The school calendar generally drives peak charter times.

Booking flights when demand peaks

If you fly often via business jet charter, you know that the peak travel days sprinkled throughout the calendar can mean a limited choice of aircraft as well as price increases. But a little planning can go a long way toward minimizing both drawbacks. "Book early," advised Ricky Sitomer, CEO of charter brokerage firm Blue Star Jets. "The sooner you do, the more options you will have."

The school calendar generally drives peak travel times, according to Sitomer. In other words, if your kids have a long weekend, booking a last-minute charter flight will likely be difficult. Some of the busiest travel times include Presidents' Day weekend and the days before and after spring break. You might also find it tougher to book charter during the summer because many families take vacations while their kids are out of school. Among commercial carriers, June is traditionally the worst month to travel; November has been rated the best, despite Thanksgiving.

Peak travel days also occur around the time of major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and Masters Tournament. You may have trouble reserving a flight during the first week of May, for example, because the 2008 Kentucky Derby runs on May 3, explained Toby Batchelder, aircraft management sales manager for charter management firm Elliott Aviation.

Batchelder noted that certain days of the week also tend to be busier than others. Elliott Aviation receives most of its requests for charter on Tuesdays and Sundays, he said. "If you want to guarantee that you're going to get an airplane, see if you can be flexible," he said. "Maybe you can fly out on a Monday or Wednesday."

Having a block membership card won't guarantee that you'll be able to book a last-minute charter flight during peak travel days, noted Kevin Vaughn, chief marketing officer of Sentient Flight Group. "Our membership program is very good at accommodating requests during the holidays," he said, "but we do ask members to book reservations 96 hours in advance to guarantee availability." Normally, you can book a charter flight as little as 10 hours before departure. "There are just certain weekends and holidays when demand significantly increases, and we need that advance notice," Vaughn noted.

Ray Barton, CEO of Great Clips salons and a frequent charter customer, had this advice: "Plan ahead. Even small airports are busy at certain times of year." He added that a good charter company will generally go to great lengths to accommodate a regular customer. "My family [has] always had great service, even during the holidays," he said.

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