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The world of flying private is more confusing now than ever. There is an ever-increasing number jet models and global charter operators, to say nothing of aviation start-ups launching faster than you can say “wheels up.” No wonder it’s hard to keep track of the differences between NetJets and VistaJet, a Bombardier Global 7500 and a Cessna Citation Latitude, and whether Jay-Z invested in JetSmarter or BlackJet. (He actually backed both; BlackJet went bust.) How did we land here?
An abridged history of private jets
Fliers have owned jets for about 30 years. But in 1998, when Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway acquired NetJets and its parent company, Executive Jet Aviation, the game changed. The purchase raised the visibility of fractional ownership, which makes it possible for people to own a portion of a jet—say, one-sixteenth of an Embraer Phenom 300 for about $470,000 or one-fourth of a Gulfstream G450 for around $10 million (plus operating costs and hourly flying fees).
The next innovation to disrupt the market: the jet card, which was popularized with the 2001 debut of Marquis Jet, a prepaid, use-it-or-lose-it debit card starting at just over $100,000 for 25 hours of jet flight time. (In 2010, NetJets acquired Marquis Jet.) For the first time, a company offered access to flying private without the obligations of ownership or the murkiness of hidden fees.
From there, the industry burst open, giving flight to private-jet charters, operators, brokers, even the ability to book a single $500 seat on a shared plane and commercial airline transfers.
Breaking down the different ways to jet
Approximate starting cost
What it actually means
Full Jet Ownership
Approximately $3 million up front (depending on the jet, of course) plus additional maintenance, staff, and regulation costs
Full ownership gives you total control over your jet setting experience. You have access to the jet at any time, typically use the same staff and pilot, and can even rent your jet to other travelers as an investment income stream.
Fractional Jet Ownership
$500,000 up front plus fixed management and maintenance fees
You’re essentially paying for a share of a plane, rather than an entire jet, not unlike a timeshare. How much equity you purchase in a specific jet often dictates the number of hours you can fly in it.
Depending on the trip and the type of jet, costs hover between $4,000 (shorter trip, midsize jet) to $13,000 (longer trip, large jet)
Chartering means paying as you go, and essentially means booking a one-off every time you jet.
Jet Card Programs
Leasing a jet
Depending on your status, jet cards run $100,000 - $200,00 annually
Often purchased in hour increments (say, 50 hours at a time), pricing is similar to fractional ownership
You typically enjoy access to the company’s booking or concierge service, are able to access jets with around 24 hours notice, and benefit from various flight discounts.
Your costs are set for a period of time (typically 24 to 60 months), and you have access to a jet for a certain number of hours per year.
Private jet companies to keep on your radar
A leader in the private aviation industry, NetJets offers fractional ownership programs, which offers travelers the luxury of an aircraft all to themselves, and the ease of near instantaneous access to a jet. The fleet is comprised of some of the best jets in the business, from the Cessna Citation Latitude and Longitude to the 14-passenger Bombardier Global 6000. They often run partnerships with coveted seasonal destinations (like Cape Cod or Walt Disney World Resort in the summer) and every one of their flights is pet-friendly.
Wheels Up has a charter marketplace where you can book your next flight through their app or website, with the option to instant book select jets. Core, connect, or business members also have access to members-only jets, including the King Air 350i. The eight-person jet has unprecedented noise cancellation technology and the ability to much land closer to your destination because of the King Air 350i’s short-field capabilities.
PrivateFly can jet you to almost any airport around the globe, and provides 24/7 access to a team of experts who can help you find the right jet for any scenario. They make it easy on travelers with top routes to choose from, like New York to Miami, New York to Los Angeles, London to Paris, and more.
Central Jets is working to shake up the private aviation industry, because they’re the first company to allow users to charter jets directly from owners. They’re essentially eliminating the middleman, which seriously reduces fees. And Central Jets offers 24/7 concierge service and up to 50% off flights to those paying €199 to use their platform.
VistaJet owns over 70 large cabin Challenger and Global private jets, and their passengers have flown to 1,900 airports all over the world since their launch in 2004. VistaJet has most recently launched The VistaJet Wine Program, the first global in-air vino program, and VistaPet, designed for passengers who want their four-legged family members to travel in style, too.
Flexjet offers a multitude of flight options, from jet leases to fractional jet ownership. Fractional owners can be on their jet a mere 10 hours after calling for one, and jet card holders can secure one in 24 hours.
Air Charter Service
Air Charter Service has it all, between luxury jets (think: Cessna Citation Mustang) and their extensive global reach. Beyond their leisure services, they offer practical private jet services, like time-sensitive jet transfers and courier service that can be used to transport important documents.
Sentient Jet is perfect for those interested in high-end jet memberships such that they can charter best-in-class jets for business and pleasure. SJ25+ is their elite private jet card, which offers access to their most desirable vehicles with 10 hours notice. The SJ25+ membership starts at nearly $200,000.
Flight stats: private jets by the numbers
- 3: Percentage of private jets that currently fly with pets on board
- 13: The percentage that private jet prices declined from 2014 to 2016
- 18: Average number of minutes from check-in to airbourne when flying private
- 5,000: U.S. airports accessible by private aircraft, compared with only 500 by commercial airlines. In Europe, that’s 3,000 and 300, respectively.
- 5.32 Million: Number of passengers who chartered planes in the U.S. in 2016
- $500 Million: Reported price of one of the most expensive private jets in the world, an Airbus A380 customized by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Some of the jet’s rumored features include a boardroom, a Turkish bath, and a prayer room with mats that rotate to face Mecca.
Popular private aviation terminals for the private jet setter
While the U.S. is the leader in private aviation traffic, connecting hubs in Europe and the Middle East are seeing increased charter activity. Business travel to Europe is ever increasing, and the airports are expanding to accommodate the business aviation spike.
London Luton Airport, United Kingdom
Luton, just an hour from central London, and is the UK’s business aviation hub. They are currently working on an expansion plan that would create a new terminal and allow for 32 million passengers per year, nearly double their current capacity.
Van Nuys Airport, Los Angeles
This private-aviation airport in the San Fernando Valley is one of two SoCal jet hubs—the other being John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
Westchester County Airport, New York
The Westchester airport, about 30 miles from Manhattan, has come up as a leader in U.S. private aviation. A more intimate airport, landing here tends to be less hassle but still provides easy access to NYC.
Las Vegas McCarren Airport, Nevada
McCarren has a dedicated private jet terminal, making it an appealing airport for both business and leisure travelers. It’s just five miles from the Vegas strip—which you’ll catch an impressive view of upon your descent into Nevada.
Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The airport, located 31 miles from Dubai’s center, has the world’s largest VIP terminal at 60,278 square feet.
Paris-Le Bourget, France
Four miles northeast of Paris (closer than Charles de Gaulle), Le Bourget is the “leading business airport in Europe.” It has seven private terminals and three runways.