JetSmarter claims to offer 4,000 free miles of flying every month. It is a fantastic deal for customers but, as with all innovators, there are significant risks involved.
How does it work? JetSmarter has four different products: charter broking, where you can book a whole aircraft; shared charter, where you book an aircraft and then sell spare seats; shared shuttles, where you buy seats on scheduled flights and share with strangers; and jet deals, where you can access last-minute flights.
Flights on shared flights and jet deals are often free for members, who can use them as much as they like but only reserve two flights in advance. Members get two tokens each to reserve flights. As soon as they land, they can refresh the app and use the token for the next flight.
JetSmarter members can bring guests on shared flights. The price of this varies between $495, for a seat on a shared Pilatus PC12 flying between New York and Boston, and $6,000 flying between New York and London.
Membership is global, giving you access to flights in North America, Europe and the Middle East. JetSmarter also has plans to launch in Asia.
How much does it cost? Standard membership costs $15,000 for your first year. This drops to $13,000 for your second year. You can fly as much as you like on shorter shuttles and last-minute empty-leg flights.
There are extra costs for flights between New York and London and London and Dubai.
A seat on a Gulfstream GIV SP between White Plains New York and London Luton at 9.00am on 24 February 2017 was $3,430 for a member and $5,990 for a guest. American Airlines was offering a first-class flight for $10,794 at the same time.
The seat on American is arguably more comfortable (a full GIV feels cramped), although it is a daytime flight so that is perhaps less important. On the other hand, the JetSmarter customer would get through immigration faster and need to spend less time at the airport.
Is joining and booking easy? The JetSmarter app is easy to use. The salesperson we spoke to did not know that he was talking to Corporate Jet Investor. He understood the product well, was polite and good at answering questions. He also highlighted cancellation fees on the first call.
He was also careful not to oversell. He would not be led on new shuttles, saying: “We may not launch any new ones for months.”
How do the last-minute Jet Deals work? Business jet operators often have empty flights after dropping passengers off. These could be when the aircraft is returning to its base or flying to a different airport to pick up passengers. Operators and charter brokers call these “empty legs”.
JetSmarter has signed deals with four major operators that allow it to buy empty legs at big discounts. It then makes these available to its members.
Empty legs are great for those who want to take their friends with them. But you may have to return on an airline.
Are there things to watch out for? Cancellation fees apply, even if you have used your token to reserve a seat rather than paying for one. If you cancel more than seven days before your day of travel, you pay $250. This rises to $1,000 if you cancel more than 24 hours before. If you cancel with less than 24 hours to go, you pay the full price of a seat.
JetSmarter will not like this, but a big risk is that many companies that have tried to revolutionise business aviation have failed. Since 1978, there have been more than 195 US airline bankruptcies and the failure rate for business aviation companies is probably higher.
The company says it has recently raised $100 million in financing (valuing it at more than $500 billion) but it is not profitable – and investors are subsidising flights. It also lost its president and CFO at the start of 2017.
But as the cost of membership covers several flights, you could limit the risk by flying early and often in your membership, and by buying it with a credit card.
Is there a cheaper option? JetSmarter is offering a $5,000 founder’s membership. It only comes with one token but you can use it to book empty-leg flights as well as charters.
Perfect for: Early adopters – JetSmarter is adding routes fast so early adopters will benefit from more availability and emptier aircraft – people who holiday a lot and have lots of flexibility, business travellers who regularly visit the same cities, and people who act on the spur of the moment and are prepared to take some risk.
Not perfect for: Those who believe that private aviation should be private, large families, and people who like to book trips in advance.