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“Phantom Aircraft,” is that a Halloween costume?

It happens all the time, a client calls us and requests a price quote for a trip in the distant future. We then go ahead and render a formal proposal, only to be thrown back a quote purportedly provided by a competitor that is not only less than our quote, but less than the operating cost of the plane!

Is there some secret to get private jets for less that we’re missing? As a jet charter buyer, I know you want to believe that the answer is yes. Unfortunately for everyone however, the answer is no. What we’re up against are known within the business as “phantom quotes,” and they are a significant burden to the industry and the unsuspecting consumer.

When a consumer requests a quote from an ethical charter provider, said provider invests a decent amount of time into confirming the availability of an aircraft (or several aircraft) well suited for the for the trip, and then works up a formal proposal that includes all relevant costs. The entire quoting process generally takes anywhere from 30 minutes to about three hours depending on several factors. When you have a solid quote like this, you can rest assured that if you book that quote [when the aircraft is still available], the specific aircraft it is based on is immediately locked down for your trip and you’re good to go.

There are many private jet charter brokerage firms that will provide you with phantom quotes, however. The idea here is that you’re given an offer that is meant to be lower than the legitimate competition. These quotes are often generated within about 5 minutes since no real aircraft is being sourced for them. If you then book one of these trips, you actually have no real aircraft reserved for your flight even though you believe you do. The “phantom quote” private jet charter provider will then start to try and source an aircraft long after you allegedly confirmed the trip. A lot of time is saved this way since the leg-work is only being done for booked trips as opposed to most requests. If the provider scores a great deal for themselves after you’ve already booked, then you’re set. If they don’t however, you’ll likely get a last minute call explaining that “the owner is using the plane you booked,” “there was a mechanical failure,” etc. All of which could hypothetically happen with a legitimate reservation (with odds below 1%), but in this instance are falsified to lead to the statement that you either need to fork over more cash, or release the reservation for a refund. In the end, you’ll likely spend significantly more than you would have spent with a reputable provider to begin with, and will waste a lot more time doing it.

If you think this is a rare practice, think again, it unfortunately is quite common. A few red flags that you have a phantom quote are the following:

  • Your quote seems oddly inexpensive.
  • Your aircraft is offered to you as “XXX aircraft type, OR SIMILAR” (beware of “or similar”)
  • Your quote was given to you almost instantly.
  • You ask for a tail number and are told to wait.
  • You are only provided with stock aircraft photos.

There are a few legitimate reasons a private jet charter company wouldn’t have your tail number immediately or can’t give you photos of the “exact” plane you’re flying, most of which involve the use of “floating fleets” of aircraft which is a legitimate and cost-saving practice. These are still signs that you could be being swindled however.

Many times have I sat across the desk from the CEOs of other reputable private jet charter providers trying to confront this issue. As a consumer, it is important for you to know exactly how your flights are being sourced and to ensure that when you book a flight, a specific aircraft really is booked for you. The real lesson is to work with a company who you trust. I can tell you that you sincerely do have a good selection of trustworthy private jet charter providers who are worthy of your business; there are many out there who are not, however.