After going into a big slump during the Great Recession, business travel by private aircraft is making a strong comeback. Bombardier, a major manufacturer of business jets, predicts that the worldwide fleet will grow from 15,200 in 2013 to 22,650 by 2023. And some new companies have been springing up to broaden the market of potential passengers for all those planes, mostly by making private air travel easier to book and/or more affordable.
Some have introduced new flat-rate, membership-based pricing schemes, while others are creating slick new apps for finding and booking book business jets — whether you’re looking for an entire plane or just an empty seat. They’re providing new alternatives to the earlier modes of private air travel, which have traditionally included whole-plane purchases, fractional aircraft purchases (a sort of time-share concept), “jet cards” that allow a set number of hours in the air, and whole-plane charters.
The benefits of private air travel are considerable. Planes leave from separate terminals with no crowds or hassles; there’s no intrusive security screening; and travelers have access to hundreds of airports that aren’t served by commercial airlines, bringing them closer to their ultimate destinations.
Just last week, a new Massachusetts-based company called Ubair (where do you suppose they came up with that name?) unveiled an app for private jet travel that it says will allow users to find and book “fixed, nationwide, one-way rates and availability that were previously only accessible through jet card and fractional programs.” (It’s currently available for iOS devices only, through the App Store.) The company is at www.ubair.com.
Ubair’s app pulls together price comparisons for six various private aircraft types and gives users the ability to decide what kinds of services and amenities they want for their flight. (And for those who need more than just an occasional flight, the company also has an ownership program called UbairOwners for acquisition of all or part of an aircraft in the Ubair network.) For example, looking at booking a jet from San Francisco to Gunnison, Colorado, next week, Ubair offered several options starting at $10,600 (one way) for a 6 passenger jet to $28,100 for a 12 passenger jet.
The co-founder of Ubair is David Tait. If that name rings a bell, it’s because he worked with Sir Richard Branson to put together the original business plan for Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Established operators are coming up with new pricing options as the competition heats up. For example, JetSuite, a major private jet charter operator, introduced “SuiteDeals,” which can put an entire plane at your disposal for as little as $536 each way. These are last-minute deals designed to keep idle aircraft flying, and availability varies from day to day, so flexibility is key if you want to take advantage of its relatively low price point.
It’s fun to check out (and dream about) the last minute flights available. For example, as I write this, there’s an entire 4-person Phenom jet in West Palm Beach flying to Houston tomorrow- if I could round up four friends or colleagues, we could jump onboard for just $1074– that’s just $269 per person.
Sign up to get email alerts about Suite Deals available at your home airport here. You never know what might pop up!
Another player is BlackJet, which claims to be “the world’s largest private jet seat booking service.” This company works with private jet charter operators to help fill up unused seats on flights in key domestic business markets. The company says that its business model allows it to offer prices for private jet flights that are about the same as first-class seats on major commercial airlines.
We looked up a San Francisco-to-Dallas flight in late April on BlackJet’s website and got a price of $3,121 one-way, including taxes. SFO-Vegas is $1,616. New York City to Chicago in May runs $2369 each way. BlackJet charges an annual membership fee of $5,000.
Started by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, BlackJet went through a sort of reboot in 2013 but has been gaining ground since then. A couple of months ago, it added Los Angeles-San Francisco flights starting at $1,500 per seat; and last month, it tripled the number of private jet flights between New York and South Florida, with seat prices of around $2,500 one-way. BlackJet (www.BlackJet.com) lets members book through an iOS app or a toll-free phone line.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our private jet series when we’ll take a look at unusual innovators like Surf Air, Beacon, JetSmarter and Victor.
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