The Travel Detective

How More Travelers are Flying on Private Jets

Locations in this article:  San Francisco, CA

If I wanted to fly from LA to San Francisco, I could go to LAX and catch a flight. Or I could go to the Hawthorne airport in LA County and follow Plan B.

You probably think that flying on a private jet is something only reserved for the rich and famous. Until recently, that was true. But there are a handful of companies making private air travel more accessible—and affordable—to more people.

You don’t have to be a rock star or a CEO to fly on a private jet. For example, you can fly all you want on Surf Air for $1950 a month. Have you ever heard of an all-you-can-fly airline? Well, now you have.

“We are a membership club that happens to own airplanes that take people from Point A to Point B ” said Jeff Potter, CEO of Surf Air. “But it’s a membership club that you pay a monthly fee, and you get to fly as much as you want.”

It’s not just the unlimited travel that makes Surf Air attractive. For some business travelers, it’s simply a more efficient way to get from one destination to another.

“The fact that I can use a small plane efficiently, cost effectively to airports that are not crowded, that are still as close to if not closer to the places I’m trying to get to, is revolutionary,” said Surf Air member Aled Miles. “It’s got to be better for the environment, for the way in which we travel, our experiences, our stress levels, it’s a no-lose circumstance for me, and I hope for other people.”

Surf Air is currently only available on the West Coast and operates on a schedule like a traditional airline. But unlike traditional carriers, passengers drive up to the terminal and park for free. They walk right into the terminal and show their ID, and they’re good to go. No waiting in line. No TSA pat down. No emptying out your carry-on.

Another private airline service, JetSuite, not only offers memberships that include lots of special perks, but it also sells flights to non-members. If you can find your city fare, or you can be a little bit more flexible, there are some great deals to be had.

“Our membership starts at $2,000 and goes to $400,000,” said Alex Wilcox, CEO of JetSuite. “But you don’t have to be a member to fly on JetSuite. You can actually buy it by the flight—one flight at a time. Special events, bachelor party, wedding, you want to impress your in-laws, whatever it is, you want to just take one jet one leg, we’ll more than happily sell that to you as well.”

These private air services also work well for families or a large group of friends headed to the same city. But what if you’re flying solo to an unscheduled destination and need help filling the seats on your flight? JetSuite might be able to give you a hand.

“We’re going to take advantage of all of the social media aggregation going on right now,” Wilcox continued. “So if you want to find three other people that will want to go where you want to go, then advertise the cost of your flight among three or four people. We’ll help you find those people, put you on a plane together, organize your trip, and send you on your way. Adding a second person on your trip cuts the cost of flying more than anything else you could possibly do.”

With potentially thousands of empty seats on private charter jets, how do you find them all? Well, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are several. JetSmarter offers empty leg routes at deep discounts.

Bluestar Jets operate as a sort of Uber for the private aviation industry. Go to the app, book a flight, and you could be ready to go with as little as four hours notice.

Now, these flights may still be more than most people can afford. But for the frequent business traveler or customer who might otherwise buy a business or first class ticket, private flights come with perks that no commercial airline can offer—no matter how much you pay for your ticket.

None of these airlines have a frequent flyer program. But at these rates, what do you care? By the time you do the math, you’re way ahead of the game.

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