Going for (private jet charter) broker

While guaranteed jet cards offer convenience and predictability, sometimes a charter broker is the best way to rent a private jet.

By Doug Gollan, June 21, 2024

Last year, I wrote “16 reasons to use a private jet charter broker.”  While I won’t repeat what I wrote a year ago, over the past week, I’ve had several conversations that reminded me why I am so bullish on these intermediaries.

On Sunday night, while you were watching the U.S. Open, I was too.

I was watching it along with the Wheels Up CEO George Mattson and several of his executives.

However, we weren’t at Pinehurst.

We were all on a Zoom call.

We did stop briefly to watch the fantastic finish between peppering them with questions about program changes in an interview done under embargo.

While my main focus was on their membership offerings, Mattson discussed lead generation integration with Delta Air Lines and how Air Partner plays an important role.

To support a new route from New York to Naples, Italy, Delta pitched passengers booked in its Delta One business class to book charter flights via its in-house broker onward to their final destinations.

While he didn’t provide specifics, he said the offer had “significant uptake.”

Delta now plans to expand the approach to more routes.

Previously, Wheels Up said Delta was providing a pipeline of leads for group charters, an Air Partner specialty that doesn’t fit into programmatic products.

Charter brokers know

The next day, I was talking to a travel advisor in Los Angeles who specializes in luxury travel.

With rates at high-end hotels running over $5,000 a night in European hot spots, spending $10,000 or $15,000 to fly 50 minutes from one place to the next instead of wasting half a day changing airplanes in Munich or Malpensa has become a popular option.

She has been using LunaJets.

She uses a charter broker for the same reason her clients use her.

My friend told me, “I’m not an expert on which jets have enough room for baggage or which operators are dependable. I want somebody who knows what I don’t know.”

Yes, some jet cards offer fixed-rate guarantee options in Europe.

However, if you aren’t spending time across the pond regularly, it’s probably not a reason you will join one program over another.

Bill Gates was wrong

I also received two pitches, one from a start-up and the other from a re-launch. Both promised to digitize the private jet charter booking process.

One is positioning itself as a platform, connecting consumers directly to operators.

It always reminds me how wrong Bill Gates was when, in the 1990s, he told us we could throw away our travel agent’s business card now that we could book hotels online.

The travel agents—or advisors, designers, planners as they are now called—who are doing exceptionally well are those like my friend who focuses on UHNWs.

There’s a consortium of these agencies called Virtuoso. Together, they sell around $30 billion per year in luxury travel.

Certares, along with Delta, is an investor in Wheels Up. It also owns Internova, one of the biggest groups of luxury travel advisors.

It’s the same demographic as the private jet user.

Actual, not artificial intelligence

I also spoke to a couple of charter brokers who have jet cards, although most of their business is with ad hoc clients.

They told me about clients whose flying needs don’t fit neatly into a programmatic offering.

Both noted that while they use various operators, they focus most of their business on a select few.

That gives them more clout when something goes wrong.

Air Charter Service, a U.K.-based broker, has over 30 offices worldwide. That way, when a client in Houston needs a charter flight in Australia, its office in Sydney already has relationships with local operators there.

Consumers who buy flights one-by-one from operators often find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole.

And yes, anyone in the industry knows that from your call to book a flight until you board your jet, there are many moving parts and people who make them move to the right places at the right time, creating that seamless experience.

Living in Miami, I’ve spent a few days in the Unity Jets office to see how the sausage is made.

It always reminds me why if you have a good broker, you should treat them like gold.

So, while jet cards and fractional programs serve various market segments and needs, your good old charter broker likewise offers a differentiated service that rules-based offerings usually don’t cover particularly well.

Bullish on charter brokers

While there was great speculation that Air Partner would be sold as part of the Delta-led changes at Wheels Up, the fact that new management has embraced the brokerage a focal point of the flight provider’s 2.0 says a lot about why brokers should be bullish about their future.

I guess that shouldn’t have been a surprise.

After all, the old XOJet built a successful off-fleet brokerage business.

Flexjet, Inc. has done the same with its charter broker FXAir.

It complements the company’s fractional ownership offerings via Flexjet and jet cards from Sentient Jet.

In other words, there is a big difference between sourcing airplanes for clients guaranteed a midsize jet and getting the right aircraft for somebody with more particular needs.

The latter is where a good charter broker excels.

Interestingly, I took a look at an old investor presentation for JetSmarter.

While much of the media coverage focused on its jet-sharing, buy-the-seat, and membership programs, nearly 40% of its revenue was from traditional ad hoc charters.

Next week, I’ll speak on a panel organized by Jacquie Dalton of Sparrow Jets at the NATA Air Charter Summit in Oklahoma City.

She’s a boutique broker, the proverbial one-person shop. She does have admin and accounting support. However, this is also a good reminder that good brokers can be found at both big and small companies.

As a final thought, many people use a combination. The key, of course, is finding the right solutions for your different needs. The good news is that there are lots of great options.

READ: 16 reasons to use a private jet charter broker

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