Jet Cards and their providers can vary quite a bit. Different providers offer different features, so if you’re comparing jet cards, make sure you know all the key features so that you can buy the one that best fits your requirements. Here’s a run-down on some of the main features.
Starting with the most obvious piece, the actual planes. Some jet card providers own and control their own aircraft, so they are consistently outfitted and furnished. Other providers may manage their planes but not own them, and other card providers work with charter operators to supply the aircraft. In the latter two cases, each of the planes will be fitted out differently and may be maintained to different degrees. The good card issuers have procedures to make sure the planes they use are well appointed and maintained to the highest standards.
One way to assess different aircraft is to see which external ratings companies have reviewed them. The two main companies in North America are ARGUS and Wyvern. One question to ask a prospective provider, is what is the rating (either ARGUS or Wyvern) for the aircraft they use in their card program.
A key question is whether a program offers an aircraft suited to your needs. The big fleet owners and brokers generally have a variety of aircraft, suitable for a variety of missions. But smaller companies may have a limited range of aircraft types. If a provider only has smaller light jets they won’t be much good for trans-oceanic or even cross country travel.
Some providers also offer a choice of aircraft ages, with price breaks if you want to fly on older aircraft.
The other big consideration for aircraft is the flexibility to change into different sizes and models. This is only an issue if you buy a card with hours on a specific jet size (eg 25 hours on a mid-size jet). The major providers typically let you swap into other aircraft sizes, if they would be more appropriate for a given mission. For instance, if you have hours in a mid-size and need a super-mid, the exchange (or interchange) rate may be 1.5:1, so you would use 1.5 hours of your mid-size time for every hour in the super-mid.
There are two main aspects to availability of aircraft.
One is the time it takes from when you request a plane to when one will be available for you. For most providers this notice period is typically 10 to 12 hours. Sometimes they can do it faster if you really need a plane in a hurry.
The other key part is the number of days during the year when this notice period increases due to holidays and peak demand. The number of these days varies with some providers having 10 days and some up to 30 days. If you travel a lot at peak times, check how many days the provider labels as peak days.
The notice periods for these peak days are longer, typically 96 to 120 hours is the range we’ve seen. Some card providers may also charge a premium of 5-15% for travel on peak days. Other providers also say the departure window may be +/- 3hours from when you requested on the peak days.
Most providers charge hours based on actual flight time, plus 6 minutes at either end for taxiing and take off. So a total of 12 minutes are added to each flight segment.
Minimum flight time is usually one hour, although this can be longer particularly for larger aircraft. Some providers don’t have a minimum single flight time, but instead have a minimum daily flight time, which is great if you do lots of small hops and visit 2, 3 or 4 places in a day.
Service areas for US based operators tend to be the 48 contiguous states plus up to 100 or 200 miles into Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Flights to other international locations, or Alaska or Hawaii will incur additional charges and usually require longer notice periods.
Pricing is always part of the consideration, but different providers have different ways of quoting their jet card prices.
Some providers quote all-inclusive prices. So they include all fuel related charges and FET. Other providers quote a base fee, but then separately add on a fuel charge or fuel surcharge and FET. Our advice is to always ask for the fully loaded end costs that you’ll have to pay.
All the major card providers we’ve seen include basic catering, and charge extra for any customer catering requests. If you’re flying outside the providers’ service area, you’ll start to see a variety of international fees, repositioning fees and potentially crew overnight costs.
One area where you can save is the discounts that some providers offer for round trips, sometimes termed “efficiency discounts”. If a providers can take you there and back, on the same plane, for example on a return day trip, then some providers offer discounts of 5%, or 15% or up to 20% for these return trips. This isn’t available from all providers, so if you’re going to do a lot of one day round trips, have a look at the providers who offer these discounts.
Term and Termination
The most common length of a jet card agreement is one year. Although, there are providers who offer 18 month and two year agreements.
Where providers do differ is what happens at the end of the term. For some providers any unused hours simple expire, although they can also be rolled over into a new agreement within say 6 months. For others, the hours or funds never expire, but the rates (price per hour) may change at the end of the term, and then be relocked for another period.
There are also providers who offer full refundable deposits. So if you only use part of your hours, you can get your money back at any time for any reason.
If you would like a full checklist of all the key jet card features, which lets you compare different providers, then download the Guide on the upper right of this page. This includes a detailed checklist.