There is no bigger sign that you have made it in life than using a private plane. Driving right onto the tarmac just 15 minutes before takeoff, skipping the queues (or not bothering with the actual terminal at all), stepping aboard and slumping into a big, comfy chair. No one breaking your ankles with a suitcase, no screaming children, and no awful plane food.
But where you might think such a lifestyle is reserved for Silicon Valley bigshots, Lewis Hamilton and nine-figure lottery winners, the market has recently been flooded by app-driven, on-demand jet chartering services.
- Before you fly, make sure you read T3's ultimate guide to travel
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Some of these operate their own fleets of aircraft and charge a monthly fee for unlimited access to specific routes, while others act as brokers offering a wide range of flights on aircraft of various sizes and levels of refinement.
Finally, other operators provide access to so-called ‘empty legs’, where someone else’s private jet is being flown empty to where they need it, and the seats on that flight are up for grabs.
Before we get too bogged down in the cost and logistics of it all - because the hidden fees can be eye-watering - let us ogle at some of the best private jets for sale today, in case you really have just sold a billion-dollar app.
The best private jets you can buy in 2018
Gulfstream G650ER - from approximately £50m
With a range of 7,500 nautical miles and space for between eight and 19 passengers depending on configuration, the Gulfstream G650ER is the quintessential private jet. It has a cruising speed of 0.85 mach (650mph) and a cruising altitude of 51,000 feet, comfortably above that of commercial airliners and above most turbulent weather.
A trick up the 650’s sleeve is its ability to fully replenish the cabin’s air every two minutes and produce a cabin pressure which is closer to the air at sea level than any jet in its class.
This means being in the cabin is like breathing air at 4,000 feet - half the altitude of the air in commercial airliners - helping to keep your blood oxygenated and reduce fatigue.
Embraer Legacy 450 - from approximately £10m
For something smaller - and cheaper - the Embraer Legacy 450 is a highly-rated jet in the mid-light class. It has a range of 2,900 nautical miles, seats seven to nine passengers depending on the layout, and two of the seats can fold flat to create a double bed.
This jet cruises at 45,000 feet, so not as high as the Gulfstream but still above commercial jets and the worst of the weather.
HondaJet - from approximately £3.2m
This pint-sized jet is a newcomer to the private aviation scene, but is the fastest in its class with a cruising speed of 480mph at 30,000 feet. There’s space onboard for a pilot and five passengers, or two members of crew and four passengers.
That may sound fairly spacious, but the HondaJet really is compact; the cabin is just 1.52 metres wide and 1.47m tall, so you can’t actually stand up in there unless you’re a child. But hey, at this price you can’t complain too much.
How to fly private without being a multi-millionaire
It’s all well and good praising the HondaJet’s ‘low’ price, but remember that £3.2m price doesn’t include fuel, fares, landing fees, pilot wages, de-icing or anything you actually need to go on your holidays.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the app-based, on-demand alternatives to get you into a private jet for a fraction of the retail price.
One of the most well-known players in the on-demand private jet business, Victor can source aircraft for almost any occasion at short notice. So if you need to take a dozen friends on a stag do, your family on holiday, a business partner to a meeting, or cargo to anywhere in the world, this service can help. In all, Victor has access to over 7,000 aircraft worldwide.
As well as offering entire planes of various sizes for your private use, Victor also operates in the ‘empty leg’ business, where you can catch a ride on someone else’s plane as it is being transported without the owner onboard.
We enquired about flights from London (or Farnborough, to be exact) to Geneva with a week’s notice and a few minutes later received quotes ranging from £5,150 to £9,421 one-way. This is still eye-wateringly expensive compared to BA or EasyJet, we know, but the cheapest was for a four-seater jet, so it was actually just under £1,290 each. The more expensive jets worked out at £1,330 for each of the seven seats.
This cost includes fuel, taxes, fees and refreshments (including an open bar). However, it does not include de-icing, which Victor tells us can cost between £500 and £2,500 for its smallest jets, depending on the weather. The company also told us that it recently saw a £5,000 de-icing bill for a seven-seat aircraft, so your skiing holiday could have a serious sting in its tail.
Speaking of skiing, the bonus of chartering a jet instead of slumming it on a regular flight is that these planes can land at smaller Alpine airports which are closer to the resorts. You can also take pets on board, providing they have a valid passport.
Stratajet is another app and web-bases booking system. It's a super slick process, with instant price quotes (not estimates) and instant booking. You can choose your origin and destination, see total travel time and discover airfields that save you time and money.
There are no subscription sees, and Stratjet's patent-pending technology efficiently reschedules empty aircraft to your route – helping you get the cheapest flights possible.
Customers of Stratajet range from teenagers to octagenarians, and a third of its passengers are first-time private jet fliers. Between 30-40% of Stratajet’s bookings are families travelling with children, too.
Surfair - from £650 per seat, per flight or from £2,550 per month
Think of Surfair as an Uber for private air travel, but with a monthly membership instead of paying as you go. The smartphone app lets you book a seat on Surfair’s scheduled flights in 30 seconds, and once booked you can turn up at the airport just 15 minutes before the departure time.
In Europe, Surfair operates flights between London and Zurich, Cannes and Ibiza, with extra destinations like Paris, Geneva, Milan, Dublin and Berlin coming soon. Surfair’s European fleet is made up of 10-seat Embraer Phenom 300 executive jets and six-seat Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft.
Individual flights cost from £650 per seat, while worldwide membership (where flights are free) starts at £2,550 per month, rising to £3,150 after the first three months.
This website offers a huge range of flight routes and aircraft options, from helicopters and small jets up to a ‘VVIP’ Boeing with seating for 30 of your nearest and dearest. Flights from London to New York on a 12-seat Legacy 500 start at £52,700 return with just a week’s notice - working out at £4,400 each, or around £2,000 less than a first class flight on BA with the same notice period.
If you’re feeling particularly flush, the 30-seat Boeing - complete with bedroom, office and bathrooms - costs £290,000 for a three-day return, or just under £9,700 per seat. A snip, considering the £100m price tag.
Putting our sensible hats on and looking for a flight comparable to the London-Geneva deal we were offered by Victor, PrivateFly suggested a four-seat Cessna jet for £4,800, or £1,200 per seat.
However, if you opt for PrivateFly’s ‘large airliner’ selection, you can bag a 180-seat Airbus A321 for £27,800, which works out at £154 each. Bargain.
We admit that chartering a 180-seat commercial airliner, then packing it with half your Facebook friends list and offering them a ‘private jet experience’ identical to that of a budget airline, but for triple the price, probably doesn’t feel particularly luxurious. But it’s nice to know that if your lottery numbers ever do come up, you can quickly - and affordably - throw one hell of a party.
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