- 29 Jul 2020
- Andre Fodor
- Flight Dept Mgt
What should you think about when picking the best jet card for you? Gerrard Cowan asks a selection of experts from the industry to highlight how the best jet card will depend partly on your mission needs, and partly on the small print...Back to Articles
The coronavirus crisis has fuelled interest in jet cards, according to industry representatives; particularly from new customers. But as potential buyers mull over the options, what should they keep in mind? Gerrard Cowan asks the experts…
Jet cards come in various forms, but essentially they require customers to purchase a block of time on private aircraft (typically 25 hours or more), or deposit an initial sum that is then reduced as the user flies on different aircraft at varying rates.
The cards can provide many of the same advantages of owning an aircraft, or a fractional share. But while they provide a high degree of flexibility, it comes without the long-term commitment of ownership.
As COVID-19 brings an increased wariness of airline travel amid health concerns, so interest in private aviation has grown, says Andrew Collins, president and CEO of Sentient Jet (www.sentient.com), which devised the original jet card concept.
Collins says that while the pandemic has had a negative impact overall, Sentient Jet sold over 8,000 hours between May and June 2020, with about 4,500 in June alone. That’s around 20% higher than the company had envisioned. Perhaps most significantly, June saw the highest number of new clients Sentient Jet has ever recorded in a single month, representing about 50-55% of hours sold.
There has also been a change in the type of clients, he reveals. In the pre-COVID-19 world, 60% of travel was tied to business trips.
Since the onslaught of the pandemic – with many business people working from home, meetings cancelled and so on – the vast majority has been focused on personal travel.
If business travel had continued to operate at its usual level, Sentient Jet would be up for the first half of 2020 when compared to the same period of 2019, Collins adds.
“I think we're in an uncontrollable world right now, and a jet card gives you a bit of control and peace of mind,” he told AvBuyer. “You know you can leave when you want, arrive when you want. You know you can use smaller airports and go to parts of the world or to countries that perhaps are more difficult to visit [on the airlines] right now.”
Kevin Macnaughton, managing director, charter for Air Partner (www.airpartner.com) explains that although travel bans are still in place, they are beginning to ease in Europe, and against this backdrop flyers are looking for low-risk solutions with flexible cancellation terms, and with safety as “the number one priority”.
Air Partner saw a significant increase in new jet card members and inquiries over the course of June, recording a 321% increase in inquiries for future flight bookings compared to the same month in 2019.
And Doug Gollan, founder and editor-in-chief of privatejetcardcomparisons.com, said his website had seen its’ best-ever two months in May and June, up over 100% in terms of subscriptions compared with the same period of 2019.
Though he didn’t have a breakdown of the new subscribers, Gollan says “a good chunk of that – just based on the people I talk to – are first time fliers, or people who flew privately occasionally or as a guest but are not comfortable flying with airlines now until there is a cure” (for the coronavirus).
Top Tips for First Time Jet Card Buyers
With so many people new to business aircraft charter, what are the key tips they should be keeping in mind when shopping for a jet card?
Note the Daily Minimum Flight Times Charge: Most importantly, Gollan warns of the importance of checking the ‘daily minimum flight times’ charge. As an example, the choice between a jet card charging $5,000 per hour and one charging $6,000 could seem obvious at first glance.
However, the true cost will vary depending on the daily minimum charged. For instance, some could charge users a minimum of two hours, while others could be one hour. That means a user could end up paying $10,000 for a one-hour trip on the card that charges $5,000 per hour, because of the minimum flight time charged.
Short or Long Duration Trips: Additionally, Gollan recommends prospective customers research the key trips they expect to make, working out whether the bulk of these will be short- or long-duration.
Some operators offer discounts for long flights, he shares. Others offer discounts on round trips. This can be more complex depending on the jet card provider involved, but generally covers two hours of billable flight time per day where the entire trip can be handled by one flight crew.
Read the Small Print: There is a wide range of other considerations to bear in mind, Gollan says. For instance, not all cards guarantee Wi-Fi, while others might not allow unaccompanied minors to travel. And more broadly, customers should carefully study the financial wellbeing of the company involved as much as they can, and think about how far in advance they might wish to book (since booking and cancellation terms – and notice hours – can vary widely).
Nick Copley, president of sherpareport.com – the owner of jetcards.org, a provider of jet card comparisons, news and other resources – also emphasizes the importance of reading the small print, and establishing what is included in the overall package (for example, is de-icing included in the cost, or charged separately? Is catering included? Are pets allowed?)
“There are different features that are included as well as the price per hour, which are important to know and understand,” he explains. “So compare the different providers and make sure you're getting the one that has the things you want built into that hourly rate.”
Step Back and Consider Budget: Copley also advises prospective jet card customers to “take a step back” before buying, to consider whether a card is right for them.
Would-be jet card users should consider whether it is within their budget, he suggests, before focusing on the trips they want to take, how far they want to go, and how many people will be travelling, all of which can “influence the sort of private aviation product that works for them, whether it’s charter, a jet card, a fractional share, or a lease”.
A Closing Word on Health & Safety…
According to Macnaughton, Air Partner expects the private aviation market to pick up against first-class airline flights over the course of the summer and beyond, with a positive impact for jet cards, thanks to continuing concerns over health and safety. Air Partner has adopted a number of new safety measures to minimize any exposure, according to Macnaughton, including disinfecting aircraft and supplying personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We believe safety will continue to be a top priority for clients for the medium- to long-term, until a vaccine for coronavirus is found and applied,” he concludes. “Even after a vaccine is found, people will be more wary of safety on flights and the risk of new diseases.”