The Hollywood Reporter's Guide to Booking a Private Jet
UPDATED: What it costs, what you get -- and why it's easier to do than ever.
This story first appeared in the July 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Actually owning a private jet is plausible only for those with sky-high assets. Not counting the eight-figure sticker commanded by the new $65 million Gulfstream G650 owned by Steve Wynn and director Peter Jackson (who replaced his hardly obsolete G550), annual operating costs can top $500,000 before wheels leave the ground. Chartering a plane, while not cheap, is an increasingly attractive option, with companies demystifying the private-jet business through consumer-friendly approaches. "This is a golden age for private aviation consumption," says Bradley Stewart, CEO of XOJet, which does heavy charter business with the entertainment industry. "There are more planes, more competition, more business models. The cost in real dollars is less than it has ever been."
WHY CHARTERING IS HOT NOW
Jet chartering evolved into a growth industry during recent years as plane owners, stung by the recession and whipsawing fuel prices, became less punctilious about renting out their $50 million trophies. With chartering, you pay only for flights you actually take, plus companies now actively cater to the occasional charter customer through online reservation systems that are as easy to use, if not easier, than those of any airline. By contrast, fractional ownership -- a sort of time-share-in-the-air for which upfront costs range from a few thousand dollars to millions for larger jets -- usually makes financial sense only if you fly privately more than 20 hours a year, according to SherpaReport. The two biggest competitors in the fractional arena are Flexjet, owned by jetmaker Bombardier, and Warren Buffett's NetJets.
WHAT IT COSTS
The number of passengers and distance to your destination determine the size of plane you'll need and the amount of fuel required. Fuel is the largest line item in charter costs -- the more passengers and baggage loaded, the more fuel the plane will burn. Charter operators and brokers generally present a single quote based on an hourly rate that covers the flight plus a host of charges including crew per diems, deicing fees and a 7.5 percent federal excise tax. Expect a New York-to-L.A. round-trip on a 10-passenger super-midsize Cessna Citation X to run about $50,000; an L.A.-to-Vancouver round-trip on the same class of plane, $42,800; and an L.A.-to-London nonstop on a large-cabin 14-passenger Bombardier Global Express, $145,000. A great amount of charter business is finding passengers to fill "empty legs," those otherwise passengerless trips where an aircraft is flown to pick up its owner or other charter customers. Filling an empty leg can reduce the price of a one-way flight. Sites like CharterMatrix allow you to browse for empty legs as they become available.
WHAT YOU GET
Among the benefits of flying private are "safety, convenience, anonymity and time," says Glenn Hinderstein of Glencoe Aviation Group, who arranges travel for industry power travelers. Amenities vary from plane to plane: Flight attendants are not the norm, especially on smaller jets, but can be requested for a fee. You usually can count on leather seating, burled-wood accents and a stocked bar. XOJet owns and operates a fleet of Challengers and Citations and guarantees each has complimentary Wi-Fi, premium snacks and an espresso machine. Catering can be had for $100 to $150 a passenger. Says Stewart, "We'll get you In-N-Out Burger, anything you want -- it'll be on the plane when you get on."
HOW TO BOOK
Booking early doesn't affect price but increases destination options. Private air companies have worked hard to make the charter experience as streamlined as booking a regular airline seat. XOJet offers a fixed-price option on 22,000 city pairs -- simply plug in your departure city and destination on its website and receive a quote. But using an independent broker increases your chances of getting the best deal. Brokers have long-standing relationships with charter operators and can finesse contracts. "I put my clients in the safest and most cost-effective environment because I'm able to work through all the options for them and say, 'Here is the best one for you,' " says Hinderstein. The Air Charter Association of North America (flyacana.org) certifies brokers that meet its criteria for ethics and professionalism.
With JetSuite's SuiteDeals promotion (producer Gavin Polone is a fan of the company for short hops), the company posts empty-leg sales daily via Facebook, ranging from $499 to $1,499 — per aircraft, not per person--on one leg of a journey on a Phenom 100 or Citation CJ3s (seat six). SuiteDeals are released at the end of the business day, Pacfiic Time, for flights usually departing the next day. Availability is extremely limited and bookings are accepted on a first-come, first served basis. Facebook.com/jetsuiteair.
These brutes are Boeing and Airbus commercial airliners reconfigured with bedrooms, boardrooms and acres of personal space. Donald Trump's 757-200 -- bought from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for $100 million and available for charter -- sports 24-carat gold seat belts. Boeing Business Jets include the cavernous 747 and 777 as well as the narrow-body 737 (Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg share ownership of one).
Passengers: 25 and up
Cost per hour: $4,300 to $7,800 for one of the big boys
The appeal of large-cabin jets is just that -- a cabin that approaches the roominess of a commercial airliner. The latest iteration of Gulfstream, the G650, can fly 7,000 nautical miles, or enough to convey Jackson from his home in New Zealand to Hollywood on a single tank of gas. The Bombardier Global Express -- owned by Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller and Michael Eisner -- likewise is an ultra-long-range flying pleasure dome powered by Rolls-Royce Deutschland turbofan engines.
Passengers: 10 to 14
Cost per hour About $5,600
You're most likely to encounter midsize when flying domestically. Most have transcontinental range, though the cabins aren't as capacious as those of large-cabin jets. The Hawker 800, which accommodates eight passengers, is the most popular. Super-midsize jets offer larger cabins and longer range. The Bombardier Challenger 300 seats 10, has a cabin 6 feet high and 7 feet wide and can fly nonstop westbound across the U.S. without refueling.
Passengers: 6 to 10
Cost per hour: $2,600 to $3,700; for super-mids, $3,500 to $5,500
These descendants of Bill Lear's original Learjet 23, derived from the design of a Swiss fighter during the early 1960s, are snug -- you'll duck your head to enter -- seat six to eight passengers and are best suited for short to medium trips such as Los Angeles to San Francisco or Vegas. The Embraer Phenom 300, Learjet 40 and Cessna Citation models are typical. Even smaller, very light jets -- like the Embraer Phenom 100 -- hold four passengers and can fly about 1,000 miles before refueling.
Passengers 4 to 8
Cost per hour $1,900 to $2,500