Whole aircraft ownership may not meet your travel profile or your budget. Or you may own an aircraft and find, as do 25% to 30% of owners, that you sometimes need alternative lift. Charter and fractional ownership fill the gap for some, while others use the rapidly expanding number of jet card options.
Jet cards enable you to contract to pre-pay to fly for 10 to 50 occupied hours annually with no capital investment or long-term commitment. They can be a flexible and cost-effective option, particularly if your trips have various origin points, or if your intermediate stops require extended time on the ground.
You pre-pay for annual hours based on the size of aircraft you anticipate using most, drawing down on that deposit as you fly. Most jet card companies will allow you either to extend your contract term, or to add the unused hours to your renewal commitment for the next contract year.
Scheduling a trip is similar to booking a charter flight. The main difference is that you book a category of aircraft, rather than a specific make and model. For example, “mid-size” can mean any one of an extensive number of aircraft models.
To meet your trip requirements, the jet card charter broker will vet potential charter providers, auditing them for operational safety and reliability as well as for financial stability. The broker depends on its ability to purchase “empty legs” (repositioning legs already paid for by another charter client) at a discount, and reselling them to its own jet card clients at contract rates.
With a jet card offered by fractional operators, you gain access to an entire fractional aircraft fleet with no capital commitment and no monthly management fee. In exchange, you pay a higher occupied per-hour charge. You commit to fly aboard a specific make/model aircraft in the provider’s fractional fleet, with the option to trade up or down on specific flights (with an appropriate adjustment to the hourly cost).
Since each program offers different benefits, and has various restrictions such as black-out dates and expiration clauses, matching your unique travel requirements to the right program can be a challenge. A professional aviation consultant can help answer your questions and determine which program is best for you.
All major fractional ownership operators, as well as many national and regional charter operators and charter brokers, offer a jet card option. And unfortunately, so do a growing number of fly-by-night, Internet-only-based operations. If you do decide to shop on your own, be aware that jet card providers range from the excellent and reputable to the shoddy and frankly dangerous.
A number of new jet card apps promise to find you “a low-priced seat on an empty airplane flying home.” These may be tied to unknown entities with little or absolutely no aviation background or experience. All they need to operate is a computer program that can scan online charter market sites, looking for low-priced trips.
There’s no evidence that these companies do any due diligence whatsoever. They don’t own or operate the aircraft they are urging you to use – they simply shop for you based only on price and availability. The aircraft operators may not carry proper safety ratings from industry audit leaders Argus or Wyvern. The companies offer you no assurance of the maintenance condition of the aircraft, experience or training of the pilots, insurance coverage, or safety record.
While their websites offer superlatives about the company and its good deals, there usually is insufficient information about its leadership, how long it’s been in business, or how it guarantees the safety of aircraft it offers for rent.
Jet cards can be a convenient option for those who value safety and reliability above price. Doing research before you buy will help ensure your security. BAA