Choosing among on-demand charter, jet cards

I'm working on a little project right now for a high net worth individual. I'm generalizing his needs for this article. He flies from his home in Northern California to Colorado once or twice a month (not the Bay Area to Denver). He stays there a week or so and then returns. He currently charters either a light jet or turboprop. Since he stays in Colorado at least a week, the trips are all one-way. He finds himself paying positioning or deadhead fees on every trip. Thus, his average trip cost is quite high. He loves the convenience of on demand travel, but wants a more cost effective option. His utilization, in a light jet, is probably no more than 50 hours per year.

He's happy with the level of service with his current charter providers and has no desires to own his own aircraft. All the travel is personal, so taxes and depreciation are not a factor. He just wants to see if he can get the same level of service for less than he is currently paying. He'd also like to keep the scheduling as simple as possible and know up front what he will pay.

I looked at the costs of leasing a fractional share. The costs for a light jet share are greater than what he pays right now, and he's not interested in a long term commitment. His flying habits may change in a year or two. 

Next to look at were the various Jet Cards available. While Jet Cards used to be just pre-paid block charter with a guaranteed price, there are now many choices of providers and many different ways to customize the card experience. Item one was to keep the high level of safety. Using card providers who guarantee an Argus or Wyvern top rated carrier (or the equivalent) are needed.

Next requirement for him is the one-way pricing.  While one-way pricing does have a cost allowance for the positioning or deadhead, the card programs that we are evaluating offer some incentives to lower the cost. Many Jet Card programs have a minimum 2.0 hour billing. In a light jet, his trips range from 1.7 to 2.1 hours so the 2.0 hour minimum might be a deal breaker. Fortunately, some card programs will customize and one already stated they would reduce the minimum billable to 1.5 hours per leg.

Another customization is newer aircraft versus "standard" aircraft. You pay more for the newer models but again, the card programs guarantee an equal level of service and comfort. Think of it as the Beechjet 400A versus a Beechjet 400XP: up the steps, turn right and you don't notice the difference. But if you prefer newer, it is available at a higher price.

My client knows his travel several days in advance. So a 10-hour or 24-hour minimum scheduling window is not an issue for him. But it could be a nice feature.

He needs about 50 hours per year, perfect for a 50-hour program. While the hours do not expire, the price per hour guarantee does. He's currently in a sweet spot, but if his flying declines, he may face an increase in his hourly cost. 

Another price consideration is, are the funds in an escrow account? And for how long is the price guarantee? While not necessarily advertised, a 14-month guarantee is worth asking for in order to make a 50-hour card sale.

So far, he's looking at an all-inclusive cost (taxes and fuel surcharges) from about $4,250 to $5,500 per hour depending on his options and "newer" aircraft preferences. On a per trip cost, it is very competitive to what he's paying on most trips. There is still more research to be done and a couple more vendors to evaluate.

The toughest part is, if the Jet Card meets his requirements, and he has two or more to pick from, who does he choose? At this point I'd say it comes down to two things. First is how is he treated when he contacts the card vendor? Are they really asking him what he needs? Can he talk with the person who would be his account manager or his scheduler? Doe they offer references for him to talk to? In other words, do the people he's dealing with reflect the promise of the card program?

Second is to pick his top two and take a charter trip. Fly one vendor out to Colorado and a different vendor back to California. What is the experience like? He needs to realize that unless he uses a vendor from a fractional program like Marquis, he will likely get different charter vendors from trip to trip. But still, this is a fair test of the card program scheduling, flight following and follow up. Unless he's after the absolute best price, I'd say one that costs a bit more may be worth the extra expense if he's more satisfied - that is his call.

Today's Jet Card programs are not one size fits all. There is a lot of competition and if you know your travel pattern and requirements are consistent, you can find one that is a good fit. Don't overlook fractional.  Traditional charter may still be a best fit if you need a lot of options. But, the Jet Cards are evolving to offer a nice mix of convenience and flexibility that for many, is just right.