““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
A chief selling point of fractional flying is its simplicity. Unlike charter customers, you don't have to bother with shopping for a flight; and unlike full owners, you don't have to worry about maintenance, storage and hiring crews. The fractional provider takes care of all that. Just give the company a few hours' notice, go down to the airport and the model in which you own a share will be waiting for you to hop aboard.
Well, most of the time. In fact, fractional contracts come loaded with fine print, some of which suggests that buying a share isn't necessarily a simple way to fly, after all. Case in point: so-called peak travel days. All the major providers have lists of such days, which mostly occur on and around major holidays. The number of peak days differs by provider. So do the rules for travel on these days, though they generally require you to give more advance notice for flights than on other days. Also, none of the major providers except Flexjet allows you to use more than one aircraft on a peak day.
Here's a rundown of the rules:
Avantair says that it requires 72 hours' advance notice (instead of the usual 24) for flights on the 25 peak travel days it has designated for 2010.
CitationAir (formerly CitationShares) offers shareowners four options. Under what the company says is its most popular plan, you can fly on any day of the year for an all-inclusive price, though flight schedules on 15 designated peak travel days may be adjusted forward or back by up to three hours. With a second option, you pay less for your share but face premiums for travel on any of those 15 days. With the other two plans, your share costs even less but you pay premiums for travel on either 30 or 45 days per year.
Flexjet has listed 10 peak travel days for 2010 and requires shareowners to book and finalize travel arrangements 48 hours before the beginning of any of these days and to allow for "some departure-time flexibility." As noted above, the company permits use of more than one aircraft on a peak travel day, but it limits this privilege to owners of three or more shares.
Flight Options requires 48 hours' advance notice for trips on peak travel days. The company has announced three such days for 2010 and will list another seven by midyear.
NetJets, which has 10 peak travel days per year, announces the dates every six months and says that, in general, it requires that flights on these days be booked a minimum of 48 hours in advance with more advance notice needed for airports requiring slots.
PlaneSense designates peak travel days and then sets peak travel times on and around those days. The peak times may encompass entire days or just portions of days (e.g. noon to midnight); and while the times may occur on more than 10 days per year, they don't annually exceed the equivalent of that many days (240 hours). During those peak travel times, flights must be scheduled at least 48 hours before the requested departure; and PlaneSense reserves the right to adjust departure schedules by up to three hours.
Clearly, if you do much flying around the holidays, you need to pay attention to this information. If you already have a fractional provider, consider ways to avoid trips on its peak travel dates, so as to minimize delays and surcharges. If you're shopping for a provider, look for one with relatively few peak travel dates or relatively few restrictions for flying on those dates. Finally, if you want to be able to take off on short notice 365 days a year, consider that fractional flying may not be the best option for you. If you can afford it, you might be better off owning an aircraft outright. That way, you really can fly whenever you want.
In the "Inside Fractionals" column in our last issue, we said none of the major providers "except Flexjet allows you to use more than one aircraft on a peak day." We've since learned that several other providers also allow such use, albeit usually without a guarantee. Avantair may permit simultaneous usage at the company's "sole discretion" but promises only one aircraft per day. CitationAir, Flight Options and PlaneSense offer multiple aircraft on peak days on an as-available basis. NetJets guarantees access to more than one aircraft per day, 365 days a year, to most owners, depending on the size of their fractional shares. -Ed.