Private aviation company Wheels Up has been on an acquisition spree over the last year, as it expands and scales up. Last week it acquired the private jet arm of Delta Air Lines, and Delta will now be a shareholder of Wheels Up. The deal is expected to close early in 2020 and it sounds as if there could be a lot of cross promotions between the two companies.
Delta got into the private-jet business in 1999 with the acquisition of Comair Inc., the former regional airline. For many years, Delta has been the only major US airline with a private aviation subsidiary. Buyers of jet cards from Delta Private Jets receive diamond medallion status in Delta Air Lines frequent flier program – a nice perk, since many private jet flyers also use commercial for parts of their travel.
Wheels Up was formed in 2013 and has grown rapidly to over 6,000 members. Just a few months ago it acquired private aviation technology company Avianis Systems and earlier this year it bought charter operator TMC.
With this new acquisition the combined company will have a fleet of more than 190 private aircraft, making it one of the world’s largest owned and managed fleets of private aircraft. Wheels Up currently has its own fleet of about 119 aircraft, which includes the King Air 350i, Hawker 400XP, Citation Excel/XLS, and Citation X. Delta Private Jets manages more than 70 light, mid-size, super-midsize, large and long-range jets. Wheels Up also currently offers real-time pricing on 1,250 vetted private aircraft through its charter marketplace.
“This groundbreaking partnership will democratize private aviation – making the convenience of private jet travel accessible to more consumers,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “Wheels Up’s lifestyle experiences and innovative digital platform, combined with the scale and service of Delta Private Jets, help further Delta’s mission of connecting people and communities worldwide through travel.”
“To partner with the No. 1 airline in the world ... that’s incredible validation for Wheel’s Up,” the company’s founder and CEO Kenny Dichter told CNBC.
New Products and Features
“The combination of Wheels Up and Delta Private Jets, along with the partnership commitments between Delta and Wheels Up, aligns with our growth objectives and vision of building a platform that will make private flying and the private flying lifestyle accessible to significantly more individuals and businesses in the US and around the world,” said Kenny Dichter.
The companies have subsequently announced "Wheels Up Members will be eligible to earn Delta Medallion Status, accrue miles in Delta’s SkyMiles loyalty program, and use their Wheels Up Fund program balances to pay for Wheels Up private and Delta commercial flights. Likewise, Delta Private Jets customers will have the opportunity to receive exclusive Wheels Up membership offerings, experiences and access to the Wheels Up fleet."
“We’re going to offer opportunities for all of our strong customers to be Wheels Up members, in one of their membership programs,” Ed Bastian told CNBC. The combined company will have over 8,000 members and customers.
“90-95% of our members have a commercial play in their portfolio” Kenny Dichter told CNBC “meaning that folks use the private jet in an on-demand way at Wheels Up, but again there’s hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of commercial spend at Wheels Up.”
The details on these new products will only be announced when the transaction closes, so for instance there’s no current word on offers of diamond medallion status, or on any mutual discounts between Delta Air Lines and Wheels Up.
Wheels Up members currently have access to shared flights, empty-leg hot flights, shuttle flights, and an online platform of members-only forums to facilitate flight sharing. Signature Events and added-value benefits from leading lifestyle brands make up the company’s Wheels Down program.