Led by the former CEO of Frontier Airlines and Exclusive Resorts, Manifest’s jet card offers attractive pricing on a pay-as-you-go basis and a low joining fee. Can the start-up deliver?
Manifest, a travel club led by former CEO of Frontier Airlines, Exclusive Resorts, and Surf Air Jeff Potter, is making an ambitious entry into the jet card market.
It marks a new and latest twist for the 2019 start-up, which like many companies, has had to zig and zag due to the pandemic.
When it launched, Manifest was focused on running curated lifestyle getaways using private jets as transportation.
The idea was to build memberships in key markets. Like-minded folks could travel together in small groups.
Think river rafting trip to the Grand Canyon, glamping in Yellowstone National Park, or a trek along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The riff as to why you would book with Manifest was its departures with other club members from your local market. You traveled with neighbors.
However, that’s changed. Today, anyone from anywhere who wants to pay to join can join, and group departures are part of escorted motorcoach tours being sold by third-party tour operators to the general public.
Potter says the club does save members save money.
Its website currently has an assortment of domestic and international itineraries, not much different from what a run-of-the-mill travel agency would offer.
In fact, the operator for several of the European itineraries is Luxury Gold, which specializes in escorted motorcoach tours.
A domestic on-demand getaway to Newport, Rhode Island, offers self-guided tours, a two-hour cruise aboard an America’s Cup yacht, and airport transfers. Again, pretty run-of-the-mill.
Potter says more specialized offerings are coming. He says in the next couple of months, there will be dedicated offerings for members around interests from photography to culinary and sporting events.
To book, you must join, which is part of the same membership that gives you access to its new jet card program.
However, according to Potter, the two membership levels – $2,500 and $5,000 – are refundable if you don’t use the service.
“You can call us every week, but if you don’t book within a year, we will provide a refund,” he says.
Okay, what about private jets?
Manifest has been dabbling in the on-demand charter market since its early days.
Potter says it is part of the evolution where members came to experiences from different places at different times.
In May 2021, it announced a partnership with Fly Louie, a broker. The interface was a white-label feed from FlyEasy, an online directory used by brokers to source airplanes.
It wasn’t hard quotes. It offered just estimates, so you still had the typical back-and-forth before getting a hard quote.
By January of this year, that relationship ended. Potter says the decision was made to bring things in-house in December.
Last year, Potter said Manifest looked at buying a Part 135 charter operator and even got to the stage with a signed LOI.
Now, with demand subsiding and the availability of private jets available for charter increasing, Potter believes it’s the perfect time to launch a jet card program.
On Wednesday, I received the press release that Manifest had launched a jet card.
The headline read, “Lifestyle Travel Club the First to Provide Guaranteed Rates for Private Charter Flights with No Deposit Required.”
“Typically, to access guaranteed private charter pricing, consumers have to deposit $100,000 or even up to $500,000 with a jet card company. Manifest has the ability to secure the best private charter rates in the industry – rates we guarantee to our members – without the costly up-front deposit,” Potter said in the press release.
So, it’s a pay-as-you-go jet card or membership. The terms are interchangeable.
What’s clear is Manifest is not the first to offer guaranteed rates without a deposit. Wheels Up has been doing it since 2013.
Magellan Jets, Jet Linx, and Stratos Jet Charter, among others, offer fixed/capped hourly rates with just a joining fee, although, at $2,500 or $5,000, Manifest is the cheapest.
As a side note, Manifest isn’t the first travel company to offer a pay-as-you-go program either. Prive Jets, an off-shoot of Virtuoso member Forrest Travel, had one for a while.
Potter didn’t debate that Manifest isn’t first, but so much for press releases.
Like the other providers noted above and most traditional jet cards or memberships, Manifest also offers guaranteed availability.
You can book up to one day before departure for a surcharge, although the standard callout is 96 hours.
The surcharge for booking one day out ranges from $8,000 on a light jet to $13,000 on a large cabin jet.
When I first reviewed the Manifest private jet charter membership contract, I asked if they were white labeling from FlyExclusive.
In addition to copying the North Carolina-based operator with the structure of callouts, it follows its method of calculating fuel surcharges (building it into base rates, updated monthly), peak, and high-demand dates (including the number of dates and departure flexibility).
An original version also replicated FlyExclusive’s international repositioning fees (cost back to the closest U.S. customs airport). However, an updated version shows the fixed rates are only valid for flights within the Continental U.S.
That said, the layout of the Manifest contract struck me as similar to FlyExclusive.
When I asked, Potter emailed me to say, “No white labeling…but we obviously like their approach.”
Rates are offered across all four major cabin categories, and Manifest is one of the few providers that guarantees eight seats on a midsize jet.
So the pitch is essentially guaranteed availability, guaranteed hourly rates, and no need to put down a six-figure deposit.
So, how much does it cost?
For Elite members (who pay $5,000 per year), light jet rates are $6,988 per hour, including FET, based on jet fuel being at $160 per barrel.
At the Premium level ($2,500 per year), light jets would run $7,525 per hour on the same basis.
Manifest’s rate is around the industry average except for light jets, per our Q4 Jet Card Pricing Analysis (see chart below).
|Super Midsize Jet||$12,900||$12,363||$12,675|
|Large Cabin Jet||$16,125||$15,588||$16,108|
Based on fuel cost, the actual rates for Premium membership on light jets would range from $7,202 per hour (including FET) if fuel was at $100 a barrel to $7,847 if fuel went to $200 per barrel.
Keep in mind there is a 4% charge for credit cards. So you don’t have to put down funds, but you have that extra cost.
The daily and segment minimums are 60 minutes, plus taxi time, across all categories.
If you fly super midsize and large cabin aircraft for short hops like Los Angeles to Las Vegas or from New York to Nantucket, that should get your attention.
Manifest sets it up to be a good solution for folks who use on-demand brokers to compare against those quotes.
While Manifest doesn’t publish revenue or membership numbers, it is a boutique provider with eight full-time staff and six part-timers.
Regarding sourcing, Potter says he and other leaders will fulfill members’ flight requests.
“We’re a roll-up-your-shirt-sleeves organization,” he says.
Small can be beautiful in private aviation. Around 70% of subscribers say they are willing to consider boutique providers.
If you were going to map out a jet card or membership based on what the customer wants, Manifest checks the significant boxes for domestic flights.
There are fixed hourly rates for light jets to large cabin aircraft. There are not a ton of peak days. You can book with as little as 24 hours’ notice at fixed rates. The daily and segment minimums are best-in-class.
The rates are around average for a fixed rate, guaranteed availability jet cards.
The devil is in the details, and other factors are covered in our database that may or may not mean that Manifest is a good fit for you.
On paper, the program is impressive.
Potter says the onus is on Manifest to deliver but sees the offer as a low-risk option that will attract folks already in the market.
At the low joining price, Manifest will, without a doubt, get a nice flow of leads and new members.
However, it’s easy to put a jet card together on paper and just as easy to create a web page and send out a press release.
One reason most jet cards with fixed rates and guaranteed availability require deposits or push that option, even if they offer pay-as-you-go, is they want customer commitment.
The fixed hourly rate, guaranteed availability model means providers make money on some flights and lose on others.
Their bet is at the end of the day; they make money. In other words, the business is based on fulfilling the flights they sold for a lower cost than what they sold them for in aggregate.
It will be interesting to see if Manifest can build a successful program taking flights other providers may be happy to get rid of.
With demand ebbing and supply increasing, Potter believes the timing is good.