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A Definitive Guide To Private Jet Travel For the Non-Billionaire
By Jerry Del Colliano
I gotta admit to you that there are a lot of ways to spend a lot of money in a hurry that truly call to me, including twentieth-century modern art, luxury golf, ultra-high-end audiophile gear and even the finest California wines, but nothing nothing, I say whispers in my ear more seductively than the lure of flying private. Imagine on your next trip of driving not to LAX or JFK (not that you cant fly private from those, as they have their own FBOs also known as private jet airports), but to your regional airport like Van Nuys or Teterboro and, voila the gate opens, you are directed to your plane by a staff of people who unpack your car, load the plane and make sure your every need is met before you leave. You want two decanters for a big Napa Cab? Not an issue. Want the Philadelphia Inquirer sports section and an onion bagel for your trip? Count on it being on the plane before you leave. As much as this seems like a dream, it is reality and, while still painfully expensive, this incredible luxury can be had by non-billionaires.
Friends With Jets vs. Bringing Friends With You on Jets
The best way to get your first taste of this insanely intoxicating travel treat is for one of your well-heeled friends to invite you to go somewhere with him on a plane. These types of invites can cost little or nothing if you are actually this fortunate. However, most of us arent getting the call saying, Ive got a GV going out of Van Nuys over to Maui for a few days. Would you and your wife like to join us? You could argue that I need new group of friends, but I am suggesting there are ways you can make a jet make sense without simply freeloading.
Its important to note that private jet travel is always more expensive than first class. Always. The key to making private jet travel for the non-billionaire feasible is all based around doing the right math, which is all based around division. If you and your significant other invite one or two other couples and split the cost of a charter to a location within an hour or so of your home, you might be surprised to see that the overall cost per seat isnt quite as insane as the $4,500 per hour costs that you can easily get quoted from the big-boy providers. On a recent trip from Los Angeles (Van Nuys) to Napa, which takes about an hour, the cost overall for a Lear jet that holds six adults was about $1,250 per seat round-trip. Considering there is no commercial flight from Los Angeles to Napa, and that the drive from Oakland to Napa is well over an hour, with three couples total, you basically spent $650 more than a coach seat total to enjoy flying private and saving a solid four hours travel time on your entire trip. Its still clearly a luxury, but one that comes with its benefits like leaving when you want to, nobody asking you to take your laptop out of your briefcase and/or to take off your shoes (unless you want to when relaxing on the flight). We kept our trip costs low by staying only one night, which wasnt much of an inconvenience because we arrived at 11 AM on a Friday morning, had lunch at Thomas Kellers Bouchon, checked into our room at Carneros Inn and then tried to get hungry again for dinner at Kellers legendary French Laundry. We did wine tasting the next day and dinner at Redd, then flew home at 8:45 PM, meaning I was in bed back in Los Angeles by 10:30 PM. The trick with the trip was to not send the jet back home, as the repositioning fees cost nearly as much as the flight up in many cases. It is often much less expensive to see if you can keep the plane at your destination and even send the pilot home commercial or just return the next day to cut your costs, while missing out on very little actual vacation fun. These are the tricks of the trade for flying private for less.
Jet Charter vs. Jet Cards vs. Fractional Ownership
If you are Steven Jobs, Tiger Woods or Warren Buffett, you can simply buy your own private plane and lease it back to a jet management company; they can even turn a profit for you when you are not flying on it. Clearly, most of us are not at this level of fame and wealth, so how we get our needy rear ends into a private plane requires a little more thought and effort.
Jet charter, I find, is often the most cost-effective way to fly private, because you get exactly the plane you want for exactly the trip you want and for when you want to go. It is incrementally more expensive to just pick up a charter trip than if you have a jet card, but you do not have to put money up front to get the lower per-hour price. Once again, if you divide things up smartly, jet charter can make the most sense. Most jet card companies also offer charter services. Additionally, they offer one-way flights, which is a way they can make a killing flying your plane back to its home. I have never been able to make these deeply discounted legs work for any trip I have been on but, without question, you can save some dough if you are flying on a popular route like West Palm Beach to White Plains or Van Nuys to Las Vegas, assuming your schedule is wide open for your travel times. Notable charter providers include Virgin, American Express Travel (they will find you one) and many others.
Jet card deals are basically a prepayment for services that allow you ready access to a fleet or network of planes. Be warned: the buy-in for these deals starts at around $50,000 and quickly skyrockets to well over $100,000. Marquis Jet, which is Berkshire Hathaways card service using Net Jets, is north of $100,000 for your entry-level deal, getting you 25 hours of flight time on their smallest plane. The upside on Marquis Jet is that you get a very new plane available to you with little notice, basically no matter where you are. The crews are impeccably trained. The company nickels and dimes you to death with repositioning fees, while charging you about as much as you can pay for a small plane and, amazingly, you have no flexibility to change planes as your trip demands alter. Its not uncommon to hear of someone owning two Marquis Jet cards one for shorter flights on a smaller plane and then another card reserved for the big-time, cross-country or international flights. Other card services like Sentient Jet offer better flexibility in terms of aircraft and lower buy-ins. It is recommended that you charter a few times before you plunk down for a card deal, as you will want to sample a few different planes and providers. Not all are created equal. For example, one provider might be based in your local airport and another might be miles away. The repositioning fees alone to get the plane to you and back to where it lives can add tremendous costs, especially over time.
Fractional ownership was more popular years ago, before the rise of jet cards and, if you ask people who bought a piece of a plane, they often regret the decision unless they fly quite a bit. The key to success in this situation is to sign a management deal with a big local provider that can offer you various different planes for all of your private trips, even if the plane you own one-sixteenth of is not available to you.
A compelling new phenomenon is jet clubs. One provider that has access to a Gulfstream IV based out of Van Nuys flies on a schedule to Teterboro, the private airport that most easily services New York City. You pay a fee to join the club, which is less than a jet card by far, and then spend upwards of $10,000 per seat round-trip to fly on a Gulfstream IV. While this is a neat idea, its for the true private jet addict, as a Gulfstream IV seats about 10 to 13 people, but flies at about the same speed at a 757. Your schedule is pretty set with this club and the price is drastically higher. Compared to flying your own Gulfstream IV across country, this program is a steal, as that flight can cost anywhere from $55,000 to $95,000, depending on the provider, timing and fuel costs. Another factor that you need to weigh is the idea that you will be flying with people you dont know. If privacy is a major issue for you, this could be a problem. If you are something of an extrovert, who knows you might meet on the flight? The $10,000 ticket could turn you on to networking opportunities that you may have never stumbled upon.
Does It Have to Be a Jet?
There is no way other to put it jets are sexy, but if you are looking to get all the perks of flying private, there are other alternatives that can get you where you need to go for a lot less money. Turbo prop planes can cost a small fraction of the price of a jet and, while a little slower and slightly louder, they can get you where you are going in a larger plane without the nightmare issues that come from flying commercial. King Airs turbo prop planes are called the Suburban of private planes for their size and workhorse-like ability to get you where you need to go. Your carbon footprint is smaller, as is the ding on your Black Card. Cessna has even smaller twin-engine turbo props that I have found to be one-third the cost of the oldest, least expensive jets on charter. While this is still pricier than flying commercial, I have found flights from Santa Monica Airport to Las Vegas for as little as $800 per hour on twin-engine Cessna turbo props. For two couples on a short trip, the sacrifice you make in speed is made up with major cost savings. Not all charter companies go this small with their fleets, but if you can find a smaller plane and dont need to fly tremendous distances, this is a solid solution.
What is A VLJ?
VLJ stands for very light jet, which is an entirely new category of plane that is, of course, much lighter than a traditional small jet. It also is a lot smaller, tremendously fuel-efficient and packs a retail price of a little below $2,000,000 for the entire brand-new plane. A lot of people are very excited about this new class of plane. However, for most of us looking to fly anywhere soon, there simply arent enough of these planes made yet. The Eclipse 500 was certified to fly in 2006. Honda has a jet coming soon that is slightly larger. The Citation Mustang from Cessna is another player in the market, but it is very early in the game for VLJs. Ultimately, there will be card services for VLJ fleets, as well as fractional ownership deals that are far easier to on the bank account. Right now, there arent many options, considering the short supply and high demand for the planes. One very unique application for the VLJ is Day Jet, based in the Southeast. This service allows you to basically rent a seat (or two or three) on a VLJ flight. If nobody else is flying, you have the plane to yourself and the cost can be very reasonable. This idea is too good not to be expanded to bigger, more popular markets in years to come.
It is actually possible to avoid the lines and grief of flying commercial without having a nine-figure net worth, assuming you know where to look. Before making any major decisions, be sure to do your research on safety, fleet and overall investment. For most people trying to fly private on a budget, its best to charter and be sure to comparison shop three or four different providers. Its not uncommon to see one provider trying to charge 100 percent more than another for the same flight on the same day on the same (or lesser) equipment. If you catch someone trying to rip you off like this, do yourself a favor and never call them for another quote, as finding people seriously looking to charter a plane is very hard and very expensive. Wasting your time on an insultingly high bid should never be tolerated.
The good news is unbelievable golf trips, exotic beaches, friends and family awaiting you and, if you play your cards right, they will be the only thing waiting, as you will have extracted the pain of the TSA from your life and injected the pure joy of traveling right.
Clay Lacy Aviation - ClayLacy.com - 800.423.2904
Sentient Jet - Sentient.com - 866.473.6843
Marquis Jet - Marquisjet.com - 866.JET.1400
Net Jets - NetJets.com - 877.356.5823
Day Jet - DayJet.com - 866.432.9538
Virgin Charter - VirginCharter.com - 866.740.0747
Citation Shares - CitationShares.com - 800.340.7767
Honda Jet - HondaJet.Honda.com
Eclipse - EclipseAviation.com
Embraer - EmbraerExecutivejets.com
King Air - HawkerBeechcraft.com
Cessna - Cessna.com
Controller - Controller.com