Just because you don’t own a private jet doesn’t mean you can’t fly on one. Imagine getting on a plane without the hassle of extra-early arrival, crowded airport terminals, insufferable security lines, and overflowing baggage claim. If avoiding all those pitfalls of commercial air travel sounds too good to be true, it’s not.
The old notion that only rich Wall Streeters and celebrities could afford the luxury of private jet flights has been replaced with the new reality that just about anyone can take off in a private jet.
Granted, you’ll have to pony up some cash to enjoy the perks and privilege of flying private. But with so many options at the ready, you’re likely to find it’s well worth the cost when you consider how much you’ll gain in time, convenience, and comfort.
So, what’s the best way to find cheap private flights? Glad you asked. In this guide, we’ll detail the ins and outs of flying private on the cheap, plus we’ll reveal the top tips and tricks so you can get the lowest prices when flying high.
What Are Private Flights?
First things first: When we talk about flying private, we’re referring to any flight that is not part of a scheduled commercial airline. While owning a private jet is still an indulgence of the ultra-wealthy, the more common option today is private jet charters.
A jet charter flight is one you book for private use and it doesn’t require airplane ownership. You can rent the entire aircraft on an as-needed basis, pay for a membership program, own a fraction of it (i.e., fractional ownership, which is similar to owning a timeshare), or book seats on-demand similar to how you would book a ride with a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft. (Interestingly enough, there’s now Uber Copter in New York for those times when you prefer getting to the airport in a chopper.)
How to Book Cheap Private Flights
Now that we’re clear on what private flights are, it’s time to talk money. Here’s the inside scoop on how to get the best private flight deals so you can take to the friendly skies in style without completely breaking the bank.
Don’t Fly During Peak Travel Times
Your Monday morning commute might be a nightmare on the road, but Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest times to fly private, according to a study done by review site Private Jet Card Comparisons. As such, you might not want to fly on these high-demand days to avoid potential price hikes. Peak travel times also occur during major sporting events, festivals, and the holiday season.
Not only will you need more lead time to book your jet travel during these peak periods, but you could also incur surcharges similar to the surge pricing of various ride-hailing apps like Uber. If you simply must travel during a high-volume day or season, consider planning ahead so that you can be a little flexible with your travel dates. Changing your schedule by just a day or two in either direction can be better for your bottom line.
Take Advantage of Empty Leg Flights
If you can be flexible with your travel dates and open to last-minute deals, then “empty leg flights” just might be the cheapest private flight option you’ll find. Empty legs are unsold seats on existing one-way charter flights. Because you’re sharing the ride with other passengers (as opposed to booking the entire plane yourself), you save money. Think of it as a luxe, on-demand air taxi minus the traffic.
JetSmarter, Wheels Up, and JSX (formerly JetSuiteX) are just a few of the private aviation companies that offer these types of flights, which, by some estimates, can save you thousands of dollars. While there’s no guarantee you’ll find a flight heading to your desired destination on a specific date, it can be worth the gamble.
Check out the listings from New Flight Charters brokerage where you can find hundreds of available flights around the country.
Travel With a Group
Much like splitting the bill for a meal or renting a house with a roommate, sharing the cost of a private flight can save you loads of money. If you’re intent on booking an entire plane, the price stays the same whether you’re the only person in the cabin or you brought your entourage. While this might not make the most sense if you’re heading to an important business meeting, grouping up is ideal when planning a vacation, bachelor party, or another special occasion.
Remember That Size Matters
If you’re thinking about chartering an entire plane, don’t forget that size matters. For example, turboprop planes (jet engine with a front propeller) are a more affordable option when flying shorter distances — for example, flying from New York City to the Hamptons, or Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
And unlike larger jets, turboprops can land on shorter runways, which lets you choose from a wider selection of airports. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group, you’ll pay substantially less if you book a flight on a smaller plane. Here’s a breakdown of jet sizes:
- Turboprop: Seats 4-9 people
- Very Light Jet: Seats 3-5 people
- Light Jet: Seats 6-8 people
- Midsize Jet: Seats 7-9 people
- Super-Midsize Jet: Seats 8-10 people
- Heavy Jet: Seats 10-16 people
- Ultra Long-Range Jet: Seats 12-18 people
With this in mind, we created a sample flight on the Evo Jets charter flight cost calculator. We selected a round-trip flight for six passengers from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO). For an executive turboprop, the estimate was $10,900-$14,000, which comes to around $1,816-$2,333 per person. However, when we upgraded to a midsize jet (which also seats 7-9 people), the cost jumped to $16,400-$20,000 or $2,733-$3,483 per person. That’s about a thousand-dollar difference per person!
And just for kicks, when we opted for the heavy jet, the cost soared to $30,200-$36,900 per flight or $5,033-$6,150 per person. Not exactly a cheap flight. Keep in mind these were estimates not formal quotes, but they clearly illustrate the point that flying with a group on a smaller plane is almost always going to provide you with the cheapest private flights.
Be Flexible With Airports
Another tip for snagging cheap private flights: Compare airports. Just like commercial flight airfare often fluctuates based on where you depart and land, the same goes for private jets. For instance, flying into Burbank airport can be a lot cheaper than flying into LAX. When you have the flexibility to choose a different airport in the same area, you could end up saving a good chunk of change.
Keep Your Options Open
You’ve heard the old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Well, you’d do well to heed that advice when it comes to flying private. There’s no need to only choose one air charter company. Don’t be afraid to do some comparison shopping when looking for private flights. It might take an investment of time, but you’ll end up reaping the financial rewards.
Frequently Asked Questions
While we trust you now know a lot more about how to find cheap private flights, you might still have a few questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about this increasingly popular way to travel.
1. What’s the cheapest way to fly private?
Empty legs are often the cheapest way to fly private. While these last-minute deals can be canceled and don’t necessarily coincide with your preferred travel dates, some estimate that you can save up to 75% with prices that are comparable to commercial flight fees.
2. How much does a private flight cost?
On average, it costs somewhere between $1,300-$3,000 per hour on a turboprop or light jet, $4,000-$8,000 per hour for a midsize or super-midsize jet, and $8,600-$13,000 per hour for a heavy jet, according to Air Charter Service brokerage.
3. Do you have to go through security on a private plane?
No, that’s one of the major perks of traveling on a private jet. While there’s a good chance you’ll have to show your ID to the pilot, you won’t be subjected to TSA screenings and putting your laptop, shoes, belt, and 3.4-ounce toiletries in security bins. In many instances, you can show up just 15 minutes before your flight since there are no long security lines.
It’s Time to Live the High Life
Flying on a private jet is no longer a privilege for the rich and famous. With the rise of on-demand services, products, and transportation, it’s no wonder that air travel is more accessible than ever. So, when you have first-class tastes but a coach(ish) budget, consider private flights. With so many options and perks, you just might end up flying high while keeping your budget firmly grounded.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.