Buying jet cards and memberships comes with fine print and industry terms that, if you gloss over, can lead you to choose a program that really doesn’t fit your flying needs.
Previously, we discussed the three types of jet card pricing, covering aspects such as fixed or dynamically set hourly rates, surcharges, and per-flight minimums.
This time, let’s focus on how where you fly affects what you pay by looking at the primary service area, or PSA, and the extended service area, or ESA. Just like the names for jet card plans, PSA and ESA don’t always mean the same thing among different providers. Since many programs are non-refundable, that makes knowing what you are signing up for even more critical.
A key reason so many private-jet flyers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance is for programs that give them contracted hourly or capped rates. That means you know what you are paying ahead of time, instead of having to price out flights trip-by-trip.
Generally, the contracted rates only apply for flights within the PSA or ESA, with the extended area often carrying extra fees and requiring longer lead times to book or cancel.
But first, let’s talk about PSAs and ESAs.
Primary Service Area for Private Jet Flight
For most U.S.-based jet cards and memberships, the PSA covers the Continental U.S. However, that’s not universal.
Wheels Up, for example, limits its PSA to the Eastern U.S., Texas, several western states, and some popular destinations like ski regions and Bahamian islands.
Tradewind Aviation’s fixed rates are only applicable in the Northeast U.S., parts of Florida and the Bahamas, and a region that stretches to 300 nautical miles from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
When your flight begins or ends outside the PSA, pricing is calculated dynamically based on supply and demand and the cost for those flights. This factors in “repositioning” the aircraft. The repositioning legs are the flights made to pick you up if the airplane wasn’t already at your departure airport, and then the empty flight to wherever the next customer starts their trip.
The Size of PSAs
Some programs extend their PSA to 200 nautical miles from the U.S. border. Others only include the Bahamas, while quite a few only include specific airports in Canada.
Volato’s jet card offers fixed rates for flights within or between base regions (San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Miami, and New York City). They vary between 125 and 500 miles, based on how much you deposit ($50,000 to $200,000).
Exec1 Aviation offers fixed hourly rates for flights that begin or end within 500 nautical miles of its base in Ankeny, Iowa.
Even within the PSA, there can be extra charges, such as for high-density airports.
While major airports such as San Francisco International or Chicago O’Hare typically have nearby alternatives, some programs have extra fees for places like Nantucket.
FlyExcluisve adds extra fees for flights that start or end in the states of Washington or Oregon. Several providers have fuel stop disclaimers about summer flights from high-altitude airports like Aspen, which can mean extra money that you pay.
Extended Service Area for Jet Cards
To confuse things, extended service area refers to areas where your contracted rates apply, but there is a surcharge or varied booking terms, and often extra fees to cover international navigation and airport usage.
This usually includes flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, and Hawaii or Alaska—if they are even in the ESA, which is rare.
Programs mostly allow you to use contracted rates in the ESA, but some charge for repositioning, generally back to the nearest U.S. airport with customs. This means it makes sense to have a good idea of where you will be flying before you buy a jet card.
To underscore: While quite a few programs include Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico, they are often limited to specific airports.
Popular destinations such as the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla are often excluded, as they have shorter runways, although the latter’s is being extended. For the operators, the increased chance of diversion means they will fly you there but will price the trip accordingly.
Inconsistent Offerings Among Providers
The varying PSAs and ESAs aren’t necessarily intuitive. Jets.com, a New York-based jet card seller, offers fixed hourly rates between the U.S. and major European countries, but its Caribbean ESA is limited. And it doesn’t include Mexico in its fixed-rate program. Sentient Jet, which invented the jet card, offers fixed hourly rates to a wide swath of the Caribbean and Mexico, and within Europe, but not for transatlantic flights.
It all means that one jet provider may not effectively meet all your needs. I often find subscribers of Private Jet Card Comparisons (where I’m founder and editor-in-chief) buy into multiple programs.
Some are better for short hops, others for flights to the Caribbean; and some have more extensive coverage of Mexico. In contrast, others are useful if you travel intra-Europe or want to fly to Hawaii or go transatlantic. Still others enable you to choose a specific aircraft type, for example, the popular Phenom 300, instead of just a category, like light jets.
How to Decide on a Service Area Plan
While salespeople generally say their company can handle all your needs, not all providers are best for all travel. It’s similar to why you have an SUV for the mountain home and a convertible for the beach place. There are often better mission-specific options.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Make sure the destinations you want to fly to regularly are within the PSA or ESA.
Also, check if the airports or places you want to fly have additional charges, and make sure they are included.
In the future, I will write about additional considerations, such as peak days, daily and segment minimums, and taxi time—all critical factors in how much you will pay to fly the private skies.