There are over 2,000 private jet charter operators and brokers in the U.S. alone to choose from. How do you know who’s behind that slick website?
If you read a lot of stories about renting a private jet, you might believe it’s like booking an airline ticket. Online apps and websites promise you can charter a private jet with just a few clicks. And you can. But that would be like saying you can buy expensive jewelry online. Yes, you can, but what are you really buying?
In the world of diamonds, somebody who knows all about cut, color, carat weight, and clarity can likely spot what’s a good deal – and what to avoid. They also know who to avoid!
If you book hotels online, at least there are review sites where popular luxury properties have hundreds if not thousands of critiques by customers who have stayed there. Still, it can be tricky to find specific rooms that have the best view – and make sure you get the one you want. And then, then there is the old adage, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” One reason travel agents remain popular with luxury travelers is that they know which rooms have the best views and the most space. They also get upgrades, dining, and spa credits for their clients. Plus, if something goes wrong – more likely than ever these days – they can help get it fixed.
In this report, we look at what you need to know to make you a smarter buyer of private jet charter. You then will be able to decide the best route for you. If you are new to private flying, the best news is it’s a great experience. It will save you time. It’s much more convenient. You can use airports that are closer to you. Virtually every trip can be a nonstop flight. No more changing in Atlanta or Dallas. You can reduce exposure to COVI-19. Flying privately has fewer than 20 touch points compared to over 700 with the airlines.
Private jet charters – or rentals – mean you are contracting with a company that has been granted by a national aviation body authority to use aircraft for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets, and system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public.
There are different types of charter, including those shared flights where can buy a seat. Jet cards are prepaid charter. However, for this article, we will be focused on chartering the full entire aircraft on a flight-by-flight basis, and what you need to know.
In the U.S., charter operators adhere to what is referred to as Part 135 regulations. You can work directly with the operator or through a broker. A charter broker will solicit quotes from operators they think best fit your request. Unlike lawyers, financial advisors, and even real estate agents, private jet charter brokers are not regulated. However, in the U.S. they do have to abide by various government rules that were updated in 2018 and went into effect last year.
“These new regulations address many concerns from the past caused by ‘bad actor’ brokers and will allow increased opportunities for legitimate air charter brokers to continue providing the good service they have provided for years,” says Mike Nichols, National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) vice president of operational excellence and professional development.
Here are the highlights of those rules for brokers. Air charter brokers must not:
You can read the full rules here.
Here are some things you should know before you contact brokers or operators. By having this information, they will be better prepared to help you.
There are oover 5,000 airports in the U.S. compared to less than 500 used by the airlines. There’s a good chance there are closer airports than you are used to. Let your operator or broker know the address you are leaving from and where you are going. They can suggest alternative airports that can shave hours off your door-to-door travel time.
If you are looking for the most cost-efficient solution, the type of aircraft that fits your mission is going to depend not only on number of seats, but the number of adults, children under the age of two, size of your pets, amount of luggage, and total weight. The number of seats along with weight, weather and winds will impact the type of private jet best suited for your flight.
The range of a light jet varies from around 600 to 2,000 miles depending on the make and model, plus how many people and how much luggage you have. To get the quotes that best match your needs, details matter, for example, six adults, including three large adults over 300 pounds, six sets of golf clubs, a 150-pound Golden Retriever, etc. This will enable your provider to identify specific aircraft that best fit your needs. You can review cabin height and space, baggage space, range, and speed for over 100 private jets here.
Are you looking for the cheapest private charter solution? In some cases, a smaller jet with a fuel stop that has the capacity for your group might be less expensive than aircraft that can make it nonstop. In other times, you might say that defeats the purpose of flying privately. However, with COVID-19 driving more consumers to private aviation, the extra time may not be a big factor. That said, you may find being in a small jet four or five hours even with a stop confining and less than ideal. Some light jets don’t have fully enclosed toilets, and others have only an emergency potty or nothing at all.
While you get to set your departure date and time – it’s on your schedule, not some airline planner – your choices impact your cost. If you are flexible to leave over a span of certain days or times, let your provider know that up front. That will enable them to look for potentially money-savings alternatives. I’ve seen lead pricing between South Florida and New York vary by as much as $5,000 from one day to the next.
