4 Ways to Fly Private

From charters to jet cards to aircraft ownership—there are many ways to ditch airline travel.

The worldwide fleet of business aircraft included 23,505 jets and 15,903 turboprops by the end of 2022—an increase of nearly 20,000 airplanes since 2000. That means more and more travelers are waving goodbye to long security lines, lost-luggage worries, frequent delays, and all the other hassles that go with commercial flights. 

To anyone who has experienced private aviation, the trend isn’t surprising. As political consultant James Carville once told Business Jet Traveler, “If I had to fly commercial and could stay in a suite in the top of a hotel or take a private plane and stay in just a room, I’d say, ‘Give me the plane.’ Once you have sipped the sweet nectar of freedom, you don’t go back.” 

If you’re ready to sip that nectar yourself, you face a question: Exactly how do you want to fly privately? Here are your options.

[Related: 4 Affordable Ways to Fly Private]

1. Charter: A Good Way to Start 

Cost: about $2,000 to $10,000 an hour, depending on the aircraft model

Typical usage: occasional

Pros: You won’t have to worry about maintaining an aircraft or declines in its value. Also, charter can be relatively economical, especially if you take advantage of empty-leg flights.

Cons: You may have to commit to a trip more than 24 hours before you want to fly. Aircraft availability is not guaranteed. Also, you may face wide price variations, depending on where and when you fly.

If you’ve never set foot on a business aircraft, consider chartering—it’s the best way to get acquainted with private aviation. No private-air travel option comes cheap. Still, when you consider all the costs, charter is typically less expensive than any other alternative. On light jets operated by some companies, or through per-seat charter providers, the cost can even rival what you’d pay in business class on airlines.

So why would anyone opt for more expensive solutions? Part of the reason is the short-term nature of charter: the charter operator has no ongoing commitment to you, and you have no ongoing commitment to the operator. 

One alternative to traditional charter is block charter—as in a “block” of hours. This requires more commitment by both you and the charter operator but lets you save a bit on a per-flight basis by contracting in advance for as-yet-unscheduled trips. 

2. Jet Cards: A Step Up 

Cost: for 25 hours of flying, about $100,000 to $165,000 for a light jet to about $375,000 for a large-cabin aircraft

Typical usage: 25–50 hours a year

Pros: You won’t have to worry about maintaining an aircraft or declines in its value. You’ll enjoy more flexibility than with charter, with shorter lead times. And, you’ll pay a fixed price for your flight hours.

Cons: The per-hour cost can be higher than for charter or fractional shares. You’ll face surcharges for peak periods, and there may be days when no aircraft are available.

Jet cards are worth considering if you generally fly at least 25 to 50 hours a year but less than 200 hours. A major difference between block-charter deals and jet cards is that the former are usually custom-tailored to the individual, while the latter are more openly marketed. However, jet cards offer guaranteed availability, while block and on-demand charter typically do not.

Block charter can be a good choice if you have specific and recurring travel requirements. Jet cards aren’t nearly as specific, and their higher per-hour rates reflect their flexibility. 

3. Memberships and Per-seat Charter: New Options

Cost: for memberships, starting at about $2,000 a month, all-inclusive; for per-seat charter, from less than $100 to more than $5,000 per flight

Typical usage: one flight or more

Pros: You won’t have to worry about maintaining an aircraft or declines in its value. Also, this can be one of the least expensive alternatives to airline travel. And, you’ll enjoy some advantages of business aviation, including the ability to use more airports.

Cons: You may have to share the aircraft with strangers, which takes the “private” out of “private aviation.”

Membership programs and per-seat charter represent recent and sometimes overlapping access models. A membership program may charge for using aircraft in its fleet in addition to membership fees; in other cases, the membership fee and ongoing “subscription” costs pay for access to shared flights. Meanwhile, some per-seat providers simply charge by the trip on scheduled flights; one program lets anyone propose a charter flight on which other potential travelers can book seats.

3. Fractional Shares: Owning a Slice 

Cost: $500,000 and up, plus monthly costs, for a one-sixteenth share, good for 50 hours of flying

Typical usage: 50–300 hours a year

Pros: Buying a share of an aircraft costs considerably less than buying a whole one. Plus, the fractional provider manages the aircraft, so you won’t have to worry about hiring pilots or maintenance. You can enjoy many of the benefits of full ownership, including tax depreciation of your initial investment, and you’ll pay only for a set number of hours.

Cons: You’ll likely face high monthly management fees. Reselling your share to the provider when your contract ends may net you less than you'd receive on the open market.

Today, about 4,000 individuals and companies in the U.S. own fractional aircraft shares. Their appeal is that they provide many of the benefits of owning your own jet but at a much lower cost and with far fewer responsibilities. 

Fractional flying also offers consistency of service: you’re dealing with one operator, not a variety of charter providers (though fractional companies will employ charter operators they have vetted when they need additional “lift,” such as on peak travel days). And unlike full owners, you don’t have to worry about employing a flight department or management company. 

So what’s not to like? Well, while fractional flying offers flexibility, it’s no match in that regard for full ownership. Fractional shares are often the best solution for passengers who fly 50 to 300 hours a year. 

4. Whole Ownership: Freedom and Responsibility

Cost: $1.5–$75 million, plus variable and annual fixed costs.

Typical usage: 300 or more hours per year 

Pros: You’ll have total flexibility as to when and where you fly. Also, you'll be able to depreciate the aircraft for tax purposes and defray some costs by chartering it out when you don’t need it. 

Cons: An aircraft is an expensive purchase, requiring you to solicit expert advice and commit a large sum of money. In addition, you (or a management company you hire) will have to expend the money and effort to maintain the aircraft and hire and manage its crew. 

For those who regularly fly privately, there’s nothing like whole ownership of an aircraft. The good news is that you’re in control of everything. That can also be the bad news, though, because it’s your responsibility to hire and oversee a flight department. One way to alleviate some of the hassles of ownership is to partner with someone. Another 
is to hire a management company to operate your airplane.

[Related: Buying an airplane? Here's what to consider.]