After you decide to fly private, you’ll have to decide on the service plan that works best for you. Two of the key elements to consider are the type of pricing and where it applies (the primary and extended service areas). Today, let’s focus on pricing.
Private jet plans go by various names—jet cards, memberships, clubs, or programs. But the differences in plans have more to do with what the providers choose to offer than the terms they use to market their offerings.
The Three Types of Private Jet Pricing
Wheels Up’s “membership,” for instance, allows you to make a deposit and provides fixed rates and guaranteed availability—the core attributes of the traditional jet card that Sentient Jet invented in 1999. In VistaJet’s lingo, those terms are called “the Program.” FlyExclusive names them Jet Club.
Volato says its Insider Program is “beyond a traditional jet card.” That’s true, in that it doesn’t offer guaranteed availability; but guaranteed rates without guaranteeing availability is now a thing.
Air Charter Service offers three jet card options. One version doesn’t have contracted rates: Prices are set dynamically, based on demand. Another offers fixed hourly rates, while a third has capped hourly rates (which can vary, but only up to a set amount).
In brief, there are three types of private-jet pricing plans:
- Fixed hourly rates
- Capped hourly rates
- Dynamic pricing
So, let’s review each, what they mean, and how they could apply to your travel needs.
Fixed Hourly Rate Private Jet Plans
Programs that offer fixed hourly rates are often favored by businesses, as it gives them a good way to budget how much their flying is going to cost.
If the hourly rate for a light jet is $6,400 per hour, it’s not just as simple as thinking, “My flight is 45 minutes, so it’s going to cost me $4,800.” (That is, $6,400 x 3/4 of an hour.)
Most fixed-rate programs include taxi time, which they will say is six minutes for takeoff and six more for landing. So that would add two-tenths of an hour to your billed flight time.
The next question you need to ask is whether the 7.5% federal excise tax is included in the rate. You pay the FET for all continental domestic flights and for the portion of an international flight that takes place over the Continental U.S.
You also have to ask if there are fuel surcharges. And even if there are not currently any, ask if the contract permits them in the future. (Of course, it’s a good idea to read the entire contract.)
Lastly, you need to find out the daily minimums you will be charged any day you fly for the aircraft size or type you are considering. And ask if taxi time is included in the daily minimum or is an additional fee.
For example, for your 45-minute light jet flight with a program that has a 120-minute daily minimum on light jets, you will pay either 120 minutes if taxi time is included or 132 minutes if it is additional.
Assuming fuel surcharges and FET are included, a program with an $8,000 hourly rate that has a 60-minute minimum, including taxi time, will run you $8,000 for that 45-minute flight.
The cost for the same flight with a provider marketing the $6,400 hourly rate with a two-hour daily minimum, including taxi time, FET, and fuel, would be $12,800.
Seems strange, but for those short flights you are paying less with the provider that has a higher hourly price.
Daily minimum is one of the more than 65 variables that subscribers of Private Jet Card Comparisons can compare. You just need to enter your flight time, and our Quick Compare Flight Pricing engine will provide the flight cost.
Capped Hourly Rate Private Jet Pricing
With capped, or fixed, hourly rates, you won’t pay more than the contracted hourly rate. But you may pay less if you are flexible enough to move your flight to a low-demand part of the day or even move your travel dates.
You also need to find out if the fixed or capped rates come with guaranteed availability. That means, if you book a certain number of hours or days before your departure, you can specify your departure time.
With as-available programs, in contrast, your rate is locked in, but you may need to be flexible as to when the provider can fly you. Availability is usually not an issue if you are open to flying on lower-demand midweek days.
Two last points on fixed and capped hourly rates.
First, find out how long they apply. Typically, you will get a rate lock of 12 months. However, some contracts allow the provider to change rates with as little as 14 days’ notice.
A number of companies added that provision after the Covid-induced surge of private flyers outstripped supply. Wheels Up, which honored their rate locks, lost approximately $500 million on $1.5 billion in revenues, necessitating Delta Air Lines to step in with a $500 million rescue package. (That was not the only reason for Wheels Up’s losses.)
You also have to check peak-day terms, which have longer lead times for booking and include surcharges. Or in some cases, providers switch to our next pricing type.
Dynamic Pricing Plans
With dynamic pricing, rates vary based on when and where you are going. The provider is calculating its cost, plus profit, for each individual flight and then giving you a quote.
Dynamic pricing programs will often promote that they don’t have peak days, daily minimums, fuel surcharges, or charges for taxi time. Rather, the price they quote will have factored in all those components.
If you check out Vista Global’s XO, you can see it in action, where prices can double on some dates, based on supply and demand.
This method also takes into consideration repositioning, such as flying an empty airplane to you before your flight or on to its next customer or back to base after it drops you off.
A flight somewhere under three hours, from a low-traffic location such as Yakima in Western Washington to Kansas City, is likely to be about double the cost of a similar-duration flight from New York to Miami—cities likely to have customers at the ready before and after your flight.
In other words, dynamic pricing works best when you are traveling between two airports that have a high level of private jet activity.
When using dynamic pricing, the willingness to go to a nearby airport, say Palm Beach instead of Boca Raton, could save you a couple thousand dollars on repositioning. But as I mentioned, it varies every time.
Fifty percent of Private Jet Card Comparisons subscribers prefer fixed or capped pricing, vs. 5.5% who prefer dynamic pricing. The remainder say they are not sure.
You may find it makes sense to join more than one program based on your flying needs: one with 60-minute minimums for short flights and another that is better suited for longer flights, for instance. Or you could end up using dynamic pricing for high-traffic routes and flexible-time flights where you can save significant money.
Keep in mind that most dynamic pricing programs requote if there is a mechanical problem or sick pilot, and they have to find a replacement aircraft. That can mean paying more than your original price. Many fixed- and capped-rate cards provide the replacement aircraft on the original terms. Other factors, such as whether or not deicing is included, impact how much you are paying in the end.
The nice things about flying privately are that it is like a time machine in how quickly it gets you there and is a 100% improvement in terms of airport experience and convenience. In many ways, the most arduous part of flying privately is making sure you are speaking to the right providers based on your needs.
Most of all, remember that what they call the program doesn’t make a difference. It’s how they price your flights that matters.