Flying Private: The Cost And Benefits Of Luxury Travel

Ever since the global pandemic began, the private jet market has been booming. But as a financially savvy person, you might wonder how much does it cost to fly private? Further, are there any cost-efficient ways to fly private? 

Flying private is one luxury that can improve your life once you become rich. No more long security lines. No more sitting next to a massive smelly person who takes up your arm rest. You won't ever have to panic about missing your flight either.

You don't have to be a billionaire to fly private either. A regular personal finance enthusiast who saves and invests 50% of his or her money for 25+ years will probably do. Don't confuse the ability to fly private with the ability to own a private jet. Owning a private jet is a different stratosphere of wealth.

The Inspiration To Fly Private

I told myself in the first half of 2020 that if there was no progress with a vaccine by the first half of 2021, I would take my family to Honolulu on a private jet to see my parents. My parents are in their 70s, so time is very precious.

My goal is to see my parents every year for the rest of their lives. I wasn’t going to let a global pandemic get in the way.

However, as someone who can’t even bear to pay up for business class, I was probably fooling myself. Wanting to fly private was just my defiant way of not letting the pandemic stop us from living our best lives.

I put my foolish dreams of flying private behind once I heard about the positive vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna. It was back to flying economy again.

Then, something magical happened. I learned that Austin mayor, Steve Adler, paid $25,000 to fly eight people on a private jet to Cabo, Mexico while telling everybody else to stay at home while he was in Cabo! He broadcasted his message over Facebook Live with a straight face too!

Once again, my dreams of flying private reemerged. After all, if a politician with a mediocre salary can fly private, why can't I? Adler helps the people of Austin stay at home, which has a population of 970,000. But the Financial Samurai readership population reaches over 10 million a year and restricts no one!

Clearly, my private flight to Hawaii would be a business expense versus paying for it with campaign slush funds. After all, I can't write about my experience flying private to Hawaii if I don't get on a private jet to Hawaii. Besides, I need to host an annual Financial Samurai board meeting with my wife and father.

The Cost Of Flying Private

So what is flying private ultimately going to cost? There are three cost options to flying private:

  • Buy the entire private jet, which can cost between $8.5 million for a small Citation jet and $75 million for a Gulfstream G700
  • Buy a fractional ownership in a private jet and pay for hours
  • Only pay for a fixed number of flight hours up front

Since not many people can or want to buy an entire private jet for themselves, let's skip over this cost choice.

The cost to buy a fractional ownership in a private jet starts at around $300,000 and can easily go up to $1 million, depending on the cost of the jet.

Then you usually pay for a fixed number of hours (25 – 50 hours) a year up front. If you don't use your allotted hours within a calendar year, you usually get to roll over a certain number of hours.

For some private jet charters, you don't have to buy a fraction of a private jet. You can pay can simply pay by the hour. One of the most popular programs is the NetJets Marquis Card. It's similar to a Starbucks debit card. You buy up to 50 hours a year in flight time. This is the most popular cost option.

There are also private jet charters that have established set flight routes to certain cities. As a result, the cost to fly private may be cheaper as well.

More On Hourly Private Jet Flight Costs

According to private jet charter company Air Charter Service, you can expect to pay between $1,300 and $3,000 per flying hour to charter a turboprop or smaller jet plane, which typically seats 4 to 6 passengers.

Flying private via a turboprop plane is loud and unglamorous. Below is a picture of a Cessna Citation, which is pretty cramped when you have to face each other.

For a midsize jet that can seat up to nine passengers, expect to pay between $4,000 and $8,000 per flying hour. Finally, for a larger private jet that can seat up to 19, expect to pay between $8,600 and $13,000 per flying hour.

Therefore, if I were to fly to Honolulu from San Francisco, the cost to fly private would be roughly $50,000 one-way ($10,000 per hour for a five-hour flight) because I'd need a larger private jet.

Here are examples of specific types of jets and costs from San Francisco to Honolulu.

Flying Private From San Francisco To Honolulu (5.25 hours)

OPTION 1: Hawker 800XP

The Hawker 800XP is one of the smallest private jet options for this long-haul option.

Seats: 8
Flight time: 5 hrs 45 mins
Estimate charter price: $48,120 (one way)

Flying private in a Hawker 800XP
[Seats up to 8, but 4-5 is best]

OPTION 2: Citation Sovereign

The Cessna Citation Sovereign is known as the midway between the Citation XL and X, and features a large baggage hold.

