Private jet cards have become increasingly popular. There are a variety of providers who issue the cards and each issuer has somewhat different features. So it is important to spend some time comparing what is available and choosing the one that best suits your needs. Below are some points to consider when purchasing a jet card.
One of the first considerations when choosing a jet card is the type of aircraft that will be available to you. Are you going to always need a smaller plane for shorter distances? A larger jet with greater range? A combination of both? A small company might be ideal for regional flights but may not have the capacity to take you across the country. On the other hand, a larger company might have a broader variety of planes but the price difference may be too much if you only need one long haul trip among dozens of shorter ones.
Also, see if your jet card allows you to use a variety of aircraft or if it limits you to just one or two models within a company’s fleet. If you buy a jet card on a specific size of jet, say a light jet, do the providers let you use something larger, such as a mid-size or heavy jet when you need one. If you can change into a different size plane, ask what the exchange ratio is (often called the interchange ratio). For instance, how many hours of light-jet time are equivalent to an hour on a mid-size – there are normally a set of tables that set out these exchange ratios.
Does the card provider own their planes or do they use charter operators? These are sometimes referred to as “closed fleets”, if the operator maintains and runs their own aircraft. Or “open fleets” if they work with a variety of charter operators. If they use charter operators ask how they select those operators and what criteria they use.
Some jet card holders really like the unified look and feel of one consistent fleet, which has all the pilots in the same uniform and has a regular livery and furnishings. Sometimes this comes at a premium price, so for other card holders this look and feel is less of a concern.
Ask about ratings. ARGUS and Wyvern are the two most widely-used rating companies in North America. Both provide ratings on safety, levels of maintenance, training of the crew, and more. Ask the provider what their rating is or contact the rating company directly for a copy of their report.
One other consideration is the age of the planes. It’s always worth asking what is the average age and maximum age of the planes you will be flying on. Some card issuers have different pricing levels based on the age of the aircraft, with a cheaper level for planes that are older (e.g., greater than fifteen years old).
The Availability and Usage
How long in advance do you need to reserve a flight and will this work for your needs? Many providers operate on a 10-12 hour minimum notice, with some able to accommodate shorter notice periods. Make sure that you know the notice requirements before buying a jet card.
While we’re on the subject of availability, some providers have certain black-out days during the year or times when they require greater notice. Usually, this includes times when demand is higher, such as holidays. A provider may require up to 3 to 5 days notice for a flight at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Some providers may add on an extra charge for flying during peak times.
Check in advance what dates your provider considers peak time so that you can plan accordingly for travel on those days. We’ve seen the number of days classed as peak holidays vary from 10 to 20 days a year, depending on the card provider.
In addition to considering when you will be traveling and when you will need to reserve your plane, also look into how flight time is calculated. Jet cards often come in increments of 25 hours but what do those 25 hours include? Is there a minimum flight time? If you fly lots of short hops of 30 minutes or less but are charged a minimum of one hour per trip, consider if you are getting your best value for money. Larger aircraft may have a longer minimum (e.g. it may be two hours on heavy jets) and don’t forget to check how much time is added on to account for taking off and landing – the standard is 6 minutes of taxi time at either end of the trip.
The Length of Membership
Jet cards are usually valid for one year. However, some providers offer longer-term agreements. But don’t just look at how long your card is valid. What if you don’t use all of your hours? Some providers allow for hours to be rolled over into a new membership term, while others may offer a refund on unused hours. Do your homework so that you don’t risk losing your unused (but paid for) flight hours. Other providers offer funds that never expire but lock in an hourly rate for say a year, but then reset the rate at the end of the year. And for some providers, you can withdraw any unused funds at any time.
When looking at the pricing of a jet card, don’t only look at the quoted price. Instead, also consider what the pricing includes. Is the fee all-inclusive or is it a base fee, which will then come with a bunch of extra charges for fuel, catering, taxes, or flights outside the service area? Always ask if it’s fully inclusive or a full list of what you can expect to pay extra for. The two most common additions are for FET (Federal Excise Taxes) and some fuel charge.
Some providers offer discounts. For example, when a passenger travels to and from a destination on the same day, the provider may give a discount of as much as 20%. This discount can be invaluable for those business travelers who tend to fly to short meetings and want to return straight away. Ask your prospective card issuer if they offer any round trip discounts and what period the two flights have to be in to obtain this discount.
The Extras and Perks
In today’s competitive air travel market, jet card providers are seeking to make themselves more attractive to potential customers, and that means perks. Bonuses available to jet card holders can range from ground transportation between the airfield and your office/home, to accommodation discounts, entry to private clubs, spa services, special retail offers, even ski lessons. Other card providers offer exclusive access to special occasions, such as concerts and sporting events.
The largest jet card issuers tend to be the companies that offer the most perks. If you’re considering these perks as part of your evaluation, make sure that you will indeed use them. Many card holders regard them as “nice to have” rather than a “must have”.
If you are considering jet cards as part of your private aviation solution, then click here to download our free 25 page Guide. The Guide walks through the different private aviation products including jet cards, charter and fractional ownership. It will help you decide which of these are the right type of solution to meet your needs. If you are seriously comparing jet card providers, then full SherpaReport Membership gives you side by side comparisons of the leading jet card and fractional operators, and shows you the highest rated charter providers.