 Jet Card/Membership Sales Leaders

Provider2020 Jet Card Sales*
NetJets $600 million +
Wheels Up$550 million
Sentient Jet$450 million
* For NetJets, estimated on 20% of 2020 flight hours in North America (company statements) x $10,000/hour (PJCC estimate); Wheels Up from financial documents; Sentient Jet from company statements

An analysis of entry-level fixed-rate jet card pricing from the Private Jet Card Comparisons U.S. database of more than 50 providers shows all-in hourly rates for jet cards with guaranteed availability are 5.84% to 8.67% higher than December 2020, based on aircraft type. The analysis looked at turboprops, very light lights, light jets, midsize jets, super-midsize jets, large-cabin jets, and ultra-long-haul jets. It includes the base rate, fuel surcharges, and the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax.

Much of the increase from December 2020 can be attributed to the restoration of the FET. That tax was waived until Jan. 1, 2021, as part of the CARES Act. Many, but not all companies, reduced their prices during the tax holiday. The tax is based on the date of purchase instead of when you fly. As a result, more than a dozen providers offered funds deposited during the period that could be used tax-free into the future. In some cases, there is no expiration.

Private jet cost

So how much have jet card rates increased since December 2020, and pre-pandemic, December 2019?

  • At the high end of increases (see table below), the average super-midsize hourly rate is currently $9,986, an 8.67% hike compared to December 2020, when the average was $9,190 per hour. However, the current hourly rate average is 0.56% below December of 2019, when super-midsize private jets averaged $10,042 per hour.
  • Light jet rates are up 8.37% compared to December 2020 ($6,068 vs. $5,600), but just 0.74% more than December 2019 ($6,068 vs. $6,023).
  • Midsize jet rates are up 7.99% compared to December 2020 ($7,517 vs. $6,961), but just 0.74% more than December 2019 ($6,068 vs. $6,023).
  • Turboprop rates are up 7.86% compared to December 2020 ($4,804 vs. $4,454), but just 0.89% more than December 2019 ($4,804 vs. $4,762).
  • Very light jet rates are up 7.50% compared to December 2020 ($5,485 vs. $5,102), and down 2.97% compared to December 2019 ($5,485 vs. $5,653).
  • Large cabin rates are up 6.79% compared to December 2020 ($12,930 vs. $12,109), and down 0.79% compared to December 2019 ($12,930 vs. $13,033).
  • Ultra long-haul jets had the smallest increase, only increased 5.84% since December 2020 ($16,210 vs. $15,316), and they are currently 3.71% lower than December 2019 ($16,210 vs. $16,834).

Cost for Jet Cards

(Avg. Hourly Rates – Current vs. Dec. 2020 and Dec. 2019)

 Aircraft CategoryHourly Rate
May-20
(Dollars)
 % Change
vs. Dec 2020
 
Hourly Rate
Dec-20
(Dollars)
 % Change
vs. Dec 2019 
Hourly Rate
Dec-19
(Dollars)
Turboprop4,8047.86%4,4540.89%4,762
Very Light5,4857.50%5,102-2.97%5,653
Light6,0688.37%5,6000.74%6,023
Midsize7,5177.99%6,961-0.18%7,531
Super Midsize9,9868.67%9,190-0.56%10,042
Large12,9306.79%12,109-0.79%13,033
Ultra Long Haul16,2105.84%15,316-3.71%16,834
Source: Private Jet Card Comparisons

What’s next for private jet pricing?

There are a few factors to consider:

  • WingX reports U.S. charter flights year-to-date are 50% above last year, and more importantly, 4% ahead of 2019, with record levels in March and April.
  • Jet fuel prices are up from 2020 but still below 2019 levels.
  • Over the Easter holiday, several brokers told us capacity was stretched so thinly there was no backup aircraft available in case of mechanicals.
  • Providers have been talking about record demand. NetJets said it is hiring 150 additional pilots. Wheels Up, Air Partner, and a variety of others have said they expect a record-setting summer.
  • Take out 2020, and current jet card pricing is flat, and in some cases down compared to where they were in December 2019.

Stealth rate increases

While consumers often focus on the hourly rate, jet card providers can raise flight pricing – what you pay – through stealth moves. They include:

  • Expanding the number of peak days where there are surcharges and longer booking windows
  • Increasing fuel surcharges – or implementing them if their contracts provide the right to do so
  • Increasing daily or segment minimums, in fact, a rate increase if your flights are shorter than the minimum

Programs can also increase the lead time to book your flight. While that doesn’t increase your price, having more advance notice for brokers can save money buying your flight. Likewise, brokers may need to increase the lead time for cancelation if operators do the same. So far, we’ve seen a bit of each since the beginning of the year. However, it seems more like tweaking than a trend.

What should you do?

Most jet cards offer rate locks of 12 to 24 months, so the prospect of price increases is often used to drive sales. Last December, jet card companies raked in deposits as customers rushed to buy jet cards and pocket the 7.5% savings before the FET was reinstated. On the opposite side, companies rarely issue press releases about increases. They leave it to their sales reps to disseminate information tactically. In other words, while you might not need to pull the trigger right now, it’s probably a good idea to figure out which programs fit your needs and open a dialogue with those providers.

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