Wheels Up re-opens private jet bookings to non-members

By Doug Gollan, July 20, 2022

Non-members can once again book charter flights on Wheels Up on an as-available basis with uncapped, dynamic pricing

Wheels Up is again allowing non-members to book on-demand charter flights.

It had quietly begun allowing non-members to buy flights early in 2021. But, as demand surged to record levels last June and the industry started facing supply chain and labor issues, it restricted selling flights to members.

A spokesperson tells Private Jet Card Comparisons the company reopened bookings for non-members on July 3.

The move comes as the charter market is showing signs of softening.

Argus data shows Part 135 flight activity fell 3.4% in June compared to 2021, although the overall market continued to set records with a 1.9% increase.

Argus’ annual forecast had projected a 6.9% gain in June. Now the researcher expects July private flights to be up just 0.1%. Its original forecast had projected a 4.7% gain.

Unlike most broker interfaces that only offer estimated pricing for on-demand charters, Wheels Up’s digital booking offers hard quotes – actual pricing; you can book and buy, confirming your flight instantly like buying an airline ticket online.

The move comes after it increased capped hourly rates, daily minimums, and peak days for Core members joining or renewing after June 1 at lower deposit levels.

Wheels Up Core Membership offers capped hourly rates with guaranteed availability on a pay-as-you-go option and deposit levels of $100,000, $200,000, and $400,000. The more you deposit, the better terms.

Core Membership costs $17,500 in year one with an annual renewal fee of $8,500.

There is also an entry-level Connect Membership priced at $2,995 in year one and $2,500 annually. It features uncapped dynamic pricing for full aircraft charters and allows you to join shared flights and limited discounted empty legs.

Non-members who can once again book on-demand uncapped dynamically priced charter flights are charged an additional $495 transaction fee for each booking.

Wheels Up Non-Member Bookings

Taking bookings from non-members is not a surprise.

Responding to a question from analyst Marvin Fong during its Q1 earnings call in May, President Vinayak Hegde noted, “There (are) people searching on our platform who have created accounts, and we are not showing availability to them because we are actually focused on servicing our existing members. The advantage as we get more supply of the supply/demand if change gets more efficient is we can actually open up that aperture for non-member customers to search and book on our platform, and those go at market rates, so with better margins for us.”

Earlier in the call, Hegde hinted that Wheels Up could be ready to begin again accepting non-member bookings.

“Our operations improved steadily over the course of the first quarter, and that trend has continued so far in the second quarter. These improvements directly translate to a better customer experience and area where we are relentlessly focused,” he told the analysts.

Hegde pointed to the hiring of pilots – over 250 – and expanding its increase in maintenance technicians, which he said will boost its mobile maintenance capacity by 50% this year.

Investment in technology “add automation to our marketplace by connecting our internal systems to our customer-facing platforms like the Wheels Up App, we can provide real-time customer incentives and tries dynamically to drive demand for off-peak flying.”

While Wheels Up never stopped selling jet card memberships, it added blackout dates for new members joining at lower levels last November. In February, it rescinded those restrictions.

Online Private Jet Booking

The biggest change for non-members is the booking portal now be accessed without the app.

It includes similar features that were available before it was turned off, such as showing peak days during the initial search. It also includes features like showing airport hours of operation, possible fuel stops, and the ability to add pets along with passengers.

The spokesperson says new features make it easier to manage passenger lists and luggage details.

Core Members have guaranteed availability and capped hourly rates across all aircraft categories with as little as 48 hours’ notice. Availability for non-members appears to vary.

For example, a search on Aug. 10 only offers a King Air 350i to fly from Miami Opa Locka Executive Airport to Teterboro Airport.

Yet, on the same day at the same time to fly from OPF to New Orleans, it offers the King Air, plus light, midsize, and super-midsize jet options.

Again, on the same date, Wheels Up is selling non-members the King Air, light, midsize, and super-midsize options from Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Yet, searching Teterboro to Las Vegas on the same date generates a message, “Unfortunately, there are no flights available on this date. Please check alternative dates to explore other flight opportunities.”

Wheels Up vs. Vista Global’s XO

Wheels Up has been battling Vista Global’s XO for digital leadership in the private jet charter segment. Both companies are pioneering digital marketplaces allowing private jet flights to be booked instantly in real-time.

The XO digital interface currently offers a combination of estimated and actual pricing.

Both are seeking to also expand the addressable market for private aviation via shared flights and by-the-seat private flights.

Wheels Up today announced it would again offer weekly by-the-seat flights between Teterboro and Nantucket.

This shuttle will depart every Thursday at 10 am beginning July 21 and return every Sunday at 4 pm starting July 24. Labor Day weekend will operate on a special schedule departing Thursday and returning Monday. The cost per seat on each leg of the shuttle flight starts at $895 per person. It is open only to members who may book up to four seats per flight.

Earlier this year, Vista Global Chairman Thomas Flohr said XO was adding two Challenger 605s dedicated to by-the-seat shuttle flights. Last winter, XO doubled its scheduled flights between New York and South Florida.

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