Private jet clubs like NetJets, Regent Jet, and BlackJet have proliferated for a decade along with – and no doubt because of – the indignities of flying on commercial airlines. These high-altitude clubs offer superlative service at a price: 50 hours of NetJets airtime can go for $550,000, making private jetting a massive expenditure for anyone not in the upper echelons of the upper echelons.
But there is a more affordable way to charter a private plane if you're willing to part with the luxury of planning your weekend way in advance. Last-minute deals on private charter planes' empty legs (when the planes are being repositioned for someone paying the big bucks) offer rarefied air travel at a discount.
The least expensive and easiest empty-leg program is offered by the private jet charter service JetSuite, which is currently adding planes to its fleet, thus increasing the number of publicly available flights. The company posts empty legs called SuiteDeals to its website daily. And the prices are more than reasonable. A one-way trip from Santa Monica to Las Vegas costs an oddly specific $536.43. Remember: That's for a Phenom that seats four, not one comfy seat, which means you'll pay $134.10 if you can convince three buddies to come along. With a price point that low, the concern becomes how regularly the planes actually go someplace travelers want to be, which really just depends on the travel habits of the service's members and custom charter guests. Fortunately, the wealthy tend to live in major cities and visit posh spots.
Though some of the flights offered on JetSuite are less than inspiring (paying more than $500 for the hop from Oakland to San Jose doesn't make any sense unless you fear high-speed Interstate 280), it turns out that many of the airlines' most frequent empty legs are actually appealing. Among the top 10 most common SuiteDeals are flights from Los Angeles (Van Nuys, LAX, and Santa Monica) to Las Vegas; Boston to New York; D.C. to New York; and New York to West Palm Beach – easy places to get back from by flying commercial or taking a train.
In a different era, this sort of last-minute deal – all SuiteDeals surface within 48 hours of departure – wouldn't have made sense because of the time and effort it would have taken to find a room in the destination city. But as seasoned travelers well know, we live in the age of mobile booking. By pairing services like Hotel Tonight, which offers deals on immediately available hotel rooms, with SuiteDeals, anyone willing to be flexible can experience tremendous luxury without paying a tremendous price. This strategy makes particular sense if travelers want to hop to a big city where they won't have to worry about there being no room at the inn.
SuiteDeals is not the only empty leg program, merely the most convenient. AirPartner, an extremely luxe British private jetting company, offers discounts on flights around Europe. The discounts, which are released more than 48 hours before the flights, are significant, but so is the bill. A flight from London to Paris costs roughly $4,000, reason enough to take the Chunnel. Empty Leg Market aggregates deals, but offers more confusion than transparency (the interface is difficult and travelers have to call for quotes). Besides which, the point of impulsive luxury travel is not having to worry about the small print. The point is to, however briefly, live as large as possible.
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