Marketing private jets as the affordable option might seem crazy, but a new fleet of charter jet operators are attempting to do just that in a push to ‘democratize’ luxury travel.
The argument has its merits. The company offers daily deals on empty flights to fill vacant seats. A recent one-way trip on a four-seater jet from San Jose to Las Vegas was listed at $536.43, 66 percent cheaper than what four commercial business class seats would cost.
Elite Flight Club is simply one company in a crowded field looking to make flying private more accessible. JumpSeat operates like Airbnb, letting individuals who have already chartered a plane rent seats out to free-floaters, potentially saving flyers up to 50 percent, says the company. And then there’s Jumpjet, which operates more like a taxi-service, placing different groups of passengers who all share a destination on a single jet. The company says round trips on its private jets could cost as low as $450.
Of course, such flash sales and other deals might be easier for retirees and students to grab than business travelers. But jet travel has its privileges, even when compared to first class. “Your car pulls up and five minutes later you’re sitting in the airplane: there’s no TSA, no boarding process, no lines, no baggage check, no crappy airline food,” says Wilcox. And there are other perks besides champagne. “You can bring your dog, your rifle, your large bottles of shampoo,” Wilcox adds. “Bring your wife, your girlfriend…there’s a curtain between you and the pilot, so you can do whatever you want in the cabin.”
For those conducting business, Elite Flight Club planes are equipped with WiFi and everything else you’d need to conduct a big meeting. “It’s basically a flying conference room,” he says. This might account for the fact that a third of JetSuite’s non-flash sale planes are booked for business travel, according to Wilcox’s estimates, a percentage that he says grows each year.
New options in the market means the private jet industry is on the mend since getting “torpedoed” in the 2009 downturn, says Brian Foley, a market analyst in the aviation sector. Today, chartered flying is about half way back to its 2007 high, and Foley predicts steady growth for the industry over the next two to three years as the on-demand charter market heats up.
For those who want to sample the private jet experience, Foley says, it’s a great time to get your feet wet. As the industry recovers, private airlines are going more and more niche. If you want to fly private you can charter a plane, invest in fractional ownership, or buy a jet card (a pre-paid option that entitles buyers to a certain number of hours of charter time).
Without special deals, flying private will probably cost significantly more than flying commercial. Still, private flights have their advantages for businesses and if you’re considering jet travel, Foley advises, “be aware of the available options. Shop around. Do your research.”
When to think about flying private:
You have a big group of very important people: “The more people that need to go somewhere, the more it starts making financial sense to fly privately,” says Michael Chase, a principal at Chase & Associates, an aviation consulting firm. For a group of 15 extremely well-paid executives, who would otherwise fly first class, the time saved flying private can justify the cost difference alone.
In addition, group flying boosts productivity. “If there are four, five or six people flying together, they can work in total privacy whereas if you’re in first class on American airlines, you have no idea who you’re sitting next to,” says Wilcox.
You need a multi-stop itinerary: If you have a group that needs to be ferried to and from multiple locations within a short period of time, going private makes sense (saving both time, hotel and meal fees), especially when there are no available direct commercial flights.
You’ll be using a frequently discounted route: At elite Flight Club, as with any carrier, certain routes cost less than others. If you are flying from Teterboro Airport in New York to West Palm Beach or from Santa Monica to San Jose, for example, chances are you can score a pretty solid deal.
You need to fly routes that commercial planes don’t fly: Trekking from Santa Barbara to Orange County for a business trip by car or bus can be a hassle – while commercial airlines don’t typically make this route, a charter company like Elite Flight Club does. A recent search priced a CJ3 at $6,183 roundtrip. That’s not a budget option – you could fly a group of business execs first class, internationally for that price, Chase notes – but it is a convenient one.
You’ll be facing inclement weather: When you just have to make that meeting, a private plane can often fly around nasty weather, while local storms will ground commercial aircrafts.
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