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Picking Charter Flights By Price


Written by: Alex Early, CEO of The Early Air Way
October 28th, 2013

We encounter many consumers in the air charter marketplace who shop for aircraft based on price as their top priority. After all, everyone wants a good deal, right?

I feel obligated to comment on the practice of picking air charter flights by price alone, however. We come across so many instances where a customer compares our trips with slightly less expensive options elsewhere, not knowing that despite a cheaper price, they’re getting a much worse value in many cases.

When looking for commercial airline tickets, although some carriers offer a better product than others, the difference in quality amongst carriers is far less than that of private jet options. Simply put, there are exponentially more variables in private jet flights which dictate value than there are for commercial flights. Because of this, it is much more difficult to properly compare two private jet quotes from two different providers than you may think.

When comparing two quotes from two different companies, you must pay attention to the following:

  • Aircraft Type
    • Do not rely on a size category, it is important to have a specific type of aircraft (or at least a guarantee of what would be sent for a non-type-specific quote). Someone may offer a “Midsize” quote, while another company offers a “Hawker 800XP Midsize” quote. Something like a Sabreliner (Above Right) could be considered a “midsize” jet and is a $250,000 relic of an airplane, whereas a late model Hawker 800XP (Above Left) is a $5.5 million aircraft. All too often do we see people select a “midsize” quote and end up with a really bad airplane for a couple hundred dollars less than something like the newer Hawker 800XP. A $20,000.00 fare on something like a Sabreliner is a ripoff when compared to a $23,000.00 fare on the Hawker 800XP on the same trip, for example.
  • Aircraft Age
    • Generally speaking, the age of an aircraft affects its price on the charter market. There are exceptions to this rule however, generally when longer distance one-way flights are the focus. Although there is certainly a market for older model aircraft, and an old airplane isn’t a bad airplane if it is well maintained and well operated, you should definitely pay attention to aircraft age when you’re comparing different options by price. If you have a plane that’s 20 years older than the other option that is $200 more, you’re probably better off with the newer one. If your provider can’t provide you a specific aircraft age (or at least a range), then you should avoid that option altogether.
  • Aircraft Size
    • Light jets… Nearly every first-time charter client who calls us asks for a light jet, probably because they’re the cheapest. Although there is definitely a time and place for light jets, they can be pretty poor options for trips of longer distances and/or trips with high passenger counts. Although something like a Citation II can seat eight people, you will be far from comfortable. Furthermore, most light jets are slow, have very limited non-stop range, and have very small baggage compartments. Many times have we seen instances of regret for not upgrading to a midsize jet for trips of longer distances, trips with more than 4 or 5 people, and trips where passengers have suitcases as opposed to soft-sided luggage. If you’re flying somewhere less than 3 hours away with 3 people and little luggage, a light jet is just fine, otherwise you may be much happier with something larger. I bring this up however since it is important to know if your less expensive quote is on a smaller plane that isn’t adequate for your trip; if it is, you’d certainly benefit from knowing that fact before showing up at the airport.
  • Safety Ratings
    • Safety ratings exist for the planes, pilots, and brokers who provide the airplanes. Although there are some good providers out there who do not have safety ratings for several reasons, a safety rating is the benchmark method of checking safety quality for charter professionals and consumers alike. ARG/US and/or WYVERN ratings are not meaningless, and we suggest you avoid flights that aren’t rated by one or the other. First of all, a safety rating will quickly guarantee that your flight is even a legal charter flight as opposed to an illegal charter flight. Safety ratings ensure that your flight is legal, your plane is properly insured, maintenance standards are met, and your crew has adequate experience and is properly rated for the specific aircraft being used. Safety rated aircraft are simply worth more than non-rated aircraft. On that note, a broker who is able to provide you WYVERN PASS reports or ARG/US TRIP-CHEQ reports is more valuable than one who can’t as well.
  • Travel Dates
    • Above all else, market availability dictated pricing the most. Market availability is entirely dependent on the specific dates of your trip. If you’re not looking at two quotes for the same exact dates, you’re not comparing apples to apples. The length of your trip is a big factor as well; when daily minimums are involved, a trip shortened by just one day can be up to about $10,000.00 less than the trip that is one day longer.
  • Formal quotes vs. Estimates
    • When my company sends out a quote, we send out a formal proposal that is based on a specific aircraft we have confirmed as available. In other words… if you turned around and booked that quote, you would be done. We compete with many other providers who flood the marketplace with “estimates,” and once you wish to confirm, they do the work we’ve already done to see what is available and often come back to you with much higher numbers. When comparing quotes, be sure to only compare two formal quotes as opposed to estimates. Estimates are fine if all you care about is a quick ball-park of what a trip “may” cost you.

Without boring you any longer, I’m sure you see that there are so many variables that influence the price of private jet charter flights. As an amateur or experienced charter buyer, it is extremely important that you know how to compare two options side-by-side properly. All too often do we see consumers ripped off because they’ve only paid attention to the initial price of a charter and none of the other variables.