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 Jet cards are now a standard fixture in the air charter industry. Popular jet card memberships programs typically start at around $100,000 and offer a fixed hourly rate for aircraft charter. This article will explain everything you need to know about private jet cards, including how they started, their benefits and their challenges.

Private Jet Cards: Everything You Need To Know & Alternatives

Many big and small operators position jet cards as the only way to charter a jet. They are not. This article will also explain the best alternatives to jet cards and how you can find a deal that suits you, without needing a large pre-investment.

Why You Thought You Needed a Jet Card

In a nutshell, there has been a lot of marketing around a business model that suggests you need a jet card to fly private. The heavily promoted theory is that jet cards are the only gateway into the world of private air charter. You probably thought you needed a jet card, because the private jet industry tells you so. Jet cards are positioned as an “all access” pass that provides entry into the world of flying private.

The marketing message is consistent with the way private air charters have been positioned. It suggests you need to be part of a glitterati or upper social class to access private jets. Why? Well, the pre-investment is typically around $100,000 and operators aren’t shy about this. The message has always been that if you can afford the entry price - or if you own a bugatti, private yacht or beachfront villa in The Hamptons - that wealth buys you entry to an exclusive world.

Exclusivity has its marketing allure. Before jet cards there were - and there still are - jet brokers who preserve the select reputation associated with flying private. It’s an elite club and money gets you in, much like an old-world golf or gentlemans club. That same marketing message continues with jet cards. But while you thought you needed it, a private jet card is just one way to charter a jet. It’s just one option. And like any service industry, it’s an option that will suit some people, but may not be advantageous for many others.

What is a Jet Card

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Jet cards are a pre-paid membership program for specific aircraft. You select the aircraft you would like to charter and are given a fixed hourly rate. Then you purchase a set number of hours - most operators have minimum membership requirements so you must buy 50, 100, or even 500 hours hours per year. The advantages have been well positioned as over 65 airlines and operators sell jet cards in the US alone.

You get a fixed hourly rate so you don’t need to negotiate every time you want to charter a jet. So whenever you need to fly you call up the operator, order the aircraft you have a jet card for, and use your pre-paid hours to fly. Essentially you’re paying in advance for the convenience of flying on the aircraft you have chosen.

Basically, purchasing a jet card is just a way to ensure that private charter brokers are going to get their money in advance. It’s like an annual pre-pay gym membership. They sign you up at the start of the year and over the first one or two months you are using the gym. Then you stop going, you stop flying, your circumstances change and there is no way to get your money back. So when there are thousands of aircraft for charter in the United States, does it make sense to pre-invest?

Why Did Jet Cards Become Popular

There’s a lot that is wrong with jet cards. But we’ll get to that in a while. To understand why they are so popular you have to understand what came before jet cards. Scroll back to the middle of the last decade and there were two ways to fly private. You either owned your own plane. Or you had a fractional jet ownership, which meant you owned part of a private jet.

Fractional jet ownership is a little like a timeshare for private aircraft - you pay your share and you get access for a set amount of time. They requires significant pre-investment and eventually people realized they weren’t offering value for money - just like that timeshare you might have been promised on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. With a fractional ownership you had to consider asset depreciation and blackout dates as well as inconvenience. So a new wave of products came along - jet cards.

Jet cards were positioned as the future of private jet travel for frequent fliers: more flexible, better value, and less commitment. Within three years of hitting the market they were the status quo. Now it’s hard to find an operator or airline that doesn't offer a jet card. To confuse matters further, there’s now a wide range of jet card options, taking customers from entry-level cards to gold and platinum options.

What’s Wrong With a Jet Card

If you own a jet card, have you ever questioned why you have to pay upfront to have access to private charter planes? With high jet card prices and membership fees that come along with most private air booking services, one would certainly have to. But pricing and pre-investment isn’t the only downside. Jet cards have many limitations.

  1. It’s expensive and very rare to find a jet card membership starting for less than $500,000 (most are $100,000 +).
  2. The minimum number of hours may be more than you need for a year.
  3. Jet cards requires significant pre-investment as they must be paid for up front.
  4. They lock you into a single operator or airline.
  5. Jet cards lock you into a specific size and type of aircraft.
  6. Blackout dates mean you can’t always fly when you want.
  7. Airlines and operators are restricted by the number of aircraft they own and the number of trained pilots they have: sometimes high demand means you can’t fly.
  8. Minimum membership requirements mean you may end up paying for more hours than you need.
  9. Unused hours usually expire so you lose your investment.
  10. Jet cards specify lead in times for making a reservation, so you must book in advance.
  11. Jet cards have peak days where the cost per hour is increased.
  12. Hidden extras like initiation fees and monthly membership dues increase the cost.
  13. Additional (special) costs mean you don’t just pay a fixed price per hour but must consider 7.5% Federal Excise Tax, de-icing charges, airport taxes, state taxes, foreign fuel taxes, special events surcharges, overnight fees, hanger fees, taxi time fees, preferred FBO surcharges, and others.

