How to Save Money on Private Jet Travel

Some careful shopping and negotiation can massively reduce the cost of private jet travel.

This article is best read after you read our first article ‘How to More than Halve Your Travel Time – and Double Your Travel Pleasure – While Flying Around the US‘.

In our first article, we’ve been talking about the costs that relate to you specifically chartering a jet for your own personal travels exactly as you wish, when you wish, where you wish.  Our conclusion was that if you are traveling alone, the above the line costs are of course appreciably greater than flying on scheduled flights, but some of the countervailing benefits might compensate for the extra cost.

We touched lightly on the fact that a one-off charter for a single flight is not the only way to arrange private jet travel (note that it need not only be jets – for short distances, prop planes are worth considering also, and often at massively lower rates).

If you think you may be hiring planes on a regular basis, your options start to extend to other types of financial arrangement.  Clearly, the first thing to do is to negotiate a lower than standard rate from your preferred airplane operator.  Just as scheduled airlines negotiate discounts and other benefits to large corporate clients, even relatively small but regular charter clients can negotiate appreciable benefits from their preferred charter operator.

There are other ways to contract for ongoing charter travel, too.

The Four Main Forms of Arranging Private Flights

We’ve spoken, so far, mainly about the first form of private jet travel – chartering on a simple hourly basis, and negotiating discounts for repeat business.  Beyond this obvious approach, there are three other ‘classic’ financial forms of private jet travel.

If you anticipate flying more than about 25 hours a year, then buying prepaid blocks of flying time can sometimes – but not always – be a good option.  On the face of it, you’d think you’d get discounts for ‘bulk buying’ and for pre-purchasing blocks of time.  This is not always the case, for two main reasons.

The first reason is that usually when entering into these arrangements, you’re adding a middle-man between you and the actual flight operators, and this middleman, while often adding extra services and convenience, is also likely adding appreciable extra costs too.

The second reason is that when directly chartering with a specific operator, there are no remaining unknown variables.  But with some type of flat rate block purchase of hours, the middleman arranging the deal has to allow for not just the cheapest/best value options, but also potentially some higher costing ones too, depending on the time of year, the route, and which planes he can secure at short notice to respond to your request.  Sometimes there are potential additional surcharges to reflect these variables, other times, the prepaid sum simply is calculated on the basis of a ‘worst case’ cost to the middleman rather than on an unrealistic ‘best case’ hope.

For example, this page shows that you could buy 25 hours of flying time on a Learjet 40 at a cost of $108,000 – $135,000; ie a cost of $4300 – $5400 an hour.  That reveals another ‘secret’ of the pre-purchasing option – we infer that the reason you pay more to get more time to use the hours you’ve pre-purchased is because they are hoping the shorter time periods will expire before you’ve used up all your flying hours.

But this page shows four Learjet 40 operators who charter their planes out for $2500 – $3000 an hour – massively less than the cost of the prepaid card!  So buyer beware with the card programs.

If you anticipate flying more than about 50 hours a year, one of the many different fractional ownership programs out there start to become of possible benefit.  Again, as with the prepaid card option, there are many issues and potential pitfalls, so be careful in your evaluation.  Here’s a listing of nine different fractional ownership operators; we’ll discuss this further in a subsequent article, too.

Once you start flying more than 400 or so hours a year, you are getting closer to the point where owning your own plane might start to make sense.  But even in this case, there are trade-offs – for example, if you are buying a plane primarily for yourself, that is one scenario which might more readily support buying a plane outright, but if you are buying a corporate jet for a company with more than one location, there can be substantial costs involved in flying the plane empty from wherever it happens to be to wherever it needs to pick up passengers for its next flight.

Before committing yourself to a probably multi-million dollar plane and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fixed and variable operating costs, you should get specialist advice from an aviation consultant who can help you to project your likely costs and work with you to identify the best solution to your needs.

Creative Ways to Save Money on Chartering

There’s not a lot you can do to mitigate the costs involved with prepaid cards and fractional ownership, or those involved with owning your own plane.  But when simply chartering flights on an ad hoc basis, there can sometimes be some creative ways to ‘work the system’ to your advantage.

Here are four interesting additional aspects to jet chartering that can sometimes save you money.

