The jet card provider, Sentient Jet, ended 2020 with $450MM in jet card sales, achieving 60% year over year growth. SherpaReport caught up with CEO Andrew Collins to discuss results and trends from 2020, expectations for 2021 and the changes brought on by the pandemic.
With such a significant increase in sales, our first topic was simply what had driven this development and what did Andrew ascribe this to. “Our growth in 2020 is primarily attributed to consumers turning to private aviation as a utility and a tool to travel with purpose, avoid crowds, and control their journey,” said Andrew, then continued “many travelers who could afford private aviation were not utilizing the service prior to the pandemic, but with significantly fewer touch points and more control, many people are turning to it as a solution for their travel needs.”
New Card Owners
As Andrew indicated above, a lot of new people started flying privately for the first time. SherpaReport has heard this same trend from multiple private aviation companies. In 2020 Sentient Jet saw 2/3 of its jet card purchases come from new clients, whereas pre-COVID only 1/3 of purchases would be from brand new clients.
Based on all these new card holders, SherpaReport was curious to find out how much they are flying, where they are flying and what sort of patterns, trends, and requests that Sentient is seeing.
“Our new card owners are trending towards booking one-way trips vs. roundtrips. The flexibility to work and school virtually turned the traditional one-week vacation into two-weeks or more and will continue for spring break and summer vacations especially with vaccine rollouts,” said Andrew.
He added “Popular destinations included locations that prioritize the outdoors such as Aspen, CO and West Palm Beach, FL. Other popular destinations include: Teterboro, New Jersey, Key Largo, Florida, Fort Myers, Florida, White Plains, New York, Washington, D.C, Vero Beach, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois.”
SherpaReport asked about the lessons that the company had learned during the first year of the pandemic and how travel companies can improve business outlooks for this year.
Andrew stated “Travel has changed forever; companies should try and understand this. If ever there was an important time to listen to the voice of your customer, this is it. The three “S’s” will be highly important as we move forward: safety, sanitization, and sustainability. We have a new, evolved and educated consumer that will want more from you and will need to trust you more, and, as a brand, you need to be able to upgrade and deliver on your brand promise.”
Then he added “Sentient has also put in place a highly effective set of health protocols and standards to amplify its already industry-leading safety and certification process, and due to COVID-19, this has also driven a variety of new clients.”
Sentient Jet developed its own mobile app several years ago, but 2020 appears to have been quite a break out year for app usage. In explaining how the app is used Andrew noted “Our clients purchase their jet cards through our sales team over the phone.” Then added “they are then using our app to book their flights and the money is deducted from their jet card at that time.”
Expanding on this usage he went on “whether at home or on the go, our jet card owners are using the Sentient Jet App to easily access real-time quoting and booking, manage their trip i.e. request catering and aircraft upgrades, flight tracking and more.“
In terms of actual volumes Andrew stated “we have seen a continuing rise in digital transactions. We expect over $50m in digital bookings for flights through the mobile app this year and, historically, have booked over $125m since launching the mobile app in 2017.”
Looking forward into this year, Andrew is optimistic that growth will continue, saying “Based on booking data we currently have available, we are predicting that 2021 will be our highest volume summer in the history of the company.“
More specifically he added “we are forecasting that this summer we will be flying 30-50% more volume than we have in previous “typical” summers pre-2020. As the vaccine rolls out, business travel is set to ramp-up during the summer for smaller “transactional” deal teams, such as private equity or venture capital, or consulting teams with an increasing amount of traction during the fall. Because of the restructuring that many corporate airlines were forced to pursue because of the pandemic, there will also be fewer commercial routes to smaller cities, driving an additional uptick in private aviation use.”
In terms of more far-reaching effects of the pandemic, Andrew had some interesting observations noting “the pandemic’s effects will continue on, as recovery will not be straightforward and the importance of health passports with vaccination, testing and health records will be an important part of accessing travel in general, but specifically international travel.”
Then he continued “The demand by consumers in the future to understand how smart and thoughtful a flying organization is around the “health journey” will lead to additional layers of care beyond traditional safety screening and safety checks. The consumer will expect to see sanitation-related information or scoring in their journey as well as know that there is some form of testing or pre-qualification of health of crew members or fellow-passengers. In fact, it is likely that testing, in general, will continue to see innovation and improvement based on demand from the travel industry.”
He thinks private aviation will continue to attract new customers, saying “Commercial air travel, as well as crowded forms of travel, will have to spend an inordinate amount of time convincing *all* consumers to come back to them. By understanding crowd-related dynamics, a segment of today’s consumer will have significant apprehension and “travel anxiety” as we ramp into a post-pandemic, post-vaccinated world.”
The final topic we touched on, was any tips or advice that Andrew had for new fliers, both before they buy and also before their first flight.
Andrew answered “research the type of private aviation solution that makes most sense for your needs. For example, a jet card offering like Sentient Jet is ideal for frequent travelers who plan to fly private regularly, while someone looking for a one-time travel solution should look at private charter options such as premium charter provider, FXAIR.” Note, FXAIR is a sister company of Sentient and both are owned by Directional Aviation.
He added “always understand the company you are working with: who owns it, what experience does the management team have, how long have they been working in private aviation, do they have a formalized, enriched safety program, and is the product and pricing transparent and guaranteed.”
On a parting note he commented “we’re very grateful for all the growth we achieved in 2020, but more-so we’re grateful that we’ve been able to provide a safe means of travel for people who needed to fly for family, work, or another reason.”