A closed fleet or fractional jet card is a popular method of experiencing the benefits of private aviation. You get to fly on some of the latest, well maintained, consistent aircraft, without having to commit to the large investment or length of time that fractional ownership or whole aircraft ownership requires. Jet cards give members access to prepaid blocks of flying time hours, with 25 hours being by far the most common size.
Both fractional providers and also operators that own and manage large fleets of aircraft offer these jet cards. A closed fleet simply refers to a group of planes that are both owned and managed by the same operator. Either way, you will be flying on consistently fitted and maintained aircraft, with pilots who have gone through the same degree of training. There are usually a variety of aircraft to choose from, and depending on the operator these can vary from turboprops to long-range heavy jets.
How a Fractional Jet Card Works
A fractional jet card is often structured as a sublease of a fractional jet share. They are often sold as prepaid hours of occupied flight time, with many providers selling 25 hour options, but we've seen everything from 5 hours to 50 hours. Some fleet operators also sell fixed deposit programs, where customers deposit a fixed some and draw this down as they fly on different planes. All the programs offer access to several sizes of aircraft, varying from light jets through to large ultra long range jets.
Jet card members can book aircraft 24x7 and usually with 24 to 96 hours notice on regular days. Peak travel days, such as major holidays, always require more notice time, since demand is higher on these days. Some card issuers charge higher rates for travel on peak days. As you fly, your flight hours are debited from the prepaid amount at an agreed hourly rate for the type of plane you're flying in.
Leading Fractional Jet Cards
The pioneer in the arena of fractional jet cards was Marquis Jet Card which partnered with Netjets in 2001 to provide access to the large Netjets fractional fleet. NetJets acquired Marquis in 2010 and has dropped the Marquis name from its branding and just refers to the NetJets Card Program. After the Marquis launch, other companies soon followed suit with competing offers. These include the Flexjet Card which has an added feature of converting unused hours into a fractional jet share purchase.
Airshare offers offers a day based program on their fleet of Phenom light jets and Challenger super-mids. Nicholas Air has various jet cards on their fleet of turboprops and smaller jets.
Prices & Services
An entry-level prepaid fractional jet card providing 25 hours of flight time on a light jet will cost between US $185,000 to $215,000. Added to this base price are taxes such as Federal Excise Tax (FET), and sometimes fuel surcharges. All of the major companies provide a bespoke service including full travel booking services, limousine services, standard in-flight catering and entertainment. Companies quote their base prices in different ways. For instance, some include FET and some show it as aditional, so always ask what's included in the price.
Pros and Cons of Fractional Jet Cards
Some of the positive points of jet cards include the low capital outlay compared to full or fractional ownership. The ability to select from a variety of aircraft types, often specifying the actual aircraft model and upgrade or downgrade options are another plus point. In general, the fractional fleets have newer aircraft compared to charter planes, so with a fractional jet card you can be comfortable knowing you'll be flying on the most up to date planes. The fractional fleets also offer consistent service and safety standards, whereas these can vary across charter providers.
Disadvantages include the relatively high cost per flight hour compared to other options. Card holders also tend to have longer call out periods than actual fractional owners. For instance a fractional owner may be able to request a plane with 4-6 hours notice, but a card holder must generally give 24 or more hours notice. If you are traveling for leisure or plan ahead this may not be an issue, but if you have tight, rapidly changing business deadlines, the shorter notice periods can really help. As with all private air travel, another disadvantage of particular importance to the leisure traveler is the inability of a smaller light aircraft to accommodate bulky luggage, such as several golf bags in addition to personal luggage.
Who Do Jet Cards Work For
Individuals and businesses who require less than 50 flight hours or who make a number of short trips per year gain the most from fractional and closed fleet jet cards. They can also be good if you do a lot of one-way flights, since you are only charged for your flying hours and not for any empty legs. On average, these cards represent a somewhat more costly option and they are not recommended above the 50-hour level. If you like to know exactly what you're getting in terms of plane, overall service level and crew training then a closed fleet or fractional card could be the way to go.
Increasingly, leisure travelers are discovering the benefits of using fractional jet cards. NetJets has reported that almost 80 percent of their clients are leisure travelers. If you want to see how jet cards fit into the overall mix of private aviation, then download our free Guide to Private Aviation, click here, (we do ask you to register) which compares costs and gives you questions to ask each provider so that you can select the right one.
If you are seriously researching jet card options, and want to compare the key terms of all the leading providers, including their planes, response times, peak days, safety procedures and more, then become a SherpaReport member here. Members have access to details on programs from the leading providers covering over 30 programs.
For fractional owners, the jet cards can also be a good way to supplement their usage, or to have the option of a different plane type.
Other options to consider include aircraft charter and charter cards.