I know very little about private jet chartering. I’ve never done it, and in fact I’ve never even been on a private jet. So when PR guru Gareth Edmonson-Jones (formerly of Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue) asked if I wanted to learn more about the new charter company JetSuite (based here in Long Beach), my interest was piqued. While I can’t imagine this ever being something I’d use, I can see the value in it for sure.
There have been plenty of different models used for private jet chartering. There’s fractional jet ownership where you actually own a piece of the plane, and there’s the pay-by-the-hour model as well. With Marquis Jet, for example, you pay $132,900 plus tax for a card worth 25 hours of flying. Yeah, that number makes me cry a little as well. In other words, you’re paying between $5,000 and $6,000 an hour.
Formerly of JetBlue, Alex Wilcox is the man behind JetSuite (conveniently similar naming convention), and I sat down to chat with him about the company in his Long Beach office. Alex explained that the hourly rate method wasn’t really the best way to charge. For example, if you fly on a 6 hour flight on Marquis Jet, you’ll pay the same as if you had 6 one hour flights on different days. The costs are a lot higher for the separate flights than for the single flight, so JetSuite has opted for this new pricing model.
On JetSuite, you buy a DayCard which costs $35,000 for 10 days or $75,000 for 25 days. Let’s say you’re too cheap so you just buy the 10 day card (um, yeah). That’ll cost you $3,500 per day and you can fly for 12 hours during the day. In addition, you pay $999 per hour of flying to pay for the variable costs of flying.
So, a 6 hour flight on a single day would cost $9,500 on JetSuite and over $30,000 on Marquis Jet. That being said, if you needed six one hour flights on separate days, you’d pay $4,500 per flight on JetSuite and $5,500 on Marquis Jet. So the real benefit with JetSuite comes if you do more flying during the day.
One other thing that helps make this work for JetSuite is the airplane they’re using. The Embraer Phenom 100 is a sweet ride with 4 or 5 seats in the back. It’s not something you’re going to see a Saudi prince riding in – the comfort is basic, but the operating costs make it a good airplane for the business. According to Alex, it only takes about 2 hours of flying per day for them to break even.
After all this talk, I was ready to see the airplane. They were launching sales officially that day, so they were flying the airplane from Long Beach down to Orange County for the launch event. Alex had business down in Orange County so he had to drive. I was invited to fly. Sweet, er, suite.
October 29, 2009
JetSuite Lv Long Beach (LGB) 1225p Arr Orange County (SNA) 1245p
LGB: Fixed Based Operator, Runway 30, Dept On Time
SNA: Fixed Based Operator, Runway 1L, Arr On Time
Aircraft: N576JS, Embraer Phenom 100, JetSuite Colors, 100% Full
Flight Time: 15m
We walked downstairs to the airplane and boarded. There were four white leather seats that face each other – two forward, two backward. The airplane is small, and there isn’t a ton of legroom if the person across from you has long legs, but it’s still quite comfortable.
There was a sheet on each of our seats explaining everything about our flight that day. After a very short safety briefing, we were off. Here’s some video of our departure:
I was surprised at how relatively quiet the ride was. I figured we’d be so close to the engines that we wouldn’t be able to hear a thing, but that wasn’t the case. Embraer has made a nice little airplane here. Of course, I didn’t get to experience much of a ride. Our flight took about 15 minutes, and since Orange County was uncharacteristically landing to the north, we had a straight shot in after heading over the ocean.
I can see this being a great way to travel for someone who needs to make multiple stops throughout the day, especially if those stops don’t have direct commercial service. Right now, JetSuite is focusing its efforts on California and Las Vegas. Phoenix will be coming soon. The only real issue with the Phenom is that it doesn’t have tremendous range. You won’t be using this to go to New York, but it can have a lot of other good uses.
After getting down to Orange County and having lunch with the group (FTC disclosure: they bought my $5 lunch for me), I realized that I had to get back home. I figured, hey, there’s no better juxtaposition than to fly a corporate jet down and take public transit back. I pulled out my BlackBerry and Google Maps gave me the best transit options. I love Google Maps.
The ride down took 15 minutes. The ride back took 2.5 hours on 3 different buses on two different transit companies. But remember, that flight down would have cost me, over $1,500 while the bus ride back? Only $4.10. I suppose there can be good value for both.
Updated 11/4 @ 945a to adjust pricing on flight between Long Beach and Orange County