After growing up in a business aviation family Peter Maestrales spent eight years playing professional baseball before coming full circle by launching Airstream Jets in a baseball clubhouse

History and Ownership

If you are looking to buy a jet card, you have a wide variety of options with card programs today starting at just five hours and ranging to denominations of a million dollars. There are also numerous variables between programs. In fact, we’ve identified and compare more than 65 differences that can impact which program is right for you. One of the biggest gaps in providers is the size of the company you are buying from, and by that I mean, there are the Fortune 500 players such as Berkshire Hathaway (NetJets), Delta Air Lines (Delta Private Jets) and General Dynamics (Jet Aviation) ranging to boutique broker programs where there might be five to 10 employees.

 

Airstream Jets falls into the latter and is a good example that when it comes to choosing a jet card provider you need to take both a qualitative and quantitative approach. While it’s easy to list out the benefits of buying from IBM so to speak, for affluent customers choosing boutique brokers often times mean you are dealing directly with one of the owners and somebody who has spent decades in private aviation, bringing that experience directly to you.

 

For Airstream, like other small jet card providers I’ve met with, having a lunch or dinner with the CEO, in this case, Peter Maestrales, likely means it will be delayed because a customer needed something at the last minute, or just wanted to chat.

 

Airstream, which was founded in 2008, launched its Distance Card, the only mileage based jet card in 2015, while continuing to also serve the on-demand charter market. Perhaps as interesting as its approach to the card programs is that Airstream started in the clubhouse of a minor league baseball team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s because as Maestrales was winding down a notable eight-year professional baseball career that included playing for the Greek national team in the 2004 Olympics – in itself an interesting story – he was thinking about what’s next. Having grown up in Boca Raton, Florida in a family ensconced in business aviation – at one point his father was operating nearly 100 private aircraft – Maestrales started putting his energies towards his future. “It was clear I wasn’t going to be the next A-Rod,” he says.

 

When Maestrales finally wad done handling several last-minute client requests and made it to dinner, he told me, “In professional sports, 100% doesn’t cut it. You have to give 150%. And it’s the same in business. I was sitting in the locker room and I had started the business as a brokerage. My father’s company was focused mainly on older light jets and turboprops, yet I would see these requests for New York to Tokyo. Trips that cost $500,000, and I was thinking, maybe I can get into that market. I was sitting in the locker room arranging trips, and I knew it was time to focus on one thing, and that was going to be private aviation.”

 

Overview

Airstream is part of over two dozen companies that have launched jet cards since the Great Recession, taking advantage of demand from consumers who want the convenience, reliability and service guarantees card programs provide compared to on-demand charter. In launching its Distance Card, instead of using the typical formula to price trips – hours – Maestrales uses miles. He says the idea came from watching his father use a similar method and also knowing it was a currency that consumers could easily understand. While winds, flight plans, air traffic control and speed of aircraft used can all impact the cost, particularly for programs that use actual versus estimated flight time, selling in miles enabled the consumer to quickly figure out what they would have to pay by doing some simple math. As somebody who spends hours looking at jet card pricing day in and day out, I have to agree that the mileage-based formula is easy to follow and I am surprised nobody else has copied it.

 

The Jet Cards

Simplicity rules here as well. There are two cards – the 100K Distance card which means a $100,000 deposit and the 25K Distance card which means you deposit $25,000. A 7.5% charge to cover Federal Excise Tax is added to both amounts.

 

There is fixed one-way pricing that covers the Continental U.S. and 250 international destinations in Mexico, Caribbean, Canada, and Bermuda. Pricing ranges from $8 to $23 per mile based on the distance you fly and cabin size of aircraft. Unlike most four category programs, Airstream has five dividing out small jets (4 passengers) and light jets (6 passengers) and then offering midsize jets (7 passengers), super midsize (8 passengers) and heavy jets (10 passengers).

 

The farther you fly, the less you pay per mile with trips priced under 1,000 miles, 1,000-1,999 miles, 2,000 to 2,999 miles and those flights over $3,000 miles. As a quick example, let’s say you want a super-midsize aircraft to fly New York to Denver. Simply take 1,620 miles – you can Google it in three seconds – and multiply by $17 – the per mile cost for a super-midsize aircraft flying between 1,000 and 1,999 miles (see table below). Your price is $27,540 excluding the FET. There is a segment minimum of 100 miles and a daily minimum of 500 miles, which means if you are planning a couple short hops in a single day, the Distance Card is a very good value. The easy example is two 250 miles hops in a small jet would be $13 per mile x 500 miles or $6,500. I’m not sure any other fixed-rate card program can match that on a one-way basis when you consider the typical 60 to 72-minute minimums.