If you are really flexible, don’t mind a last-minute cancelation, and are happy to regroup and look for options on other days, or you have alternate transportation, empty leg flights can provide savings of around 50%. These repositioning flights are returning to base after dropping off customers or heading to their next mission. They are sold at big discounts, however, if the person on the other side of the equation changes his or her plans, yours will cancel, and it could be while you are at the airport waiting to board.
Qualifying roundtrips in private aviation can cut costs by up to 40% off one-way pricing. What do you have to do to get that discount? The standard is two billable flight hours per day. That could be a same-day trip where the outbound and return legs are at least one hour each. It could also mean two four-hour flights leaving on day one and returning day four. Four hours plus four hours equals eight hours, divided by four days, equals an average of two billable hours per day. You’ll have to leave and return from the same airport.
It is based on the operator using the same aircraft and flight crew for both legs, so while with jet cards it’s a formalized part of your contract, with on-demand charter it’s more a rule of thumb. If your flight doesn’t qualify as a roundtrip per this definition, in private aviation terms you are booking a one-way, even if you are starting and returning to the same airport. Operators with aircraft based at your local airport often have the best pricing for qualifying roundtrips. However, make sure to read below on what happens when your operator cancels your flight. Keep in mind, for Part 135, pilots are limited to a duty time of 14 hours, which starts when they show up for work to prepare for your flight and includes any flights before yours that day.
Just like the airlines, when you are chartering a private aircraft, you are entering into a contract that covers what happens if you want to cancel or change. Typically brokers and operators come back with several quotes based on your request.
Since quotes are often based on a specific aircraft or tail number in industry lingo, the terms can vary. In other words, each quote may have different cancelation terms, including no refunds or changes. When booking ad hoc charters, it’s critical you review the terms of each quote fully.
Some aircraft don’t allow pets. In other words, you need to decide if Fido might be traveling with you when you contact the provider. Don’t assume you can show up with your furry friends and they will be allowed to fly. Also, confirm what type of pets are accepted before you sign the contract. It could be the owner of that aircraft prohibits all pets or at least certain types of pets. More on who owns the airplane below.
If you want catering beyond packaged snacks, coffee, waters, and sodas, be sure to specify. Your provider will give you a menu. You will find prices steep for what you get, however, if it adds to your enjoyment go for it!
Also, if you need WiFi, make that clear. Not all private jets have connectivity, and some that do, don’t turn it on for charter flights. Your contract holds you responsible for post-flight charges, so if you ask the pilot to turn on the WiFi and it wasn’t part of the agreement, you could find something akin to those post-check-out charges you get at hotels.
Flight attendants also need to be specified, although they are sometimes included when you charter a large cabin aircraft. On anything smaller than a super-midsize jet, you’ll probably be fine on your own, and in fact, the limited space means you won’t want an extra person.
Lastly, don’t forget about ground transportation. At smaller airports, taxis and ride-sharing may not be readily available. Your provider will normally ask you if you need ground transportation.
With apologies to any pre-conceived image about what it’s like to fly privately, the cabin height on light jets is typically under five feet, with midsize aircraft six to eight inches more. The cabins are quite comfortable for sitting, but not so much for walking around. If you want to have that Kim Kardashian-type Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous experience, ask your provider to quote large-cabin aircraft. You can also specify the minimum cabin height.
What if you are flying overnight or to Europe and want to be able to sleep in a flatbed? You can request aircraft that have a separate sleeping compartment – generally for one to two passengers. You should also let your provider know how many passengers will require a flatbed. Not all seats on private jets convert as they do in first or business class on the airlines. In many cases, two club seats convert into a single bed. That means a large-cabin private jet with 14 seats may only sleep, seven passengers.
Let’s talk about how much it costs to fly privately. One-way charter pricing as mentioned above doesn’t mean you aren’t coming back. In private aviation lingo, it simply means you don’t qualify for roundtrip pricing. Remember, that’s when the operator can handle your entire trip with one aircraft and the same flight crew. Here is a very rough range for one-way pricing by aircraft type and cabin size:
You’ll often see lower starting prices on charter broker and operator websites. It’s probably based on roundtrips or empty legs.
