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Believe it or not, private jet travel is not just an exorbitant luxury only to be enjoyed by the super-rich — there are times when it can be a practical form of transportation, such as when a group needs to travel to an airport without convenient commercial service. In addition, many private jet providers offer prepaid “jet cards” that simplify payment of charter services. In today’s post, I want to look at an innovative jet card program offered by Delta Private Jets that grants all customers top-tier Diamond Medallion status instantly, and offers further discounts for The Platinum Card from American Express cardholders.
The Case for Private Jet Travel
Let’s say that a team of eight engineers at your company needs to travel from Colorado Springs to Memphis for a day’s worth of meetings. Certainly Delta and some of its competitors could sell them eight tickets on regularly scheduled flights, but the itinerary would involve a change of planes at a major hub. This means that the team would spend nearly a full day traveling in each direction, causing them to be out of their office for three days just to attend meetings for a single day. They also risk delays or misconnections if weather affects the hub they’re flying through, not just their origin or destination.
But by flying on a private charter, the team could schedule a nonstop flight in the morning just early enough to arrive on-site before the meetings, and depart immediately after the last meeting concludes. Even more time can be saved since private aircraft are not subject to TSA screening and passengers don’t have to navigate large airport terminals.
Furthermore, there are about 5,000 airports in the United States, and only about 500 enjoy some form of commercial airline service. If your destination is far from one of the airports with scheduled passenger service, a private jet charter can be an enormous time-saver. As a result, the price of the trip might even be in the same ballpark of the cost purchasing eight full-fare tickets, especially if you consider the savings of both hotel costs and the team’s salary.
Finally, private jet passengers face few of the restrictions placed on commercial passengers, and they are typically free to travel with pets, liquids and oversized carry-ons. For more information, read my post on What’s It Like to Fly by Private Aircraft.
The Delta Private Jets Card
There are dozens of private jet charter companies, but Delta Private Jets is the only major one in the US affiliated with an airline. This allows Delta Private Jets to offer its jet card along with numerous benefits when traveling on Delta’s scheduled passenger flights.
Here are the basics of the jet card:
- Customers make an initial purchase of $100,000, $250,000 or $500,000 and lock in their rates for up to two years, when balances expire.
- Rates vary based on flight hours and the size of the aircraft chartered including light jets (up to six passengers), midsize (up to seven passengers), super-midsize (up to eight passengers) and large jets (up to nine passengers).
- Rates are all-inclusive and do not have fuel surcharges.
- Rates are discounted 10% for round-trip flights and 5-10% for select transcontinental flights between 16 East Coast and five West Coast states.
- Special rates and advanced reservation requirements apply to ten different designated peak days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Jet Card Benefits When Flying Commercial Delta Flights
When traveling alone, or between two large cities with frequent scheduled service, Delta Private Jets Card holders might find it more practical and affordable to book conventional airline reservations — and in these cases they’ll enjoy special privileges. The biggest benefit is Delta’s top-tier Diamond Medallion status, which offers priority service, numerous fee waivers, complimentary first-class upgrades and a SkyClub membership. Delta Private Jets Card customers also receive 20% off select full-fare Delta domestic or international tickets.
To book airline reservations, customers can call their Delta Private Jets Personal Concierge to have the cost of tickets deducted from their jet card account balance. And while private jet travel doesn’t offer frequent flyer miles, any tickets purchased with the Delta Private Jets Card will accrue SkyMiles just like any other paid ticket.
The Premium Private Jet Program for American Express Platinum and Centurion Cardholders
Delta and American Express recently announced a new partnership that offers substantial benefits to Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders who purchase a jet card from Delta Private Jets. This program replaces a previous discount program that American Express offered to Platinum and Centurion cardholders who purchased charter services through American Express Travel.
First, cardholders can purchase the Delta Private Jets Card for a reduced price of $50,000, compared to the standard $100,000. However, the $50,000 Jet Card has a one-year term and doesn’t qualify for the 20% discount on full-fare Delta scheduled flights. In addition, Platinum and Centurion cardholders receive a 3% Preferred bonus added to the value of the card, as well as an in-flight catering credit up to $250 per trip and a credit toward transfer services of up to $200 per trip.
Comparing Delta’s Private Jets Card to Its Competitors
As with so many travel services, it can be a challenge to make direct price comparisons between private jet companies. When it comes to jet cards, these products could be sold by the flight hour or by the total value of the purchase. Delta Private Jets offers its jet card by the dollar value, while the other major jet card providers I examined sell their products by the hour.
