Now Boarding

February 4, 2008

It's no secret that demand for private jet travel is in a growth mode, and the Federal Aviation Administration projects hours flown aboard private jets will grow 300% in less than a decade. More than 4,000 airports are available for private jets, com-pared with 400 used by commercial airlines. Since many airports for private jets are convenient and uncongested, those who can afford such travel may get more of what they often are short on-time.

Since NetJets CEO Richard Santulli pioneered the concept of fractional ownership in 1986, there are more options than ever for private jet travel. Multiple players in the business jet industry now sell fractional ownership of planes to clients, and numerous companies are pitching prepaid jet cards.

What follows is a summary of some of the most active national players in the fractional ownership and jet card segments and how they pitch their products Keep in mind that with each program, the devil is in the details. How far in advance you can reserve your jet and program fees vary greatly. It pays to check on policies for holiday usage, surcharges for going to places such as the Caribbean and Mexico, pricing options for peak versus off-peak flying, fuel surcharges, one-way surcharges, each company's operational footprint and so on. Nonetheless, the growing market of providers, flexibility of programs and competitive pricing mean more people can experiment with private jet travel then ever before.

Global operations and the world's largest fleet with more than 700 airplanes make NetJets the undisputed No. 1 in size. Offering jets perfect for short-range hops as well as the Gulfstream 550 and Boeing Business Jet (a 737 configured with two bedrooms and showers, a boardroom table and a living room) that can both fly nonstop from North America to Japan, NetJets is the industry's largest player and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. In fact, Buffett and fellow billionaire buddy Bill Gates are featured together in NetJets' current ad campaign, as are other high-profile clients such as Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

The company has fractional programs in the United States, Europe and the Middle East and offers owners access to their worldwide fleet.

Marquis Jet,
As a result of its alliance with NetJets, Marquis Jet Partners sells the Marquis Jet Card, which provides access to NetJets' fleet of aircraft 25 hours at a time in a prepaid debit card. Among the benefits Marquis Jet pitches are use of the NetJets fleet; guaranteed availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; choice of 10 types of aircraft; the option to exchange for a smaller or larger jet; exchange between European and North American fleets; and no "empty leg" charges.

Also offered is the Marquis Jet 25-Hour Combination Card, offering 12.5 hours in each of two different aircraft types.

Marquis Jet has been a pioneer in developing value- added partnerships with members and provides customers special offers to top fashion brands such as Zegna, to high-end jewelry companies and, now, to Nieman Marcus.

Using the tagline "Because every trip matters," Sentient's motto is, "We understand that no two trips are alike."

Its membership program enables customers to access a network of jets and claims "guaranteed" availability 365 days a year and the ability to book flights with 10 hours' notice.

Membership ranges from $100,000 to $500,000 in pre- paid debit card form and allows the purchaser to book multiple jets at the same time (good for corporate board meetings) and designate additional users for one's account (the spouse and kids, perhaps).


There are two types of membership: the Sentient TravelCard, which focuses on flexibility, and the Sentient Preferred Plus Card, for individuals who commit to a certain level of annual flying in return for discounted rates.

Flexjet is a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian Bombardier, manufacturer of the Learjet, Challengers and Global Express. The company sells fractional ownership in a fleet of Bombardier-manufactured jets, though the Global Express (with its ultra-long-haul range) is not part of the fleet.

It says its experience as a manufacturer helps the company better understand the needs of its customers. Depending on the program, its jets can be booked with as little as six hours' notice.

Flexjet 25,
Flexjet 25 is a product from Flexjet that provides a jet card option offering flights on Bombardier's Learjet and Challenger aircrafts. It offers options that allow customers to choose the number of days and hours per year they want to fly. It also allows customers to purchase additional hours as needed and offers a guarantee that 95% of their flight hours will be on Bombardier aircraft.

Delta AirElite,
Don't confuse Delta Air Elite with Delta Air Lines, even though it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Atlanta-based carrier. As with other private jet companies, you will get on and off your private jet via private jet terminals (FBOs), avoiding the hassle of airports. Another benefit includes "Medallion" status in the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program should you decide to fly on Delta Air Lines.

Its jet card program offers 10, 25 and 50 hours, with its 10-Hour Jet Card starting at $43,900 for a light jet.

Twelve hours' notice is required for aircraft availability. As with most programs, rules may vary based on the type of card or share you are buying. Other selling points are the fact that the hours never expire and the customer's ability to exit the program at any time.

Flight Options,
Flight Options is on an upward swing after several years of turmoil, and in 2007 the Cleveland-based company launched a flurry of new programs. The Fractional First ownership program claims to offer more hours for the dollar by not deducting hours for taxi time.

Other innovations include distance-based pricing, which offers price breaks for long-haul flights. There is also a flexible-use option that enables owners to fly from 80% to 120% of their annual share hours and pay management fees only on hours flown. The option even gives customers discounts for taking flights at off-peak times rather than at peak periods.

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