How to have a better experience from your private jet program

While you should have high expectations for your private jet provider after paying a lot of money, here are easy tips that will help mitigate disappointment and frustration.

By Doug Gollan, February 16, 2023

While you should have high expectations for your private jet provider after paying a lot of money, here are easy tips that will help mitigate disappointment and frustration

Recently I offered some advice for those of you considering switching jet card programs, something about half of subscribers say they are considering.

While you may have good reasons for a fresh start, finding a new program is time-consuming (even if we help make it easier).

What’s more, splitting with your provider mid-program is likely to cost you money. Some programs are non-refundable, and they mean it. Others that are refundable still have penalties that can run up to 20% of the remaining funds.

Still, jet cards and memberships offer guaranteed availability to book flights at a contracted price in minutes, saving time and often giving preferred cancelation terms and no-cost recovery compared to chartering flight-by-flight.

It means despite the bumps, the programs remain as popular as ever.

Therefore, this article aims to share feedback from providers and what I have seen firsthand, specifically where customers can help themselves to have a better experience.


I, of course, recommend you subscribe to Private Jet Card Comparisons to start.

That’s not as self-serving as it seems. If you find a program that suits your needs and they deliver, it probably lowers the chances you renew. But that’s my problem, not yours, and most of you do renew, so thank you!

Back to research. The value of Private Jet Card Comparisons is not telling you which program to join, but by analyzing your flying needs and comparing them to the rules and policies of the over 800 options from more than 60 providers spanning from on-demand charter to jet cards and fractional ownership, typically we can narrow it down around a half dozen specific providers and options.

After that, I always tell subscribers to speak to those providers.

Yes, I know most folks don’t want to have a bunch of calls with private aviation salespeople.

However, it’s those conversations that add depth to the data.

It’s a chance to begin a deeper dialogue, kick the tires, and ask questions.

Subscribers who initially start by saying, “Just tell me who to choose,” come back and say they were glad they spoke to each company. Many tell me that they ended up going with a provider they originally hadn’t considered or crossed off the list.

Buying a jet card

In business, some great deals are made with a handshake.

That’s not the case when buying into a fractional ownership program, jet card, private aviation membership, or even an on-demand one-off charter flight.

The devil is in the details, and expect nothing more than what is in the contract you sign, which is written for the benefit of the provider.

That’s not to say providers will not waive terms or do more than they are obligated to, extending the validity of hours and so forth.

I’m just saying don’t expect it. If a program says non-refundable, don’t expect to get a refund.

Get it in writing

However, don’t take conversations with a salesperson for contractual commitments.

If your salesperson tells you some issue or request shouldn’t be a problem, get it in writing. If the provider doesn’t add it to your contract, make your decisions on that basis.

Most of all, read the contract line-by-line.

The contracts, as I said, are written for the provider’s benefit.

For fractional ownership and leases, engage a specialist attorney.

Even more than jet cards and on-demand charters, buying a share is a five-year commitment, and there are also significant tax implications and other minutiae.

Subscribers who have used attorneys to review their card and charter contracts tell me it was a worthwhile investment as well.

There is a short list of attorneys who do this all day, and it’s available for paid subscribers.

A good chunk of new subscribers come here telling me they didn’t do enough research or understand what they bought.

I know folks often get in the mode where they just want to fly and want to make a quick decision.

Salespeople know when to shut up and make the sale. Make sure you do your due diligence and that the program’s terms and policies fit your flying needs.

I often tell subscribers who have no idea where they are going to fly it’s best to wait until they have some trips in mind since it doesn’t make sense to join a program and then find out it isn’t a good fit for your flights.

Believe it or not, that happens more than you think. Don’t let it happen to you!

Starting out

Congratulations, you are now a member of Optimal Aviation’s Jet Card.

You just want to book a trip and fly!

It’s like when I get a new laptop. I don’t want to spend time watching videos about new features. I want to dive in and use it.

However, it’s that interaction with your company at the beginning, executives say, that can help you get more out of the program.

Onboarding sessions

Providers often offer onboarding sessions with customers.

I’m told new members who just paid hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, will not take advantage of them, no show, or have their executive assistants or CFOs handle the call.

While they should also be on the call, so should you and any lead passengers who will be flying.

These calls will enable you to ask practical questions and review the fine print (you may have missed the first time).

I’ve heard from subscribers who didn’t realize they were booking on a peak day because they hadn’t looked at the peak day calendar.

They were surprised when they were told it would be dynamic pricing because they missed the longer peak day callout.

Others who hadn’t flown on peak days didn’t realize their departure time could be moved, in some cases up to the next day, although more typically is +/- 3 hours.

A good onboarding session should gather more information about your needs and allow the provider to recap the company rules and policies.

That can include reviewing protocols for booking, canceling, ordering catering and ground transportation, invoices, and so forth.

One provider tells me they are 10 times more likely to have a complaint from a new customer when the principal doesn’t go through onboarding personally.