There are quite a few reasons. One is the age of aircraft. The average private jet clocks an hour of flight time per day. In fact, they often sit idle for days. Compare that to airlines that fly their aircraft around 12 hours per day. That means that properly maintained private jets can literally fly forever. On the charter market, airplanes more than 25 years old are harder to rent, even if they are fine for their owners. Older jets tend to have lower pricing.
On the other end, new jet buyers are less likely to put them on a charter certificate. Owners of new jets are paying a premium. They tend to be high time fliers who want their aircraft available on short notice. That means if you specify very new jet types, there is less supply, hence higher pricing.
A lot of it also depends on where you are flying. The East Coast corridor from Boston to Miami is private jet heavy. There’s a good chance if you are flying from major airports with a lot of private jet activity like Teterboro, Palm Beach, Naples, or Ft. Lauderdale, the need to reposition the aircraft either before or after your flight is less likely.
In fact, you might be able to save money by going to the airport where the aircraft is going to be if it’s not too inconvenient. For example Opa-Locka Executive Airport versus Miami International. Ten miles in a car might save you $2,000.
The flip side is if you are flying from Joplin, Missouri to Iowa City, a one hour flight, there’s a good chance your aircraft might need to fly an hour or more from somewhere to pick you up. It’s also likely it will have to fly somewhere else after it drops you off to pick up its next full revenue customers. Those extra hours of flying need to be factored into the quote for your 60-minute trip. It’s one reason jet cards are often the best solution if you fly in these types of markets.
Then you have routes like Teterboro and Westchester County to Van Nuys Airport, serving Los Angeles. You’re talking about three of the four busiest private jet airports. For the operator, you’re also generating about six hours of flight time and there’s a good chance they will pick up a flight going back the other way within a couple of days. It’s not unusual to see rates as low as $23,000 to $27,000 for a coast-to-coast nonstop flight between these airports.
Most of the U.S. charter fleet is not owned by the operators. The operator manages the airplanes for individual owners and companies that allow them to be rented out when they don’t need them. Hence, rules, pricing, and approval of trips must be granted by the owner, in some cases on a trip by trip basis. Expensive maintenance is based on landings and takeoffs – cycles – not necessarily flight hours. That means the owner of a large cabin jet might be happy to have their airplane booked for four and five-hour flights, but turn down a trip that has several short flights.
Another factor is if the aircraft is part of a floating fleet or based at a particular airport. Floating fleets tend to be owned by the operator. That means the operator doesn’t have to bring them back to a home base. Instead, they hop around picking up and dropping off customers. Because of this, floating fleet one-way pricing is typically better than a local operator, particularly for longer flights.
Recently refurbished aircraft might cost more. Also, the number of seats can be a factor. Midsize jets can have between six and nine seats. Large-cabin jets range from 10 to 16 seats. Some large-cabin jets which have a separate sleeping compartment might price a bit higher.
Then comes the operator. Operators of higher-priced jets will argue that they are spending more money on pilot training, maintenance, and other upkeep that justifies their higher fees. While operators in the U.S. have to abide by the Part 135 regulations, many operators exceed them.
Sometimes it’s the owner. Owners can generally pull their aircraft even after you signed the contract. Good brokers stay away from these aircraft as in a way, it’s a sort of fool’s gold. You think you saved money until you didn’t. Then late in the game, you have to shop for a replacement, usually at a higher cost. Unless you are an industry insider, they may look like a great deal on a website.
By subscribing to Private Jet Card Comparisons you can compare on-demand charter quotes with jet card pricing specific to the flights you are planning with our Quick Compare Flight Pricing tool. Click here for more information.
It’s confusing, and there is no straight answer. Argus, Wyvern, and IS-BAO provide third-party safety ratings. You see their logos used like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval on many operator and broker websites. There are significant differences between the levels. While the highest levels include on-site audits, the lowest ones don’t.
In terms of the on-site audits – in some cases, they are only every two years. They are less an inspection of aircraft than the operations. Argus and Wyvern are both for-profit companies, and the audits are just one element of what they do. Below is how each entity describes its standards.
This beginner program is granted to any operator who provides Wyvern with their records. Wyvern makes these records available to their clients to review and make sure the operator meets certain standards. These operators have not been audited by Wyvern.
