Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

This week Priester Aviation announced it was restarting jet card sales, and Jet Linx, a major player which resumed in January, said it is expanding its jet card offerings. They follow an expanded program by Jet Token and the success of several new jet card variations. More are coming. Volato, which launched a HondaJet fractional ownership program last year, says its first jet card is just weeks away.

The moves are happening as airline delays and cancelations frustrate travelers. Still, veteran private flyers may not recognize these new and restructured jet cards and memberships.

Argus International CEO Joe Moeggenberg told Corporate Jet Investor’s Town Hall attendees this week, “The entire model is being looked at closely.”

He predicts programs with variable pricing. “It will be less expensive to fly on Wednesday afternoon than Friday afternoon,” he says.

Private Jet Card Comparisons, a buyer’s guide to private aviation programs and memberships, where I am Editor, tracked 137 program changes last year and more than 50 this year.

For Priester, a large management and charter operator, its Centerline jet card returns without light jets, traditionally a staple of many programs. Priester Chairman Andy Priester says light jets were the least in demand – and the most difficult to source.

Like most programs, there are longer lead times to book, now 72 hours on non-peak days, up from 14 hours previously. While there are fewer peak days, Centerline added a handful of blackout dates.

Most interestingly, Centerline is now invitation-only. While the provider is happy to speak to anyone, Priester says the qualification process is because he only wants to onboard customers where it can meet their expectations.

“Having somebody where we can’t meet their expectations is bad for the customer and us internally, and it takes time away from other customers,” Priester says.

In the case of Jet Linx, it is now selling Tier II memberships. They require a $150,000 deposit. The Tier I memberships it restarted in January entailed a $250,000 deposit, which is based on annual spending. With a surge in business travel demand, Jet Linx also restarted selling its Enterprise Memberships. Targeted to corporations, they allow up to seven lead passengers.

Jet Linx CEO Jamie Walker says, like Priester, his company is only taking a limited number of new members.

Still, Jet Token’s expanded jet card offer in partnership with Las Vegas-based charter operator Cirrus Aviation Services portends what could be the newest twist.

While it offers fixed hourly rates, long a staple of most jet cards, it doesn’t guarantee availability.

The as-available programs mean when you call, you get the fixed rate if an aircraft is available. Otherwise, you must be flexible in moving your travel plans.

A survey of Private Jet Card Comparisons subscribers last year found flyers want fixed or capped hourly rates with guaranteed rates by a 30-to-1 margin over dynamic pricing, which means your flights are priced based on the market when you call to book and where you are going. Still, 37% said they didn’t have a preference.

The as-available model seems to be gaining traction. Last year, Jet Edge, one of the nation’s 10 largest charter operators, launched its Reserve jet card with fixed hourly and route rates on an as-available basis. It quickly racked up over $100 million in deposits.

GrandView Aviation, a Maryland-based charter operator, which just added three more Phenom 300s to its fleet, last year began offering members of its Altitude Club fixed rates on popular routes as-available.

Tradewind Aviation, which operates a large fleet of Pilatus PC-12 turboprops in the Northeast U.S. and Caribbean, launched an as-available fixed-rate program in 2019. Aerovanti, a 2021 start-up, is also using the as-available model. Iowa-based Exec 1 Aviation dropped guaranteed availability last year, but still offers fixed hourly rates as-available. Las Vegas-based charter operator Thrive Aviation also started a membership program with fixed rates, as-available; however, it also charges repositioning fees. Most as-available programs – like those with guaranteed availability – only charge for occupied hours, the time you are in the airplane.

Some see as-available as an alternative to the ever-increasing number of peak days. The average number of peak days for fixed/capped-rate, guaranteed availability jet cards is up to 53.2 days from 22.8 days at the end of 2019.

Jet Token Founder and Chairman Mike Winston says like with the Jet Edge program, the key to its as-available offering is that unused deposits are fully refundable.

He describes the new program as a “fair deal.” He says, “If you give us your money, and we can’t get you an airplane, you get your money back.”

Expect more twists. Instead of adding peak days, Sentient Jet, a major player, added high-demand days, which go into effect when it books over 200 flight hours. It then can decline to take more bookings.

Andrew Collins, Sentient’s CEO, says the idea is an alternative to adding peak days or implementing random blackout dates. Last year, it was invoked nine times, and as of last month, there had been only four restricted dates in 2022.

One player that remains largely on the sidelines in North America is the industry’s biggest, NetJets. The unit of Berkshire Hathaway backed off plans to restart jet card sales, instead choosing to focus on fractional shares and leases. In Europe, it did start selling cards again, however, with a 90-day blackout stretching from June to September.

One industry executive expects more innovation and more providers to test the as-available model.

“In some cases, the cost of sourcing flights can be 50% more than the price we are charging,” he notes.

What’s next? While Volato’s CEO Matt Liotta won’t say what his program will look like, he promises, “It’s something that will be new and has never been done before.”

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