Yes, you can fly private — here’s the secret that will help you do it
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
Flying private is on everyone’s bucket list, and for good reason. Aside from the luxuries of having a plane to yourself, flying private comes with an unparalleled level of convenience. You can fly on your own schedule, there are no security lines, no boarding groups — you get the idea.
If you’ve ever found yourself researching the cheapest ways to get the private jet experience, you’ve likely come across the term “empty leg.” Empty leg flights are a great way to score highly discounted private jet charters. However, your travel plans need to be flexible and there are some important details you need to be aware of.
Today we’re going to go over what empty legs are, how the experience compares to a conventional charter and how to book them. Let’s get started!
What is an empty leg?
As the term suggests, empty legs are flights that are scheduled to fly without any passengers. These operate when an aircraft needs to reposition or return for a charter. They’re sometimes also referred to as “dead-heads,” “repositioning legs,” and “ferry flights.” According to charter-jet company XO, 30%-50% of the private jet charter fleet often flies empty.
Empty leg flights can be as cheap as 75% off the standard charter price. Some private jet membership programs offer members highly discounted or even complimentary access to empty leg flights (more on that later).
Given how costly they are to operate, charter companies try to avoid having to fly empty legs in the first place. As a result, they’re often not made available until fairly last minute. The routes are also limited and there’s no way to predict availability.
With these things in mind, there are two major downsides of booking empty legs. First, the flight could be canceled at any time, whether due to mechanical issues, the jet getting booked for another full-priced charter or any other reason. Unfortunately, cancellations do happen and unlike commercial airlines, the charter company would not be responsible for getting you to your destination. Second, due to the nature of empty legs, you’ll typically only be able to book it in one direction. So, you’ll need to find your own way home.
View this post on Instagram
How the empty leg experience differs
Empty leg flights are similar to conventional charters in that you’ll still be able to arrive minutes before your flight. However, empty legs have stricter schedules to follow, so there’s less flexibility with delaying a flight if you’re running late. Additionally, unless you’re booking by-the-seat, you’ll still get the entire jet to yourself on an empty leg.
Unless specifically arranged, empty legs typically come with either no catering or a limited basic catering. This would generally include light prepackaged snacks, soft drinks and basic alcoholic drinks.
Like regular charters, most empty leg deals will list the type and model of aircraft. However, as previously mentioned, empty leg flights are not guaranteed and could be canceled at any time. So it’s important to either have a back-up option or be prepared to cancel your trip entirely if the flight falls through.
View this post on Instagram
How to book an empty leg flight
While not all charter companies market them, most offer empty leg specials. After all, what company wouldn’t want to generate some extra revenue and maximize their fleet utilization? Additionally, there are brokers advertising other operators’ empty legs, essentially acting as a middleman, similar to online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline. However, as with commercial flights, it’s typically best to book direct.
You can browse empty leg specials online through companies like Victor, VistaJet, Jettly, New Flight Charters, among a long list of others. Many sites even let you select your preferred departure airport and create alerts for when new deals become available.
As previously mentioned, empty legs are typically posted at the last minute and the routes are pretty random. However, with the recent surge of charters due to COVID-19, there’s been an increase of deals available, especially on popular routes like New York to South Florida.
While most empty leg specials are for the entire aircraft, XO lets you book empty legs by-the-seat. This makes private jet travel a lot more affordable for those traveling solo or as a pair. Just be aware that XO is known for canceling empty legs quite frequently.
Empty leg flight prices
Empty leg pricing varies by route, aircraft, dates and other details. To give you an idea, they are typically priced about 50%-75% lower than the usual charter. Take, for instance, a flight from New York to South Florida. A mid-size jet charter can run you upwards of $20,000 one-way. However, you can often find empty leg flights on this route for $9,000-$12,000.
These deals can be found throughout the U.S., including coast-to-coast flights, and internationally. For instance, West Coast flyers could book a light jet empty leg from San Diego to Chicago for about $7,250. The full-price for this nearly four-hour charter is usually around $25,000.
You could book a super light jet with seven seats from Cannes to Toulouse-Blagnac (a one hour flight) for just 558 EUR ($680 USD).
Empty leg specials typically reflect the all-in rate, including fuel, landing fees and other surcharges. Since you’re typically booking the entire jet, you’re free to fill all the seats and can bring your furry friends for no additional charge. The savings really add up if you’re traveling as a family. The $8,920 empty leg between New York and Florida shown above would come out to $1,115 per person if you fill all eight seats, the empty leg between San Diego and Chicago would be about $1,000 per person and the empty leg between Cannes and Toulouse would be under 80 EUR per person.
Even better, the pricing for empty leg flights is often negotiable. Just beware that although the operator can cancel your flight at any time, you typically won’t be able to cancel once you commit to an empty leg booking.
Free or near-free empty leg flights
The best empty leg flights are those that are “free.” Several private jet programs offer complimentary or near-free empty leg flights to members.
With a Delta Private Jets Sky Access membership ($6,000 annual fee; no longer open to new applicants), you can book unlimited empty legs departing within 24 hours. You’re guaranteed the whole aircraft to yourself every time, so you could theoretically split the membership cost with a group of friends or family that travel with you regularly. You’ll even get a 20% discount off select Delta fares to get you home from your empty leg destination.
Alternatively, you could now unlock highly discounted empty leg flights through Wheels Up — Delta Private Jets’ parent company. Wheels Up offers several membership tiers, with the cheapest option starting at $2,995 in your first year and then $2,495 per year. All members get access to Hot Flights, which allows you to book discounted empty leg flights for as low as $320 for an entire plane. Members also have access to Shared Flights, Shuttle Flights, and The Community, an online platform of members-only forums to facilitate flight sharing. Other perks of a Wheels Up membership includes the opportunity to fast-track Delta elite status.
Empty leg specials are a terrific way to save on private jet flights. However, you must be flexible to take advantage of them and have a back-up option if your flight is canceled.
Keep in mind that there are other ways to save on private jet travel as well. For instance, companies like Blade and XO let you book by-the-seat on regularly scheduled flights. There are also some airlines like JSX and Boutique Air that offer near-private experiences at commercial travel prices.
For more on private jet travel and exclusive travel experiences, see:
- The best cards for booking private jet travel
- What it’s like to fly BLADEone from NYC to Miami
- Flying (Almost) Private (Almost) to Telluride and Back: A Review of Boutique Air
- Guide to invitation-only airline and hotel elite status tiers
Featured image by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees