Private jets. Perhaps more than any other status symbol in the world of travel, nothing says “you’ve made it” like boarding a private jet at your leisure, telling the crew you’re ready to go, and then departing directly for your next destination. No crowded terminals, no connecting flights, no security hassles–none of it. Just a flying experience tailored entirely to your needs.
It may sound, well, “pie-in-the-sky”, and for most travelers, it is–because they’re making assumptions about how private jets operate.
Most travelers–even the high-powered corporate executives and Hollywood A-Listers that often fly private–don’t own their own jets. They’re monstrously expensive. A mid-range private jet can cost in the tens of millions to acquire, and then fixed costs like crew salaries and maintenance will run another million or so before the aircraft even leaves the ground.
With the exception of the super elites (who often form corporations just to operate their owned jets) most travelers flying private are paying per use, either for ad-hoc charters or through a membership program that offers packages of credits to use for flight hours.
Type of “private” flight experiences
Charters are the most straightforward way to fly private. You’ll call a charter broker and tell them where you need to go, and they’ll quote you a price for your journey. This is one of the more expensive ways to fly private, but it comes without the long-term commitments of a membership program or a fractional ownership scheme.
Many charter operators have small fleets, and many of them may not have availability at all, so it’s more common to contact a broker who is dialed into multiple operators. They’ll make bids on the buyers behalf, and then add a commission.
To make it more confusing, many operators will sell charters directly in addition to acting as brokers to charter other aircraft while offering fractional ownership and membership programs (also referred to as “jet cards”).
One thing to remember with charter pricing is that it’s dependent on aircraft supply and market demands, so charter pricing can vary significantly from trip to trip, based on how many aircraft are available and what brokers think clients will be willing to pay for the remaining aircraft.
For a small jet, expect to pay in the neighborhood of $7,000 per flight hour, although this varies based on supply, demand, and crew and logistical costs.
Fractional ownership is designed for flyers who want more consistency and control over their experience. Fractional ownership works in a manner similar to timeshare vacation rentals. Buyers will purchase a share in an aircraft for a set period, often several years. They’ll also pay an annual maintenance fee. The size of the share they purchase dictates their portion of the aircraft’s annual costs, and how many flight hours they’re entitled to.
Fractional ownership is similar to owning an aircraft outright, on a smaller scale, so it’s not the best for casual users who won’t use all their allotted hours, or for travelers who may have different aircraft needs from trip to trip, since fractional ownership is typically for a specific type of aircraft in a standard configuration.
Membership programs (also called jet cards) offer more flexibility than fractional ownership. The memberships typically have an initiation or annual membership fee, plus a significant prepayment for “flight credits”. Once paid, the programs allow members to book available aircraft for their trip (large or small, short- or long- range, configured for daytime use or overnight flying) using a set number of credits.
Some membership programs will also allow members to create their own marketplace for splitting the cost of a charter, allowing them to save money by filling empty seats with other members traveling between the same cities on the same date.
Private-style air carriers
Private-style air carriers operate what are called Public Charters, meaning they’re not subject to the same security and ticketing rules as other airlines. This also allows them to operate from private jet terminals with different security screening regimens. Onboard, the airlines provide a hybrid service between the bespoke luxury of a private jet and the higher-volume service provided onboard an airline.
The benefits of flying private
Private flights, where the passengers are ostensibly known to the crew already, have a different security profile than commercial flights. As such, they depart from corporate terminals that don’t have traditional TSA screening. You’ll be dropped off, perhaps wait a few moments in a terminal) and step onboard once your luggage is loaded.
Sharing the cabin with only your own party reduces your exposure to airborne contaminants–both onboard private aircraft and in uncrowded corporate terminals. Private jet operators reported a significant increase in private jet business during the COVID-19 pandemic, when passengers who could afford it found greater comfort and peace of mind in creating their own flying bubbles–even with the added expense of the private flight.
One of the best values in flying privately is the time-savings. Not only are the smaller jets able to access more convenient corporate airports (like Teterboro, NJ for Manhattan or Van Nuys, for Los Angeles), but they’re also able to operate nonstop on your desired schedule. Airline itineraries from Portland, Maine to Waco, Texas might require multiple stops–with a private jet, it’s nonstop, and it departs when you want.
