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.
Flight time: 5 hrs 45 mins
Estimate charter price: $48,120 (one way)
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.
Flight time: 5 hrs 15 mins
Estimate charter price: $57,600 (one way)
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)
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.
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.
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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