One of the most popular trends in business today is the subscription model. Services like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime have dominated their industries, and private aviation is no exception. Two of the industry’s most popular subscription-based membership programs, Wheels Up and JetSmarter, have revolutionized the private aviation industry with their unique offerings.
The attractiveness to consumers is a streamlined ordering process and customer service that caters to VIP expectations. JetSmarter is backed by a significant amount of international venture capital. and Wheels Up is the brainchild of Kenny Dichter, an entrepreneur who also invented the modern jet card program.
These subscriptions models, in contrast to ownership, fractional ownership, or jet cards, do not require a significant up-front payment or long-term commitment. Members pay a reasonable initiation fee and relatively low annual dues, but they are locking in guaranteed hourly pricing on a pay-as-you-fly basis, paying only for hours flown, or buying those flight hours in bulk at even more heavily discounted rates.
On a pay-as-you-fly basis, members have access to Wheels Up’s private fleet of King Air 350i and Citation Excel/XLS aircraft every day of the year, with 300 days of guaranteed availability for an Individual and Family Membership, while a more expensive Corporate Membership guarantees members 315 days of availability each year. Members pay fixed hourly rates with only 24 hours’ advance notice required for booking.
Wheels Up’s pre-purchase program requires members to purchase account credits that can be used for flight services on any of Wheels Up’s aircraft, charging the hourly rate of the flights against the account credits. The more money paid up front, the more guaranteed availability and “Peak Day” access members receive.
The biggest difference between Wheels Up and JetSmarter is behind the scenes. While the user experience is very similar for both, the way they operate is completely different. Wheels Up owns its own fleet of aircraft, operated by Gamma Aviation. With Wheels Up, members know what they’re getting each and every time. With JetSmarter, there are more operational variables.
For Wheels Up’s Individual and Family Membership, today’s initiation fee is $17,500 with $8,500 in annual dues starting in your second year. For a Corporate Membership that gives entire teams access to Wheels Up flights and its other benefits, Wheels Up charges a $29,500 initiation fee and $14,500 in annual dues starting in the second year. Of course, fees are subject to change, so check Wheels Up’s website for current pricing.
Wheels Up also has a shared flights program, allowing members to propose flights for shared travel with other members to reduce the cost of flying privately. Other members can view proposed shared flights, and, if it fits within their plans, join a flight for a reduced cost.
With a Wheels Up membership, members have access to the Wheels Down program, as well, which provides exclusive access to events, concierge, and other benefits. Wheels Down parties and celebrations, typically based around events like the Super Bowl and the Masters, are often hosted by any number of Wheels Up’s celebrity ambassadors, including professional athletes, entertainers, and industry leaders.
JetSmarter is similar to Wheels Up in that it’s a membership program that gives members access to discounted rates on private flights. With JetSmarter, members also have access to even more heavily discounted rates for empty seats on shared charter flights called JetDeals, and periodically have access to free flights on established routes between popular cities called JetShuttles.
JetSmarter has a shared flight program, as well, where you choose the location and allow others to buy the empty seats. When those seats are purchased by other JetSmarter members in the form of JetDeals, a portion of the savings is passed on to whomever initiated the shared flight, as is the case with Wheels Up.
The major difference between JetSmarter and Wheels Up, other than the free JetShuttles that JetSmarter offers, is on the back end. Whereas Wheels Up owns their entire fleet and uses a single operator, JetSmarter aggregates empty charter legs from a variety of operators and sells them to its users. When you purchase an on-demand charter flight, you’re simply using JetSmarter as your charter broker.
According to JetSmarter’s website, the initiation fee varies from year to year (we’ve heard $3,000 to $5,000), and annual dues range from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the current state of the market and the plan chosen.
Like Wheels Up, JetSmarter members have access to exclusive events with celebrities and top-of-the-line concierge services. JetSmarter also offers helicopter transport from select airports to popular destinations in order to bypass traffic.
Which one is best for me?
Both models serve their own purposes. JetSmarter’s value is in its free JetShuttles, which can be incredibly valuable for members who live in or frequent some major U.S. cities and are game for a spontaneous trip. They use those free flights and discounted JetDeals to get people in the door, and make their real money off of on-demand charter. For those that need to get to a certain place at a certain time, and must schedule their travel in advance, Wheels Up is likely the better option.
We have some colleagues that actually have both a Wheels Up membership and a JetSmarter membership, in order to take advantage of the streamlined on-demand services that Wheels Up offers and the free flights between popular cities that JetSmarter provides. As is the case with all private aviation options, whether or not it’s valuable depends heavily upon the user’s mission.
Do you have experience with either Wheels Up or JetSmarter? Let us know in the comments!