Switching jet card memberships? Here's what you need to consider

Delays and service lapses are leading more jet card members to see if the grass is greener with another program.

By Doug Gollan, August 30, 2021

The number of jet card providers has doubled in the past decade – for a good reason – they make private flying easy. It’s like having your own private jet for 25 hours at a time. However, record demand, combined with supply chain and staffing issues, is leading to delays and service lapses at an unrecognizable level across private aviation.

My flight was delayed. The service recovery took until the next day. The replacement aircraft was a downgrade. The catering was wrong. I was on hold for 20 minutes. Nobody followed up. They never responded to my emails.

As many of you have told me, when one pays six figures, it’s not acceptable. And yes, it’s still much better than the airlines. It’s just flying privately is not the flawless experience it used to be.

In fact, almost 20% of paid subscribers to Private Jet Card Comparisons say they have had service issues on recent trips. The same respondents say they have made an average of $240,000 in deposits over the past 18 months. It’s not small money. Most importantly, it’s your money!

Figuring out what’s real is often difficult. It’s easy for salespeople to promise the sun, moon, and stars – no delays and flawless service.

From one day to the next, I had a subscriber tell me a smaller provider was telling him that the issue with his current program was they had thousands of customers – more than they could handle. The next day, another reader said a salesperson from that same large provider told her that the smaller provider she was considering couldn’t get jets since the big players had bought the market.

If you’ve talked to me, you’ll know that my first word of caution is the grass may not be greener. From what I’ve heard directly and seen in the research, no players are immune. On-demand charter is worse, it seems.

However, if you want to switch, here are some words of advice.

Know what you are leaving.

Many of you I’ve talked with have been with the same provider for several years. In quite a few cases, it has been the only jet card provider you’ve used. It’s easy to assume all programs are more or less the same. They’re not, and often, the important differences are buried in the fine print of the contracts and omitted from those glossy brochures.

Looking quantitatively at other programs, make sure those companies pitching you deliver the same level of beneficial policies that match your needs:

  • Daily Minimums: Daily minimums are what you will be charged even if your flight or flights on that day are less than the minimum. Some programs have daily minimums of 60 minutes, including taxi time, although many are 90 to 180 minutes, increasing with larger jets. The daily minimum is what you are charged. If you make a 70-minute flight and the daily minimum is 120 minutes, you will be charged for 120 minutes of flight time.
  • Segment Minimums: Like daily minimums, programs with segment minimums charge you the minimum even if that segment is less. It’s often a surprise as some programs don’t have segment minimums – just a daily minimum. If there is no segment minimum, if you have a 70-minute flight and a 30-minute flight, you are charged 70 minutes + 12 minutes taxi time and 30 minutes + 12 minutes taxi time, for a total of 124 minutes. Programs that have segment minimums also charge at least 60 minutes each time you take off. A program with a 60-minute segment minimum, including taxi time, would charge the same trip as 70 minutes + 12 minutes and then add 60 minutes as your flight and taxi time were less than the segment minimum. You would be charged 142 minutes, a difference of 18 minutes. On a light jet, that could be about $2,000.
  • Primary Service Area: While most programs with fixed-one-way rates and guaranteed availability honor that pricing nationally, once you fly beyond the Continental U.S., the primary and extended service areas vary. Some only charge international fees. Others have surcharges of 10% to 60%, and yet others just price the trip dynamically, as if you were calling a broker. In other words, they are factoring in repositioning flights. You also may lose service recovery and other inclusions you get when flying within the PSA. Make sure the potential providers have one-way pricing to the places you want to fly – and find out about surcharges and additional fees.
  • Deicing: Not all programs include this. Costs range from around $1,000 to up to $10,000 per incidence, based on the size of the aircraft and location. If you do a lot of winter weather flying, it’s something to consider. One subscriber who had switched told me last year he spent over $50,000 on deicing during one season flying between the Midwest and Colorado in super mids.
  • Peak Days: The number of peak days ranges from 0 to over 100. Some don’t have surcharges, and others charge up to 40%. However, all programs reserve the right to accelerate or delay your departure on peak days. Typical is +/- 3 hours, although one major provider just updated their terms to make it +/- 6 hours. In other words, until you get to the airport – and literally get airborne, that 5 p.m. departure can be moved to anywhere from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. What’s more, some programs don’t allow cancelations for peak day bookings, and others only offer dynamic pricing – not your contracted rates.
  • Rate Lock: While you may think that your 12, 24, or even 36-month rate lock is standard, it’s not. Some programs reserve the right to increase your contracted price on 30 days’ notice. Make sure you understand how rate increases are implemented and what type of notice is provided.
  • Fuel Surcharges: Some programs have fuel surcharges, while others have surcharges that kick in based on the current price of jet fuel. Make sure to verify current fuel surcharges. Hint – They’ve been going up.
  • Cancelation Policies: If you are used to being able to cancel or change flights on 10 or 24 hours notice or not be charged inside the cancelation window if the aircraft hasn’t been repositioned, make sure you pay attention to the cancelation terms of the programs you are considering. Losing $30,000 happens.
  • 1 + 1 = 1: If you fly 40+ hours per year, it can often make sense to have more than one program based on your travel patterns. But if you have $100,000 in funds or 15 hours left, and your current program fits your future trips, I recommend using your current hours and funds first, particularly if they are under a rate lock that will expire. In my opinion, giving another provider $200,000 and hoping for a better experience is like losing money at the blackjack table and switching to roulette, hoping your luck will change.
  • Pets, Catering, Wi-Fi, Fully Enclosed Lavs: Yes, not all providers accommodate pets; WiFi guarantees vary quite a bit, even by programs from a provider; some charge extra for catering beyond packaged snacks, sodas, and coffees, and others don’t guarantee a fully enclosed lav on light jets.

I know sometimes it just feels good to make a change when you aren’t happy. If you do, make sure you study the details of the new provider’s programs carefully. You may find they aren’t as good a match as your current program.

Program Decider

All of the above doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look if you are unhappy. Use the Decider tool, and we can provide you with a custom analysis. Or, do it yourself by using the filters in Row 3. Filter the companies you want to compare in Column A and where you will be flying in Column J.

One last word. Looking ahead, my gut is this would be a good year to stay home for the holidays and have your friends and family come to you.

Related Articles

Visit DG Amazing Experiences

Find the perfect solution for your private aviation needs

Make the right decision

If you want a program-by-program comparison of more than 500 products from more than 50 companies covering 65 points of differentiation and over 40,000 data points.