Booking a flight on a private jet has long been viewed as a swanky, sometimes out-of-reach indulgence. But if you think social distancing at 35,000 feet requires access to your own personal G5, think again: These days, there are dozens of options for travelers looking to take to the skies in relative seclusion, many of them with ticket prices that deliver less sticker shock than you might expect. And the fact that most services operate out of smaller airports and private terminals has meant significant upticks in demand amid the pandemic.
Air Charter Service, the world's largest private aircraft broker, has seen its new clients increase 25 percent over the past year; many of them have made the leap to private because it offered a pathway to reunite with family, says Caitlin Uhlmann, CEO of the company's Chicago office. “A lot of people haven't been able to see their loved ones for over a year, and we've been able to get them there with minimal touch points and minimal contact,” she adds.
Learning to navigate the multitude of companies and different categories of private air travel—from fly-share services to fractional ownership—can feel overwhelming. Below is a primer on some of the ways to score a seat on a private aircraft.
These days, all it takes is a strong Wi-Fi connection (and a handy app or two) to get yourself into a private plane. A number of newer services are connecting fliers directly with charter operators, allowing you to browse, book, and buy within minutes.
JetASAP, a free, self-service app that defines itself as an “AirBnb for air travel,” launched in November 2020, allowing fliers to secure and book private flights directly from their smartphones. There are no membership fees, and fliers are never required to pay a commission; just punch in a flight request, which includes your airport of departure and preferred flight times. Live operators respond with quotes and can answer any questions.
Another newcomer to the private aviation sphere, FlyJets debuted in January 2020. The platform operates like a travel search engine, allowing customers to sort results via their preferred aircraft size, location, and desired departure time. Prices can be as much as 50 percent lower than the costs of an average charter, and booking options include full charters, seats on shared charters, and group-purchase among friends or colleagues; travelers can even offer bids on certain flights where there isn't a fixed price.
Flyjets enables users to sort results by preferred aircraft size and desired departure time.
If you want to get in the air without strings attached, but need a little more guidance in which plane to choose, charters are a great option. Charter companies work with dozens of private air operators to locate your ideal flight and manage door-to-door logistics, with no long-term commitment required. Many also offer the option to purchase a jet card, which you can load up either with a fixed number of flight hours or with money you spend like a debit card. The field is a crowded one: along with Victor, Wheels Up, and Blade, there’s also Air Partner, Private Fly, and Jettly, among others.
An on-demand charter service that offers access to more than 7,000 aircraft worldwide, Victor sources its flights from more than 100 select operators around the world; customers can also use its frequent flier points program, Alto, which launched in 2018. And fliers concerned about their environmental footprint will appreciate that all flights are carbon offset by at least 200 percent. (The cost, about 0.3 percent of each booking, is included in the fare.)
Blade is a popular choice for city-based travelers. It connects fliers not just with jets but also turboprops, seaplanes, and helicopters in their contracted fleet via a user-friendly app. Its Blade One planes offer seasonal service from NYC to both Miami and Aspen, too; a jaunt from NYC to Miami on BladeOne starts at $2,450 per leg, or $2,750 for fliers who want to include a helicopter transfer. There's no membership required and fliers can purchase multipacks of flight passes on certain routes.
Founded in 2013, Wheels Up provides access to more than 1,500 aircraft, with a fleet that includes gold-standard planes like the King Air 350i. Initially, its offerings were only accessible via three tiers of membership. But late last year, it rolled out the Wheels Up app, which also allows non-members to browse and book one-off flights. Wheels Up Connect memberships have a $2,995 initiation fee plus annual dues of $2,495, and rates jump up from there; Core memberships, which cost $17,500 plus $8,500 in annual dues, include guaranteed access to certain tiers of aircraft plus a membership to luxury vacation club Inspirato.
Fly-share companies are the easiest on the wallet. Companies like SurfAir, JSX (formerly known as JetSuite), and BlackBird enable travelers to snag a coveted seat on a private jet charter—sometimes for as little as $100 each way—sharing space with only a handful of other passengers and enjoying perks like no security lines and departure from private terminals. Here's an in-depth breakdown of popular fly-share operators and what each one offers.
Wheels Up offers three tiers of membership.
For more frequent fliers, membership programs can be attractive. Through tiered subscription programs, you’ll pay a monthly or annual fee that unlocks access to an entire fleet of aircraft that can then be booked on demand.
With a $100 monthly membership fee and one-way flights starting at $446, Set Jet is one of the most affordable private air travel options on the market. Founded in 2014, the West Coast-based company currently offers domestic routes from Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Scottsdale, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, with seasonal charters to Aspen and Cabo San Lucas. And it’s growing fast—its fleet of Bombardier aircraft will soon also be taking off from New York, with expansions into Florida and Texas also in the works. It offers good news for spontaneous travelers, too: Set Jet members can book a new flight up to 24 hours before takeoff, and snag a seat on an existing flight up to 30 minutes before wheels go up.
One of the largest private aviation firms in the U.S., XO’s fleet includes the Challenger 300 and the Citation X. Members also have access to 70 large-cabin planes, which can seat up to nine. Memberships start at $595 per year; all levels offer access to both private charters and shared flights.
With fractional ownership, your piece of the pie is allocated in hours. Owners purchase a portion or share of an aircraft, which is doled out in hours of flight time. The bigger the share, the more hours you get in the air; and unlike membership programs, it's a one-time investment. Companies like NetJets, the granddaddy of private aviation companies, and Flexjet, whose young fleet includes Embraer's super-light Phenom 300 and the ultra-long-range Gulfstream G450, offer ownership starting at a one-sixteenth interest in an aircraft; buyers should still be prepared to shell out at least $500,000 and often much more.
This story was last published in February 2021. It has since been updated with new information.
Condé Nast Traveler does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published by Condé Nast Traveler is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.