Forget airport chaos. Canada, you can fly private. It might be cheaper than commercial. There is even the possibility to book with reward points.
A few things may surprise you if you think flying private is a privilege reserved for CEOs, celebrities, and Instagram-famous influencers. In an era of travel when commercial airports are understaffed and travellers are dealing with long security line-ups, constant cancellations, endless delays, and lost luggage, flying private solves all your travel woes. But before you step into the world of flying private, here is a guide that will help you charter a private airline that will meet your travel needs.
What is a private jet charter?
In the past, corporations, business travellers, professional athletes, and celebrities have been the most prominent jet-setting customers. However, in this post-pandemic era, with commercial flying being a headache, families, high-end travellers, and small groups have sought private jet companies to solve their commercial flight conundrums. Private jet charters operate from smaller airports and don't have to adhere to strict schedules like commercial carriers. Additionally, there is a perception that private jets are unattainably expensive; however, there are 4-5 different ways of booking a private jet, making this style of travel more affordable than you think.
What are the perks of flying private?
Besides feeling like a rockstar or lavishing in a lifestyle suitable for royalty, flying private offers plenty of benefits. Unlike commercial airlines, private jets do not have to adhere to strict schedules. If you decide to charter an entire plane for your personal use, you, the client, can choose what time is most convenient for you.
Another perk of flying private is avoiding the hustle and bustle of a commercial airport and no more waiting in long security line-ups, scrambling to take off your shoes, empty your pockets in front of TSA, or searching in vain for a seat in a crowded lounge. Most private airports allow you to arrive a mere 15 to 20 minutes before take-off.
Bring what you want
Imagine if you never had to be subjected to excess baggage fees, annoying security line-ups, body scans, or overly-crammed overhead bins? Flying private gives you the freedom to bring what you wish on board, including your beloved furry friend. Putting your pet on a commercial flight can cause them great stress and anxiety, or worse. Skip the worry and let them fly right next to you in style and comfort.
No more lengthy connections
One of the reasons flying private is in such high demand, especially now, is because it is the most time-efficient mode of travel. You get to zip between destinations with few interruptions.
No more worrying about lost luggage, booking yourself into dingy, overpriced airport hotels, or having to sprint between terminals to make your next connection. While some private charters may require a quick fuel stop, depending on the distance between airports, you will spend far more time enjoying your holiday than getting to and from it.
Better food & drink
We all know airline food is nothing to write home about, but flying private can be champagne and caviar if you are willing to pay for it. Charter airline companies are able to provide upscale culinary experiences as wild as your imagination, complete with crystal, designer dishware, and of course, a bar stocked with whatever you wish. And that pesky, clanging dinner cart blocking the aisle every time you need to use the washroom? A thing of the past.
Privacy and exclusivity
One of the fastest-growing groups of travellers is families. If you've ever travelled with loved ones, specifically young children, you know how stressful it can be. Disrupting your fellow passengers with fits of laughter or fatigue-driven tantrums is always a concern when flying commercial.
Flying private on your next vacation means your family is insulated from looks of disapproval, and you never have to worry about being seated together. You can quite literally schedule your flight around nap times if you are so inclined!
Now you understand why flying private has become so popular! Now it's time to get to work finding a charter company that meets your unique travel needs.
How do you choose a private jet company?
If you are new to flying privately, don't be fooled by the numerous glossy websites with point-and-click travel booking engines. Before you hand over your credit card, there are numerous things to consider. When you're doing your research, here are a few things you need to know before you settle on a private charter company:
- Who owns the individual plane or the fleet
- What is the name of the company or business?
- How long have they been in business?
- How old are their aircraft?
- Are they insured, and most importantly, does their insurance extend to you?
- Is the airline registered with Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if you're flying in the United States?
- What destinations do they fly to?
- Are they financially sound with no liens, lawsuits, or pending financial issues?
- What is the protocol if your private jet experiences mechanical issues?
- What is their crew capacity?
- If you're flying internationally, will they provide you with customs and immigration forms?
That seems like a lot of questions, and don't worry; there won't be a test later. But unlike commercial flights, you must do your due diligence when flying private. Your personal safety, financial investment, and time are all very precious. Doing the leg work now means you can soar at 35,000 feet with peace of mind.
What are the different ways to fly private?
If you are looking to fly private for your next vacation, there are at least five ways to book your trip. And if you are in the market for your own set of wings and have some extra cash laying around, purchasing a private jet or a share in one are both options. In the meantime, here are the most common and most affordable options for booking a private flight:
Empty leg flights
An empty leg flight is precisely as it sounds. These flights take a plane from point A to point B without any passengers because it needs to reposition for a paying client. Companies will often sell these flights at a steep discount to mitigate gas costs and compensate for revenue loss.
This flight option is perfect if you're planning a last-minute escape and are not super fussed about the destination. Empty leg flights are generally announced 24-48 hours before take-off. Most charter jet companies will provide notifications of such flights if you sign up on their website. Depending on the charter company, some will offer a discount on the hourly rate, while others will provide a flat rate.
What is that? Do you have to share your seat with someone? No. Seat sharing occurs when you book a single seat on a private aircraft that has already been chartered. It is is also called a ‘shared charter' or ‘flight share.'
A seat share can be booked as a one-way or roundtrip, and while this is the least expensive way to fly private, there are limitations. You do not have the flexibility of choosing your schedule, and you will be travelling in somewhat close quarters with passengers you do not know. Actually, you do that already on a commercial flight.
