In 2017, Wheels Up continued its prolific fundraising. In 2018 it’s expanding its reach with a Citation X fleet. Now it confirms an IPO may be on the way.
Kenny Dichter, the founder and CEO of Wheels Up, has carved a preeminent spot for himself in the world of business aviation. In 2001 he approached then NetJets Chairman and CEO Richard Santulli with the idea he would buy shares in aircraft from the Warren Buffett owned fractional aircraft operator and then resell them in 25-hour chunks as jet cards. At the time, there was just a handful of players in that young jet card segment. Fractional shares start at 50 hours, so the idea was that Marquis Jet Partners would act as an entry point funneling customers to NetJets as their private flying increased. It did, but it also opened up a new market – affluent individuals and companies that didn’t want to commit to the then five-year contracts that fractional ownership entailed or didn’t anticipate needing 50 hours. It was easy. When you went through your 25 hours, you would call up and buy 25 more hours. There were no monthly management fees. When you flew, you paid.
Jet cards are the easy way to charter private aircraft. With programs starting at five hours and ranging to over 100 hours, a jet card is as close as you can get to Uber for private jets
After the Great Recession, individuals and companies were less interested in committing to either buy new planes or the three to five years fractional ownership entails. Some companies wanted to keep their private travel habits off their financial statements while in other cases as business picked up they needed some additional lift but didn’t want to add another aircraft to their fleet. Like cars in a driveway, for families, one isn’t enough, and many jet card program allow multiple same time usage. Problem solved!
The two luxury providers partnered for private jet and luxury stay trips last year featuring Jackson Hole, Hawaii, Italy and France
Four Seasons has for a while had its toes dipped into private aviation with its Four Seasons-branded Boeing 757 it uses for air cruises to various parts of the world, of course using its hotels and resorts and bases for various experiences. For these trips, you buy your spot by the seat and share the plane with other guests. Last October, it partnered with NetJets to create private jet vacations featuring its resorts in Hawaii, Jackson Hotel, the South of France and hotels in Paris, Milan and Florence.
From the Citation Excel/XLS to the Gulfstream G450 if you think NetJets is just for fractional ownership and leases think again
Go to the NetJets website and you might be surprised at how little information you find about specific programs, particularly its jet card programs. While there is a nice directory of the various aircraft types that make up its 700 strong fleet of private jets, the wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway publishes the fewest details we’ve seen from any jet card seller. Yesterday, we talked extensively with executive vice president Pat Gallagher about the company’s programs.