Seats: 11
Flight time: 5 hrs 15 mins
Estimate charter price: $57,600 (one way)

Flying private in a Citation Sovereign

OPTION 3: Gulfstream G4

Gulfstream is the most popular private jet brand. When people think of the glamor of flying private, they think about flying in a Gulfstream. If you're under 6 feet tall, you can stand up straight in a Gulfstream G4.

Seats: Up to 14
Flight time: 5 hrs
Estimate charter price: $66,960 (one way)

Flying private in a Gulfstream 4
[A G4 or better is the best way to fly private]

The Cost To Fly Private Per Person

Although it costs more money to fly in a larger private jet, you also get more seating capacity. Therefore, the cost to fly private should really be calculated on a cost per person basis. The more people on the plane, the lower the cost to fly private per person.

Let's look at the Gulfstream G4 private jet again. It can seat up to 14 people uncomfortably and 10 people comfortably. Therefore, if five of us were to fly to Honolulu in a private jet, the cost per person would be about $13,400 one way ($67,000 / 5).

An easy way to lower the cost is to invite another family to share the expense. Once you are a member of a private jet club, you are free to put as many people on your flight manifesto as the jet will allow.

If we got another family of five to fly with us to Honolulu, then the cost would be a more reasonable $6,700 per person, or $33,500 per family of five. $6,700 per person, however, is still roughly 10X what you'd spend flying commercial to Honolulu from San Francisco.

We could also save even more by inviting another family to go to Honolulu. Split three ways, a one-way private jet flight from San Francisco would cost $22,333. If we got 12 people on board, the cost per person would drop to a more manageable $5,583 per person.

You really don't want to pack the private jet to its maximum capacity. If you do, you will start feeling like you're flying economy. That would then defeat one of the purposes of flying private. Some of the bench seats for three flying sideways have no arm rests.

Finally, if you book a roundtrip flight, you should be able to get some savings.

Why You May Want To Fly On A Private Plane

Flying private is obviously an unnecessary luxury. However, here are some benefits or some instances were flying private might be warranted:

  • You want to avoid contagion. To minimize risk of infection from coronavirus or any contagious illness, flying with only members in your pod is a safer way to go. That said, you will still be exposed to the captain and potentially an airline host if you get a larger jet.
  • You need to quickly flee a country. If you have to secretly flee a country, flying private will be an easier way out. Ex-Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn, did just that when he fled Tokyo to Beirut. You may also need to flee a country last minute due to war, a nuclear meltdown, or a coup.
  • You have a medical emergency. If you can't fly anywhere by helicopter, flying via a private jet may help expedite you to the nearest best hospital. There is no need to depend on a commercial airline's schedule, especially when you're in a remote place.
  • You have a big family with pets. If you have a lot of children who are loud and uncooperative, flying private is a great solution. If you have a large dog who would appreciate being free to roam around instead of being tranquilized in a compartment, flying private is also more humane.
  • You put a premium on time convenience. The private jet terminal is separate from the commercial jet terminal. You just show your ID and can sometimes even drive up to your private jet. There's no need to wait in long lines for check-in or security. The wealthier, older, or busier you get, the greater the premium you put on time.
  • You're on an IPO roadshow. Let's say you are a politician on the campaign trail or a private company CEO who needs to see a lot of clients for your upcoming IPO. Flying private is a more relaxing and more efficient way to fit in a lot of meetings in one day.
  • Scared of a terrorist attack. The more people terrorists can terrorize, the better for them. By nature, private jets are not a great terrorist target given their relatively small size. You can't set off a shoe bomb on a private jet if you weren't invited by the person paying for the flight. Further, the people who are going to give up their lives for terror want to take down as many people as possible.
  • You're famous or infamous. Being rich is great. But being rich and famous is terrible. You will be hounded all the time for a picture, an autograph, or some advice. Being able to travel without any paparazzi or disturbances is worth a lot.

What Is It Like Flying Private?

The first time you fly private, you are going to be as giddy as a child on Christmas morning. You will feel special that you're receiving so much personalized attention from the terminal staff, captain, and the stewardess.

Once onboard, you will enjoy moving about the cabin and doing anything you please. On most flights, you will be served a nice spread of fresh fruit and snacks. However, the food quality isn't nearly on par with a fine dining restaurant. It's still airplane food after all.

What is the food like flying private
[A typical food selection flying private on a short trip]

Once you experience flying private, you may tell yourself you're never going to fly commercial again. All those heart attacks you experienced because you got to the airport terminal late will go away. A private plane has a lot more flexibility to wait if you are late because you can simply notify them en route.