The upside of a seat share, besides affordable pricing, is that they are common and are found on both popular as well as more exotic routes. This option is best for you if you are travelling solo, with a travel partner, and you have some flexibility with your vacation plans.
Chartering your own jet
This option provides you with the most privacy, convenience, and the ability to customize your experience entirely. When you charter a flight, the cost is determined by several factors. Your final invoice will depend on taxes required by departing and arrival airports. It will also depend on your final destination, the number of crew on board, and the size, age, and style of the aircraft.
Chartering a private jet is costly. However, it is undoubtedly a fantastic way to rack up those points on your favourite travel credit card. And the cost is relative. If you are booking a small to medium size group, then you're splitting costs between your guests.
What are the cost differences between commercial and private flights?
The cost of flying private is generally worked out on a per-hour basis and can price out anywhere from $800 for a turboprop to upwards of $90,000 for a larger private jet. You can even charter a commercial airliner, and that could set you back upwards of $250,000 an hour.
Now, if you're purchasing a business class ticket from Vancouver to Toronto, you can expect to pay $1800 to $2200 for a roundtrip. If you book a seat share with a flat rate, you can pay as little as $750 per direction. The key to getting a good deal is adding your name to a notification list and keeping your schedule flexible.
For example, Chronoaviation is based in Quebec, with charter airplanes available in Quebec City, Rimouski, and Montreal. Their smallest airplane seats 9 people. The cost charter the plane to fly from Montreal to Toronto is $15,295 plus tax. That means it is $1,699.44 per person before tax. You can pay for it using the payment method of your choice. They can leave with 2-hours notice, 24-hours a day.
However, Paramount Business Jets will fly you round trip from Montreal to Toronto for $14,161.75 ($11,034 US). You can have as little as 2 or 4 passengers.
We checked a Wednesday same-day ticket, meaning you want to buy a flight leaving today, in Business Class. We used the Hardbacon flight comparison tool, we found a flight for $1,492 including tax. It leaves late in the evening. You get a free carry on baggage and you can pay $56 for a check bag. Of course, economy seats on same day flights from major carriers can cost as low as $642. You use major airports and go through security and are subject to lines and usual delays.
Where are the best places to travel on a private jet?
Flying private can make the most mundane of destinations feel exciting, but there are so many destinations around the world that can only be accessed by private plane. Spend a few days lounging like a celebrity on Richard Branson's ultra-exclusive Necker Island in the Caribbean. Fancy a tour around the Arctic? Hire a private charter and explore the stunning Faroe Islands by air. And if you're in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Africa, Namibia's wild Skeleton Coast can only be accessed by private plane. Private charters can bring the pages of National Geographic to life.
How can you pay for your private flight?
Depending on how often you want to fly private, there are a number of payment options. There are currently only a few private jet companies with credit card programs. However, there are still plenty of ways you can benefit by using the right credit cards. Here are two you may want to consider:
American Express Platinum Card
If you are looking for a high-end card that packs a punch, with no pre-set spending limit, and access to one of the best private jet programs out there, this is the card you want in your wallet. Not only does it have excellent travel insurances, the Amex Express Platinum is one of the only cards on the market that allows you to redeem points for private flights. It also offers 5x Rewards points per dollar when you book your flights directly with Amex Travel. You also get to enjoy discounts with their ‘Wheels Up Premium Private Jet Program.'
Read more about the American Express Platinum Card
TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite*
While the TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite* does not have a private jet program, you are sure to rack up those reward points when you book your charter with this card. Cardholders enjoy 3 points for every dollar spent and have access to a number of travel benefits, including discounted hotel stays, vacation packages, and good travel insurance. If you are planning a vacation with multiple components, including commercial flights, the Expedia for TD program gets you 9 points per dollar spent, plus it makes it easy for travellers to redeem points at their convenience.
Read more about TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite*
For frequent flyers, jet cards are of the most preferred way to pay for private travel. This premium travel product operates much like a debit card, allowing you to prepay for your flights, either at an agreed-upon contracted rate or at a dynamic rate, depending on the airline. The terms and conditions can be somewhat complex, so it's important to read the fine print of your contract. In terms of cost, a jet card can start from $150,000 for 25 hours of flight time. There is a great deal of variation with jet cards, so in the same way, you would compare and contrast travel credit cards, you should do the same when you're seeking a jet card.
Should you buy travel insurance?
Flying private is almost always 100% non-refundable, so you should buy trip cancellation insurance. However, not every travel insurance company is willing to cover the cost of flying private. What should you do?
You need to start with your contract with the charter company. Make sure you go over the terms and conditions with a fine tooth comb. You should understand what will happen if they have to cancel, as well what the penalties are if you have to cancel.
Next, talk to your credit card company to see what sort of coverage they offer and if they don’t offer enough coverage, seek out insurance companies who will be willing to create a policy for you. Hopefully, this guide will give you a jumpstart on your private charter research. With scenes of airport chaos and faces of distraught travellers watching prompters filled with cancelled flights making their rounds across social media, commercial travel is as volatile now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. If you are willing to try something different and upgrade the way you travel, there has never been a better time to fly private on your next trip.
Examples of Canadian private airplane charter companies
Canada has a lot of private airplane companies. Here are just a few to consider.
Chronoaviation: based in Quebec City, Rimouski, and Montreal
Starlink Aviation: based in Montreal
Flightpath: based in Montreal, Toronto, Barrie, and Kitchener. It offers empty leg flights.
Paramount Business Jets: based in Vancouver. It offers a prepaid Jet Card program.
Sunwest Aviation: based in Calgary. It offers empty leg flights