Private jets are also ideal for flying closer to destinations not near major airports. Headed to Pinehurst, NC to golf, but don’t want to drive the 90 minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport? Moore County Regional Airport is just 11 minutes up the road. Summer vacationers going to Michigan’s remote Mackinac Island can fly into nearby Cheboygan County Airport.
Private jet companies
Jet ASAP is like a charter broker–without the broker. For a $399 annual fee (or $79.99 a month), members can post requests for charter trips and operators respond directly with bids, taking out the broker and their markup. One downside is that brokers are often familiar with the quirks of each operator, and typically have a better idea of which bids are a better value based on the terms of the offer.
Aero is a private-style air carrier offering U.S. flights, primarily from California cities to Aspen, Sun Valley, and Los Cabos on specific dates. The aircraft are outfitted with first class seating and offer an open bar. A spot check of fares between Van Nuys and Aspen returned roundtrips starting around $3,000. Given that Aspen airport is oftentimes closed due to weather, Aero will even guarantee ground transportation from a diversion airport.
FlyJets is a broker that connects passengers with charter operators, and also offers other travel agency services. Because, like many of the services, users must be members to login to the site and shop for flights, information about any membership fees or pricing is scant.
Wheelsup is a membership club that provides a platform for members to request and book private jets. Wheelsup also offers a community so travelers can find others who are traveling to the same destination on the same dates to help split the cost of the aircraft. Membership fees can be steep, especially for the Core Membership, which comes with an initiation fee of $17,500 (and doesn’t include any flight credits), but Core members are guaranteed availability with 48 hours notice, and also pay lower hourly rates, which are capped most days of the year.
Victor is a broker who markets a point of differentiation: the only global jet charter marketplace (that’s parlance for “broker”) to disclose the operator, aircraft details, and cancellation terms when quoting a trip (it’s standard to not disclose these details until after the trip is booked; most operators allow for cancellations if the terms aren’t acceptable). Victor also offers 200% carbon offsets on every flight, and also discloses the anticipated carbon emissions so that travelers can choose lower-emission flights.
Blade offers a number of luxury flight options in the US, Canada, and Europe. In the US, travelers can book helicopter transfers from Manhattan to Newark or JFK Airports, or to the Hamptons. Airport fares start at $195. Blade also has public charter service to Miami–flights from Manhattan to Miami (including helicopter transfers to Westchester Airport) start just under $3,600.
JSX is perhaps the largest of the public charter operators, flying Embraer 145 aircraft in corporate configurations to destinations in California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and Mexico. Fares are comparable to first class on many commercial airlines–Burbank to Las Vegas flights start at $219 each way. Passengers can even earn United Mileage Plus mileage for their flights on JSX.
Some examples of deals Going has sent our members for flights on JSX:
- Oakland to Las Vegas for $298 roundtrip
- San Diego to Phoenix for $358 roundtrip
- Austin to Taos for $384 roundtrip
One of the largest and oldest fractional ownership companies, NetJets operates its own fleet of aircraft. Passengers can choose from fractional ownership, and leases (which are cheaper and don’t involve an actual equity purchase). One of the main benefits to NetJets is their large fleet, so fractional owners and leaseholders won’t be charged fees to ferry aircraft on positioning flights between destinations in the contiguous United States (this charge is common for smaller operators). NetJets also offers a jet card program that has proven so popular that new cards aren’t being sold in 2022.
SurfAir is a broker that allows members to search for flights between regional or large airports and receive upfront pricing. It’s one of the few marketplaces that allows consumers to search and see pricing before joining. We found full aircraft charters from Burbank to Las Vegas available from $4,200, and most appeared to offer a per seat cost starting around $1,100.
Set Jet operates private jet charters primarily in California, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and Mexico. Flights are open for sale only for members who pay a one-time security fee of $99.95 and a monthly membership fee of $99.95. One-way domestic fares start at $750, while one-way fares to/from Los Cabos start at $1,330.
XO is one of the larger marketplaces for private jets, operating both their own fleet and brokering a large portfolio or providers. XO offers both memberships which offer discounts and pricing benefits, and direct charter sales, in addition to selling seats on public charters operated by the company’s fleet.