However like everything, over time, you will get used to the private jet flying experience. In fact, you will start judging the quality of each private jet you fly as your tastes go higher and higher. If you happen to be allocated a prop plane, you will likely be disappointed because they are cramped and noisier.

Going back to commercial will be tough, but an inevitability for international flights. If you are rich enough to fly private, you will likely use a hybrid approach to flying going forward.

When To Fly Private Quick Rule Of Thumb

One common rule of thumb is to fly private on flights that are three hours long or less.

Given it is the same PITA to check in for a one-hour flight as it is to check in for a five-hour flight, you get more bang for your buck flying private on shorter routes.

On longer flights, not only is the cost cheaper to fly commercial, you can also amortize the pain of checking in across a longer duration.

Further, you can always make a compromise and fly First Class instead. Flying First Class is great value compared to flying private.

For example, my First Class ticket to Honolulu from San Francisco cost $1,685. I had a nice lay flat bed. But to fly private roundtrip would cost between $100,000 – $120,000! That said, I could put up to 8 people comfortably on the jet. But still, that's only $15,000 in First Class seats.

But with First Class, you still have to go through the long security lines.

How Rich Do You Have To Be To Fly Private?

Nobody but billionaires should buy an entire private jet of their own. It's much more affordable to have fractional jet ownership, like a timeshare. The cheaper alternative is to go the private charter route where you pay more per hour for more established routes. As the private jet industry grows, more competition should lower costs.

Given the cost to fly private per person regularly costs 10X the cost of flying commercial economy, I think you've got to earn at least 10X the median household income in America of ~$68,000.

Income Needed To Fly Private

Therefore, to comfortably afford flying private, your household needs to earn at least $680,000 a year. We can round up the minimum income necessary to fly private to $1,000,000 to be more conservative.

Net Worth Needed To Fly Private

As for how much of a net worth you need to fly private, a minimum net worth of $25 million is suggested. $25 million can produce $680,000 a year in minimum annual income using a 2.7% rate of return.

With a $25+ million net worth, spending $30,000 roundtrip to a destination two hours away is very digestible. If you have a $25+ million net worth and earn at least $680,000 a year in active income (not investment income), flying private should be easy.

To fly private on a regular basis, it's best to have both a $1+ million annual income and $25+ million net worth. In years when your income drops below $1 million, even if you still have a $25 million net worth, fly commercial instead.

If you're only flying private once every several years or so, you can certainly make much less and have a lower net worth. But I would say in order to fly private, even once in a blue moon, you need to have a net worth over $10 million.

Flying Private As A Business Expense

As mentioned briefly, way to save money flying private is by making it a business expense. The cost savings will equal your effective tax rate. Given your business will likely also need to earn over $1 million a year in operating profit to be able to afford flying private, your effective tax rate will likely be between 30% – 35%.

In other words, if you buy 50 hours of flight time for $150,000, your actual cost may only bee $97,500 – $105,000. Not only can you conduct business meetings on you private flight, you can give your clients a ride.

If you're trying to curry favor with a politician, welcoming him or her on your private jet is definitely the way to go. For example, getting Bill Clinton on your PJ to fly to your private island is much cheaper than paying him hundreds of thousands to speak at your company.

If you are to expense your private business trips, most certainly charge the cost on your business rewards credit card. This way, you'll also get business rewards points or travel miles for even more benefits.

global air fares soaring compared to U.S. inflation, average airline ticket price

More Ways To Save On Flying Private

If your schedule is flexible, you should look out for empty leg deals. Empty leg deals can offer up to a 75% discount. An empty leg is a non-revenue repositioning private jet flight.

In other words, a private jet that has dropped passengers off on a one-way leg. It has to return to its home base for another flight. Instead of flying back empty, the jet can be commissioned out to flexible travelers at a reduced rate.

Private jet services such as Jettly and XO will often list their current empty leg deals and routes online. The flyers who benefit most from these empty leg deals tend to be flyers who live in higher populated cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Finally, if you really want to save money flying private, the best way is to befriend rich people with private jet accounts. Rich people like having friends too.

The hourly cost will be the same for the rich person regardless of how many people are on the plane. Therefore, if the rich person likes you, you can always catch a ride with them. Just make sure to do something nice for them in the future. Not even rich people like to feel taken advantage of.

For you billionaires or dreamers out there, here's a fun video of the latest $75 million Gulfstream G700. Fire up the jet Alfred!

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Related posts:

The Best Way To Travel For Free And Lower Your Taxable Income

When Will You Finally Feel Rich?