When comparing different jet cards, you’ll want to look at the size of the jet provided, as well as what costs are included or excluded. For example, many jet card prices do not include fuel surcharges or Federal Excise Taxes (FET). Finally, not all jets are created equal, and some jet card providers promise newer aircraft or flights in particular models. You’ll also want to see how long the jet card is valid for, and how the prices can vary over time with the cost of fuel. Finally, you’ll want to see what the provider’s policy is for peak travel days, as all the major jet card providers place limitations or surcharges on travel scheduled at peak times.
For the purposes of comparison, I looked at the pricing for the $100,000 jet card from Delta Private Jets and compared it to four of its major competitors. For Delta’s competitors, I received quotes for a 25-hour jet card for a light jet that seats up to six, all inclusive of fuel and taxes. Expect the price per flight hour to be higher for larger categories of aircraft, and lower when you purchase more hours, such as a 50-hour card.
Here are the private jet providers that I looked at:
- NetJets — This is one of the largest and most well-known private jet providers, and is currently owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway company. Its Marquis Jet Card offers 25 hours of flight time in a light jet (six passengers or sometimes more), and cards are available with more hours and access to larger aircraft.
- Sentient — This company offers 25-hour jet cards for a variety of aircraft sizes and for newer “preferred” equipment or older “select” jets. Prices don’t include Federal Excise Tax, and there’s a 5% premium for peak travel dates. Rates are locked for 12 months.
- Magellan — This company offers 25-hour jet cards that are aircraft-specific, starting with the six-passenger Hawker 400XP. Rates are locked for 12 months.
- JetSmarter — This jet provider has a completely different model that first requires an $4,950 initiation fee and a $9,990 annual membership. But then, members have access to complimentary seats on private jets flying dozens of pre-defined shuttle routes in the US and Europe, when available. JetSmarter offers guaranteed seats starting at $1,900 each way, and charter rates are close to $4,000 per hour for a light jet.
|Operator||Minimum Price||Price/hour (light jet)||Approx. R/T cost for NYC to Miami||Benefits|
|Delta Private Jets||$50,000 (For Platinum cardholders)||$5,341||$32,000||$250 catering credit, $200 ground transportation credit, Delta Diamond status and the ability to use prepaid card for Delta flights with a 20% discount on select fares|
|NetJets Marquis Jet Card||$150,000||$6,000||$36,000||Hours accessible for 18 months|
|Sentient||$124,825||$4,993||$30,000||For travel on designated peak travel days, flights are billed at current cardholder hourly rates plus 5%. Newer aircraft in the Preferred collection cost more.|
|Magellan||$108,750||$4,350||$26,000||12-month rate lock|
|JetSmarter||$14,940 (Membership)||Free shuttle flights||Free when available, $3,800 per person for a guaranteed seat. $24,000 for a light jet.||Free shuttle service over a number of routes in the US and Europe. Charter costs for a light jet (6 passengers) are $3,800 per hour round-trip and $4,700 per hour one-way.|
The Cost in Practical Terms
Let’s assume you and five of your friends or colleagues need to fly from New York to Miami. Instead of braving the crowds at LaGuardia, you fly out of Teterboro airport in New Jersey, which is just 12 miles from midtown Manhattan. You’re free to arrive just moments before your flight, and have your car drive onto the tarmac to meet your jet. And whether you choose to land at Miami International or one of the smaller airports that cater to private aircraft, you can expect to incur about three hours of flight time in each direction. Therefore, your 25-hour jet card should cover you for about four round-trip flights between New York and Miami, the equivalent of 24 individual tickets in a class of service that’s well beyond domestic first class. However, the cost per person, per round-trip flight will end up in the $5,000 range.
How Delta and American Express Sweeten the Deal
When looking at the value of Delta Diamond Medallion status, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen found it to be worth nearly $7,000. And remember, the $100,000 and up Delta Jet Cards are valid for two years, so the total value of this benefit could approach $14,000.
In addition, the $50,000 Jet Card offered to Platinum and Centurion cardholders offers 18.72 flight hours in a light jet, and has a much lower price point than the 25-hour cards that are the entry level of most jet card providers. The Delta Private Jets Card’s credits toward catering and ground transportation are valuable as well. Finally, if private jet travel is simply too expensive for most trips, jet card holders always have the option of redeeming credit toward regularly scheduled Delta flights, whether or not you receive the 20% discount for full-fare tickets. In theory, someone could purchase a jet card from Delta Private Jets just to earn Diamond Medallion status while prepaying for Delta airfare, and never actually charter a private jet.
Traveling by private jet will never be affordable for the vast majority of Americans, but it will make sense for some travelers in specific situations. Considering the additional airline benefits and discounts offered to Platinum and Centurion cardholders, American Express and Delta are lowering the barrier to private jet travel.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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