There are over 40 jet card providers offering more than 250 programs, and there are some significant differences and not just in price
In this article, I want to explain the differences in how aircraft for various jet card programs are sourced. Of the subscribers to Private Jet Card Comparisons, I estimate about 75% are flying via on-demand charter, but after getting tired of the work it takes for each trip to compare quotes, quality of providers and varying charter terms, they are seeking an easier solution but don’t necessarily want the long-term commitment of leases and fractional shares, hence jet cards. The benefit of jet card programs is once you choose the right program, arranging your flight is generally one phone call or can even be handled online or through an app. Of course, finding the right provider and program takes a bit of work. We’ve identified over 65 places that the card programs vary, which depending on your flying needs can be critical or incidental.
Private Jet Card Comparisons has developed our exclusive Private Jet Card Glossary, specifically around 65 comparative points that differentiate the programs.
Aircraft Sourcing Standards – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets minimum standards for operations, maintenance, and pilots for aircraft on charter flights under Part 135. Beyond that, some jet card providers use additional standards set by third-party auditors and organizations such as ARG/US, Wyvern, and IS-BAO to guide the sourcing for their jet card programs.
Annual Dues – In addition to hourly rates and other fees, some programs have annual or monthly membership fees.QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING amortizes those fees into your hourly rate so you can compare actual flight costs head-to-head between providers.
Applicable Aircraft – Private jet card programs offer either specific jet types or categories such as Very Light or Small Jets, Light Jets, Midsize Jets, Super Midsize Cabin Jets, Large or Cabin or Heavy Jets, and Ultra Longhaul Jets. Additionally, some programs allow you to buy into a specific aircraft type. When you buy a category program, you will receive a variety of aircraft in that category. If you have specific preferences, for example, cabin height, you probably want to buy into an aircraft-specific program, particularly for midsize and super-midsize jets.
ARG/US level – ARG/US or ARGUS provides safety audits of private jet operators spanning over 500 operators globally. There are three levels: ARGUS Gold Rated Charter Operator, ARGUS Gold Rated Plus Charter Operator, and ARGUS Platinum Rated Charter Operator.
ARG/US Gold Rated Charter Operator – Requires operating certificate for at least one year, at least one turbine aircraft on the certificate, in-depth historical safety analysis, and pilot background check and aircraft operational control validations.
ARG/US Gold Rated Plus Charter Operator – Requires all of the Gold Rated requirements plus an on-site audit with no safety of flight findings.
ARG/US Platinum Rated Charter Operator – Requires all of the Gold Plus rated standards plus on-site audit with zero findings, plus functioning SMS and Emergency Response Plan.
Black Out Days – Some programs do not guarantee service on specific dates. These are typically referred to as Black Out Dates. The provider won’t provide guaranteed availability on these dates.
Broker – Many jet card providers are brokers. Charter brokers don’t own or operate the aircraft you will fly in. Instead, they source aircraft from charter operators. These programs typically sell by cabin category, although some offer specific aircraft types. However, many operators also broker when their own fleets don’t meet the needs of jet card customers.
CPI Escalator – Hourly rates of some jet card programs are subject to increases based on the Consumer Price Index. This means rates are subject to increase based on CPI at a specific point in time. In some cases, your rate will be increased to the higher of the CPI or an alternate number, meaning your rate will increase regardless of the CPI at that point.
Destination Surcharge – Some jet cards have surcharges for travel outside the Continental U.S. These typically apply when flying more than 220 miles off the U.S. border. Surcharge to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada generally range between 10% to 25%. Some providers also for surcharges for high-density airports. This is more prevalent in Europe.
Expiration of Hours/Deposits –Many programs expire your hours or deposits after specific periods, typically 12 to 24 months. However, some jet cards never expire your funds. If you aren’t sure how much you will be flying, make sure to research the expiration policy of the jet cards you are considering.
FBO – Fixed Based Operators are private jet terminals and they also provide fueling and services for the plane.
FBO Choice – Some programs allow you to choose a specific FBO. In these cases, there can be extra charges, typically around $500.
Federal Excise Tax (FET) – Some programs include FET when marketing hourly rates. For other programs, the rate being promoted is without FET. If you are flying within the Continental U.S. or within 220 miles of the northern and southern borders and to, from, or between Hawaii and Alaska, the government assesses the 7.5% tax on top of your hourly rate, including fuel surcharges. As part of the CARES Act, the tax was suspended through Dec. 31, 2020.
Fixed One-Way Rates – Fixed One-Way Rates mean that you won’t have to pay for ferry fees to reposition your aircraft either before or after your flights within your Primary Service Area. By choosing a program with fixed one-way rates, you can more accurately budget how much your private flying will cost in advance.
