Wheels Up targets SMEs with revised Up For Business membership

Delta Air Lines’ small-and-medium size corporate accounts are the target of Wheels Up’s revised Up For Business private jet membership.

By Doug Gollan, October 31, 2023

Wheels Up is changing its business travel program known as Up For Business, as it increases its collaboration with Delta Air Lines to pitch corporate accounts.

The latest move targets small and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs.

Opportunities are with Delta’s 40,000 contracted accounts; the bulk are SMEs. The overlap is only in the hundreds, say executives.

As for the new SME Up For Business version, the entry point is a $250,000 deposit with a $9,995 initiation fee and $8,500 annual renewal.

That aligns with the Core membership fees if you make a deposit.

Previously, Up For Business cost $29,500 to join and then a $14,500 membership fee annually, although there were the standard funding options, including pay-as-you-go.

Multiple Same-Day Airplanes

Under the new plan, the number of lead passengers is unlimited. It was capped at six under the former program. Wheels Up’s Core membership gives four lead passengers.

“Previously, the fundamental difference between (Core and Up For Business SME) was two lead passengers. We really wanted to address smaller companies and recognize them as a business instead of high net worth individuals,” Executive Vice President, Sales Robert Bourrier tells Private Jet Card Comparisons.

The program now guarantees availability for two airplanes at contracted capped hourly rates on the same day once per quarter, excluding peak days.

“Sometimes, it’s a board meeting. Sometimes, it’s two executives who need to travel to different places at the same time. Other times, policy dictates two senior executives are not allowed to travel on the same flight,” says Bourrier.

Extended PSA Capped Rates

Another difference from Core is SME enables customers who fly qualifying roundtrips (two billable hours for same-day return to departure airport or four hours over two days) from the current Primary Service Area to points in the Extended PSA to get capped rate pricing with a 10% surcharge.

After the new PSA was introduced on June 26, cutting out the Pacific Northwest and much of the Midwest from the Mississippi River to Colorado, capped hourly rates only applied to flights starting or ending within the more limited region.

In other words, flights to the Extended PSA, areas removed from the legacy nationwide PSA, including cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, were priced dynamically.

That means prices and terms for each flight varied by booking window and demand.

Subscribers of Private Jet Card Comparisons say they prefer fixed/capped rates to dynamic pricing by a 9-to-1 margin.

Regarding capped hourly price guarantees, companies get an 18-month rate lock for their private flights.

They also can take advantage of the provider’s long-flight discounts, which make it among the most cost-effective solutions for flights between its Western PSA and the East Coast.

A Diamond is for Status

Flights, of course, is the operative word.

All Wheels Up programs enable customers to use block funds for flights on Delta Air Lines in any fare class. It’s often incorrectly reported that it is limited to premium cabin tickets.

Joiners for the new SME offering get one Delta Diamond level and one Gold status.

As an incentive to deposit $300,000 level, you get two Diamonds in the SkyMiles program.

One of the benefit choices of Diamond status is membership in Delta’s Sky Clubs, a $695 value.

In fact, you now have to have Medallion status even to join the lounges. Most domestic first-class tickets do not provide access, either.

Upgraded Points estimates Diamond-level status at a value of $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the benefits you use.

Currently, the booking process for Delta flights is via phone, via the Diamond Medallion desk, but eventually, there will be a digital interface, executives say.

READ:  Everything you need to know about Wheels Up 2.0

The new SME version requires companies to provide a Tax ID, and lead passengers must have a company email address. However, funds can be used for either personal or business travel.

Pricing and rules set for the new program mirror the $200,000 fund-level tier of Wheels Up’s Core membership option.

In other words, the new program could also be an interesting solution for family businesses with multiple family members needing access to business or personal flying.

Big Ideas for Big Customers

The SME initiative is designed to fill the gap between individual Core membership and the Corporate Enterprise Solutions version of Up For Business. The latter serves customers who spend more than $500,000 annually.

Bourrier says CES is about responding to client needs, which sometimes means offering the pre-June 26 nationwide PSA that included cities in Western Canada.

The former Delta Air Lines and Delta Private Jets executive says that could mean fixed pricing for international flights as well.

It’s all based on the customer’s needs and whether Wheels Up can provide the flights profitably.

Chief Commerical Officer Mark Briffa points out that Up For Business clients can use their funds for Air Partner’s European fixed-rate, guaranteed availability program.

That PSA covers Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The idea is to fly Wheels Up in the U.S., fly DeltaOne transatlantic, and then, in Europe, fly with fixed rates and guaranteed availability on Air Partner’s program.

Wheels Up’s Strategy

Targeting business travelers is part of Wheels Up’s strategy to balance its current 90/10 split of leisure members (although revenue is closer to 75/25 as corporate accounts spend more).

Even after selling its management business, the flight provider still has around 180 owned and leased aircraft.

The goal to become profitable relies partly on getting more business flights during the weekdays when its fleet isn’t being used to capacity.

READ: Wheels Up launches flight credits, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles promotion

To that end, prices are likely to be below capped rates during the week, although executives didn’t specify how much as it is based on demand.

Bourrier adds, “Historically, smaller to medium-size businesses were forced to adapt to either a product that was designed for individuals or a solution that was built for large corporations. We see an opportunity to deliver a tailored product to members rather than a one-size-fits-all offering while capturing the operational and financial benefits of a balanced fleet utilization throughout the week.”

The Air Partner Advantage

Briffa, CEO of Air Partner before its 2022 acquisition by Wheels Up, says its on-demand charter brokerage gives Wheels Up a unique advantage over competitors with mainly programmatic offerings.

Its more than 60 brokers are not only the point of contact for customers; they source aircraft from an approved list of operators. They handle all the details of each flight, from ordering catering to ensuring it’s picked up from the FBO by the flight crew. They personally track the tail so they can jump on issues from mechanicals to weather that could disrupt the trip.

Like luxury travel advisors, the brokers specialize in understanding customer needs and then source aircraft that fit their objectives.

In other words, members may be comfortable using the Wheels Up app to book a light jet on a Friday night from Teterboro to Palm Beach.

For a more complex itinerary, say a family group trip with multiple stops, Wheels Up members, Core, or Up For Business now have direct access to Air Partner’s brokers for bespoke solutions using their block funds.

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