I Just Took a Free Private Jet Flight. Here’s How I Did It.

Uber takes underutilized capacity — time that autos are sitting idle combined with driver time — and monetizes it. Airbnb, in theory, takes spare housing capacity and rents it out. The sharing economy is a way of making more efficient use of resources.

There are a number of startups trying to do something similar for private jet transportation. Planes sit idle on the ground waiting for their next trip. Planes fly empty all the time repositioning for their next chartered flight. So the theory is that this unused capacity can earn money by becoming available to people who wouldn’t pay full price but who would be willing to pay something.

Picking Up Unused Private Jet Capacity — For Free

JetSmarter is one of these companies. And they’ve run semi-regular promotions to get attention and possible new members. Back in November I wrote about free private jet flights for two weeks without ‘joining’ the service. Several readers took advantage of that.

Last month they ran a free trial membership offer for anyone with top tier elite status with an airline or one million frequent flyer miles.

What it would get me was 3 months of:

  • Free scheduled ‘shuttle flights’ for one person. I could schedule one at a time, and couldn’t schedule the next until I consumed my already-booked reservation.
  • Free ‘deals’ empty leg flights. These are last minute flights where an aircraft will fly from more or less random cities that turn up on the app.

That’s a whole lot better than pricing that I’ve often seen quoted as:

  • An initiation fee of $3000
  • An annual membership fee of $12,000

Grabbing Today’s Free Private Jet Flight

Since signing up I’ve gotten a couple of discounted offers to join. I was always a long shot to pay for membership, but I still figured I’d try to get the most value out of the trial membership I could and try to figure out what it was worth to me.

Shuttle flights are only available to me if they’re under three hours. Dallas – New York was a few minutes too long. There are no scheduled shuttle flights in or out of my home city of Austin and in my first month I haven’t yet managed to make an eligible leg work for my travel. If I lived in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas or perhaps Jeddah this would be more useful.

Empty leg repositioning flights change all the time. I stalked them for a few weeks then gave up looking, they never managed to work to replace a flight I needed and there weren’t any in or out of Austin or even a nearby city I could position to that worked for me.

Still I wanted to try out the service because while I don’t think I live in a great city to take advantage of their shuttle flights, and I don’t have a schedule that works well to take advantage of last minute deals flying from other cities,

  1. It’s still a free private jet flight
  2. I wanted to share how this all works for readers

Yesterday Mommy Points let me know that there was a Houston to Austin ‘jet deal’ flight scheduled for today. That’s not much time in the air, I didn’t need the flight, but it was easy to position to and wouldn’t take up even a whole day. I was in!

On the plane both of us are on we could each reserve two seats. She brought a friend, I didn’t, we were 3 of the 8 available seats on the plane. One other passenger joined us, he had reserved a ‘plus 1’ who didn’t come. I don’t know whether he’ll be charged a cancellation fee.

Even planning one day out nothing is guaranteed. They tell you can cancel the flight and you shouldn’t make hotel reservations at your destination until you’re wheels up. If the person chartering the plane cancels the trip the aircraft is re-positioning to, they’re going to cancel the empty leg.

But you had better not cancel because close-in cancellation incurs a $1000 charge. The flight is free as long as you take it. If you book it and don’t fly it costs you $1000.

What’s more their rules aren’t quite as flexible as traditional jet travel. They insist you be at the FBO 30 minutes prior to departure, and on board 20 minutes prior to departure. They aren’t going to wait for you since the whole point of the flight is to be at the destination on time for someone else’s trip.

Houston to Austin-ish… on a Private Plane

I arrived at the Atlantic Aviation terminal close to an hour before departure, which game me time to catch up with Mommy Points before the flight. We had an XOJet Challenger 300 waiting for us.

We didn’t actually board until about 10 minutes to scheduled departure, when the pilot checked our IDs against his manifest. In practice we didn’t need to be at the terminal 30 minutes before or even 10 minutes before.

The aircraft had six comfortable seats and a couch.

It was sort of advisable to avoid the last seat in the back, it was too close to the lavatory and the smell wafted forward a bit.

