TPG Reader Experience: How JetSmarter Has Changed for the Worse

Sep 15, 2018

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Today, we’re sharing a TPG reader’s (ultimately negative) experience with the private jet service JetSmarter. Keep in mind that this post only reflects this reader’s views — if you love JetSmarter, we’d love to hear your perspective.

As the saying goes, sometimes things are too good to be true. That has been my experience as a member of JetSmarter.

When it first launched, JetSmarter offered its members a program which was centered on three key offerings:

  • Unlimited and free shuttle flights — Shuttle flights were marketed as “regularly scheduled” by JetSmarter and offered to members free of charge. The routes were initially New York – South Florida, New York – Los Angeles, New York – Las Vegas and a few others.
  • Unlimited access to free empty leg flights — Empty legs are flights where planes are moved from one location to another without any passengers. These flights were marketed as last-minute and pretty random.
  • Lower rates on chartered private flights — JetSmarter promoted that its scale in the industry would allow it to offer members a more favorable rate than competitive charter options for on-demand and truly private travel.

An Initially Promising Service

When I signed up in 2016, I paid a $4,000 initiation fee and $9,000 per year that I was a member. I was quite enticed by the shuttle flights. I happen to live in New York, and business takes me to South Florida and Los Angeles quite frequently. As a business traveler, the prospect of not having to deal with arriving at the airport early, TSA lines, carry-on restrictions and all the other hassles of commercial travel was quite appealing.

My first experience on JetSmarter was a good one. I booked a flight from Westchester (HPN) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) about a week before my trip. I took the free helicopter transfer from the west side of Manhattan up to HPN (JetSmarter provided free heli-transfers on flights from New York). From there, we boarded a beautiful Challenger 850 and made our way to Fort Lauderdale. I thought that I was really on to something. Unfortunately that was my first and only great experience with JetSmarter.

Things Take a Turn for the Worse

Since 2016, JetSmarter has been routinely devaluing my membership, changing the program offering without notice and providing some of the most uninspiring customer service that I have ever come across.

JetSmarter couldn’t keep up with its growth in membership. The shuttle flights got much harder to find availability for and, although JetSmarter promised that it would, it didn’t add more capacity. It did grow its route map relatively aggressively, though the capacity still never quite matched up to the demand. What that meant for us members was that it became harder and harder to find availability on flights as they were being booked up by other members. Speaking as a business traveler, having to set my travel schedule 4+ weeks in advance is simply unrealistic. Especially with JetSmarter’s punitive cancellation policy, I found myself on Delta more often than not.

Following on the disappointment with capacity, JetSmarter canceled the free heli-transfers and added an additional fee (+$1,000) for trans-con flights. As luxurious as private travel sounds, in many ways private jets filled to capacity aren’t that comfortable. So, there went a major route that I was counting on. For +$1,000 per leg, I will absolutely take the amazing JetBlue Mint or Delta One over JetSmarter’s false promises.

Fast-forward to the current situation with JetSmarter, and its offering doesn’t even resemble what was sold as a membership. Now all shuttle flights come with an additional cost. JetSmarter is crowd-sourcing flights. Essentially, one member will “start” a flight; guaranteeing JetSmarter a minimum amount of revenue and then offer the additional seats to members. JetSmarter has taken the strategy of adding the letters VIP in front of shuttle to justify the new cost. Sorry, there is nothing VIP about a Phenom 300 with 8 people on board, and it’s certainly not worth ~$1,400 to fly on such a “VIP” flight from HPN – FLL. I’ll keep my Platinum status on Delta and deal with the inconvenience of commercial travel.

Bottom Line

My experience with JetSmarter has been all-around disappointing. Private aviation could be disrupted by an innovative operator. JetSmarter had the promise, the cache and the funding from some high-profile investors, but ultimately didn’t follow through. I would urge all people thinking about membership to carefully consider you’re buying into and what you can realistically expect.

Featured photo courtesy of Jetsmarter.

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