A closed fleet or fractional jet card is a popular method of experiencing the benefits of private aviation. You get to fly on some of the latest, well maintained, consistent aircraft, without having to commit to the large investment or length of time that fractional ownership or whole aircraft ownership requires. Jet cards give members access to prepaid blocks of flying time hours, with 25 hours being by far the most common size.
Both fractional providers and also operators that own and manage large fleets of aircraft offer these jet cards. A closed fleet simply refers to a group of planes that are both owned and managed by the same operator. Either way, you will be flying on consistently fitted and maintained aircraft, with pilots who have gone through the same degree of training. There are usually a variety of aircraft to choose from, and depending on the operator these can vary from turboprops to long-range heavy jets.
How a Fractional Jet Card Works
A fractional jet card is often structured as a sublease of a fractional jet share. They are sold as prepaid hours of occupied flight time, with all providers selling 25 hour options, but we've seen everything from 5 hours to 50 hours. There are also various options on the type of aircraft that are available, from light jets through to large heavy jets.
Jet card members can book aircraft 24x7 and usually with 8 to 12 hours notice on regular days. Peak travel days, such as major holidays, always require more notice time, since demand is higher on these days. Some card issuers charge higher rates for travel on peak days. As you fly, your flight hours are debited from the prepaid amount at an agreed rate for the type of plane you're flying in.
Leading Fractional Jet Cards
The pioneer in the arena of fractional jet cards was Marquis Jet Card which partnered with Netjets in 2001 to provide access to the large Netjets fractional fleet. NetJets acquired Marquis in 2010. After the Marquis launch, other companies soon followed suit with competing offers. These include the Flexjet Card which has an added feature of converting unused hours into a fractional jet share purchase. Flight Options JetPass provides access to three different aircraft types, from light to heavy jets.
Prices & Services
An entry-level prepaid fractional jet card providing 25 hours of flight time on a light jet will cost between US $145,000 to $165,000. Added to this base price are taxes and specific fees such as Federal Excise Tax, per passenger taxes and fees, and passenger facility charges, plus fuel surcharges. All of the major companies provide a bespoke service including full travel booking services, limousine services, standard in-flight catering and entertainment. Some companies include a base fuel amount in the quote and for others the fuel is added, so always ask what's included in the price.
The fuel surcharge is normally the big item that can be a surprise, if you're not ready for it. As an example the base price of a card may include fuel at a set amount of say $1.60 a gallon. You then have to pay the difference between the market price and $1.60 for each trip you take. If you do a 2-hour flight in a light jet that burns 110 gallons an hour, and the price of fuel is $5.00 per gallon, you will pay a fuel surcharge of $748 (2 hrs x 110 gallons x $3.40).
Pros and Cons of Fractional Jet Cards
Some of the positive points of jet cards include the low capital outlay compared to full or fractional ownership. The ability to select from a variety of aircraft types, often specifying the actual aircraft model and upgrade or downgrade options are another plus point. Overall the fractional fleets have much newer aircraft compared to charter planes, so with a fractional jet card you can be comfortable knowing you'll be flying on the most up to date planes. The fractional fleets also offer consistent service and safety standards, whereas these can vary across charter providers.
Disadvantages include the relatively high cost per flight hour compared to other options. Card holders also tend to have longer call out periods than actual fractional owners. For instance a fractional owner may be able to request a plane with 4-6 hours notice, but a card holder must generally give 10 or more hours notice. As with all private air travel, another disadvantage of particular importance to the leisure traveler is the inability of a smaller aircraft to accommodate bulky luggage, such as several golf bags in addition to personal luggage.
Who Do Jet Cards Work For
Individuals and businesses who require less than 50 flight hours or who make a number of short trips per year gain the most from fractional jet cards. They can also be good if you do a lot of one-way flights, since you are only charged for your flying hours and not for any empty legs. On average, these cards represent a costly option and they are not recommended above the 50-hour barrier. If you like to know exactly what you're getting in terms of plane, overall service level and crew training then a fractional card could be the way to go.
Increasingly, leisure travelers are discovering the benefits of using fractional jet cards. Marquis Jet reports that almost 80 percent of their clients are leisure travelers. If you want to see how jet cards fit into the overall mix of private aviation, then download our free Guide to Private Aviation, click here, (we do ask you to register) which compares costs and gives you questions to ask each provider so that you can select the right one.
If you are seriously researching jet card options, and want to compare the key terms of the leading providers, including their planes, response times, peak days, safety procedures and more, then become a SherpaReport member here. Members have access to details on programs from the leading providers covering over 20 programs.
For fractional owners, the jet cards can also be a good way to supplement their usage, or to have the option of a different plane type.