This rating is harder to receive. Operators at this level must follow specific methods that reflect the latest and best safety practices. The Wyvern Wingman is only received by aircraft operators who have been audited against Wyvern’s audit standard.
The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and its member associations, is a recommended code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism. IS-BAO is an industry standard built for operators, by operators that provides standards based on the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS).
Confirms that the Safety Management System (SMS) infrastructure is established and that safety management activities are appropriately targeted. All supporting standards have been established.
Ensures that safety management activities are appropriately targeted and that safety risks are being effectively managed.
Verifies that safety management activities are fully integrated into the operator’s business and that a positive safety culture is being sustained.
What’s my takeaway on the audit levels? In looking particularly at Argus and Wyvern, don’t infer that a Platinum rated operator is safer than Gold – or Wingman is safer the Registered for Wyvern. While the higher levels have additional criteria that must be met to qualify, it doesn’t mean the operator couldn’t attain that same level if they wanted to pay the associated fee. In other words, it’s not a grading system, like A, B, C, D, F, etc.
The NBAA recommends asking the following questions:
You can also call your regional FAA office to ask if there are any outstanding or pending actions against the operator you are considering.
Again, from NBAA:
With standard one-off charter contracts, be it a pilot gets sick or there is a last-minute mechanical, if the aircraft you chartered can’t make the flight, you’ll get a refund. That’s good news.
The bad news is if the replacement options cost more, and they usually do at the last minute, you the customer has to pay the difference if you want to travel. If you are a good, regular client – read spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – your broker might consider it a good business move to cover the difference, but that would be the exception.
For flights within the Continental U.S. or to destinations within 225 miles of the southern and northern borders, you pay the 7.5% Federal Excise Tax, or FET. Due to the CARES Act, that tax is suspended for flights you book and pay for between now and Dec. 31, 2020, even if your flight is next year. Segment fees are $4.50 per person, also currently suspended. There are various fees for international flights if you are going outside your country of origin. That can include overflight fees. You will also pay for any airport and landing fees. There could also be hangar fees.
You might also have to pay for overnight crew stays if your trip includes them having to hotel somewhere. And don’t forget deicing. The cost of deicing can range fro $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the airport and the size of the jet. You might also get hit with double deicing charges. That would be if the aircraft needed to be deiced before the repositioning flight to pick you up, then again at your departure airport.
It’s rare and most brokers and operators tell me it hardly ever happens, yet I have subscribers who have told me they’ve been hit with double bills more than once. Some jet cards include deicing or offer deicing insurance for a fee. It’s one of the more than 65 variables you can compare when you subscribe. It’s also a reason if you are doing a lot of winter weather flying, a jet card could be a smart option.
Your contract will likely hold you responsible for any damage incurred during your flight. That could include stains, ripped or scratched furnishings. Also, if you have pets, and there is special clean-up required. If you see any damage when you board, point it out to the pilots right away, and perhaps even take a picture. Also, my best advice is to treat the cabin the same way you would want guests in your home to behave.
You have two choices – operators and brokers. Operators – the companies that fly the airplanes – at your local airport can be very efficient if you are making qualifying roundtrips. Keep in mind most operators are small.
While you’ll see brokers referencing access to 10,000 aircraft, according to Tuvoli, a B2B tech platform, there are only about 4,000 private jets on Part 135 certificates, in other words, that can be rented legally in exchange for compensation. The rest are helicopters, pistons, turboprops, and even airliners. Out of the 573 operators with at least one private jet on a Part 135 certificate, 408 operate five or fewer jets, and 156 operate only one jet. Brokers survey the entire market looking for operators that are the best fit for your flights. Operators, for the most part, will try to sell you onto their fleet first.
Like good travel advisors, good brokers are like gold. They also know why some prices you might see are lower and what’s a good deal versus the cheapest price.
Argus and Wyvern publish lists of brokerages they’ve registered or certified, so in terms of looking for a good brokerage, both are solid resources. However, the quality of experience comes from the person you are interacting with. If you aren’t happy with your initial dealings, ask for another broker. Even better, ask friends who charter regularly for the phone number of their broker, and benefit from their good and bad experiences.
While most online booking is a request form, I highly recommend for first-timers, the best route is to speak to a human being, preferably one with multiple years of experience booking charter flights. Feel free to ask whomever you are speaking with, how many years of experience they have selling charter flights. If they are relatively new, there’s nothing wrong with politely telling them you would like to speak to a broker who has more experience.
In looking at broker websites, look for the names of the CEO and other executives. If you don’t see any names of owners or executives, ask! Be cautious of companies that won’t share that information. Google names of companies and executives combined with phrases like “lawsuit” and “complaints.” There are often two sides to a story. Better to know and ask before you book.
If you are paying weeks or in some cases months in advance of your flight, ask who will be holding your money. How will your funds be protected?
The charter broker’s guide that comes along with your Private Jet Card Comparisons‘ subscription includes ratings from the Better Business Bureau, Trust Pilot, Glass Door, and Facebook, as well as whether or not they are part of the Argus and Wyvern programs. Keep in mind, most brokers have limited consumer feedback on these rating sites.
Here’s the first thing to know. In many cases, the app or computer interfaces you are using are merely digitalized request forms. Even the prices you see are estimates. It often takes a live body somewhere to verify the aircraft is still available. Virtually all online brokers, platforms, or whatever they call themselves require you to submit your contact information when you check pricing and availablity.
Expect a call from a salesperson before you get hard quotes.
It’s one reason I strongly recommend those of you who aren’t experts in chartering a private jet to use a human being as your broker. That doesn’t mean companies with slick apps don’t also have good brokers working there, by the way. More on this subject later.
Yes, in fact, until you settle on a favorite or favorites, most consumers request quotes from three to four brokers to compare. That said, each request means you will have to deal with a salesperson following up. Many are great, but some can be a nuisance. Just remember three quotes from the same broker can have different sets up terms, so read the fine print. Some folks use a local operator for qualifying roundtrips, and then brokers or solutions like jet cards for other trips.
If you don’t want to go through the time it takes to shop and compare quotes for each trip, you need more flexible booking and cancelation terms, and you don’t want to find yourself having to get a last-minute re-quote, jet cards and memberships are a good option. The number of jet card providers has more than doubled since the Great Recession because they provide similar benefits to full or fractional ownership, with minimal commitment.
You can buy in for as little as $25,000, so the price of one of two flights. Some even offer pay-as-you-go options, although you pay a membership fee to join. Many jet cards offer fixed one-way rates with guaranteed availability. That means you know how much you will pay on a per flight hour basis when you sign up. To get that price, you simply have to book a minimum number of hours before departure, anywhere from 5 to 96 hours based on the provider. To secure on-demand pricing, you have to commit that day.
For fixed-rate jet cards, it’s the same with cancelations, including some requiring as few as 10 hours notice. And if the operator cancels, your provider will secure a replacement aircraft at their expense, and may even offer you compensation.
Best of all is the convenience. Instead of reviewing quotes for each trip, since you already signed a contract, you can make one call, in some cases book online, or even via email and text message. Do keep in mind, jet card pricing isn’t always lower than on-demand charter costs, so it’s a tradeoff.
Both Argus and Wyvern also provide reports primarily for brokers that ensure your aircraft and pilots are legal – in other words, meet government regulations. You should request from your provider either an Argus TRIPCheq or Wyvern PASS report before flying. If the crew changes before your departure, request an updated report.
Around 90 of the largest Part 135 operators covering over 6,000 aircraft are part of the Argus database, according to the company. With a couple of weeks’ notice, Argus can prepare a TripCheq for a company where it currently doesn’t have information.
Wyvern offers subscriptions for around $300 per month targeted for brokers. However, it can also provide a custom option for individual UHNW fliers or companies that want to do their own due diligence.
My answer, as you might expect, is yes. While our comparing functions are focused on jet cards and memberships, we also provide personal assistance via our VIP Jet Card Decider service. Regularly, we help folks figure out if they are better of going the on-demand charter route or even fractional ownership. We even help subscribers figure out if there are any sharing opportunities.
Our paid subscription is for 12 months and priced and $250 for the year. If you are looking at any type of private aviation solution, you are likely spending between $10,000 and up – sometimes over $1 million per year. I like to think a subscription to Private Jet Card Comparisons, including personal support is a pretty good value.
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