Jet card or on-demand charter. Which should I choose?

By Toby Edwards, co-CEO at Victor 

Like most sectors, business aviation has experienced a turbulent 18-months and I expect even greater change is coming in the remainder of this decade. 

SPACs are rife, climate action is a priority, and brands are announcing innovative products faster than ever to stay competitive in this new world.

Amongst all this change, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of new jet cards available, which raises the question, jet card or on-demand charter?

For those unfamiliar, fundamentally a jet card means paying for a set number of hours upfront, whereas on-demand charter is paying-as-you fly.

If you are considering either option, here are some of my thoughts which hopefully help you make a more informed decision:

1. Consistent cabin experience  

If you are investigating a jet card because you want a consistent cabin experience, similar to ownership, check the jet card provider owns the planes you would be flying on.

Some of the largest business jet companies in the world selling jet cards do not own any aircraft. They are asset-light agents using exactly the same planes for their jet card clients as for their on-demand customers.  

Companies selling jet cards which do not own the aircraft may also choose not to share the name of the operator of your flight when you confirm your schedule. As you are already financially committed having purchased a jet card, the broker can then maximise their margin by sourcing the least expensive aircraft nearer the time.

In this scenario, the likelihood of enjoying your preferred cabin experience is lower than if booking on-demand with a transparent broker who will name the operator and aircraft tail-number at the quotation stage. With the latter, you will also be able to stay in control of comparing and choosing which aircraft best suits your needs before you even have to commit any money.

If you purchase a jet card from a large operator for access to their fleet, you have a far greater chance of achieving the consistent cabin experience you were looking for. Just be aware that even with some the largest providers, demand can exceed supply during busier periods.

When this happens, the highest spending jet card owners benefit from the promise of preferential access to the operator’s exclusive fleet, while the lesser spending customers are passed off. This can be incredibly frustrating as a client if you have been sold on the promise of priority access in return for your financial commitment, to end up flying with an off-fleet aircraft that could be found on the open market. 

The on-demand operators that help make up the shortfall with supplement lift are reliable and highly-rated operators, however, I understand why jet card customers can feel aggrieved when they have paid a premium price per hour for an own brand consistent cabin experience but end up flying with a third party without having any say in the matter.

2. Fixed pricing  

Jet cards with fixed hourly rates can be an attractive proposition. Perhaps easier for budgeting or more convenient than having to agree to a price and make a payment each time you fly. Whether you are exploring a jet card from a broker or an operator, it is important to investigate the pricing.

I recommend asking for a transparent break down of how the company calculates the flight time, and if there are any variable charges. All-inclusive jet cards sometimes do not include administrative fees, national luxury taxes, or costs when travelling with your pets. On-demand quotes are typically all-inclusive, so if you are buying a jet card for the first time, avoid any surprise charges by asking for all the financial information upfront.

If you like the on-demand model but wish to avoid the hassle of making a transaction every time you book, most on-demand providers allow you to keep money on account. With Victor, our optional funds on account program means your money is 100% refundable at any time and held in a secure HSBC client deposit account, ready for when you wish to book.

3. Personal service    

If you desire a high-touch, informative and seamless service – perhaps similar to the relationship you have with your private banker – I recommend finding a knowledgeable jet broker supported by an experienced global operations team on hand 24/7.

Unlike when you purchase a jet card from an individual, but are then passed onto a larger member services team, when flying on-demand your broker is your point of contact throughout the entire process. The most successful brokers have close, long lasting relationships with their clients.

It is one of my responsibilities as co-CEO to ensure we recruit outstanding people who continue to value transparency, which is something our clients cherish. As we do not own any aircraft and share the operator and aircraft details at the point of quotation, clients feel safe in the knowledge that our account managers make recommendations to them based on aircraft suitability for that flight. Even long-standing Victor clients extremely familiar with the sector continue to trust their broker’s recommendation when it comes to jet suitability for their needs.

4. Flexibility   

Flyers crave flexibility more than ever before.

With everchanging covid testing requirements and international travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, our clients have sensibly arranged their private travel at shorter notice than usual, enabling them to avoid making further changes to their travel plans after booking.

Some believe that jet cards provide more flexible cancellation terms, but a private jet card in itself does not provide customers with enhanced flexibility. It has nothing to do with pre-payment and everything to do with procurement.

On-demand brokers are able to offer comparable flexible cancellation terms when they have agreed special terms based on their relationship with the operator and the volume of business that they do with them.

At Victor, we want to ensure our clients are well-informed and in control when it comes to their on-demand charter bookings. We share the operators T&Cs upfront which the client accepts each time they book. Our Client Preferred Operator Program is a natural extension of our transparent customer proposition. One of the benefits of booking a Client Preferred Operator is enjoying the same flexible cancellation terms brokers offer their jet card customers, without the significant upfront financial commitment.

Ultimately, these terms are dictated by the operator, and it is only with their consent that jet card providers who do not own their planes are able to offer such flexible terms.

 5. Carbon impact  

Most importantly, before buying a jet card, check the company’s impact of its operations on the planet. Business jet companies have a responsibility to communicate their environmental strategy and have it verified by an independent third party. Anything less, particularly that cannot be proven, is nothing less than misleading. We are seeing the effects of claims being made in the automotive sector over diesel emissions. To this point, I cannot imagine any frequent flyer will want to be caught out having taken at face value their brokers claim to offset the carbon emissions associated with their flight.

An industry veteran and founder of a light jet operator in Europe recently advised me that brokers selling on-demand charter too often recommend heavy jets to maximise margins rather than smaller aircraft that would perfectly suit the need of the flyer and have a lower impact on the environment. I do not doubt that this happens in some organisations, however I think the bigger problem is with jet cards as clients are naturally more obliged to use the same aircraft category time and time again, even if it is not quite right for their trip. Clients might also feel compelled to use their hours for the sake of it if they’re concerned about them expiring before the end of the year.

In fact, a reason some of our most frequent flying customers who could easily afford hundreds of jet card hours per year, choose to fly private on-demand is because it can be less impactful on the environment. Whether it is a short hop in a Pilatus PC12 or a trans-continental journey in a Gulfstream G650 ER, being able to choose the correct aircraft and having the entire business jet product mix available on-demand, in conjunction with offsetting 200%, is appealing when considering your carbon emissions.

To summarise… 

While some jet cards offer value on specific routes, there has never been a better way to fly on-demand. With the right broker, you can enjoy a consistent cabin experience, maximum flexibility, and 24/7 expertise that you can trust.  

Transparency is at the heart of Victor’s offering, as we want to ensure you remain connected and in control of what matters most to you every time you fly. It is natural that your requirements and preferences may change for each flight, but on-demand charter means you can tailor your experience every time.

If you would like to discuss in more detail, our brokers always happy to advise.

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