How Much Does a Private Jet Card Cost?

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In 2018 Marketwatch listed some of the best private jet card deals on the market. They include $37,500 for ten hours on a turboprop with Concord Private Jet; XOJET have a $50,000 membership offering 12 hours on a jet; for $100,000 you can just about get 25 hours of flying time with a couple of jet cards. None of these are small numbers and they won’t get you far. The myth that you can only fly private charter if you have spent a small fortune on a jet card is simply not true. A private jet card costs as much as you can afford to pre invest. But flying on a private air charter starts at zero. Why should you pay in advance?

How To Choose a Jet Card For You

Cost isn’t the only consideration when selecting a jet card. There are 250 jet card programs in the US. These have varying parameters for advance reservations and peak periods, along with availability and aircraft choice. It’s such a complicated market that there’s a website that compares all 250 jet cards. Forbes recently listed close to 50 questions you should consider, including:

  • How the program is structured?
  • Do the rates include 7.5% FET tax?
  • How many seats are on the plane?
  • How are the aircraft sourced from third parties?
  • Do your hours expire after a year or other amount of time?
  • Can you get a refund on unused hours?
  • Can you buy new hours at the existing rate or do you need to buy a new card at increased rates?
  • What are the initiation and membership fees?
  • Is de-icing included with the card or an additional charge?
  • How much taxi time do you get per flight? Is it enough?
  • What are the minimum number of hours you must use for a flight or per day?
  • What are the peak days and what is the surcharge for flying on peak days?
  • What destinations will attract surcharges?
  • How far in advance must you book?
  • How easy is it to downgrade or upgrade the aircraft and what are the costs for this?

But before comparing jet cards, consider whether a jet card is best for you.

Why You Really Don’t Need a Jet Card

On-demand air charter. That’s the alternative to a jet card. You book private air charters when you need them, without paying tens of thousands of dollars up front. Around the United States there are thousands of on-demand private charter operators. They have aircraft readily available to fly people all over the country. These operators can fly to over 5,000 airports and land in non-hub cities.

There has always been on-demand air charter. It's just easier to access now. In the past you needed to negotiate prices and sign contracts for every individual flight. Jet cards promised that wasn’t necessary and on-demand air charter slowly slipped off the radar.

So there were jet cards - expensive and easy. And on-demand charter - better value but baffling to use. Until...

The Future of Private Air: A Better Way To Access On-Demand Private Jets

In recent years, online marketplaces like Airvel, have been able to bridge the gap between the private charter flyer and the thousands of operators who have planes readily available. Similar to how Airbnb bridged the gap between travelers needing a place to stay and homeowners wanting to rent out their place. The goal has been to crack open the private air charter market and make it open to all. To give those who don’t own a jet card an “all-access” pass to any aircraft they need.

The Best Alternative to Private Jet Cards: Airvel

Airvel is a marketplace that makes private air charter open for all. There is zero pre-investment or membership requirements. It is free to use and you only pay for the flights you book. Better still, you’re not tied down to any of the restrictions associated with a private jet card. With Airvel you get complete choice over how you fly.

  • Charter any size of aircraft and choose what’s best for each flight.
  • Get instant pricing on every flight, so there are no sneaky extras like airport or taxi fees.
  • No need to negotiate with individual airlines - it’s done automatically on the Airvel site.
  • Only pay for the flights you need.
  • Get 24-7 concierge support.
  • Make changes to your flight up to 15 minutes before departure.
  • Book a flight and be in the air within two hours.
  • Share the cost of a private air charter with others.

Airvel is the world’s leading marketplace for on-demand air charter. You can search over 4000 aircraft instantly, receiving clear and transparent pricing for the dates and route you need. More choice means better prices and greater flexibility.

We’ve made on-demand air charter easy. We’ve created a platform that is revolutionizing the air charter industry. Just search for the flight you want, compare prices, and book.

And if it sounds like too much work to search for a deal, and you want the pre-arranged convenience of a private jet card, Airvel’s Customer Experience team will do all the searching for you.

Check out How Airvel Works or Search Flights now.





About Author

Louise Hughes
Louise Hughes

Aviation consultant, helping airlines and charter companies ross their t's and dot their i's. Louise has worked with many of the big players in the air charter industry and contributes to national and international bodies.

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