“Time is our most precious commodity, and there are conveniences that wealth brings to essentially get you more time. —retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, explaining why he commutes via private jet from his Seattle home to watch games of the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team he bought last year for $2 billion. ”
Inside Jet Cards: Perks Aplenty
Renewed consumer interest in jet cards has led to a wide assortment of new offerings.
Debit card-style jet cards and membership programs that combine block-charter rates, guaranteed access and a variable menu of perks are on the upswing, according to providers. Charter broker Sentient Jet, for example, reports that its card sales this year have reached levels “not seen since before the peak of the financial crisis in 2008.” The shift doubtless reflects both an uptick in the economy and the programs’ expanding offerings. Here’s some of what’s been happening in the jet card world over the past year:
- Magellan Jets has introduced the Wi-Fi Jet Card, which guarantees holders access to Wi-Fi-equipped midsize and super-midsize jets, model year 2000 and newer. Also new from the Quincy, Massachusetts-based company is the VLJ Card, which is available in the Northeast and provides 10 hours of flight time on the Eclipse 500 four-passenger very light jet for $34,950, with no daily minimums, fuel surcharge or added federal excise tax. The no-minimum policy comes in handy in the Northeast Corridor, where flights between popular city pairs often last less than an hour. Magellan—which also offers the Voyager Jet Card and 25-Hour Getaway Card—reports card sales have increased 22 percent over the past year.
- Sentient Jet, which introduced its card program before the turn of the century, has added a 25-Hour Super-Mid Jet Card and a 25-Hour Heavy Jet Card to its program. As with its light- and midsize-cabin jet cards, the super-mid and heavy aircraft cards are available in two age classes—Preferred, for the newest aircraft, and Select. A 25-hour Select Super-Mid Card costs $227,050. The cards provide a one-year lock on hourly rates and fuel surcharges, and a 15-percent discount for qualifying travel, such as some round trips. Sentient sold about 27,300 hours (which equates to nearly 1,100 jet cards) from January through mid-November of this year, according to Andrew Collins, president of the Braintree, Massachusetts-based company.
Near the end of last year, light-jet operator JetSuite added the JetSuite edition Cessna Citation CJ3 to its fleet of Embraer Phenom 100s, giving customers access to longer-range aircraft. JetSuite now provides service to the Bahamas and the Caribbean with the CJ3s, and JetSuite’s entire fleet has been upgraded to offer Wi-Fi. CEO Alex Wilcox expects yearend figures for the Irvine, California company’s SuiteKey membership program to show growth of 102 percent from 2012 to 2013. SuiteKey memberships cost $50,000 to $400,000, at hourly rates ranging from $3,228 to $3,528 aboard the Phenom 100 and from $3,984 to $4,284 on the CJ3. JetSuite doesn’t guarantee access, so you may not always be able to fly exactly when you want, but members get booking priority and can also book more than 90 days in advance, so you can lock in travel plans for peak days ahead of the pack, while the more liberal cancellation policy that members enjoy allows you to change your plans closer to your travel date without penalty, or with a lower cancellation fee than ad hoc charter customers pay. You also get an extra 15 minutes of “freeway time” (being late) to get to the airplane.
Kenny Dichter—founder of Marquis Jet Cards, which he and his investors sold to NetJets in 2010—has launched Wheels Up, a card/membership flight club. [See story in On the Fly in our October/November 2013 issue.—Ed.] Wheels Up will provide access to closed fleets of aircraft from the King Air 350i to VistaJet’s Global long-range jets. Memberships will cost $15,750, locking in rates of $3,950 per flight hour on the King Airs and $15,950 for a VistaJet Global. In addition to aircraft, the company will offer a Wheels Down program, providing access to exclusive events.
- Flexjet, which was recently acquired by Directional Aviation Capital (owner of fractional-share provider Flight Options and Sentient Jet), introduced its Coastal Connect card under its Flexjet 25 program in December 2012. Using Challenger 300 jets from Flexjet’s all-Bombardier fleet, Coastal Connect cards, starting at $100,000, provide special rates for cross-country travel to and from designated zones. The service area includes more than 1,500 airports in 22 states. The Richardson, Texas-based company reports its card sales were up 68 percent in the first half of this year over the same period last year.
- Looking for more sustained global access via jet card? London-based international charter broker Air Partner offers cards for travel within Europe and to points in the Middle East, as well as cards for the U.S. Card program sales are now at record levels, reports the company, which sold its first $1 million jet card earlier this year. Air Partner’s standard cabin-category-based jet card features no interchange fee for switching to different-category aircraft and no expiration date and is fully refundable at any time. It provides fixed rates in euros for travel within Europe and to select destinations in its Middle East service area, as well as to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. In the U.S. the company also offers its Sterling Card, which provides a savings of about 10 percent over its standard jet card rates, using a fleet of slightly older aircraft.
James Wynbrandt, a private pilot, has written for a variety of aviation publications as well as for The New York Times, Forbes and Barron’s.