Nobody likes waiting in line at the airport’s check-in kiosk and the nightmare security screening. Once you’re in the airport, you can escape to the comfort and anonymity of your airline club lounge—but if you’re a recognizable actor, athlete, or musician, chances are you’ll get caught signing autographs or taking selfies with fans. It’s good to give your supporters some love, but the airport is probably not the first place you’d choose to do so. Thankfully, your manager has begun booking you on private flights, which will give you a much higher degree of anonymity and save you some serious time at the airport.
But if, in addition to being an entertainer, you’re also a savvy businessperson, then you should have a deeper understanding of your options and costs when flying privately (because it isn’t cheap). There are smarter ways to do it than simply booking private flights on an as-needed basis. The multitude of options for jet cards, fractional ownership, charter, and full-on aircraft ownership can be dizzying. Here, we help outline the differences among your various private-flying alternatives and suggest a few companies to help you get started.
Companies such as JSX and Surf Air offer a streamlined travel experience on semi-private aircraft. With JSX (formerly JetSuiteX), you avoid the major airports and security lines. You can check in 20 minutes before your flight at a private hangar at the smaller airports, where you pull right in, park your car, and walk to the hangar and its comfy lounge with free snacks and drinks. You then step aboard a nicely outfitted 30-seat Embraer jetliner (with leather seats and zebrawood tray tables and accents), with tons of legroom and without the hassle of lines and crowds.
With Surf Air, you need to be a member, but then you can book flights minutes before departure, arrive 15 minutes before your flight, and fly in a private aircraft without private-jet pricing, with no more than seven other members. Both JSX and Surf Air fly according to schedules, so you’ll need to adhere to those set times—and with both of those options, you will be on an aircraft with strangers (but far less of them than on a commercial airliner).
If you’re new to private aviation, you most likely will start off with on-demand charter (assuming you’ve skipped the semi-private scenario described above). Think of charter as renting a private plane one flight at a time. On-demand charter flights travel when you want to, eliminating the need to conform to an airline’s flight routes and times and opening the door to way more destinations than your typical commercial airline. This approach provides individuals and companies immediate access to the full spectrum of private aircraft—from eight-seat turboprops and light jets to 16-seat ultralong-range jets like a Gulfstream G650 or even a jumbo jet converted for private use, with bedrooms, boardrooms, stand-up showers, and plenty of room for you, your family, your posse, and even your pets.
There are tons of venerable providers offering on-demand charter (and plenty not-so venerable). A good place to start is PrivateFly, an app-based platform able to connect you to dozens of reliable providers around the globe to get you on the aircraft best suited to your travel needs.
A more direct option is XO, part of the newly formed Vista Global aviation group, which offers private, on-demand charter with instant booking; member-shared charter where you book the whole plane and get credits for any extra seats purchased; and seat sharing where you sell your extras or book a seat on someone else’s charter. You can either buy a membership or pay as you go—all via its new JetSmarter app.
JetSuite, from which JSX is an offshoot, offers membership-based charter for flights on Embraer Phenom 100, Phenom 300, or Legacy 650 jets. JetSuite is a good option for travelers who are new to private aviation, as its smaller aircraft, U.S. routes, and membership model make JetSuite more affordable than much larger providers with access to larger fleets and international routes.
The primary drawback of on-demand charter is that you pay à la carte for each flight, and your accumulative costs can be substantial if you travel frequently.
If you know you’ll be using a private jet more often than just the occasional charter flight, you might want to consider a jet-card program, which offers access in increments of 25 to 50 hours of travel time, without committing hundreds of thousands of dollars to join a fractional aircraft ownership program (which we’ll get to shortly).
Sentient Jet offers a variety of card options, with which you can book a flight within 10 hours of departure, count on fixed rates, and bank on flight hours that don’t expire. The different options include a variety of amenities besides the number of hours, such as in-air Wi-Fi and an assortment of aircraft, all accessible via mobile app. Sentient jet card pricing starts at $137,975.
Also offering jet-card flights is Delta Private Jets, which allows you to buy both Delta Private Jets and Delta Air Lines flights. Card levels begin at $150,000 and eliminate initiation fees and annual dues, as well as the fractional-ownership commitment. Choose among light, midsize, super midsize, or large jet each time you fly; you’re not locked into a specific model or size. And with Delta Private Jets, you can combine private travel for regional flights with longer flights via Delta Air Lines first class.
So, you’ve done the charter and the jet-card thing, but you’re still needing more air time than the above arrangements can offer in a financially responsible way—it may be time to step up to fractional ownership. Depending on the program, you can buy in for as little as a 1/16th share of the aircraft and benefit from the management and pilot services needed for that plane’s safe operation. (Buying a share of an aircraft is much cheaper than buying an entire plane, and you don’t have to worry about managing a crew, aircraft maintenance, or hanger space.)
NetJets and Flexjet are the leading providers of fractional aircraft ownership, and both warrant consideration if you fly 50-plus hours per year. When flying with both companies, you’re guaranteed access to a jet and the assurance that you’re receiving the best service in the industry.
NetJets, backed by investment from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, offers a fleet ranging from seven-passenger Embraer Phenom 300 lights jets to 14-passenger Bombardier Global 6000 long-range jets. All aircraft, regardless of category, are similarly appointed to ensure a consistent travel experience. Beyond fractional, NetJets also offers programs for aircraft leasing and jet cards, as does Flexjet.
Flexjet allows you to buy equity in a specific Flexjet aircraft, with the percentage of ownership dictating how many hours per year you get to fly on it. Aircraft offerings include the Embraer Phenom 300 and Legacy 450; Bombardier Challenger 300, 350, and Learjet 75LXi; and the Gulfstream G450. Flexjet’s Red Label program is its super-premium approach to fractional, with crews dedicated to a specific aircraft and the LXi cabin collection, which includes cabin designs that feel more like five-star hotel suites than aircraft interiors.
With both NetJets and Flexjet, the cost of fractional ownership can be broken down into the purchase of the aircraft, the monthly management fee, and the hourly rate charge, which includes the cost of fuel. Fractional tends to come at a higher cost than other private-flight options, and you typically are locked into a contract. However, it is the next best thing to whole-aircraft ownership, which costs millions for the plan itself—not including substantial overhead costs to crew, store, and maintain your aircraft. Fractional ownership significantly reduces that cost and comes with most of the benefits.
Buy It and Charter It Out
Now that you’re in deep with nonstop press or performance appearances—or perhaps you play for a team in a city that’s nowhere near your family and home—you’ve determined that you would definitely use the plane enough to make it worthwhile to own it outright. Still, you wouldn’t mind offsetting some of the cost of keeping up a crew, maintenance, and hangar space. Take a little off your bottom line by chartering the plane when you know you won’t be using it.
A management company such as Jet Edge, focused on large-cabin aircraft and based at the Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, will help you identify the make and model that will serve your needs, manage the crewing and maintenance of the plane, and facilitate chartering it out. When you’re ready to change aircraft, the company will also help you off-load it.
Whether you’re new to the private-aviation world or are an old pro, there is a level of service and support for every step of the process. As you become more successful and have new needs, the private-aviation industry continues to come up with new ways to serve you. Check in with Ovation often to stay up-to-date on how you can best take advantage of private aviation and all its benefits.