Making a cost effective and educated choice is all important when traveling by private aircraft. The right choice, based on your needs including your typical travel patterns and budget, takes a little research to fully understand the options. We'll cover each of the private flying options in outline form here, with links to more information.

Owning a Plane

If you fly more than 400 to 500 hours a year, it's certainly worth considering owning your own plane. It will provide you with tremendous flexibility to go where you want whenever you want. However light jets start at about $4m and then there are annual crew, maintenance and operating costs to pay for - so the overall initial cash outlay is high. Although you can finance the acquisition or use leasing to spread out the payment. You can also offset some of the costs by making your plane available for charter but this equally limits your flexibility. If your plane is out for maintenance or if it's inappropriate for a given flight, due to range or passenger capacity, you'll still need to use one of the other options below.

Fractional Ownership

Companies such as NetJets, FlightOptions, FlexJet and CitationShares are some of the best known providers of fractional ownership programs. Customers buy a fractional share with a one time acquisition fee and then pay monthly maintenance fees and occupied hourly fees. Shares start at 1/16 of an aircraft equaling about 50 hours of flight time per year. Shares are typically bought for a period of five years at the end of which they are generally sold back to the fractional management company for market value. The programs allow you to upgrade or downgrade across the fractional fleet and will guarantee availability of a plane with just a few hours notice. The fractional programs best suit those who fly at short notice or during peak periods such as Christmas and if you fly between 50 and 400 hours per year.

Fractional Jet Cards

Jet cards such as Marquis Jet Card, Vector JetCard and Flexjet Card are pretty popular. Although, they are recent developments their popularity has resulted in more companies entering the fray. Jet cards offer between 20 to 50 hours of annual flight time on the fractional fleets. Jet cards are an attractive option to people who make a number of short trips during the year. They don't require major investments and extra flight hours can easily be purchased if needed. You can also upgrade or downgrade to different plane types as needed. The pricing on these cards starts at about $100,000.

Charter Cards

There are several charter cards which allow members to charter various aircraft at agreed upon fixed hourly rates. Members make deposits and then as you fly the fixed hourly rates are deducted from your account. Deposits can range from $50,000 to $1,000,000. Aircraft in the charter fleet are generally older than those in the fractional fleet. Thus checking for consistent levels of service and aircraft age is paramount while selecting a service provider.

On Demand Charter

One of the most economical methods of flying privately is by utilizing on demand aircraft charter. There are no deposits or up front costs such as membership fees. Aircraft are reserved as and when you need them and you'll need to get price quotes for each trip. The price will vary based on type of aircraft, distance, whether it's a one way or return and several other factors. There are a large number of individual charter companies and charter brokers in the marketplace, who have access to different planes.

Although each of these methods of private flying has their advantages and drawbacks, they are all viable options, with your choice depending on how often you fly, how much you want to spend and the level of service and support you require.

If you are new to private flying and don't do many trip each year or just want to try it out, then start with a charter or a small deposit charter card. Frequent travelers may use several of the above options, since each has it's own pros and cons. eg If you are close to your annual limit on your fractional program for a light jet, it may make more sense to charter a larger jet for taking a large group of people across the country.