7 things you can negotiate when buying a jet card that will save you thousands of dollars

By Doug Gollan, June 21, 2021

Jet card pricing and policies aren’t set in stone. View proposals as an initial offer; however, promotional offers can be expensive if you buy into the wrong program

You may remember those inflight magazine ads that read, “You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.” It’s sage advice when buying a jet card or membership. That said, while a free hour may not be a given, quite a few providers offer a bonus hour via partnerships with wealth management firms and other affinity organizations. On a large cabin jet, that can mean a value of more than $10,000. However, if you buy into the wrong program, you could end up paying more than you need – and not get the experience you wanted in the first place.

So, our first bit of advice is, figure out which programs best fit your needs before you negotiate. If you are reading this, you are behind the paywall; hence you are a paid subscriber. Make sure to take advantage of our VIP JET CARD DECIDER service if you want some help. The purpose of DECIDER is to narrow the options- from hundreds – to the ones that fit your flying needs. That puts you in a good place to start. You will be talking to providers whose programs are a match. NOTE: If your flying plans are in flux so that you can’t answer the questions in DECIDER, you may not be ready to buy a card! It’s the details that matter – and that’s based on your flying – knowing where you will want to fly, how many people, and so forth.

Jet Card Negotiations 101

Once you’ve identified the providers and programs that meet your needs, let’s talk about what you deserve, or more aptly, what you can negotiate.

Free Hours and Flight Credits

Some providers give one free hour via partnerships with wealth management firms and other affinity organizations. It may be advantageous not to mention this on your first call. You can always fall back on a preferred deal at a later point. I recommend concluding your initial call or information request with a polite ask, something along the lines of, “Can you let me know about any special offers and free hours promotions currently available.” You’ll find programs that sell by hours typically offer free hours when they do, while those that sell by dollar denomination offer a dollar amount of flight credits. The more you deposit, the more you can expect.

Extended Rate Locks

One benefit of a fixed rate jet card program is you lock in a guaranteed rate. The rate lock varies. You can compare policies in Column AU of the spreadsheet. Some rate locks last as long as your funds—twelve months typical. Extending the rate lock is something we see offered, typically for an extra six months. If you are buying more hours than you expect to use during the rate lock period, this can be a good ask. While right now, there is speculation that record demand will see more price increases, in the past, prices didn’t necessarily increase on a year-over-year basis. You can see a price analysis by category here.

Joining and Membership Fees

I hate to say this, but joining and membership fees are meant to be negotiated away – if you are also making a deposit. At a minimum, you should try to get all or some of the fees in flight credits. Wheels Up has a set discount on joining fees if you deposit $100,000 or more. Either way, our QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING calculator amortizes the fees into your estimated flight cost based on the number of hours per year you expect to fly. If you negotiate a discount, adjust the amount you are paying in Columns BB and BC, and you will get a revised flight cost estimate.

Short Leg Waivers

Jet card programs have daily (Column BO) and segment minimums (Column BM). In some cases, it’s only a daily minimum. These often vary by size of aircraft. The larger the aircraft, the higher the minimum. Even if your flight is shorter than the minimum, you get charged the minimum. So, if your program has a 120-minute minimum and you make a 45-minute flight, you are charged the full two hours. If once a year, you have a flight below the minimum, ask about a short-leg waiver.

Destination Waivers

One of the benefits of jet cards is fixed hourly rates is you know how much you are going to pay, and for most programs, the fixed rates are based on occupied hours only. In other words, you don’t pay ferry fees. As you scan the fine print, you may see that a program you like doesn’t include the Caribbean island (Column BW in our spreadsheet) you visit. Ask about a destination waiver. For example, if Antigua is not part of the Caribbean program, but other destinations are, will the provider extend its Caribbean pricing to your specific destination? A program that doesn’t include Hawaii isn’t going to add it. However, if your destination is close to other places covered in the fixed-rate service area, it’s worth asking.

Lower Buy-ins

For first-time buyers, some providers that normally require a purchase of 25 hours will offer 20 hours. In some instances, I’ve seen 12.5-hour cards offered as part of a broader relationship that the provider has with your company. You can view minimum buy-in requirements in Columns S and T.

Confirmed Upgrades

Most jet card flyers find they get upgrades from time to time. These are based on operational needs. However, jet card providers also offer confirmed upgrades on a promotional basis. These can be extremely valuable if you need a larger cabin jet for a specific trip. While the average price difference from light to midsize jet is $1,449 per hour, the average cost to upgrade from a midsize to a super-midsize jet is $2,469, and from super mid to large cabin jet averages $2,944 per hour. In other words, a confirmed roundtrip upgrade from a midsize jet to a super-midsize jet for a four-hour flight is going to provide $19,752 in value, or equal to 2.62 free hours at the average midsize rate.

What’s realistic?

Okay. Now that you are excited about what could be on the table, let’s talk about realistic expectations. A free hour represents a 4% value. If you come away a free hour, that’s worth somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 based on the size of aircraft you are buying. I consider anything over 4% to be a victory. However, that’s only if the program fits your need. Negotiating discounts, credits, and waivers for a program that doesn’t fit your flying needs is fool’s gold. You’ll end up paying more for something else.

How to prepare

I don’t need to tell readers of Private Jet Card Comparisons that preparation is essential to successful negotiations. The best way to focus your negotiation is to understand where your target programs fall short of meeting your needs. In other words, focus on your flights that don’t align with program rules.

For example, the program has a 90-minute daily minimum on light jets and is a good fit for your six roundtrips between Teterboro and Palm Beach since they are above that threshold. But, once a year, you fly to Nantucket, a 30-minute flight. Since other programs you are considering have 60-minute minimums, that Nantucket trip will cost you an extra hour compared to the options, regardless of actual flight time. Asking for a one-time per year short-leg waiver is the same as getting a free hour.

Also, consider what is being offered. If you buy 25 hours and you know you will easily use them inside the 12-month rate lock, a rate-lock extension probably isn’t of great value. Ask if you can trade a rate-lock extension for another free hour or something of more value to you.

What not to do

Your wealth management company or another affinity group may offer you a discount with “partner” companies. Your friend at the club may get a referral bonus. Neither is worthwhile if the program doesn’t meet your needs. It’s also not necessary to mention either when you first make contact. Discuss your needs. Ask about incentives available. While I don’t think you can expect the provider you choose to stack benefits, you may find you negotiated something different that is more valuable for you.

Final Tips

You’re likely spending $50,000 to $500,000 or more on private flying. Treat your interaction with jet card providers the same way as if you were buying a company. Make sure the program and policies fit your needs. You wouldn’t buy a company that doesn’t fit with your strategy.

Detail as much of your expected flying as possible. I think some companies may grant exceptions and discounts based on your flying, so the more information you can give them, the more likely you will get the best offer. Accept that while you may not get exactly what you asked for – a short leg waiver, you may get something else of value offered in its place.

Realize that you probably have two opportunities to negotiate. At your initial contact, and then when you have it narrowed down to the finalists, and you are ready to sign.

Get any discounts, upgrades, or perks you negotiated written into your contract. Unfortunately, I’ve seen cases where there are misunderstandings. Most importantly, remember there are limits. While a free hour – equal to a 4% value when buying 25 hours is a good target – make sure the program fits. At the end of the day, you are buying the company – not the discount or deal.

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