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As Private Jet Companies Expand Service in the USA, Business Travelers Wonder, “Is It Worth It?”

February 4th, 2017 /

Walking through the overcrowded market, I’m bombarded by smells and sounds that are unfamiliar. Shop owners grab my sleeve, implore me to take a look, and demand I purchase immediately. After ten minutes, I can hardly remember what I’ve seen, and I hastily buy an item or two and head for the distant exit. I’m thankful to be out of there.

This is what an urban market in the West African capital of Accra is like on any given day—but it’s shockingly similar to what you might experience in the United States should you attempt to book a private jet.

The benefits of jet travel are undeniable. The last fifteen years have seen the birth of many charter services, so you’ve got plenty of options, and services are luxurious—but the benefits are tempered by the hassle of finding a company or operator that fits your needs. The industry is too young for a guidebook, an unbiased comparison chart, or any thorough method of comparing services.

But despite the chaos, I have found a few viable options for budget-conscious business travelers who want to try that supreme travel luxury: flying privately.

jet travel services are readily available for the business traveler

It’s not just Oprah who flies in private jets these days. Image by Flickr user Andy Rusch (CC BY 2.0)

The Incredible Benefits of Private Jet Travel

The advantages of a private flight are enough to make me want to ditch commercial airlines. To start, your trip will be quiet. In addition to a lack of travel companions, jets like the Pilatus PC-12 and Citation CJ3 fly higher than your average airbus, which means they can avoid the weather and turbulence of lower heights. You also won’t experience as much jet lag since cabin pressure is regulated more strictly than is possible for commercial planes.

Then there are the time benefits. Smaller jets fly much faster—some at the speed of sound. You’ll probably depart from a private aviation terminal (called an FBO in the industry), which is likely to be closer to your final destination than an international airport. And there’s no security. No TSA. No parking, because you can drive right up to the plane and have a valet take your car. You arrive within 15 minutes of departure, wait while someone checks your passport—and then away you go.

You’re also on the receiving end of impeccable service. A private jet operator will wait for your schedule (usually—this does vary by company). Depending on your service provider, you could receive a three-course catered meal, or your operator could have your McDonald’s order waiting when you board. You might enjoy champagne, stretch out, actually get work done, or just take a blissful nap.

only you can decide if the considerable benefits of private jet travel outweigh the considerable drawbacks

This is what flying privately feels like. Image by Flickr user Nick Harris (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Drawbacks of an Oversaturated Industry

It all sounds great, in theory. The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that the private aviation industry is completely oversaturated. Flights are expensive enough, and services varied enough, that companies need to be extremely upfront about their offerings in order to attract the right customers. And that’s just not happening.

Pricing varies widely, depending on how far you’re flying, whether you’re booking a seat or the entire plane, and if you’re paying an hourly fee, a membership fee, or some combination. A flight from JFK to MIA, for instance, might run you anywhere between $500 and $10,000. Some companies will fly on your schedule, and some won’t. Some only serve small areas of the country. So unless you invest a fair amount of time in research (which often involves a whole slew of phone calls to pin down prices and service areas), you could be left completely underwhelmed.

And while large corporations might be able to justify the odd $100,000 as they try out their options, most small business owners can’t justify that kind of expense. It’s a bummer, because private air travel has so much to offer.

charting a private flight does give your business trip a luxurious twist

The perks of flying privately are huge—but might not be worth the hassle. Image by Flickr user SuperJet International (CC BY 2.0)

Our Picks for the Best Private Flight Programs

That being said, you do still have options. Given the confusing state of the private aviation industry, I place the most faith in companies that are upfront about what they’re charging and what you’re getting. Three services, in particular, stand out to me as likely options for the small business traveler:

  • For travelers flying within California: Some of the best private air deals are only offered on short-haul flights within the golden state. Surfair provides you with an “All You Can Fly” monthly price of $1,950 (plus a $1,000 sign-up fee), which gives you unlimited flights to their Cali destinations. These flights do run on a schedule, and you’ll be seated with six other random passengers, but you can book in seconds with their smartphone app and fly within an hour. You can try out a trial flight for $500. JetSuiteX is their competitor in this extremely niche market (with surprisingly discounted fares, if you can find them), but I prefer the straightforward setup that Surfair offers.
  • For uber-flexible budget travel: If you want a basic charter service to try out (without a long term commitment), JetSuite is a good bet. Their huge fleet has decent availability nationwide. They will hit you with plenty of extra fees if you’re not careful, though, including waiting fees and FBO change fees. Still, their last minute SuiteDeals program is not to be beat. And if you can manage to book a next-day “empty leg” flight (a flight on an otherwise-empty plane that needs to reposition to pick up more customers), you can get serious deals. They’re currently quoting $536 one way for an entire plane—a 90% discount compared to average whole-plane prices for short-haul flights.
  • For straightforward private aviation: I’d recommend WheelsUp for business travelers who want to jump straight into a private jet membership program. The initiation fee is high ($29,500 to sign up), and it’s on top of annual dues of $14,500, plus an additional fee per hour flown, but you get to try the luxury experience with a stable price and guaranteed availability. This service also lets you pay as you fly, so you’re not stuck with a set number of flight hours over a set number of years. If you can make the investment, and especially if your company will be flying multiple passengers, WheelsUp is worth a try.
only time will tell if private jet services continue to expand within the US

Flying with private aviation is quite the investment, but just might be worth a shot. Image by Flickr user SuperJet International (CC BY 2.0)

Weigh the Pros and Cons of Private Jet Services

The dream: choosing the best, most reputable company, finding the price option that’s right for you, booking easily through an app, and flying within the hour. The reality? Often, you’re looking at hours of research and thousands of dollars as you hunt for a company that meets your needs. But if you can make it through the initial selection process, you’re in for a fantastic ride.

Of course, if you don’t have the patience to deal with the craziness that is the private aviation industry, you probably also don’t have time for convoluted hotel booking systems. To make sure that impeccable service awaits you on the other end of my flight, consider a membership with JetLux. You’ll get corporate rates at quality properties across the country.

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