Yes, you can fly private — here’s the secret that will help you do it

Aug 27, 2020

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.

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!

New to The Points Guy? Sign-up for our daily newsletter and check out our beginner’s guide.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)
Opa-locka Executive Airport. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

In This Post

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 XOJet, 30%-50% of the private jet charter fleet often flies empty.

Empty leg flights can be as much as 75% off the standard charter price. Some private jet membership programs, such as Delta Private Jets, offer members complimentary access to empty leg flights (more on that later).

Related: Why planes fly with only one passenger on board

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.

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.

Related: What it’s like to fly BLADEone from NYC to Miami

View this post on Instagram

Above First Class.

A post shared by Benji Stawski (@benjistawski) on

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 the utilization of their fleet? 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.

Related: The cheapest ways to get the private jet experience

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.

(Photo by XOJet)

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 price. 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 $10,000-$12,000.

(Photo by Victor)

These deals can be found throughout the U.S., including coast-to-coast flights, and internationally. For instance, at the time of writing, 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.

(Photo by Victor)

In France, you could book a super light jet with seven seats from Cannes and Biarritz (a one and a half hour flight) for just 558 EUR ($660 USD).

(Photo by Victor)

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 $12,000 empty leg between New York and Florida shown above would come out to around $1,350 per person if you fill all nine seats, the empty leg between San Diego and Chicago would be about $1,000 per person and the empty leg between Cannes and Biarritz would be under 80 EUR per person.

Even better, the pricing for empty leg flights are 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.

The best empty leg flights are those that are “free.” Several private jet programs, such as Delta Private Jet’s Sky Access and Wheels Up, offer complimentary or near-free empty leg flights to members.

With a Delta Private Jet Sky Access membership (introductory memberships at $8,500 and renewal at $6,000), 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 cost of the membership 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.

Related: The best cards for booking private jet travel

Sky Access members can book unlimited empty legs. (Photo courtesy of Delta)

Bottom line

Empty leg specials are a terrific way to save on private jet flights. However, you must be flexible in order to take advantage of them and have a back-up option in case 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:

Featured image by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.