Most people new to air charter believe that a private jet membership is the only realistic option available to them. It’s not.
What is a Private Jet Membership?
Private jet charter memberships have long been positioned as the easy gateway into chartering your own plane, whether for business or leisure purposes.
How do you charter a jet? That’s a difficult question to answer if you’ve never done it before. So step forward a single package known as a private jet card, where you pay a membership fee upfront and receive a set number of flying hours in return. Whenever you need a private jet you call the operator, quote your membership number, and use some of these allotted hours. Simple right?
Well, yes and no. With a jet charter membership there are many restrictions. A private jet card offers a set number of hours on a specific plane. These can be used on most days, but you’ll pay a premium for peak travel dates, such as Thanksgiving weekend (read more about hot dates for private jet travel here). For example, flying from New York to San Francisco in a Hawker 400A takes five hours. Subtract that from a 25-hour jet card and you should have 20 hours remaining.
Jet Membership Options
The concept is relatively simple. Choosing a jet membership is complicated. Although the first jet card was only created in 1997, there are now over 250 private jet membership programs on the market. In the last decade the number of operators providing this service has doubled. And after choosing from more than 250 you must then decide on the number of hours. 10? 25? 50? 100? So before searching you’ll need to calculate: a) how many jet hours you intend to use in the coming months and b) the type of aircraft that will be best for you.
It becomes more complicated. Standard charter-based cards have been supplemented by dynamic pricing jet cards, fractional ownership cards, even jet cards that offer single seats on empty legs and aircraft re-positioning legs.
Somewhere among all that there could be something that’s right for you. Providing you have at least USD 50,000 to spend up front. Most private jet charter memberships range from USD 100,000 to 200,000. The cost is dictated by an aircraft’s price per hour, so it’s always dependent on the number of hours you purchase and the actual aircraft.
Private Jet Memberships Can Be Very Restrictive
You could think of a jet membership like you would a gym membership. If you prefer cross-fit training sessions then it makes sense to take a membership at a cross-fit gym. If part of keeping fit includes swimming then you would look for a gym with a pool. But what if you mostly do cross fit but occasionally want to swim? And what if you sign up in advance for a year, but then get a new job and don’t find time to go more than once a month?
With private jet memberships you’re tied into a specific aircraft and number of hours. When you don’t use all the hours you lose some of the money. When you need a bigger aircraft you must charter a different jet. It’s the same when you need an aircraft with a larger range, or a smaller, cheaper plane for a shorter journey. If your jet charter needs always involve the same destinations and number of passengers, a membership scheme makes sense. But like training at a gym, that’s a relatively rare scenario, especially when you must plan and pay 12 months in advance.
Why Are Jet Memberships Popular?
Before memberships there were private jet brokers, who would source and negotiate charters on your behalf. For this they charged a fee. Unfortunately, no industry qualification or certification is required for somebody to become a jet broker. The profession became crowded with con artists, who fed on the knowledge that chartering a jet was a new and murky task for most customers. Trust in this profession remains low, certainly within charter (not as much within sales). And how do you find a jet broker anyway? Through a Google search? At a golf club?
With a jet broker you could at least only pay for flights as you needed them. That’s an alternative to fractional jet ownership schemes, where you purchase a share in an aircraft. As a shareholder you’re responsible for paying maintenance fees and the pilot’s salary (a cost that's in proportion to your share). In return for owning part of a plane you can use part of the time. The minimum share is usually one sixteenth, which equates to 50 flying hours per year (800 annual flying hours is the industry standard for a jet).
Neither of these options are hugely appealing, nor economically sensible. Fractional jet ownership requires huge financial investment; most in the aviation industry now suggest that if you can afford a fraction it makes more sense to pay more and just buy an aircraft out right.
In the late 1990s, as a new alternative to brokers and ownership, it's easy to see how private jet membership schemes generated immediate popularity.
Choosing a Membership Scheme – Questions to Consider
With 250 memberships to choose from you need to be clear about what and why you want one.
- How many hours per year will you need a charter jet?
- How many seats do you need in the plane? Bigger planes are more expensive.
- How far will you be flying? Every aircraft has a certain range and is better for a certain length of journey.
- When do you plan to travel? Membership schemes have anywhere from ten to over a hundred blackout dates, coinciding with popular days and holiday times.
Then when comparing memberships consider the following questions.
- What are the initiation fees?
- What are the annual membership fees? These are paid on top of your hours.
- What are the minimum hours per flight? Many jet cards specify two hours, so you’ll pay for two hours even if the flight is only 40 minutes.
- Do the rates include FET tax of 7.5%?
- Can you get a refund on unused hours?
- If you need to buy extra hours, do they charge the existing rate or are you forced to purchase a new jet card?
- Is de-icing included or an additional charge?
- How much taxi time do you get per flight? Is that enough for the private jet airports you will be using?
- What is the lead in time for booking? i.e. how far in advance must you reserve a trip.
- Can you downgrade or upgrade the aircraft or is it absolutely fixed?
- What are the peak days and what are the surcharges for flying on these days?
- Are the following fees included? Hangar fees, overnight fees, preferred airport FBO surcharges, Airport taxes, state taxes, foreign fuel taxes, special events surcharges, taxi time fees.
An Easier Alternative to Private Jet Memberships
These memberships options can be complicated. So why can’t you just book an air charter the same way you book a commercial flight. Imagine the possibility.
- Search for flights between any destinations.
- Compare different flights; including price, how long they take, and the type of aircraft for charter.
- Get a transparent final price and book the flight using your credit or debit card.
- Only pay for the flights you actually need and don’t pay anything upfront.
Ah, it seems so simple when you put it this way. Search, select, fly.
Oh wait, it really is that simple.
You don’t need a private jet membership to charter a plane. You just need Airvel, the world’s leading booking engine for private air charters.
There’s nothing complicated and there are no fees to pay. Just search and book flights on an individual basis. You enjoy all the flexibility and benefits of air charter, so you can fly anywhere, anytime.
With Airvel anyone can fly private. Give it a go.