Flight Attendant Inclusion – Some programs provide flight attendants on specific aircraft types – typically super-midsize and large-cabin – while other programs offer flight attendants as an option for an additional fee.
Flight Cancellation Deadline – Cancellation policies for jet cards refer to the lead-time in which you can cancel your flight without penalty. Lead times can vary based on peak and non-peak periods as well as for domestic versus international flights. Cancellation windows can be as short as four hours. However, some programs make peak days bookings non-refundable.
Fractional Fleet – Some jet card providers use aircraft from their fractional ownership and lease programs to sell jet cards. These programs are more likely to enable you to choose a specific aircraft type instead of broker programs, which are more typically sell by category.
Fuel Surcharge – During periods of fuel price increases, some programs reserve the right to impose fuel surcharges. Others have fuel surcharges as part of their normal pricing. Fuel surcharges are typically updated monthly or quarterly.
Guaranteed Availability – Guaranteed availability refers to the contracted lead time before your departure; your provider will arrange an aircraft for your flight. Providers that also give you a fixed rate typically require six to 96 hours lead time. Lead time is longer during Peak Day periods. Guaranteed availability and fixed one-way rates are considered two key benefits of a Jet Card vs. On-Demand Charter.
Guaranteed Upgrade – Guaranteed upgrades enable you to reserve a larger aircraft than the type you bought. This is useful if you are traveling with a larger group or need a longer ranger jet. Some programs such as NetJets only guarantee downgrades and make upgrades in aircraft size as available. When you upgrade, you will need to pay the rate for the larger aircraft. In some cases, there is an interchange fee, a surcharge for doing so.
Guaranteed Downgrade – Guaranteed downgrades enable you to trade down from your contracted jet type or size to a smaller jet. This can save money if you are traveling alone on a shorter flight and want a smaller plane to save money on your hourly rate.
Hourly Rate – Hourly rate is the rate per hour your program charges per your contract. Flights are typically billed in six-minute increments or to the nearest 1/10th of an hour.
Included Catering – Most programs include basic catering. That might include non-alcoholic beverages and packaged snacks. Some programs include more substantial catering such as sandwiches, fruit plates, hot meals, gourmet preparation, alcoholic beverages, or credits. All programs allow you to order for an additional charge catering to meet your needs.
Interchange Fees – Interchange fees are surcharges if you upgrade or downgrade the size of your aircraft or go between two service areas in a program, for example, North America and Europe.
IS-BAO – The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) was introduced by the International Business Aviation Council, LTD (IBAC), in 2003. The industry developed IS-BAO for the benefit of the industry. It is a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve a high level of safety and professionalism. There are three levels or stages.
IS-BAO Stage 1 – Stage 1 of IS-BAO indicates that an appropriate Safety Management System (SMS) has been established.
IS-BAO Stage 2 – Stage 2 of IS-BAO takes years later and ensures that safety risks are being effectively managed.
IS-BAO Stage 3 – The IS-BAO Stage 3 Certification is the highest level of achievement and validates BJA’s commitment to developing and maintaining an effective Safety Management System (SMS).
Lavatory Type – Not all aircraft have fully enclosed lavatories or lavatories you can stand up in. For longer flights or personal preference, you should ask for pictures of the lavatories on the aircraft types that will be part of your program. Not all light and very light jets have full lavatories.
Liability and Risk Coverage (Insurance) – Programs provide varying amounts of liability and risk coverage.
Managed Fleet Operator – Some jet card providers use aircraft they manage for individual owners to sell jet cards. Owners want charter revenue to offset their operating costs. They allow their management company to charter their aircraft when they don’t need it. Like a broker-based jet card program, Managed Fleet jet cards typically sell by size category. That’s because you have a variety of aircraft types in each category, meaning you are likely to get a different jet type per trip.
Minimum Seating Guarantee – As you select a vendor and program, you should think about the number of people, including children, you will be traveling with. You will want to make sure your missions can be accommodated by the type of planes used in your buying program. That said, it’s not unusual for jet card users to be members with two programs based on divergent needs. Within a category, providers might offer guarantees ranging from six to eight seats. Don’t assume how many seats are provider. Compare seat guarantees from the providers you are considering.
Minimum Flight Time Charged – Programs have widely varying minimum daily and segment flight time charges. A 40-minute flight might be charged as one hour by one provider, two hours by another, and 40 minutes by a third. If you are taking a lot of short flights, you will want to pay attention to this. Minimums are typically one to two hours and can depend on the size of the plane. If you multiple same-day short hops, a program with only a daily minimum may be advantageous.