How To Feel Rich Even If You Can't Get Rich

The Airplane Game: To Make Flying Less Miserable

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33 thoughts on “Flying Private: The Cost And Benefits Of Luxury Travel”

  1. Or you can buy a light jet like Cirrus Vision Jet for 2.5M and spend under $1,000 per hour. It won’t go to Hawaii but most people do a lot of shorter flights.

    If you have time and desire to become a pilot you could buy a nice used Cirrus SR22 for around 500k and spend $150 per hour. I own SR22 right now, it’s amazing for trips under 500 miles. I get to places faster than flying commercial and I don’t have to deal with lines, TSA or too much Covid exposition.

  2. So informative! Let’s go with reality, private jet is pricey but absolutely worth it if you really want to treat yourself and loved ones. And I bet there are awesome deals out there so I’ll keep on searching. It’s still on my bucket list. Flying private is a wonderful way to go with kids.

  3. Eli Richardson

    It’s great that you talked about private air travel and how there are different ways to fly on one. Recently, my sister and I decided we’d like to take the whole family on vacation. We think we could save time and be safer by flying on a private jet, so we’ll be sure to look into it! Thanks for the advice on how to save money while flying privately.

  4. I am a longtime entrepreneur. My wealth has grown to ~30 Million and my income is around 3-4 million a year these days. Part of the reason I became quite wealthy is conservative spending. Just the same, we have loosened the purse strings quite a bit and we now fly first class for domestic travel and business class for international. But I don’t feel wealthy enough to drop 30k on an airplane ride to fly private. Maybe I will feel differently when I get older if perhaps my net worth gets up to around 50 or 100 Million.

      1. once you get to $10 mil a year in income, owning a 12-15 year old G200 or similar outright is very doable

        200 hrs a yr of flights would run you ~$900k or so. aka 5k or so an hour & you have absolute control of exactly where/when the plane is 24/7/365

  5. Nice article. Some inaccuracies. I have over 20 years experience in Aviation. I’m an ATP rated charter pilot and currently work in charter brokerage.

    If you ever want to talk hit me up!

    1. How does it work as a charter pilot of a private jet when the owner wants to do overnight trips/ vacations? Do you stay in a hotel? Or fly home in between?

  6. Great article, but you missed the least expensive way to fly with no commitments – forget the NetJets card or any jet card program – you’ll overpay and have to buy a block of hours. Here’s the inside scoop:
    1. go to
    2. select “Operators”
    3. in first “drop down”, select “ARGUS rated” (that’s the company that rates the safest Operators- and yes, you want the safest)
    4. Select your country, state, city (if it’s NY, don’t bother entering a specific city)
    5. You’ll see a list of Operators- pick one that’s been in business a long time, and one that’s ideally “ARGUS Platinum-rated”. Call up and ask to speak with Charter Sales.
    You’re welcome!

  7. How does one buy carbon credits? Shouldn’t this be added to expense of private jets? It’s estimated private jets emit twenty times more carbon dioxide than commercial. Just a thought.

    1. Pretty easy to buy carbon credits and pay to plant dozens, if not hundreds of trees. Think about how many people who fly commercial make up for their carbon footprint versus those who fly private.

      1. If one were really concerned about CO2 emissions one would simply ban the sale of carbon credits as all they do is provide an incentive for bad behavior. Tesla makes more selling credits than they do cars thereby encouraging other manufacturers to delay implementing new technology. The same applies to private jets – carbon credits simply give the flyers the false illusion that they are offsetting their emissions.

  8. Hi Sam,

    Cool Article! I follow you regularly (and newsletter) and dig your site. I am retired from Business Aviation after 32+ yrs as a professional pilot. Cool article, however I have some advice regarding your trip across the pond to Hawaii and the various aircraft that are actually capable of “Safety” doing the trip. Drop me a PM when the time comes and I would be happy to advise you behind the scenes and questions for your charter company and lend some clarity to the requirements of a Hawaii trip. You must be more cautious of choosing the correct aircraft and crew for this type of trip vs your everyday private jet hop around the mainland….BTW, I’m a semi-retired real estate investor and now manage our own small but growing portfolio of MF properties in Colorado and investing in MF, Self storage and MHP syndications and other portfolios…Cheers!

    1. Cool! Feel free to let me know the pitfalls here and what to look for. Are you saying given it’s a relatively long flight that I need to go with the G4 or higher with longer range?