Provider emails

Yes, this seems simple.

I often publish news about programs I receive from subscribers who receive the information via emails from their providers.

Jet cards rarely publish program changes in press releases. They save those for collaborations with celebrity chefs and sponsorships of polo tournaments.

After I publish the changes (thank you for sending them!), I hear from a dozen more subscribers who fly with that program asking where I heard about the news.

When I tell them it’s from an email their provider sent, they check their inbox, and voila.

Typical email open rates range, I’m told range from 30% to 80 %, a huge spread. Either way, it means 20%-to-70% of customers don’t get the news.

Emails are the most common way providers tell you about big and small changes.

Since most contracts allow providers gratuitous liberty to make midstream changes, those emails are worth a look!

Check-in calls

Some jet card providers try to schedule check-in calls.

It’s a great time to give feedback – good and bad. It’s also a good time to make sure you are up to speed on any program changes that impact your flying before they impact an important trip.

It’s also a good chance to introduce your new executive assistant to the provider or update them on changes with what you need.

Your daughter is getting married, so you are going to now need nine seats for those vacation flights instead of eight.

Assuming it isn’t an issue is a big mistake.

A small change like that can mean you now need a large cabin aircraft instead of a super-midsize.

More and more programs vary in terms of use by cabin category, so make sure you know if there are any differences when you book a large cabin jet, for example

It may mean that you should also look at supplemental options for those trips.

In other words, just like you probably have business reviews with the folks who manage businesses for you, it’s a smart move to take advantage of update calls.


A great way to get to know senior-level executives at your provider is to attend events.

Executives say it enables them to get to know customers personally and to get unvarnished feedback beyond normal surveys.

Most of all, it’s handy to have an email or phone number you can reach out to if you find yourself in a pickle and your salesperson or customer support aren’t able to come up with a solution.


Jet cards and fractional ownership make flying easy.

Instead of going back and forth with multiple brokers, getting quotes, reviewing each quote to determine the varied cancelation policies, and transferring money, sometimes on short notice, all you have to do is pick up the phone or send an email, and voila, flight booked.

Still, details matter.

Get a quote

Providers tell me to ask for a quote at the time of booking. While some providers use actual flight times, others use estimated flight times to calculate how much you will be charged.

While the final pricing may vary if your provider uses actual flight time, having a quote in advance will at least make sure you have calculated everything correctly in your head.

It may also reveal you are booking a trip outside of your Primary Service Area, where fixed pricing would apply.

One subscriber found out the Caribbean wasn’t part of his program’s fixed pricing only after getting an estimate for an upcoming trip and seeing it was 70% higher than his contracted fixed rate.

Private jet passenger counts

How many passengers can you fit into a light jet?

It varies by aircraft type, and within our jet card database, program guarantees range from five to eight seats for a light jet, or even nine, including a belted lavatory.

One provider tells me, “Nothing takes the shine off the private flying experience like an overcrowded plane, and while it may be more expensive, it is almost always worth it.”

He continues, “You want the best option for completing the trip. Remember, no matter how large, every private aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight, and if you exceed that weight, something, or even worse, someone is getting left behind.”

Private jet luggage constraints

Despite public perception and what may be depicted in the movies, most private aircraft are not built to seat a dozen passengers comfortably with an infinite amount of luggage space.

Private jets also do not have an underside luggage space the way airliners do.

The general rule of thumb is two bags, one overnight bag, and one suitcase.

Providers tell me soft-sided luggage is the best.

One provider tells me, “These aircraft cannot double as moving trucks.”

In other words, don’t show up with everything you need for the ski house during the next four months.

Specify bicycles, surfboards, sports equipment, musical equipment, paintings, dog kennels, and measurements ahead of time.

This will enable your provider to make sure you are reserving an aircraft type that fits your needs for that mission.

Flexible dates

One of the reasons you fly privately is convenience, and part of that is flying where you want, when you want.

Many of us are creatures of habit. We make the same trips on the same dates every year.

That worked well until demand reached record levels, and providers struggled with supply and supply chain and labor issues, plus everything from ATC to ground staff shortages at FBOs.

If you want to minimize delays, flexibility is now your friend.

Several providers tell me when booking your flight, a good move is to ask if being flexible will help minimize potential disruptions and what dates and times they recommend.

Avoiding peak days and high-demand days, they say, significantly reduces the chance you’ll be delayed.

Moving your departure by even a day or two can have a big impact.

Flexible airports

While one reason to fly privately is the use of convenient airports, some airports are having more difficult times than others due to overcrowded ramps or shortages at the FBOs.

Those shortages can mean delays in refueling, which can cause a delay.

When booking, ask if a nearby alternative airport would be better.

This can also save you money. High-density airports often have surcharges.

During major sporting events, FBOs often have surcharges between $1,000 to $3,000. It doesn’t matter if you are flying in for the event, so if there is another airport nearby that works for you, you not only may save delays but also money.