Multiple Same Time Aircraft Access – This allows you to use two or more planes at your contracted terms from a single program simultaneously.
Owned/Leased Fleet Operator– Some jet card providers own the aircraft they use to sell time for their jet cards. These programs are more likely to enable you to choose a specific aircraft type instead of broker programs, which typically sell by category.
Pilot Experience – Jet card companies have varying minimum requirements for pilot experience, sometimes above government requirements. They cover both Captain and First Officer and include total hours of flight time and time in the type of aircraft they will be flying you.
Peak Days – Peak days are high-demand days, typically around holidays and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or The Masters. While 15 to 30 peak days are the norm, some providers have more than 50 peak days. In addition to longer lead times for bookings and cancelations, which in some cases aren’t permitted, providers have the right to move your departure time by +/- 3 hours for operational reasons. This can put a damper on a getaway weekend. There are also surcharges (see below).
Peak Day Surcharges – Most programs have surcharges for peak travel days. The number of peak days varies by the program, as do the surcharge amounts. If you are buying a jet card in anticipation of flying during busy holiday periods and aren’t flexible to move your dates, you should study any peak travel surcharges or blackout dates. Peak day surcharges range up to 40%.
Pet Policy – Most programs allow you to take certain types of pets. Some programs have mandatory or discretionary cleaning fees. If you are using a broker or managed fleet program, it pays to triple check their policy since they don’t have the final say on pet policies – that’s up to the actual owners or operators of those aircraft.
Program Hours Denominations – Jet card programs are generally denominated in hours, for example, 10, 15, 25, 50, or 100 hours. The more hours you buy, typically, the lower your hourly rate and additional benefits. Some providers use dollar denominations (see below).
Program Dollar Denominations – Some deposit jet card programs are denominated in dollars, for example, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 or $500,000.
Refund Policy – Some programs will refund unused funds, while others are non-refundable. Some allow you to roll over unused funds or hours to a new contract. If you are unsure you will use all your hours or funds, you will want to pay attention to the Refund Policy and rollover options.
Refill Policy – Refill policy refers to enabling you to add money or hours to an existing program you purchased at the original terms.
Reservation Lead Time – Non-peak day lead times to book your jet card flights range from four hours to five days. Lead times are longer during peak periods or for international flights. Lead time for programs that have fixed-rate pricing tends to be longer than those that offer dynamic pricing. Fixed-rate providers will often still arrange flights inside the booking deadline. However, they will charge you market rates at the time you book. Booking lead times are also referred to as call-outs.
Roundtrip Discount – Roundtrip flying is more efficient for the operator, so jet cards typically offer discounted roundtrip rates. Published discounts range up to 40%.
Roundtrip Discount Qualification – What qualifies for a roundtrip flight discount in private aviation varies. The efficiency for the operator is when they can use the same aircraft and flight crew for the entire trip. The contracted definition requires at least two billable flight hours per day, starting and returning to the same airport. All your day’s flights need to be completed within FAA-mandated crew duty time limits (14 hours including preflight duties). For multi-day trips, there has to be mandatory overnight rest of at least eight hours. A trip from A to B to C to D and back to A with a total of eight flight hours completed in four days (8 divided by 4 = 2) would qualify. In addition to the discount, you may be billed for crew overnights and hangar or airport charges.
Service Area (Primary Service Area) – Some programs enable you to travel globally at your contract rate. In contrast, others will only fly you in a limited area.SomeU.S. programs include parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, or possibly Hawaii. Some service areas aren’t country-specific but refer to a mileage limit outside of the Continental U.S. border. Ensure the places you will be flying are within the primary (or fixed rate) service area of your program. Otherwise, you will likely pay expensive ferry fees.
Service Recovery – Outside of weather, different programs have different commitments for mechanical delays, pilots running out of flight hours, etc. This is another benefit compared to on-demand charter.
Taxi Time Billing – You will typically be charged for taxi time, generally 12 minutes per segment. This means if your hourly rate is $8,00, your account will be debited $1,600 per segment for taxi time. Not all programs charge for taxi time.
Unaccompanied Minor Travel Policy – Age limits for sending an unaccompanied minor privately vary by provider. Not all providers permit this. You will need to pay additional fees for a flight attendant to accompany your child in some cases.
Wyvern Wingman – Wyvern Wingman is a third-party rating system of private aircraft operators measuring adherence to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards for safety management systems, emergency response plans, and internal evaluations. Its Wingman level rating Includes a two-day, on-site audit recurring every 24 months. There is also a Registered level.