  9. David @ Filled With Money


    There was a time in my life when I wanted to fly private to gamble in Las Vegas. I was doing pretty well for 3-4 months where I was making $6,000 a month consistently. I was looking into private flights to Vegas because I had thought the rules at Vegas were a lot better than my local casino (I was wrong).

    Alas, everything ended and I ended up losing the $20,000 that I won from the house. No flying private plane dreams have emerged as of yet!

  10. And then I leave and come across this:

    Which says the richest 1% of the world are responsible for twice that of the collective 50% at the other end.

    It also mentions the top 10% of are responsible for about 45% of energy used by land-based vehicles, and about 75% of all the energy used by aviation.

    Sigh, maybe dirigibles will come back in fashion.

  11. It’s great to be rich, granted.

    It’s terrible to be rich and famous? Eh, for some, others lap it up. Celebrities, especially in entertainment, and even if they don’t like what goes with being famous, have generally accepted the fame as the price they pay for the fortune.

    The really terrible thing is being famous and NOT rich. These are the people I really feel sorry for. For example, it includes a lot of child stars.

  12. I fly the large cabin Gulfstreams for a living for a Fortune 100 company. No matter how many years I do it, it’s still amazing every time I climb aboard.

    You might consider an article about the massive economic activity generated by just a single jet flight. The hotels, rental cars, fuel uploads, catering, landing fees, FBO charges, etc. It’s eye opening. I’ve written about it on my own site, but I don’t get millions of visitors a month. :)

  13. Jet suite X flies out of the Bay Area and whilst it’s not 100% private jet experience, it’s great for the price… in terms of minimum airport time either end of the flight, no TSA and small aircraft. Shame they don’t fly to Hawaii!

  14. For a bucket list trip I could see someone earning a million a year to take a trip in a private jet. Flying private regularly I would think you need to earn at least a couple million a year.

    The 25 million net worth makes a lot of sense. It also crushes all my dreams of being able to fly private in retirement. :)

  15. Wow a G7 looks amazing!! I can see what you mean by how much more luxurious it is than the smallest private planes. It would be a dream for me to fly private especially with kids (I’d probably want to go see my parents way more) but gosh I can’t swallow those prices! If there ever was a time to splurge on flights I can see the temptation to go private during this pandemic. But I don’t think I could ever willingly pay that much. Maybe if I tripled my net worth I could consider it lol. Fun post thanks!

  16. Agree with a lot of what you said. Have flown private many times for business…I still don’t mind flying commercial so I haven’t experienced the whole ‘you’ll be spoiled and won’t want to fly commercial’ aspect. However if I was truly wealthy – in that over $10mm invested wealth category, the one thing I would spend/splurge on would be flying private.
    Private gives you back the most valuable thing there is…time. Time getting to the airport early (you can arrive one minute prior to departure for your private flight and still be ‘on time’). Also time using large commercial airports, which, among other things, aren’t always convenient to where you want to go. If I’m going skiing in Colorado, I would much rather fly out of Addison airport (small executive airport in Dallas) directly to Gunnison/Crested Butte regional. That saves me hours of drive time/sitting time/possible commercial flight delay time, as well as all of the hassle of airport security/Covid protocols/etc.
    I think the concept is not always easy for some of us who have come from meager backgrounds and see money/wealth as something to hoard and not spend (frivolously by some standards). If you can get past that hurdle, flying private is definitely worth it.

    1. Nobody minds as much when one doesn’t have to pay for the flight!

      I agree with you on time, especially once you’ve past the age of 50 and have the means. Hopefully, flying private gets cheaper with more competition over time.

      The pandemic should accelerate competition and supply!

    2. I imagine when you are ready to go past that hurdle it just kind of disappears before you even have to leap it.

      I recall a time when I would agonize over whether or not to go out to dinner, and I would generally only do it at intervals measured in months. Now its strictly a matter of time and calories, I never even think about the cost.

      Of course, I don’t go to the French Laundry either, or even order their takeout.

  17. Our chemical facility had a Citation jet dedicated to business use. We were three hours away from a decent airport and a lot of us traveled a lot due to the continuous plant additions and upgrades under design and construction. I logged a lot of hours on that jet, but the time I remember most was one day my first year at work. They wouldn’t fly the jet just for one junior engineer but that day the other two passengers had to cancel at the last minute so there I was flying solo. Two pilots making twice my salary and me. I remember thinking that I had to be the only first year engineer out of my university who was sitting in his own private jet that day. It sure was a nice way to travel. We’d fly from Arkansas to Chicago, work the day there with our engineering contractors and still be home in time for supper!

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