Photo: Mark Wagner

How Much Does It Cost to Fly Privately?

The good news for travelers is that as little as $25,000 to $75,000 can take you quite a distance today via business aviation, depending on where you’re located, where you need to go, and how often you want to get there. 

If you’re looking for a single flight, your best bet is traditional ad hoc charter, which involves no ongoing commitment. Want more regular access to business aviation? Here are some relatively affordable options:

Private airlines 

So-called private airlines (they’re actually neither private nor commercial air carriers) offer scheduled service on established routes, but with less hassle than airlines, and much lower costs than traditional charter. They utilize aircraft that carry 30 or fewer passengers, eliminating the need for TSA security screening (providers vet travelers beforehand), operate from general aviation facilities with plenty of parking, and offer apps that make booking quick. Show up 15 minutes before a flight, and away you go. 

One such carrier is Surf Air, the all-you-can-fly membership model pioneer. It is expanding the schedule and frequency of its flights linking the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, along with Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Growth has been driven by Surf Air’s entry-level Express membership, introduced a year ago, which provides individual seats starting at $500 each for one annual $2,500 fee. The company also still offers its $1,995-a-month all-you-can-fly program.

Membership clubs 

Unlike private airlines where a fixed fee pays for benefits, membership clubs charge for pay-as-you-go access to a fleet of aircraft and, depending on the provider, discount charter rates and other low-cost or free options such as shuttle, crowdsourced, and empty-leg flights. (Crowdsourcing allows members to create a charter flight and offer per-seat rates to other members without the commitment of booking the flight.) The empty-leg flights are typically same day, and if they’re leaving from somewhere nearby and you don’t mind finding your own way back, they can provide a spur-of-the-moment luxury travel opportunity, but they aren’t practical for trips that requires planning. 

In 2019, Wheels Up introduced its entry-level Connect membership ($2,995 for the first year; $2,495 annually for renewals) for travelers flying 10 or fewer hours per year. The program allows participants to buy seats offered for sale by full members on their flights; it also provides access to the fleet at fixed rates on an as-available rather than guaranteed basis.

Low-cost cards 

Jet cards typically cost in the six figures, but there are exceptions. Shuttle and on-demand charter operator Tradewinds Aviation, for example, has introduced a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop card. Using the 23 PC-12s in the Connecticut company’s managed fleet, the card covers the Northeast U.S. and the Caribbean (within 300 nautical miles of Tradewinds’ operating bases at New York’s Westchester County and San Juan International Airports, respectively). It doesn’t guarantee availability but does offer fixed-rate, one-way pricing on popular routes, and no peak-day surcharges or blackout dates. Hourly rates range from $4,100 (10 hours) and single-day roundtrips can qualify for a 30 percent discount.

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