"What is the cheapest way to fly in a private plane?" We've heard and been asked this question many times over the years. So to be very clear, flying privately is not cheap. As a general rule, commercial air travel is a more economical option for travelers. However, there are some controllable factors that do affect pricing.
Departure and Arrival Destinations: Where you are traveling to and from is important. The further you go, the more it will cost. If your plans result in the aircraft flying an empty leg with no passengers on board, that will definitely increase the price of the occupied portion of the flight. In addition, the distance flown affects the type of plane that you'll need, which affects the price. Furthermore, some airports have higher fees than others, which can all affect the price of the trip. If you're willing to be flexible on the exact airport you fly in to, then your operator can choose one with lower landing fees and potentially lower fuel costs.
How Many People are Traveling and How Much Baggage Will be Carried: Like the arrival and departure destinations, this can affect the type of aircraft that is necessary for your trip. In simple terms, the more people travelling, the larger the aircraft that you will need, and the more it will cost.
When Will the Flight Take Place: Travel during peak times is likely to cost much more than a quieter time period. The demand for private aircraft peaks during holidays, such as Christmas, and for special events such as major sporting events (see the aircraft demand index graphs here). If you can avoid these high demand times, you'll get a better deal.
Overall, if you can be flexible on the various aspects of the flight you're more likely to get a better deal.
Once those factors have been decided, you can determine what type of plane you'll require. Turboprop planes are less expensive than jets but have a limited range and travel at a slower rate. They may also accommodate fewer passengers and baggage than a large, heavy jet. A typical turboprop will accomodate 5 or 6 people, maybe up to 8 or 9 in some models. Light jets also accomodate 5 or 6 people, and heavy jets can carry up to 14 or 16. If you do choose to travel on a turboprop for a long flight, you'll need to stop and refuel after about 1,000 miles or so.
If you are just considering a one-off flight, or return trip then chartering is the way to go. If you will be flying more frequently then you could start to consider purchasing a fractional share or jetcard. When you charter a plane, you pay an hourly rate for the whole aircraft. Hourly rates for turboprops range from under $1,200 to over $1,600. Remember this is for the whole plane, so if there are 6 of you travelling and you pay $1,200 an hour, it's equivalent to $200 per person per hour. Smaller piston engine aircraft, which carry 3 to 8 passengers, and have a more limited range and speed, start at under $800 per hour. More examples of hourly rates and charter costs are in this article.
As we mentioned above, flying on "empty legs" can be a cost effective way to fly privately. Quite a large percentage of private flights are empty legs. They occur when a plane makes a one way flight with passengers, but then has to return to its base or fly somewhere else to pickup new passengers. When the plane is flying without passengers, it is referred to as an empty leg. Operators will offer discounted rates on these empty legs, in order to attract customers and bring in revenue to cover their operating costs.
While flying privately is usually more expensive than flying commercially (see comparisons to flying first class), there are some other benefits that should be considered. With over 5,000 domestic airports accessible by private aircraft, you'll probably save time at both your departure and arrival destinations. In addition, private aircraft passengers generally need to arrive at the airport just 15 minutes in advance of their flight - much less time than for commercial flights. Finally, there's much more privacy on a private jet, so you are able to conduct business meetings while traveling.
Essentially, if price is one of your main considerations in booking a flight, flying privately is probably not your best option.