With so many private jet travel options, traveling in style no longer has to break the bank if you're savvy with your reservations.
Truth: The only downside of flying privately is the cost—think between $3,000 and $20,000 per hour. Sure, there are jet-sharing options, buying a seat or pooling with strangers. You may have even flown as a guest. But, nothing beats the thrill of being the lead passenger—industry lingo for the person who’s footing the bill—and the one the pilots will meet, greet and coddle.
A preferred way to get the full private jet experience (at a discount of up to 70%, no less) is with seats left vacant. While the 10 largest U.S. airlines control 90% of the market, the 25 largest private jet operators only have a 25% share of their segment. With the industry fragmented by so many small players, scheduling becomes inefficient.
In fact, it’s estimated that more than a third of flights take off without passengers. Called positioning flights, these aircraft are generally traveling to pick up the next charter customer or returning to base. Since “ferry flights” don’t result in revenue, they are marketed at a discount. And therein lies the sweet spot of private jet travel. Unlike sharing a charter, the entire plane is yours. Surprisingly, there is often flexibility for departure time and even date. While most “empty leg” flights pop up within a few days of departure, there are also options weeks in advance. Europe and Hawaii tend to have empty legs posted months out, with savings of as much as $50,000.
But, every rose has its thorns. Empty legs tend to counter when people want to travel. On Thursdays and Fridays in the winter, there will be ferry flights headed to New York to pick up customers bound for a weekend in Florida, for example. Another downside to this brand of flight is that they can be canceled. If Mr. Big Shot sees it’s going to rain in Palm Beach with no chance to hit the range, he’ll likely cancel his trip, meaning your flight to New York to pick him up is also canceled. In essence, empty legs work if you are flexible, have alternate transportation options or don’t need to worry about nonrefundable hotel reservations.