Everything you need to know about Wheels Up private jet memberships
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So you want to start flying private? Or maybe you’re already hooked on flying private and want to find ways to maximize your flights. Navigating the ins and outs of private jet travel can seem overwhelming, but one of the easiest ways to dip your toes into the water is with a private jet membership.
There are countless membership options in the private jet world for you to choose from. Today, we’re going to focus on those offered by Wheels Up. There are three tiers available, with initiation fees starting at $2,995 for a 12-month entry-level membership. In addition to access to private jet flights, memberships include more than $35,000 worth of lifestyle and hospitality benefits. However, as you’re going to see, there are ways to get a free or discounted membership.
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Wheels Up overview
Wheels Up is one of the biggest players in the industry and has been growing rapidly through the acquisition of companies including Delta Private Jets, Gama Aviation Signature and Mountain Aviation.
It launched in 2013 with a membership-only model focused on an exclusive fleet of Beech King Air 350i aircraft but has since transitioned to a diversified services provider with one of the industry’s largest fleets of owned, managed and third-party partner aircraft. Members can choose from more than 1,500 planes, including the King Air 350i, Cessna Citation Excel/XLS, Cessna Citation X and many others in the light jet, midsize jet, super-midsize jet and large-cabin jet categories.
The three membership tiers break down as follows:
|Connect Membership||One-Time Initiation Fee – New member ($2,995)|
|Annual Dues for renewal of membership ($2,495)|
|Core Membership||One-Time Initiation Fee – New member ($17,500)|
|Annual Dues for renewal of membership ($8,500)|
|Business Membership||One-Time Initiation Fee – New member ($29,500)|
|Annual Dues for renewal of membership ($14,500)|
We’ll dive into more detail below. To give a high-level overview of the benefits, members get access to preferred pricing, shared flights, empty-leg Hot Flights, Shuttle Flights and The Community, an online platform of members-only forums to facilitate flight sharing. All members also have the opportunity to fast-track Delta Medallion status and earn bonus SkyMiles.
That said, you don’t necessarily need to be a member to book a private flight. In early 2021, the company quietly opened its mobile app to non-members, allowing anyone to book charter flights, albeit at potentially higher rates.
In addition to its membership programs, Wheels Up can assist with aircraft management, whole aircraft sales and advisory services. Later in 2021, it will expand its offerings to include intra-city helicopter transfers.
First things first — you no longer need to be a member to book a Wheels Up flight. Anyone can now book charters on-demand using the Wheels Up mobile app. Flights for non-members are priced dynamically at rates that are not capped. The rates can vary by several factors, including aircraft type, travel date and departure time. However, to give you an idea, here are some sample one-way fares for non-peak days:
- Teterboro (TEB) to Miami’s Opa Locka Airport (OPF): ~$15,300 for a King Air 350i
- Teterboro to Boston/Bedford (BED): ~$5,600 for a King Air 350i
- Burbank (BUR) to Las Vegas (LAS): ~$7,000 for a King Air 350i
In addition to potentially higher rates, all of these examples include additional transaction fees not applicable to members. Non-members don’t have the same aircraft availability guarantees as members or access to features such as shared flights or empty-leg Hot Flights.
Connect is Wheels Up’s entry-level offering. The cost of this membership is typically $2,995 in your first year and $2,495 for all subsequent renewals. However, you can currently purchase a year-long membership for $1,995 through Costco. It’s ideal for those who want access to Wheels Up’s main features, such as sharing flights and booking empty leg flights, without a high upfront commitment. You’re allowed up to two authorized lead passengers.
Benefits of a Connect membership include access to up to four Hot Flights per year, where you can book empty-leg flights from $320 for the entire aircraft. You can also “fly by the seat” on scheduled shuttle flights between New York and Nantucket in the summer or charter flights when you don’t need the entire aircraft. If you’re looking to propose your own shared charter, you can do so through Wheels Up’s members-only community forums. Shared flights are split evenly between the members, so you’re guaranteed to save at least 50% unless you negotiate another cost-sharing arrangement through the forum.
Non-flying benefits include access to “signature” Wheels Up events, such as during Art Basel in Miami and Super Saturday Tailgate, as well as a complimentary FoundersCard membership (normally $595). That FoundersCard membership unlocks a host of other benefits, including discounts on various airlines and shortcuts to airline and hotel elite status. Members can also book Inspirato Hot Nights, which offer specific properties at fixed dates for special rates, although they don’t get a full Inspirato membership.
If you plan on flying private more than a couple of times per year, it could make more sense to buy a Core membership. Membership typically costs $17,500 in your first year and $8,500 starting year two. However, you can purchase your year-one membership through Costco for the same rate and get a $3,500 Costco Shop Card along with a $4,000 flight credit. Alternatively, you can get a free six-month Core membership with an Inspirato Pass or Club subscription.
This membership includes up to four authorized lead passengers. Wheels Up suggests that it’s ideal for those who fly 10 to 30 hours privately a year.
