(Photo: Mark Wagner)

What You Should Know About Peak-Day Policies

Before you sign up with a lift provider, you need to understand its access rules for the times when demand for flights is highest.

If you’ve resolved to try private aviation this summer, pay close attention to “peak day” policies as you shop. 

Jet cards, membership-access programs, and fractional-ownership plans almost universally offer guaranteed access—essentially a promise that they’ll have the kind of airplane you want at the price you’ve agreed upon ready to go when you are. But an important asterisk may appear beside that guarantee, and fine-print items can impact your holiday access and flying costs, altering the calculations related to choosing a program that meets your travel plans and budget. 

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Lift providers implement peak-day policies to maximize aircraft availability at times when high demand strains capacity. Policies vary widely, depending partly on whether access is via a membership, jet card, or shared ownership; peak-day limitations can include longer advance reservation (or call-out) times and cancellation requirements, suspension of select plan prerogatives, and higher costs for flight time. 

Higher Costs And Reservation Requirements

A single provider’s access programs’ or tier levels’ policies often vary considerably, but fractional-ownership programs generally have less restrictive peak plans than cards or memberships offer. The first major variable to note among potential lift providers is the number of peak days annually, ranging from about 10 to more than 50. Consider the effect the changes on these days will have on you.

Longer advance booking requirements can create issues beyond inconvenience if your travel plans are subject to change—one of the reasons many customers turn to private aviation in the first place. Non-peak-day rules typically allow you to take off from four to 24 hours after you request a flight, but in designated high-demand periods, you may have to reserve an aircraft two to five days—or in some cases even as many as 10 days—before when you want it. Meanwhile, cancellation requirements are usually extended as well, with five-day advance notice a common peak-day minimum, after which you could incur financial penalties. 

The promised departure window—the maximum time between when you want your flight to leave and when it actually does—also expands on peak days. An aircraft may be reliably waiting at the airport for you to board most of the year, but during peak periods the window in many plans may open as wide as three or more hours before or after your requested departure. You’ll be updated on flight delays before you have to head to the airport but look into these windows before signing up for a plan if on-time performance is critical to your scheduling. 

Access benefits that may be unavailable on peak days include aircraft upgrades and downgrades. If you want to get the whole family onboard for a holiday trip, consider that a category upgrade option your plan provides may be suspended on peak days. Likewise, access to more than one aircraft simultaneously—an option offered by many plans and potentially quite useful come the holidays—may not be guaranteed or even allowable. 

Last but certainly not least are the extra costs of peak-day access. Many programs add surcharges for peak-day flight time. Five percent is common, but 20 percent isn’t rare, nor is a 25 percent premium on hours on account—fly two hours on a peak day, and your card balance is docked 2.5 hours. 

Major Holidays and Events 

Peak days aren’t only a Yuletide consideration, either. Other major holidays—Thanksgiving, Easter, Presidents Day, Independence Day—and sporting events including the Super Bowl, Masters, and Kentucky Derby can all have peak-day restrictions.

You can get policy details on providers’ peak-day calendars. Some customers eagerly await the annual release of their program’s schedule so they can lock in travel plans accordingly. 

Some jet card providers do have guaranteed-access programs with no peak days, though they typically ask customers to book as early as possible and advise these clients to expect wider departure windows on their travel days. 

Why wouldn’t everyone sign on with a program without peak days? Such programs might not offer your desired aircraft type or options or might not be available in a particular geographical area. Moreover, in tiered programs, plans with the most peak days often offer lower costs per flight hour. If you have a flexible schedule, that could present a savings opportunity. With online meetings and health protocols having reduced the need to be in a set location to take care of business—perhaps permanently—you may be enjoying that flexibility during the peak days of the coming holiday season and beyond.