After saying it was dropping instant booking on-demand pricing and its fixed-rate Route Card in May, Instajet said it would offer full-day charter access on leased jets.
U.K.-based private aviation start-up Instajet Club has been churning out innovative concepts to fly privately.
Nick Davis is the Founder and CEO of the company, which launched last year.
He has been promoting flight programs he claims address problems in the private jet charter and jet card market.
On its website, Instajet boasts about its current offer, “JetAhead is a business jet charter program on a mission to mirror the operational success of low-cost airlines, the most successful and intelligent business models in commercial aviation.”
It claims, “This intelligent booking system means clients pay around 50% less for a like-for-like standard charter.”
However, Instajet’s flight path so far has had stops and starts. It’s something Davis puts off to industry issues from availability to supply chains.
Now, a Chicago business executive, who asked not to be identified, alleges that Instajet hasn’t returned unused funds after canceling its jet card program, another apparent initiative.
In an email dated Sept. 5, 2022, Davis wrote to the jet card client, “It is with deep regret, but the board have taken the decision to terminate the pre-paid hours program with immediate effect due to market pricing conditions and aircraft availability not being financially viable for the business to continue to offer this product.”
He continued, “I am sorry for delivering this news, and I will now start the process of getting the paperwork together to both terminate the program in writing as well as arrange for the return of funds on balance, and I must ask for your patience in this regard as I have to deal with banking partners as part of that process that are slow at the best of times.”
The executive says after broken promises, changing stories and without his money returned, he now plans to file a lawsuit.
In March, the businessperson says he gave Instajet $306,000 to buy 75 hours of flight time in a midsize jet.
The customer says he used $69,900 of funds before Instajet terminated the program.
After we tried to contact Davis last week about program changes, he finally responded with an email titled “Press/Suing.”
He wrote, “Had an interesting call last night and hear you have been contacted by a client. Suggest you let me know who as otherwise, there’s going to be a whole bunch of expensive lawsuits flying around, including some for defamation.”
When reached via phone, Davis declined to comment on the dispute. He called the discussions “confidential,” adding, “You don’t know the full story…He’s a client I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
However, the jet card customer may not be alone. An email from a former Instajet consultant stated, “Unfortunately, I am also owed cash, but it looks like I won’t get paid either!”
(Editor’s Note: Updated Wed. Oct. 26, 2022, @ 10:29 am: The consultant, Steve Westlake, followed with an email after publication that the amount due to him was “a very small amount given that my input was on average only 1.5 days per month. I do, however, expect to get paid as there have been no problems previously.” The email quoted in this story (below) was sent on Oct. 25, 2022.)
The original Instajet Club concept for on-demand charters via its app supposedly solved the back-and-forth of one-off charters.
Instead of getting an estimated price and waiting for it to be confirmed, you received a final price right off the bat.
Instajet offered guaranteed quotes you could book instantly while eschewing membership fees. It would then source the airplanes.
“Reserve your private flights with guaranteed pricing,” its website promised at the time.
Davis described it as “NetJets quality without the NetJets commitment.”
Soon after, Instajet put out a grid with fixed-route prices in the U.S. and Europe under the Route Card banner.
“Our Route Card subscription comprises more than 300 route and aircraft combinations. With no blackout dates, no large fund deposits, and no limits on the number of flights you can take, it is perfect for business and leisure travel alike,” according to Instajet’s website at the time.
For example, it offered $8,000 for a light jet or $20,000 for a large cabin aircraft between New York and South Florida.
Davis said that by working with select operators and only flying between major airports, he would reduce the inefficiency of empty legs and paying for crew nights away from their base.
However, by May of this year, Davis said availability issues meant ditching both the hard quotes that could be booked instantly and its Route Card.
In a taped interview during EBACE, he told us initial forays failed due to a lack of available charter aircraft.
The route pricing was based on a $1,500 monthly subscription.
He said the company refunded fees to members who had joined. There were around 15 members at the time, mainly in the U.S., according to the founder.
In the same interview, Davis told us about his new program, being marketed as JetAhead.
Instead of charging by hourly or route pricing, JetAhead clients would access the aircraft nationally in the U.S. for full-day charters. He compared it to renting a car. They would pay a daily access fee and direct costs, such as fuel and FBO fees. A $100,000 deposit was required.
“The jet is yours for the day, so there’s no waiting around for previous flights. Enjoy the freedom of virtual private jet ownership with zero fuss, stress, or Jet Card frustration,” the company stated.
In the May 24 interview, he said he had secured two leased Citation light jets, providing tail numbers.
Davis said, “We’ve leased our own aircraft. The first two Citations I’ve got. I’ve taken them from Woodbine Aviation on lease.”
Two more midsize aircraft were also being added, although those deals hadn’t been finalized, he said.
He continued, “Anything we do going forward will either be our own leasing, or we’re probably going to end up offering free aircraft management.”
He said he was speaking to “a half dozen” owners wanting charter revenues to offset their costs. They would allow Instajet to rent out their airplanes without owner approval.
On July 25th, after receiving a JetAhead promotional email offering half-day access, we reached out to Davis.
He responded by confirming the twist.
He added that Instajet was taking delivery of one Citation that week, with the second due three weeks later.
“We’ve been running on-demand (Part) 135 to prove the program. N303SD we get this week, and it’s going through conformity now, and N55LX comes in another three weeks,” he wrote.
A company representative from Woodbine Aviation LLC, which owns the two tails Davis identified as being part of his by-the-day charter programs, emailed us, “We do not have now or have we ever had leased aircraft to Instajet, but we have had conversations with them regarding aircraft leases with them.”
During the phone call this week with Davis, he said, “The airplane was exceptionally late. It is still not ready. As the industry is aware, slips happen. We couldn’t just wait.”
Asked about why he told us delivery was imminent when no contract had been signed with the lessor, Davis said, “A lease agreement takes three minutes to sign. It’s not that tricky.”
Both he and the lessor confirmed there were, in fact, delays due to adding WiFi.
However, the Woodbine representative said N303SD was ready weeks later.
FlightAware shows it flew for 32 minutes on Aug. 18 but not regularly until Oct. 5th.
What’s going on now?
It appears Instajet is back to selling cheap fixed pricing on routes, this time using the JetAhead name.
The website reads, “The private jet charter model is bloated and outdated – there have been no major developments in decades, and passengers are still paying well over the odds. In today’s climate, businesses and individuals need to optimize every cost avenue, especially private travel. Enter JetAhead.”
It continues, “We’ve built a program that provides regular travelers with access to wholesale rates for the most popular routes around the UK and its islands. The only compromise, book a slot that works for your schedule.”
It then lists $14,000 for a super midsize jet between Miami and New York. For GPB 11,000, you can get a midsize jet from London to Mallorca. For GBP 5,000, you can get a turboprop between London and the Isle of Man.
Instajet calls its offerings “a game-changing alternative to jet cards or ownership programs.”‘
It adds, “You must accept a small compromise in scheduling times when required for the prices we are offering, as that’s the whole point of what we are trying to do, to give you unbeatable prices.”
Under an FAQ section about sourcing, the website reads, “The aircraft are long-term leased by Instajet and exclusively managed for and on behalf of Instajet Club Ltd by approved CAA / EASA or FAA AOC holders under a management contract.”
Instajet also claims to have backup aircraft ready.
The website notes, “We also have spare ‘Pool’ aircraft in the program that are not Instajet owned but available to us – this gives us more than sufficient flex within the booking system to resolve scheduling conflicts and to ensure lift for our members. We can also draw on the on-demand market for supplemental lift as required.”
Davis declined to discuss his latest offerings or if he has secured any aircraft on lease. After he hung up, we rang him back. He again declined to comment, again threatening legal action.
On its website and in previous interviews, Davis and Instajet claimed deposits were protected.
Its website reads, “Unlike with some providers, your money is safe and secure when you fly with Instajet. Our unique, modern payment system means that every flight you take with Instajet comes with unlimited FCA financial protection for you…Payments are safely held in your client account, ready for transfer to the operator upon contract agreement. Safeguarding of your funds is assured in accordance with the Electronic Money Regulations and the Payment Services Regulations.”
It added, “All passenger payments are protected, regardless of the value, unlike standard bank accounts where limits apply.”
However, it appears that wasn’t the case with the jet card contract signed by the Chicago executive.
In our May interview, Davis told us the deposit money for his by-the-day program would be protected.
“That’s why we have obviously gone through Currency Cloud in order to provide that level of protection because it’s very important. You look at lots of (other programs), and you read the small print, and it clearly states it’s working capital.”