Private jet travel is on the up and there is excellent earning potential on offer for agents. Gary Noakes rounds up the options, from private charters to tour packages
That distant part of the airport where private jets are parked seems like another world for most travellers, but there is a market for ultra-premium flying and it is one that some lucky agents can be in.
Industry figures for August show private jet usage at its highest since the 2008 recession and with short-haul business class – where it still exists – becoming less and less exclusive all the time, private jets are a viable option if you have clients who have the required cash.
Few high street agents will be chartering large jets for corporate use, but there is a lucrative niche for weekend breaks and special occasion charters that will not break the bank.
As an example, PrivateFly offers a two-night return package on an eight-seater Citation jet. Flying from Luton, the aircraft lands at Geneva, ideal for a weekend’s skiing in the Alps. The €11,300 price works out at €1,412pp; not cheap, but not mind-blowingly expensive either.
The primary driver of private jet travel is usually not the absence of a premium cabin on a conventional airliner, however – more the convenience it offers.
Where airline schedules necessitate an expensive overnight stay, for example, a private jet can be cost effective for those whose time really is money.
Similarly, being able to bypass crowded airports by flying from dedicated terminals, such as those at Luton or London City, is another bonus.
“It’s never going to be the same price as an airline, but it’s more cost effective than people think when you start to factor all this in,” says Carol Cork, co-founder and marketing director of PrivateFly.
She admits that a lot of agents find private jets “overwhelming”. “It’s a product that is little understood. It’s very fragmented; we have 7,000 aircraft on our network, but most private fleets are only 5 to 10 aircraft. That’s why an intermediary can simplify things.
“We work with lots of luxury travel agents who generally want flights of two to three hours. We may provide them with online tools that they can use internally or on their website as a white label. More commonly, they hand over to us and we work on a commission share basis.”
Air Partner is another brand that works with agents and operators. “Often we will package a destination with a high-end agent and provide jet charter,” says group marketing director Julia Timms, who adds that Air Partner is “big on cruises”.
Timms believes there is an opportunity for the trade in promoting the sale of “empty legs” – flights on aircraft that have been chartered for a one-way trip and which need to return to base.
She says savings of “50%” are possible, particularly for last-minute sales, making them a viable option for a short break when combined with a regular scheduled flight.
“We do a lot of these, because it’s a reasonable price,” she says, adding that they are popular with stag and hen parties wanting to travel in style – the onboard service includes champagne and full catering as standard.
Empty legs can provide another option for agents by building a package led by the flight rather than the destination.
“It’s a bit of an education process, but people will often change their minds on where they want to go; maybe they have never tried a private jet and it’s a special occasion,” Timms adds.
If, however, price is no barrier and clients really want to blow the kids’ inheritance, perhaps a private jet tour is the answer.
South Africa-based operator andBeyond aims its escorted tours at groups of up to 12. Its Africa and Beyond package departs September 2019 for 12 days and includes experiences such as rhino tracking by helicopter in Botswana. The itinerary starts in Kenya and finishes in South Africa and costs $70,000pp.
The operator’s chief executive Joss Kent says the take-up has been “wonderful” and has prompted many tailor-made bookings.
“The target market is high net-worth individuals who value travel that is based on immersive experiences and who want to make the most of their precious time, having little of it to spare,” he says.
“The VIP logistics and the use of our own jet allow us to access destinations directly, without needless stopovers or queues.” The company pays agents commission and will work with them to customise itineraries.
Established brand names have already seen how attractive this market can be. The Four Seasons Private Jet Experience offers eight countries in 24 days in autumn 2018, departing Seattle and including Rwanda, the Seychelles and the Galapagos, for $138,000.
Abercrombie & Kent offers 20 nights in Africa from £77,080, departing Madrid and including Botswana, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Another package option closer to home comes from Melia Hotels, which pairs ME Ibiza, the island’s only Leading Hotels of the World property, with a private jet charter. A six-night package from London, based on 12 travelling, is €25,000pp.
Coming back down to earth, if clients are unable to afford a private jet, but want all the trappings that surround it – including private security screening and dedicated customs and immigration staff at their service, there is another solution.
Signature Elite Class runs VIP terminals at Luton, Gatwick, Antigua, Barbados and Grenada. After mingling with the rich and famous in the luxury lounge, you are driven to the steps of your aircraft like a film star.
The experience is not cheap – from £475 for the first passenger at Luton and £120 for additional travellers, but as a means of boarding a Ryanair flight, what can beat that?