How much does a jet card cost?

There’s also a 5% roundtrip discount, which applies to same day roundtrip and multi-leg roundtrips and another 5% savings for booking at least two weeks in advance. There’s an additional 5% discount for flights that originate or terminate at designated hub airports which include Teterboro, White Plains, Republic Airport, Farmingdale, Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Opa-Locka Executive Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Boca Raton Airport, Chicago Executive Airport, Dupage Airport, Chicago Midway International Airport, and more recently Austin Bergstrom International Airport, Houston William P. Hobby Airport and Dallas Love Field in Texas. Deicing is also included. There are no initiation fees, annual dues or CPI escalators.

 

On the opposite side of the ledger, you will pay 20% more on 37 peak days when lead time for reservations jumps to 72 hours from the regular 48 hours. There is also a 20% international surcharge and surcharges of $500 to $900 for about a dozen high-density airports, most of which can be avoided by local alternatives.

 

As a broker program, you need to work out in advance if you are bringing pets since the operators being sourced all have different rules based on who owns the aircraft. Wifi is as available but not guaranteed. Funds never expire but your deposit is non-refundable. There is an escrow option, which we strongly recommend with smaller providers.

 

Safety

Airstream Jets is a broker jet card program and utilizes a dual-layer approach to aircraft sourcing and safety auditing. First, Airstream Jets utilizes third-party auditors such as Wyvern Aviation Consulting Group and ARGUS to ensure all operations are conducted with the necessary certifications, ratings, qualifications and meet or exceed the standards and regulatory requirements set forth by the FAA and DOT or by the aviation authority within the region they are located if outside the US. Secondly, Maestrales says Airstream Jets’ in-house safety auditing is handled by experienced personnel, all of whom have a background in aircraft operations. He says, “The operational experience of our charter team allows us to identify and eliminate potential risks on a trip by trip basis. We focus heavily on crew experience and operational history because we know that human error is by far the principal threat to flight safety.”

 

Minimum experiences for pilots is: Captains: Total Time = 5000 hours, Pilot in Command (PIC) = 1000, Turbine Time = 250, Multi-Engine = 500, Time in Type = 250, Certificate Grade = ATP, Medical = 1st, Annual Recurrent Simulator Training = Required

 

Co-Pilots: Total Time = 1500, Pilot in Command (PIC) = 100, Turbine Time = 50, Multi-Engine = 250, Time in Type = 50, Certificate Grade = Commercial, Medical = 2nd, Annual Recurrent Simulator Training = Required

 

Airstream Jets Jet Card Key Selling Points

– You deal directly with top management who obviously has the power to fix problems when they arise

– Easy to figure out what you are going to pay with straight-forward miles based pricing formula

– Separate pricing for 4-seat small jets

– Excellent pricing for multiple short leg, same day trips if you travel at least 500 miles

– $25,000 program is great for starters or if you just want to dip your toes in the water

– 72-hours peak day reservations lead time is lower than many programs

– Discounts for booking in advance as well as flying from or to designated hub airports

 

Shortcomings

– 37 peak days with a 20% surcharge is on the high side for both

– Broker jet card means a variation in types of aircraft and configurations you will find from trip-to-trip

– Deposits are non-refundable

– 48 hours lead time is longer than many programs

– High-density airport surcharges

 

Toss-ups

– You’re buying from a person, not a company, so personal rapport is critical

 

Final Thoughts

The Distance Card is a good example of how entrepreneurs can bring innovation to a market dominated by large competitors. I really like the straightforward approach. With a jet card member base in the dozens, you won’t be a number, and you will be dealing with a senior level person who knows the industry inside and out. On the other side of the coin, you are dealing with a small shop, which you may or may not care about. It’s worth noting that for the over 40 companies we compare in Private Jet Card Comparisons we provide you with information on the number of employees, name of the CEO, headquarters location, ownership structure and how aircraft are sourced, so whatever your preferences, you can quickly identify companies that fit your desires.