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Before You Join a Private Jet Program, Read This

Perusing the nice brochures won’t give you the information you need to make an educated decision about the right jet program.

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The two biggest mistakes private aviation program buyers make are going by the recommendation of a friend and not reading the contracts they sign. It’s not necessarily their fault. Few of us read the Conditions of Carriage governing airline tickets. But, making a mistake when buying into a jet card, membership, or fractional program can be very expensive. 

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Most flight providers market that they can fly you anywhere you want, anytime. That is generally true, but it ignores that each program has its sweet spots based on its sourcing model, the makeup of its fleet (if they are an operator), and other factors that drive profitability or operations. You can easily end up paying twice as much for flights and may also find restrictions for the dates.

You should look at private jet programs in the same way you view different car models. It may make sense to own a convertible for the beach and an SUV for the mountains as they offer different things. In other words, you don’t have to choose a single provider if having multiple makes more sense for your needs. 

So, what’s the best place to start?

Firstly—and most importantly—know what your needs and wants are.

Where you will be flying in the next six to 12 months? How many people will be flying on average? Will you be bringing pets? What type of lead time do you want to book? How likely is it that you will need to change or cancel after booking? What’s your flexibility to avoid peak days and their restrictions and surcharges? What type of amenities do you need (i.e. WiFi)? Are you willing to fly on turboprops to save money or access smaller airports? 

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Because each provider and program has their own rules and policies—and contracts for simple jet cards and membership can run dozens of pages—the devil is in the details. 

For example, some providers offer fixed or capped hourly rates to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. In most cases, you are only charged for the time you are flying in the aircraft. Others limit contracted pricing to the Continental U.S. or even regionally in the U.S. Meaning, pricing will vary based on supply and demand outside that primary service area and will include the cost of repositioning the aircraft.

While buying flights one by one means you don’t have to deposit six figures with a provider, you may find there is a 100% penalty to cancel after booking, even if you reserve your flight weeks or months in advance. And unlike commercial airlines—you won’t get a credit.

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What’s more, if the provider cancels your flight because of a mechanical issue, lack of pilots, or the owner decides they want to use their airplane instead of rent it to you, you will get your money back, and your provider will try to find a replacement airplane. With on-demand charters, however, that entails a requote where you must either pay the additional cost or find an alternative way of getting there. But fractional programs and many jet cards get you a replacement aircraft at no additional cost.

By the same token, if you are making an out-and-back flight where the operator can use the same aircraft and crew for both legs, you can often get better pricing through a broker or operator rather than via jet cards.

Understanding your needs allows flight providers to create a proposal that explicitly covers the flights you plan on making. Perusing the nice brochures won’t give you the information you need to make an educated decision.

Doug Gollan is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide that allows subscribers to compare side-by-side over 80 jet card, membership, and fractional providers by more than 65 variables the impact choice. Private Jet Card Comparisons’ exclusive QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING tool enables subscribers to compare flight pricing between over 900 programs, including hourly rates, taxes, fuel surcharges, daily minimums, taxi time, peak day surcharges, and amortized membership fees.

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