Back-haul or Empty Leg Flights

Many times, chartered jets have ‘backhaul’ legs – maybe they are chartered for a one-way journey from Point A to Point B, but then the plane’s owner has to fly the plane back, empty, to their base at Point A again.  In such a case, the operator will sometimes offer the plane to anyone who wants to charter it – at a potentially massively reduced rate – around about the time the plane would otherwise be flying back empty, on the simple basis that ‘some is better than none’ in terms of generating some revenue for the empty flights before and/or after the main charter leg.

The bigger the two cities you want to fly between, the greater your chance of finding some bargain flights, with this site being one of the best sources of information on ‘Empty Leg’ flights.  At the time of most recently checking, it had 1446 empty leg flights available for charter.  Some of the more common city pairs have at least one and sometimes multiple available flights pretty much every day of the week.

Filling in Free Time

This is harder to identify, but can also work to your advantage if you do.  There are sometimes occasions when an operator accepts a charter that has them flying a client somewhere, then the plane waits for a day or two before flying the client home again.

If you can find an idle plane and crew just waiting for their next flight, then if you can squeeze in a short charter during the plane’s downtime that has already been more or less paid for, you could get a better rate than chartering a fresh plane that doesn’t already have its base costs paid for.

Variation on an Empty Leg

Maybe you want to fly between (for example) Tucson and San Diego.  Don’t just look for empty legs between those exact city pairs, which will probably be far and few between.  Look also for flights between other cities which would have the plane flying more or less over the cities you want to fly to.  If you are wanting to take a four-hour flight that only involves one extra hour of flying time for an empty flight, you can probably negotiate a great deal on that, too.

In the case of this example, consider also flights to/from Los Angeles as well as San Diego for the western end, and flights to/from Phoenix or Albuquerque or even anywhere in Texas for the eastern end.

Another example – you want to fly from Detroit to Philadelphia.  Look also for flights from Chicago, and for flights to New York or the DC area.  And so on and so on.

For short flights of 1000 miles or so, simply look on a map to get an idea of flight routes.  For longer routes, you can get a more accurate feeling of flight routes by drawing a line on Google Earth between city pairs – this will create ‘great circle’ routes that look to be longer than straight lines, but which due to the curvature of the earth (something which can’t easily be shown on a typical Mercator style flat map) are actually shorter.  These great circle routes mean that flights sometimes travel unusual routes that are actually shorter than the obvious ‘straight line’ route would appear.  Sometimes, for example, a flight traveling in a South West direction might start off heading north instead of south, or east instead of west.

Flight paths are further distorted by FAA navigational requirements, and by things like the jet stream – longer flights will detour hundreds of miles to either benefit from a jet stream tail wind, or to avoid a jet stream head wind.

Positioning Flights

Here’s an interesting case where living in a secondary town or city can work to your advantage.  Maybe you live in a smaller town or city that is an hour or so flying time away from a major city, and maybe there is an air charter operator in your area.

If that is the case, the chances are they get a lot of their business from the major city, and fly their planes empty to start a charter in the major city, and empty back again at the end of the charter.

If you can time your travels to the major city to fit in with these positioning flights, you again have a chance at getting a good deal.

In our case, in the Seattle area, there is a charter operator in Portland that might sometimes bid on charters out of Seattle, making for an interesting opportunity to sometimes fly between Seattle and Portland or vice versa.

You should get to know the local charter operator and see what their policy is about such things.  Maybe they already have a roster of people who are often interested in hitching a ride on such flights, and maybe the end up selling a number of seats on these flights to different people at great prices.


This is the second part of a new series on charter flight issues.

The underlying theme is that for premium level passengers, chartering a plane costs less than you might think, and many times ends up as being a better overall value than do regular seats on regular flights.  Furthermore, there are many different ways of arranging charters, and the cost of a charter can vary enormously depending not only (and obviously) on the specific plane chartered, but on many other less obvious factors, too.

Further Articles in the Series

We are adding more articles to this series.  Please click the links for (articles are added here as we publish them) :

1.  How to More than Halve Your Travel Time – and Double Your Travel Pleasure – While Flying Around the US

2.  How to Save Money on Private Jet Travel (this article)

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