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A new air travel paradigm is coming to the Northeast. Instead of selling fares or renting out planes, emerging air service provider Beacon will begin offering subscription-based flights in the summer of 2015 between New York Westchester (HPN, about 35 miles from Midtown Manhattan) and Boston Logan (BOS), with seasonal flights also available to East Hampton and Nantucket. At launch, Beacon will operate nine flights daily in each direction on the HPN-BOS route, with hourly departures paving the way for easy last-minute bookings. I’ve secured an exclusive TPG reader bonus for readers who are interested in signing up for Beacon (more on that below).
Unlike most commercial airlines, which charge you per flight, Beacon charges a flat monthly rate of $2,000 for an all-you-can-fly membership that allows you to travel unrestricted between any of its destinations. Instead of buying a ticket, you use a mobile app to reserve an available seat on one of Beacon’s small, propeller-driven executive aircraft. You then simply show up and take off, with no need to wait in line for security or boarding.
You can add family members or colleagues to an account for an additional $1,200 per month, or purchase one-way guest passes for non-members at $750 apiece. Guests can be added to your reservation at booking, and guest passes can even be used on their own (that is, you don’t have to fly in order for your guest to redeem a pass). Members can hold as many as four boarding passes at a time, so it’s not hard to make advance plans when you need to. (You can also pay extra to boost your boarding pass limit.)
Beacon is headed by the co-founders of Surf Air, a similar operation that initially flew between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, and now serves 7 California destinations and Las Vegas. Unlike Surf Air, which has its own aircraft, Beacon is partnering with existing charter operators in order to facilitate entry into the market. Service is expected to launch in June, but could come sooner depending on how memberships and FAA certification proceed. While the initial focus will be on regularly scheduled flights between Boston and New York, Beacon plans to launch service to other northeast destinations later in the year, including Washington D.C.
The in-flight experience will be somewhat spartan. Beacon won’t bother with WiFi, since the flights will only top 10,000 feet for about 10 minutes of the 37-minute flight. There won’t be flight attendants, though there will be some self-serve options. Since planes will be chartered, it’s not clear how much variance there will be in the interior design from one aircraft to the next; you’re probably not going to have a lie-flat seat, but I expect it will be comfortable.
Beacon is currently in a “pre-sales period”, during which an unspecified, limited number of members will be invited to join. As I mentioned above, I’ve secured a bonus for TPG readers, so you’ll get FIVE free $750 guest passes (a $3,750 value) when you sign up and mention The Points Guy. Guests don’t have to be family or colleagues, so you can use this pass to bring a friend along for your trip, or simply to introduce someone else to the service.
Clearly this subscription-style flight club won’t be for everyone. Commercial flights between Boston and New York typically start around $125 round-trip, but can easily get up to $400 or more for last-minute trips. Even at the highest prices, you’d need to be averaging more than one round-trip each week to justify a Beacon subscription purely on a cost basis. That said, I’d expect the experience on Beacon to be superior.
It’s an intriguing setup, and I’ll be very curious to see how the operation fares. With Delta and United shifting to revenue-based frequent flyer programs, and the increased focus given to high-value flyers, it wouldn’t shock me to see other airlines compete (either in the Northeast or elsewhere).
What do you think of the subscription-based model for air travel?
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