Give yourself a buffer

The day of flying in an hour before the meeting is a recipe for being late. Try to come in the night before or at least several hours before your event.

I’ve heard from subscribers who’ve missed weddings and funerals, including one subscriber who missed them on consecutive weekends.

I’ve also heard from subscribers who told me their provider couldn’t arrange a recovery flight until the next day. Unfortunately, I’ve heard it multiple times.

Is it acceptable? Not really. But it is a reality these days.

You have the net worth to fly privately because you likely have a very good business judgment of risk versus reward.

The truth is that severe delays are something you need to factor into your decision-making process.

Private jet catering

In smaller markets, pre-Covid caterers either closed or no longer serve the private aviation sector.

Other catering options are merely restaurants that added takeout options but don’t specialize in private jet catering.

This increases the opportunity for mistakes in terms of coordinating delivery to the FBO and then ensuring the right catering gets to the right aircraft.

Even experienced caterers have the same supply issues as your local grocery store.

Consider ordering basic items instead of more complicated dishes.

Unless you are in a large cabin Gulfstream, Global, or Falcon, the galley facilities are limited, and even in those cases, there are still limitations, as it’s mainly reheating versus cooking.

Order your catering as far in advance as possible. I’m told while folks book trips weeks before; they still wait until the day before departure to order catering.

It not only puts more last-minute stress on your provider but also increases the chance of a letdown.

Ground Transportation

There are still shortages of rental cars, and there are still issues with black cars.

A good provider should be tracking either based on your arrival.

That said if you usually book your rental cars and sedans, and your car providers are telling you there isn’t availability, or the price is through the roof, expect your private aviation providers to get the same answers.

That doesn’t mean don’t use them as a resource. It just means be pleasantly surprised if they can help or get you a better deal.

Also, please don’t make the mistake I once did and assume there are Ubers everywhere you go. I found out the hard way the local taxi service was in a town 30 miles away.

At the end of the day, remember for all providers, catering and ground transportation is provided by a third party which we have little to no control over.

Markups, if any, generally cover the staff time and overhead of fulfilling these requests.

Book in advance

Take advantage of the flexible cancelation terms most jet cards offer to book in advance.

This gives you more time to sort out issues like the correct aircraft type if you have six passengers, three dogs, and four golf bags. It also gives your provider more time to organize ground transportation and catering.

Providers tell me getting you onto their flight schedules farther in advance helps, be they are broker, operator, or hybrid program.

Preparing your guests

Make sure your guests have the necessary identification. If you are flying with unaccompanied minors, for example, friends of your children, make sure you have the proper documentation.

Show up on time

Most programs provide a waiting time of 30-to-60 minutes if you are late.

After that, you are both charged as a no-show, and the airplane may leave, so it isn’t delayed for subsequent flights.

Flying privately is great because you can show up and depart, avoiding the hassles of big airports.

However, sometimes FBOs can be hard to find.

If you are running late, call your provider as soon as possible.

Also, call the FBO and ask them to page the pilots, so they know you are running late.

If an accident closes a highway, you miss that departure window, and the airplane leaves, expect to be charged the full flight costs as stipulated in the cancelation terms.

It’s private, but…

Telling your provider why you are going, particularly if it’s time-sensitive, such as connecting to an international airline flight, a wedding, or a board meeting, enables them to utilize their systems to flag your trip for extra attention.

Value added

Many providers have additional perks for members. They include discounts on luxury goods and services to free trial memberships, and overnights at five-star hotels and resorts.

If you want to get as much out of your program as possible, investigate the various member benefits.

In some cases, it could even be something as simple as giving you top-tier status with a car rental company with a VIP phone number that bypasses the normal hold times.

I’ve also spoken to several subscribers who use the events their provider offers to entertain clients.

It’s a valuable benefit they would find hard – and expensive – to pull off on their own.

So, while it may not be the primary reason for choosing a provider, it is more important than they originally thought.

The last straw

I speak to many flyers who leave their complaints with their salesperson or flight services team.

I’ve also spoken to customers who had an unhappy experience but were waiting for a call with a C-level executive to discuss their issues.

At least 90% of the time, the senior-level executive was able to help with a resolution.

In some cases, I’ve found that those calls resulted in the customer ending the relationship, but it ended because it became clear that the program was no longer a good fit for that customer.

Programs change, as do people’s needs. Communication is always helpful.

Final Thoughts

Joining a private aviation program is a big financial commitment. You should have high expectations, yet there are the realities of the current market.

Providers should do better, but I do believe they are trying.

As I wrote previously, salespeople need to do a better job moderating expectations. However, that may be wishful thinking.

Hopefully, by scrutinizing programs before signing and then keeping up with updates, better planning for trips, including the number of passengers and luggage, and using any flexibility you have with dates and airports, you can have a better experience.

It’s really all you can do, but since it is your money, and it’s a lot of money, I hope these tips help make sure things go smoothly.

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