Private jet card flight providers may issue glossy brochures with mom and dad at the little one’s soccer game and fluffy happily romping up the stairs to the airplane. But when you join, your flying is governed by contracts with fine print that often go on for dozens of pages.
A single sentence on page 18 can impact how and when you can fly and how much you will pay for certain types of trips. What’s more, the rules of the programs often change with little or no notice.
Here’s a sense of how frequently things change. My company, Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide comparing over 80 providers and more than 900 programs by over 65 variables, has updated its database over 150 times in the past year.
So, let’s take a different approach and guide you to the programs that are best for specific missions. That goes to a point worth remembering: It’s not uncommon to belong to different programs for different needs.
And, of course, one of the benefits of jet cards is the relatively low commitment compared to buying your own jet or even a fractional share, where contracts span five years.
Jet card programs start at 25 hours or less, with some allowing you to pay a membership to join and then pay on a flight-by-flight basis.
So here we go!
Best Transcontinental Private Jet Pricing: FlyExclusive, Wheels Up
The one-way cost for jet card flights with guaranteed availability for coast-to-coast flights tops out at over $100,000 each way. More-expensive programs typically guarantee a stand-up cabin that’s six-feet high. But plenty of programs also use the Citation X, a super-midsize jet with a cabin 5 feet, 8 inches tall. FlyExclusive and Wheels Up, which don’t guarantee a specific aircraft type – just nonstop capability, price their coast-to-coast flights at under $40,000 each way. Both also guarantee WiFi and a recovery aircraft at no additional cost if there is a mechanical problem—a benefit over ad hoc charter, which requires a requote.
Best Light Jet Program for Short Hops: NetJets
The perception is that NetJets is expensive; and in many cases, flying with the leader does cost more. However, short flights on its fleet of Phenom 300 light jets and Citation XLS midsize jets are one of the lowest-price solutions for trips under 35 minutes. That’s because most providers have daily minimum charges of 60 to 120 minutes on light and midsize jets, which you’ll pay even if your flight is shorter. With NetJets, that 26-minute flight from Westchester County Airport to Nantucket, which replaces a five-hour drive, is charged at the actual time you are in the air, plus the standard 12-minute taxi time. NetJets doesn’t have surcharges for the Caribbean, Mexico, or Hawaii—only international fees for handling, airport services, etc. (And yes, we know Hawaii is domestic, but it still has extra fees.) So NetJets is also often in line with other providers for jet card flights to those destinations, as well.
Best Super Midsize for Short Hops: Flexjet, Nicholas, VistaJet, Northern Jet
Sometimes, you need to fit more people than the standard light jet with six to seven seats can accommodate, or you have large adults in your party who don’t want to be squeezed in. Again, this is where daily minimums can lead to paying more than you need to, as super-midsize jet daily minimums range up to two-and-a-half hours. Flexjet, Nicholas Air, VistaJet, and Northern Jet are among the few providers that offer super midsize jets with 60-minute minimums. In the case of Flexjet (flying Challenger 300s), Nicholas Air (Challenger 300s and 350s and Citation Latitudes) and VistaJet (Challenger 300s and 350s), you also get the stand-up cabin experience.
Best Short Hop Turboprop Plans: Jettly, OneFlight, Wheels Up, Tradewind
For certain missions—short runways, for example—turboprop planes are the best option.Jet card programs that offer turboprops are not common, but some stand out. Jettly and OneFlight International offer jet memberships with turboprop options, as do Wheels Up (east of the Mississippi River and Texas) and Tradewind Aviation (in the Northeast U.S., Florida, the Bahamas, and the Northern Caribbean). While it doesn’t offer a jet card, PlaneSense, a top-end operator of the Swiss PC-12, does sell ad hoc charters through its Cobalt Air website on an as-available basis.
Best Global Traveler Programs: VistaJet, Qatar Executive
A good alternative to ad hoc charter for international intercontinental flights is the jet card programs from VistaJet and Qatar Executive. Both offer contracted rates with guaranteed availability, which means you can book a flight from New York to Nairobi with a couple of days’ notice. Best of all, if your plans change, you can cancel on similar short notice. That could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in cancellation penalties.
Best for Multiple Same-day Stops: FlyExclusive, Airshare
Again, the complexity of the program rules means the various providers have their unique sweet spots. If you are going to make multiple flights on the same day, and particularly if you are not returning to where you started, FlyExclusive and Airshare are often thousands of dollars less than other options.
Best for Last-Minute Flights: Fly Alliance, Magellan
Suppose you absolutely, positively need to get somewhere on short notice but don’t want to commit to fractional ownership. In that case, Fly Alliance (bookable eight hours prior to departure) and Magellan Jets (10 or 12 hours’ notice) enable you to use contracted hourly rates guaranteed with minimal notice.
Best Program for Both Sides of the Pond: Multiple
If you want to fly between the U.S. and Europe, several jet card programs offer fixed rates and guaranteed availability on both sides of the Pond. Check out Sentient Jet, which invented the jet card and has an all-around user friendly program, Wheels Up’s Air Partner, Magellan Jets, VistaJet, NetJets, and Flexjet.
Best Empty-leg, Almost-free Jet Program: Vaunt
If you are flexible and want to travel on a budget, you can fly for cheap on the “empty leg” of a flight, when the provider is bringing an empty plane to or from its customer. (It also helps reduce flying’s environmental impact.) Vaunt, from fractional provider Volato, enables you to pay an annual membership fee of just $1,000. From there, check out daily notifications on its app, and your flights are free. While you have to find your own way home, and you will find out if you won the free flight only a day or so before departure, you can rack up comp flights that would cost upwards of $10,000 if you were paying.