Navigator Explores Luxury Private Aviation Options

Posted June 19, 2023 in Aviation by Ashleigh King

Navigator guides you through the wide range of choices available to those looking to fly private.

While flying privately is a great way to travel to and from your yacht – or just about anywhere – the biggest challenge is often to figure out the best options, which vary quite a bit. To begin, the most important point is the understanding that at the end of the day, you will likely have more than one solution. That’s because even if you end up owning your own aircraft, there are times it won’t be right for your mission. Two members of your family will need to be going to different places at the same time; it will be down for maintenance, or the flight crew won’t be available. In other words, it’s a bit like cars in the driveway: chances are you don’t just have one.

On-Demand Charter

On-demand charter means you are booking and buying your flights trip-by-trip. You can do so through a broker or directly with the operator. In either case, your flights will be quoted based on where you are going, when you are going, when you are booking, and any other special requests beyond the number of passengers and the most cost-effective aircraft. Pricing is market-based, commonly referred to as dynamic pricing. A broker will go out
to a few operators they work with regularly who they know have the type of aircraft that meets the request. They will get pricing from the operator and add their margins. There are benefits to working with brokers; operators are going to want to sell you on their fleet, whereas good brokers are trusted advisors to
their clients. They also know which operators are dependable. Advantages include being able to specify certain aircraft types, ages and configurations. The downside is that once you book, the flights often can’t be changed or canceled. You will also find that virtually everything is an upcharge, from catering to Wi-Fi and de- icing. And, if the operator cancels, all they owe you is a refund.

Jet Cards & Memberships

Jet cards and memberships have been around for about 25 years; however, they really took off after the recession of 2008. With nearly 20 percent of all private jets for sale, there was a surplus available for charter. That gave providers – both brokers and operators – the ability to offer fixed hourly rates with guaranteed availability. Instead of having to wait for brokers or operators to quote your trip, you join a program – typically paying for 25 hours of flight time or making a deposit. While on-demand charter quotes must factor in repositioning flights, jet cards are popular because your contracted rate is for occupied hours, for example, when you are in the airplane. Guaranteed availability means that as long as you book your flight a specified number of days before departure (usually one to four days), you are guaranteed an aircraft of a specific category – light, midsize, super midsize or large – at your contracted hourly rate. Whether you are flying from New York to Florida or Wyoming to Oklahoma, your hourly rate is the same, and the cost of repositioning the airplane is at the expense of the provider.

While cards and memberships that offer fixed rates with guaranteed availability make booking flights as easy as sending an email, most programs don’t allow you to specify aircraft types or configurations. They also have a lot of fine print, with contracts running dozens of pages. There are peak days when there can
be longer booking windows and surcharges, and in some cases, availability is not guaranteed. Also, where the contracted rates are valid varies. Some U.S. programs offer fixed pricing to include the Caribbean and Mexico, while others are limited to the Continental U.S. As the card market has grown – there are currently over
80 providers – some now just offer the fixed rates as available, meaning you have to be flexible, while others price trips dynamically. Still, once you find a program that fits your needs, compares programs by more than 65 variables. It is a minimal commitment and some programs are even refundable.

Fractional Ownership & Leases

If you want a specific aircraft type and configuration, need flexibility to book and change flights within 24 hours but aren’t flexible enough to avoid the peak days of jet cards and memberships, fractional ownership is as close to owning your own airplane as you can get. If you are flying for business, there can be tax benefits. However, fractional shares and leases are typically a five-year commitment, and they make the most sense when you are going to fly in the same aircraft type as, even though programs will allow you to upgrade or downgrade, the extra charges – called the interchange fees – often don’t make sense. In fact, many fractional owners use jet cards and on-demand charter to supplement their shares. Another consideration is that shares start at 50 hours per year, and you can only roll over a limited number of hours. It is the same in terms of overflying. Still, some providers require as little as six hours’ notice to book or cancel flights, and if there is a mechanical issue or the pilot gets sick, your provider gets you a replacement aircraft at no additional cost.

Full Ownership

While jet card users typically fly 10 to 100 hours per year, and fractional owners usually fly 50 to 200 hours, full ownership makes the most sense if you are flying over 200 hours per year. There are many reasons that owning your own airplane makes sense, from wanting your own flight and cabin crew to a specific configuration or cabin design, to the tax benefits and the ability to come and go as you please. However, ownership also means hiring a management company if you don’t intend to start your own flight department. The most important takeaway is understanding that unless you are flying once or twice per year, you may end up using multiple solutions. While flying privately is easy, finding the right solutions takes a bit of time, but your due diligence now will save you from learning expensive lessons later.

Up Next in Aviation

Navigator Newsletter

Stay informed on all things yachting and luxury lifestyle with the bi-monthly Navigator newsletters.