Private jets: Are your clients rich enough?

The case for private jets is not hard to make – head to a quiet airstrip 20 minutes before take-off and saunter onboard, perhaps with a puppy in one hand and glass of champagne in the other.

The case for private jets is not hard to make – head to a quiet airstrip 20 minutes before take-off and saunter onboard, perhaps with a puppy in one hand and glass of champagne in the other. It’s an aspiration only the most dedicated environmentalists would deny

Travelling by private jet is, of course, out of the reach of most people. But is it impossible for reasonably affluent clients who already spend thousands of pounds on their holidays to budget for private jet travel? Is it a lottery win away? An inheritance away? Or just a decent agent away?

Eight years ago, Robin Fawcett founded Jeffersons Private Jet Holidays, the first company to put together holiday packages that included private jet travel. The worst recession imaginable hasn’t been helpful but the austerity era appears to be passing.

“Interest is on the up,” says Fawcett. “The majority of customers are ononce-in-a-lifetime trips celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries, while 10% treat them as holidays they might take every year.”

Jeffersons works with agents, including some from Travel Counsellors, offering 5% commission on brochure packages.

Working with an operator on private jet bookings can take the stress out of the process for agents, but just how much strain is involved for consultants who want to offer premium travel without the support of an operator?

Not a huge amount, according to Worldwide Escapes sales director Sarah Thompson, who adds: “Booking a private jet involves no more work than normal flights. Some clients ask for it, while others who haven’t thought of it or deemed it out of reach want to hear more.”

Some companies are not set up to work with agents. NetJets, for example, is not suited to agents because it involves buying fractional stakes in return for flying hours.

Thompson suggests agents new to private jet travel should look at Ocean Sky, Private Air Charter and PrivateFly. Carol Cork, marketing director of PrivateFly, says luxury agents are an “important way to reach our target market”, and believes consultants that know about private jets can enhance a trip substantially.

She illustrated how valuable agents can be by citing a consultant who sent a client to Miami and the Caribbean using a combination of private jets and first-class travel. Many years ago, organising such a trip would have been time-consuming; now, companies such as PrivateFly give price estimates, find the closest airports and can change itineraries at late notice.

The agent in question, Fin Jordan, from London-based Grosvenor Travel, says private jets come into their own when there are no direct flights, helping to save clients travelling time.

This all makes perfect sense but why aren’t the mainstream luxury operators filling seats on private jets?

?ITC Classics commercial director Lee Marshall says the operator does not sell many holidays that include private jet travel despite having the tools to do so. “We do get inquiries from agents, but not many,” he says.

“The problem is the belief they are prohibitively expensive. But many consumers and agents would be surprised how reasonable it can be. We are going to be looking at how we can promote private jet travel more,” he adds.

This could herald a new dawn,? as operators such as ITC tend to lead the charge when niche becomes, well, slightly less niche.

So what is the future for private jet travel? Will it remain transport for the super-rich to own, the fairly wealthy to charter and the affluent to consider only for special occasions?

Perhaps not. Clive Jackson, founder and chief executive of private jet operator Victor, conceived his business to avoid flying no-frills to Majorca.

He believes the type of person who books to stay at La Residencia in Deia on the Balearic island is not going to be content queuing for an easyJet flight. Equally, they might not want to pay for their own jet.

In essence, Jackson is building a community of like-minded holidaymakers. Clients who charter whole aircraft can sell their spare seats or return journeys, while those who can’t afford a whole charter can book seats on other people’s.

This means the price of each seat decreases every time a new passenger gets onboard. Suddenly, a private jet, albeit shared, starts to look like an attainable aspiration.

Victor, which launched earlier this year, is clever and well worth considering. Jackson believes agents can be a major benefactor of the technology by becoming a member of the community and finding flights for their clients.

“For the trade this brings a level of capability that wasn’t there before,” he says. “It’s about lowering the cost for those who already book aircraft and allowing a whole new clientele in. We want agents in the loop, and unlike most airlines we pay commission.”