In addition to all of the benefits offered by Connect, members get access to a 24/7 membership services team and dedicated account manager. Members have guaranteed access to (aka the right to book) Wheels Up’s fleet of King Air 350i, as well as light jet, midsize jet, super-midsize jet and large-cabin jets with as little as 24 hours’ notice. Another perk is that members pay capped hourly rates:
- King Air 350i: $4,695/hour
- Light jet: $5,795/hour
- Midsize jet: $7,695/hour
- Super-midsize jet: $9,295/hour
- Large-cabin jet: $12,995/hour
These rates may be lower in some cases, such as if you purchase a Fund Program. Also, keep in mind that there may be additional fees, such as fuel surcharges and deicing fees, although you won’t be on the hook for repositioning fees.
Core members also have access to more lifestyle benefits than Connect members. For starters, members have access to the full suite of Wheels Down benefits instead of just signature events and FoundersCard membership. Wheels Up values the entire benefits package at more than $35,000.
The benefits packet is more than 40 pages long. Some sample benefits include access to a dedicated concierge, automatic top-tier President’s Circle status with Hertz, membership to PS at LAX, meet-and-greets with celebrities and much more. Members also get a full Inspirato Club membership (not to be confused with the all-you-can-travel Inspirato Pass) for access to luxury vacations on-demand.
For companies booking private travel, Wheels Up offers a dedicated Business membership. It costs $29,500 in the first year and $14,500 in all subsequent years and includes up to six lead passengers.
Aside from the higher number of authorized lead passengers, all of the other benefits mostly overlap with the Core membership. Again, you can either “pay as you fly” or purchase a Fund Program to lock in lower rates and lower billable flight times. Depending on how much you commit through the Fund Program, you may be able to get additional perks, such as confirmed one-category jet upgrades.
Delta partnership benefits
Now that Wheels Up has acquired Delta Private Jets, it has maintained a close relationship with the airline. The partnership includes the opportunity to fast-track Delta Medallion status and earn bonus SkyMiles. Soon, Delta flyers will even be able to redeem SkyMiles for Wheels Up flights.
Depending on how much you spend with Wheels Up, you could earn automatic Delta Gold, Platinum or top-tier Diamond Medallion, as well as status to gift to others. Unfortunately, although Delta is making it easier to earn status in 2021, the Flight Spend thresholds were increased for 2021. Here’s how they break down:
|Flight Spend threshold within the 2021 calendar year||Medallion Status|
|$50,000||Gold Medallion (worth $2,120 based on TPG valuations)|
|$90,000||Platinum Medallion (worth $3,660)|
|$130,000||Diamond Medallion (worth $8,420)|
|$180,000||Diamond Medallion plus Gold Medallion|
|$260,000||Two Diamond Medallions|
Flight Spend includes any amount spent on Wheels Up flights, as well as Up membership fees. It also includes any funds you deposit into a pre-paid Wheels Up Fund Program, though Flight Spend will not be recognized until after the flight is flown.
Additionally, all Wheels Up members earn Delta award miles upon paying their annual dues as follows:
|Membership types||Miles awarded|
|Connect Membership||New membership||10,000 miles (worth $120 based on TPG valuations)|
|Membership renewal||5,000 miles (worth $60)|
|Core Membership||New membership||35,000 miles (worth $420)|
|Membership renewal||15,000 miles (worth $180)|
|Business Membership||New membership||50,000 miles (worth $600)|
|Membership renewal||25,000 miles (worth $300)|
While you probably shouldn’t go out of your way to take advantage of these benefits, it might make sense to shift your business to Wheels Up if Delta is your preferred airline and you’re a regular private jet user anyway.
It’s unclear what things will look like on the redemptions side, though they likely won’t come cheap. When Delta Private Jets redemptions were still possible, you needed to redeem a minimum of 2.5 million miles for a $25,000 in-flight credit. This translated to a value of 1 cent per mile, which is just under TPG’s valuation of 1.1 cents apiece.
American Express partnership
In July, Wheels Up launched a new partnership with American Express. Cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express now get up to 40% off Wheels Up memberships. Specifically, cardholders get a 20% discount on their first year of Connect membership and a 40% discount on Core membership. Additional benefits include a $500 or $2,000 flight credit, depending on which membership you get.
Amex Platinum cardholders also get preferred marketplace access. As a non-member, you won’t have to pay the standard $495 transaction fee on your first Wheels Up flight booked through the app. You’ll also get to enjoy one round-trip or one-way domestic flight on a King Air 350i at a guaranteed capped hourly rate.
Those with the Centurion Card from American Express get even greater discounts. Specifically, these invite-only cardholders get 35% off Connect memberships and 45% off Core memberships, bring the first-year costs down to $1,946 and $9,625, respectively. For Marketplace bookings, cardholders get waived transaction fees for two bookings per year.
The information for the Centurion Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
To take advantage of the American Express private jet benefits, enter your card number on this page.
Wheels Up has evolved into a total aviation solution offering services for first-time private jet flyers to aircraft owners and everyone in between. While anyone can book private charters on-demand, you’ll at least need an entry-level membership to unlock Wheels Up’s main features, such as shared flights and empty-leg Hot Flights.
What makes Wheels Up memberships stand out is all of the partner benefits they offer, including highly valuable lifestyle perks and the opportunity to fast-track Delta elite status and earn SkyMiles. Thanks to a new partnership with American Express, Wheels Up memberships are more accessible than ever to premium cardholders.
Featured image courtesy of Wheels Up.
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