Six reasons not to buy a jet card

While jet cards offer a myriad of benefits, they aren’t for everyone and aren’t necessarily a singular solution. Here’s why….

By Doug Gollan, December 5, 2022

Jet cards are a tool of convenience. The ones that offer fixed or capped rates with guaranteed availability enable you to book flights in seconds and, at the same time, accurately budget how much you will be paying over the next 12 to 24 months.

There are other perks too. You don’t have to worry about wiring money or credit card fees with every flight. Some programs include deicing and catering. Most only charge for occupied hours, so you don’t have to factor in repositioning charges to fly from a more convenient airport.

Many private jet memberships guarantee recovery aircraft without extra expense; some offer one-way pricing to places like the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii, and even for global travel.

The 3 Types of Jet Card Pricing

But jet cards are not for everyone, and they may be only part of your solution.

Here are six reasons you shouldn’t buy a jet card.

1. You want the best price

Many people believe jet cards are like Costco. Because they are buying in bulk – 25 or 50 hours at a time, they are getting a better price.

While using a jet card may sometimes cost less than an on-demand charter, if you are looking for the lowest price, you may do better shopping trips on a trip-by-trip basis.

Key benefits of many jet cards are guaranteed availability at fixed or capped hourly pricing, one-way pricing where you only pay for occupied hours – the time you are in the airplane, better cancelation terms, and service recovery at no additional cost if your original airplane or flight crew can’t make the trip.

With on-demand charters, you face a requote, and unless you are a good, frequent customer with your provider, you will need to pay the new – usually higher price or re-arrange your travel plans until prices come down.

If you are a shopper constantly negotiating the last thousand dollars, don’t expect your broker to bend over backward when something goes amiss.

My experience with subscribers is while you may save money on several trips by shopping each one to several providers when something goes wrong, unless you are flexible, you give it all back with the recovery flight costs.

Another factor in jet cards is you save time – booking and canceling is one call, email, text, or tapping your computer keys, so you don’t have to go back and forth with several brokers or operators and react quickly, so you don’t lose a quote.

Yet, if you have the time to look, are flexible on dates, and simply want for the lowest price for each flight based on your travel patterns, you could be better off buying trip-by-trip.

2. You have specific aircraft requirements

The vast majority of jet cards are category cards, meaning you get a light jet, midsize jet, super-midsize, or large cabin jet, and some programs have turboprops, very light jets, or ultra-long haul.

Still, with a few exceptions, the guarantee is for a cabin class, not a specific aircraft type.

That means you don’t have that assurance if you need a stand-up cabin. For example, you want a six feet high cabin.

With a category program, you could get a Citation X – the same cabin diameters as the midsize Citation Excel/XLS, but with a transcontinental range, seating eight passengers, or you could get a Challenger 300, also seating eight passengers but with a stand-up cabin.

Also, if you want a specific configuration, for example, a Challenger 300 with a divan in the back instead of four club seats, you would want to book on-demand so that you can specify cabin configuration.

Lastly, if you are sensitive to aircraft age or refurbishment date, that’s something you can specify flight-by-flight chartering on-demand, which is harder to achieve with card programs.

3. You have specialized flight requirements

While with guaranteed availability jet cards, you get to specify departure time, on peak days, programs can move your departure plus or minus three hours, and sometimes even more.

They are also flying aircraft to maximize revenue, so your airplane may have had another trip earlier in the day. That means weather delays, ATC delays, and late passengers on an earlier flight can delay you.

If you have a medical appointment or a board meeting with on-demand charters, you can specify that you want the airplane and crew positioned the night before. Yes, you will have to pay extra, but you are already paying a lot to fly privately.

Delays these days are commonplace, and recovery flights after mechanicals can stretch to the next day, so if you absolutely must be there at a specific time, you either need to think about flying the day before or paying extra to have your airplane positioned earlier – which would mean an on-demand charter.

Lastly, if you make multiple stops in a single day and want to use the same airplane, it will be hit-and-miss with card programs.

While there is a high likelihood you will have the same aircraft with you, it’s not a given.

So, if you are looking at the flexibility to move your subsequent flights based on changes to your schedule, an on-demand charter where you have booked the airplane for the entire day is probably best. Again, it may cost you more, but if you need it, you need it.

4. You don’t want to put money on account

Understandably, many people don’t want to wire $250,000 for flights they aren’t going to take for a year or haven’t even planned.

Unless your jet card provider has an escrow account, the money you put on account is likely being used as working capital and, in the case of an insolvency, would be lost, and you would be an unsecured creditor.

And yes, you can lose money on your next flight booking trip-by-trip, but you won’t lose a million dollars, as Netflix did in the JetSuite bankruptcy.

And there are pay-as-you-go jet cards with guaranteed availability and fixed/capped hourly rates. However, you are paying a membership fee, so you need to amortize that over the hours you expect to fly.

A $10,000 annual fee and 20 flight hours mean a $500 per hour premium to factor into what you are paying.

That said, putting money on account saves credit card and wire fees, and if you book last minute, it means you don’t have to spend time figuring out wires on a bank holiday.

5. Rules don’t apply to you

When you sign a jet card contract, which can run dozens of pages, you are signing a binding legal agreement.

A good portion of jet cards, specifically state deposits, are non-refundable. Some expire funds after a certain period or raise your rate after a fixed period of months – or years.

I’m always surprised at the number of people who believe their providers will waive various rules because they have changed their minds.

My experience – excepting Covid exceptions – is exceptions are rare once you’ve signed.

And yes, the contracts are written for the provider’s benefit, giving them wiggle room to change things, the flexibility you aren’t granted.

If you aren’t ready to commit to the rules and policies of the agreement, you are probably better off chartering flight-by-flight, making sure you are okay with those terms but not being stuck in a program at the end of the day; you regret joining.

6. Not sure of your travel plans

Jet cards can save you hours of time and lots of money in extra fees – from deicing to recovery flights, and let you fly from the most convenient airports without incurring repositioning charges. Yet, they are a devil in the details purchase. Where you are planning to fly is one of the most important things you should have a good idea about before signing up.

If you don’t have any idea or plans, I recommend waiting until you have a few trips in mind; then, you can buy into a program that fits what you need.

Final Thoughts

I like to say you’re not marrying your jet card.

One benefit is that they are relatively short-term commitments compared to fractional ownership or outright owning an airplane.

If your needs change and the program no longer fits your needs, you can change to a new program or even add a second program, something many people do if they find one provider doesn’t fit their varied needs.

Most importantly, view private aviation as a range of solutions. The key is to find the right mix for you, be it a broker for on-demand flying, a local operator, who might be ideal for certain trips, a jet card or membership, fractional ownership, leases, or even owning your own airplane.

Each solution has a place in the market. The key is making sure your solutions match your needs.

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