We settled in for the short 29 minute flight.

There was no reason to do this other than to experience JetSmarter in practice. Flying private is a lot of fun. There was no security check. There’s no long boarding process. No fighting for overhead bin space (our bags had their own seat). Very few other people around.

Flying on an empty leg like this isn’t the same as flying private when you charter something yourself. The plane isn’t waiting on you. And the plane could be pulled out from under you. (One friend on Facebook says when that happened JetSmarter paid for a revenue ticket to get him to his destination.)

Still what could be more fun than flying with friends?

I may pick up another flight or two during my three month trial if I can, but living in Austin there are limited opportunities. It’s a good thing I don’t live in New York or Los Angeles though because I’d be sorely tempted to keep up the membership.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Funny. I live in San Diego and did basically the same exact thing on a flight to LA and was on the same plane (Challenger 300). I’m moving back to NY and halfway considered getting membership, but since I fly mostly on points I find it hard to justify the yearly fee. Waiting for something to convince me I’m wrong!

  2. I’ve been a JetSmarter member for almost 2 years and love it – I travel mostly on the weekends and have had simply the best times connecting with my teenage kids who I often bring along and/or friends and other family too – spontaneous empty legs that pop up have afforded us superfun adventures we would not have had planned otherwise. The regularly scheduled shuttle service is great for planned trips too and it’s quite comfortable to travel LA-NY or FL in a Gulfstream or Legacy aircraft. This membership has totally added a new dimension to normal travel for me and has also been amazing exposure for one of my sons, who is interested in aviation and wants to be a pilot. 🙂

  3. My experience was awful. One empty leg it was confirmed and then cancelled about 3hrs before scheduled departure. The other time I was already on the plane and there was a mechanical and the flight was cancelled. Both times there was absolutely no support from jetsmarter. No rebooking, no other options than just a message that the airline industry is volatile and they can’t offer anything if the flight was cancelled.

  4. I have a background in business jet travel, and this model makes zero sense to me whatsoever. A large selling point to private jets is that the jet waits on you, and goes where you want it to when you want it to.

    It’s one thing for scheduled “shuttle” flights, I get that. But the uncertainty is just a non starter for me.

  5. For NYC/LA-based travelers it may be different but, given flight availability out of Houston/Dallas/Austin, I think it would only make sense to have a membership if you needed to take advantage of the scheduled shuttle flights.

  6. Dan, that’s the selling point for the people paying tens of thousands of dollars per flight. The selling point on jetsmarter is to share space on repositioning flights. By the nature of the private jet charter business things change and because you aren’t paying 30k per flight there is no way they are going to wait for you.

  7. Thank you, Wall Street!

    Great you were able to take advantage of the promotion, but I just can’t imagine these folks surviving on this business model.

  8. Unfortunately, they shut down this offer on June 12th when they had said applying for the trial was good through July 1st. I was rejected within the originally advertised period because of this. Not sure I’d trust them to make good on other offers or stay in business after purchasing a membership. Glad you were able to take advantage!

  9. Were you obligated to write a positive post in exchange for the trial you received?

    https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/3/14807340/jetsmarter-private-jet-startup-journalist-extortion-sponsored-articles

    FTA:

    “Upon the execution of this Agreement, Journalist shall provide Company with a credit card and a copy of an ID of the credit card holder (“Credit Card”) and shall authorize Company to charge the Credit Card in the amount of $2,000 should (i) Journalist cancel the trip on the date of departure of the outbound flight or in the event that Journalist fails to arrive at the departure location at the scheduled departure time or other unforeseen delays or (ii) in the event Journalist fails to post the article described above on the first page of this agreement.

    JetSmarter defines that article as “a full-feature article on flight and positive experience with JetSmarter, highlighting the concept and services.” In other words: write something nice, and fast, or you’ll pay!”

  10. @Evan — I never spoke with JetSmarter. I did not get a free PR flight. I took advantage of a publicly available trial offer, which I linked to in this post, an offer I wrote about earlier and many readers took advantage of. And I recommend *against* JetSmarter in this post for someone who doesn’t live in New York, LA, etc.

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