Wheels Up and Delta focused on growing corporate customers
The fastest growing part of Wheels Up is its enterprise programme. The corporate team produces about a quarter of all sales. Wheels Up’s corporate enterprise solutions (CES) customers – who spend more than $500,000 a year – are the company’s fastest growing segment, with 117.6% growth compared with last year.
“We are seeing no signs of demand falling,” said Robert Bourrier, EVP global corporate sales, Wheels Up. “Demand from corporates is stronger than ever.”
Bourrier joined Wheels Up when it acquired Delta Private Jets in 2020. Before that he worked in corporate sales at Delta Air Lines. Delta Private Jets had a corporate scheme which Wheels Up adapted and formally launched two years ago.
In April, Wheels Up announced a closer partnership with 20% shareholder Delta Air Lines to add even more enterprise accounts. “We’re focusing on very strategically targeting those opportunities and bringing new opportunities to Wheels Up from the Delta relationship,” said Bourrier.
Wheels Up customers can use their funds to buy Delta flights. Delta customers can also buy Wheels Up flights.
“It makes perfect sense, there is an awful lot we can do together,” said Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines speaking at The Wings Club Luncheon in New York on May 17th. “We have just launched a partnership with our corporate sales team where our corporates who may not be willing to put a big investment into private aviation or may have their own – can on a smaller, almost by the menu option – take Wheels Up opportunities and we can make that as frictionless and seamless in our corporate customer contracts.”
Bastian said that most corporate travel managers buy a lot of airline seats but few regularly get involved in business aircraft charter – which may be handled by corporate flight departments. He said this is a big opportunity for Delta and Wheels Up.
“What we do is sit down with customers to truly understand their needs,” said Bourrier. “We then develop a programme that suits that flying need and really solves the problems that they’re looking to solve.”
Bourrier gave the example of a company flying from New York on a capital raising roadshow. “They might fly from New York to Boston in a light jet. From Boston they might want to pick up another four people and then take a mid-sized jet down to Miami before choosing a bigger aircraft or Delta to fly to the Bay Area,” he said. “We can give them the flexibility to gain access to multiple aircraft on the same day and with unlimited lead passengers so they can put anyone they need on that jet at any time.”
Large users typically sign a two-year agreement depositing one year’s funds with Wheels Up. “Once they realise the advantages, the majority end up under contributing and fly in excess of the initial deposit,” said Bourrier.
He said they are always keen to introduce customers to business aviation. “So if a target organisation has a board meeting that’s upcoming, we are very happy to help them sample Wheels Up,” he said. “Once we get to know them and they know us we can transition them to a broader programme. And then somewhere we get to know them, they get to know us and then transitioning through a broader programme to meet all of it.”
It is not unusual for enterprise accounts to have their own aircraft. “We don’t want to compete with corporate flight departments. What we’re looking to do is be as complementary as possible,” said Bourrier. “When you already have your own fleet, we can be an extension of our fleet when you have challenges around maintenance or demand issues.”
The best part of the job for him is that every client – and agreement – is different. “We may have a customer that owns grocery stores across America with a very active CEO who wants to be in those locations probably once every year. We can get him to three stores a day.” said Bourrier. “It is exciting to be able to do this.”
Wheels Up also uses Air Partner – the brokerage it bought in 2022 – to arrange international trips. Bourrier gave s the example of a company using Delta to fly long-haul to Europe and then using a business jet when they are here. “No one in the industry can do that and execute on it.”
Delta’s Bastian agreed. At the Wings Club lunch Bastian was asked by Phil LeBeau, CNBC’s auto and airline industry reporter, if he regretted investing in Wheels Up? Bastian answered: “Not at all. I won’t talk about the stock, and they are not unlike many SPACs. People talk about trouble with it tends to be more stock related. The relationship is strong. Kenny [Dichter] has done a masterful job over the last decade building a high-quality brand, great experience, a lot of new members.”
Bastian added: “For us to be able to add that to our stack as the premium opportunity within the Delta experience, well no one has ever been able to do that before, and we have been attempting to pull that off.”