Victor offers single seats as new approach to private jets
Victor claims it can ‘democratise’ private aviation. The company, which aims to cut the cost of private jet travel by selling individual seats on charters, will struggle to convince flyers to share their jets. But they might do well as a charter broker.
Clive Jackson, a London web entrepreneur, used a scheduled airline when travelling between his home and his holiday villa in Palma de Mallorca. That was until BMI cancelled the route.
As he sat on the airline’s last scheduled flight he thought there must be an alternative to low-cost airlines. After conducting a quick poll of his fellow business passengers, Jackson left the plane with several business cards. He promised them he would provide a solution.
That solution was Victor.
Victor is a free membership website that promises to cut the cost of private jet travel by: allowing users to buy single seats on other members’ charters; sell spare seats on their own; or get together with other members to charter a flight.
It launched on August 15 after a six month soft opening. It now has contracts with 38 business jets operators, with more than 170 aircraft (which allows it, mischievously, to claim that it has access to more jets than NetJets Europe). By the middle of October it had 486 “members”. It costs nothing to join.
At the most simple, members can use Victor to book flights. As you would expect from the founder of one of London’s most highly regarded web development agencies, the site is elegant and well designed.
Jackson also believes he is bringing a unique consumer perspective to private aviation. “I looked at it from the standpoint of the consumer, and as a consumer this is what I would design,” he says, “with Victor you’re not listening to some guy on the end of a phone telling you you’re getting the best deal, all the information is there so you can make an informed decision.”
Jackson sees a future without what he calls the “black art” of private jet brokering. “If these guys don’t add value, then why do we need them?” he says.
Jackson believes that Victor can do for private aviation what comparison sites have done for consumers in insurance and energy markets.
“Look at comparethemarket.com [a UK car insurance comparison site], people always want to get the same thing for less money, and the way to do that is transparency,” says Jackson.
He says Victor provides as much transparency as it can. A flat transaction fee of 5% is charged, which Jackson claims is significantly lower than most brokers (although one broker said due to competition 5% is common for brokers, who typically aim for around 7%). When entering a charter request, the website offers users an indicative cost based on previous charters booked by other members and Avinode pricing.
However Victor still operates much like a traditional charter broker. When a request is made three quotes are obtained from different operators and the buyer makes a choice. The difference is Victor conducts the entire process online, from request to booking.
What is different to broker websites is the ability to purchase individual seats on chartered aircraft. Members selling their spare capacity get 70% of the revenue from any seats sold.
Victor’s model is based on the idea that passengers are willing to invite others on to their flights to save money but its founder admits that the majority of them are not taking the offer.
The problem for Victor is that while aiming to make private jet travel more accessible to those who cannot afford to charter a whole jet, the decision to offer their spare seats is left to those that can afford to pay.
Jackson disagrees. “Say a couple charters a six-seat business jet for £6,000. If they let us sell the four remaining seats and they are all taken by other members, they get a call from us saying ‘you’re now paying about a third of that.’ That’s a pretty nice buzz to have.”
Members can also indicate an interest in future flights and the system responds directly to customer demand.
An algorithm recognises when several members have indicated they are interested in flying the same route on the same date, automatically pre-books a jet for that route and date and offers the seats to those passengers.
“We want to democratise private aviation,” says Jackson, “we enable like-minded individuals to use their collective buying power to fly for less.”
By focusing on cost, Jackson wants to open private aviation to a wider audience. Victor allows members to ‘bid’ on seats, indicating, for example, that they are willing to fly if three others join the flight to make their seat a quarter of the cost of the whole charter.
Victor’s founder and CEO is confident that he has found something that works. “Our website’s conversion ratios are very good, and I’m very confident in demand,” he says, “we’re going to take this Europe-wide and then to the US.”
This could be good news for airline passengers who lose scheduled services.