Private jet travel is something we often associate exclusively with the astronomically wealthy. And while it’s no one’s idea of a budget- or environmentally-friendly means of travel, flying private can be a (relatively) more attainable mode of transportation than you might think, especially if you have a solid crew looking to celebrate a major life event, or are desperate to get somewhere warm for a long weekend.
The key to chartering a plane for somewhat less money is being flexible about leaving from a smaller, regional airport, says Rich Palese, a managing partner with Evojets, which acts as a broker to connect customers with pilots.
“The biggest thing that will change a price dramatically is the airport you’re departing from,” Palese explains. For example, “Teterboro [in New Jersey] is the main airport for private jets [in the tristate area]. Planes are based there or just sitting there waiting to go on the next flight.”
Palese added that much of the cost associated with flying private is how many times the plane takes off and lands, since pilots need to pay fees to leave from and enter an airport. So having a plane take off from Teterboro to meet you at JFK could add an extra $2,735 to $4,102 for the trip, for example.
This runs counter to the general rule of thumb when flying commercial, where opting into additional stops and layovers can often be a way to wrangle yourself a cheaper trip. Below, we break down the rest of the basics that you need to know if you’re looking to fly private for the first time:
What You’ll Pay
Unless money happens to be no object, the most important thing to look for is how to get the most value for your money. There is often a minimum charge of at least two hours flying time, which, depending on the plane, could cost anywhere from $8,204 to $27,346. So a 30-minute flight from New York City to the Hamptons may not be worth it — especially when you could snag a seat on a helicopter for far cheaper.
By comparison, flying three hours down to Miami is a much higher-value trip. You can fly for around $12,306 one way on a smaller jet that fits up to eight people.
Jet Advisors provides a cost estimator so you can start to compare prices for different types of planes. Lighter jets with eight seats run at least $31,448 for a midweek round trip to Miami from New York, according to their website.
A mid-size plane could run you anywhere from $38,284 to $46,488 roundtrip. And an 18-seat Gulstream G500 could run you more than $82,037, if you really have some money to burn (along with enormous amounts of fuel).
Jet Advisors agent Ricky Gomulka recommends keeping costs down by looking for so-called “empty leg” flights.
It works like this: Say a pilot is flying from New York to pick up a client in Nantucket. They will often provide a discount for you to travel one-way to the island since they wouldn’t mind making some extra money by utilising their empty space on the way over.
Companies like Jet Advisors or PrivateFly keep track of these flights and as along as you’re a little open about the date and time you can leave — and are willing to catch a commercial flight back — it’s one way to get you and your crew somewhere in style, at a somewhat-less-steep price tag.
How to Look
Many private jet companies work as brokers connecting you with pilots. It’s important to leverage their knowledge of where a plane is currently parked to maximise their service.
When you call a company, make sure to ask them about all the available aircrafts in your area, even if they’re at an airport you normally wouldn’t use. They should then be able to quote you prices and walk you through the differences between each jet.
And as discussed above, some sites will also allow you took for empty leg flights in case you want to scour for a one-way deal. Other companies, including XOJET and Talon Air, maintain their own fleets of luxury aircrafts, and allow you to book directly.
Since you are literally putting your life in someone else’s hands when you fly, it’s also always a good idea to check on the safety record of a broker.
ARGUS president Joe Moeggenberg said their site lists 140 operators across the country that have received a platinum rating safety.
If the plane is certified by ARGUS you can then ask for its “TripCHEQ,” which is a document providing a history of inspections and any violations the pilot may have received.
You can also use Air Charter Guide to find ARGUS-rated fleet operators and brokers throughout the world.
Getting Through Security
Another reason people are willing to shell out extra money on private flights, of course, is to avoid the stress and wasted time of flying commercial.
Major and regional airports have separate areas for their private flights. You pull up to a different address than the regular arrival terminal to avoid the traffic and the plane doesn’t take off until you get there.
When you book your flight your name(s) are provided to the Transportation Security Administration for a background check. Then when you arrive at the airport a guard will check your ID(s) and… that’s pretty much it. You pull up to the gate, a worker takes your bags and you generally hang for about 10 to 20 minutes until the pilot comes to greet you and tells you it’s time to take off.
There’s no taking off your shoes, separating your liquids, and worrying about being transported to another dimension when you step into a full-body scanner — or maybe that’s just me…
Most private planes will also provide snacks, but if it’s a longer flight you may want to think about brining a more substantial meal and perhaps some wine or beer if you want to pre-party.
That light fare tends to be gourmet versions of what you’d find on commercial flights like nuts and crackers. There is usually also gluten-free food items and a variety of soft drinks.
Larger planes often have more food options and convection oven. And if you’re shelling out the big bucks for, say, a Gulfstream, then a flight attendant may be included.
Palese said flights they’ve brokered have served “everything from lobsters, steaks [and] thanksgiving dinners,” to Domino’s and KFC.
Larger planes also generally have a full bar with liquor, beer and glassware.
While more extravagant meals can be provided, most customers opt for simpler dishes, according to a post on PrivateFly. They found most people requested cold antipasta, sushi, smoked salmon, grilled or roasted chicken, pizza or pastries.
And, of course, champagne to wash it all down.
Smaller planes sometimes get a bad rap for having more turbulence, but that’s really impacted more by weather and how high a plane fly to get into smoother air, according to experts.
Private jets, especially newer models, generally cruise well over 12,192.00m, above most larger commercial planes, which usually get up to about 35,000, Moeggenberg said. This higher altitude tends to make for a smoother ride.
Of course the most important element for a once-in-a-lifetime flight is having the right entourage. This clearly isn’t the most affordable travel option out there, so you’ll want to make sure you’re flying private for a really worthwhile reason, and with people with whom you really want to spend time (and split the cost).