Private aviation vs. semi-private aviationYou may hear the terms “private airlines” and “semi-private airlines” used interchangeably, but there are a few important differences between them.
PrivateYou charter an aircraft and crew to whisk you and your companions from point A to point B. Private aviation has plenty of perks. Since most operate from smaller airports or FBOs (fixed-base operators), you can arrive just a few minutes before takeoff or relax in a lounge before your flight. Inflight, the only other passengers will be your traveling companions, and you’ll have plenty of space to stretch your legs. The customer service is top notch, too. Of course, flying private doesn’t come cheap. Prices start at between $1,250 and $3,000 per hour of flight time for 4-6 passenger planes, and prices go up from there. Some private jet companies offer memberships, where you pay a flat yearly rate for access to flights with as little as 24 hours' notice (an hourly charge still applies).
Semi-privateThis offers many of the same benefits of flying private, but without quite as much sticker shock. You’ll still enjoy a quick security screening and boarding process, great customer service, and the convenience of flying out of smaller or private terminals. You’ll fly on smaller, often more luxurious aircraft, but unlike private aviation, you’ll be sharing the space with passengers who are not in your party. Semi-private flights are most commonly available for flights of two or three hours or less. Costs vary based on duration and destination, but you can expect to pay more than a commercial flight and quite a bit less than true private air travel.
Top private and semi-private aviation companiesThere are many choices when it comes to flying private or semi-private, and each company structures its offerings a little differently. Here’s what some of the most popular companies offer their travelers.
1. SurfAirConsidered one of the more affordable options for semi-private travel, SurfAir operates in California and Texas, with scheduled flights to popular vacation destinations like Lake Tahoe and Santa Barbara. Memberships are available for as little as $199 per month, with pay-as-you-fly access. For frequent travelers, SurfAir offers an unlimited plan called the All-You-Can-Fly Freedom membership. You can book last minute, arrive just a few minutes before your flight and expect no more than seven other members on your flight. Private charters are also available through their On Demand program. The SurfAir fleet is made up of Pilatus PC-12 aircraft with business-class seating, and the program includes complimentary snacks and drinks.
|Travelers within California and Texas who regularly drive or fly commercial to regional destinations and want to cut down on travel time|
2. AeroLaunched in February 2021, Aero is one of the newest companies on the scene. Similar to SurfAir, Aero offers semi-private charter travel between a small but growing list of U.S. and European destinations. As of early 2023, this includes Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Aspen, Sun Valley and Los Cabos, as well as the European hotspots of Malaga, Nice, Ibiza, Sion, Geneva and London. Travelers can book individual flights — no membership is required, and flights start at $1,000 one way. Aero offers personalized concierge service, luggage service, a curbside welcome, ground transportation coordination and pet-friendly flights. The planes themselves are works of art, with custom-designed interiors that feature dynamic lighting, professional sound systems and hand-stitched Italian leather seats.
|Jetsetters who want a seamless travel experience with personalized service and all the little details taken care of for them.|
3. FlyExclusiveFlyExclusive owns a fleet of over 90 planes, including light jets, mid-size jets and super-mid jets available for both domestic and international trips. FlyExclusive offers strictly private flights, with multi-tiered membership options as well as fractional ownership opportunities. Members of their Jet Club enjoy highly competitive hourly and daily rates for all flights, plus a limited number of peak and high-demand days with no blackout dates. Membership tiers include a Platinum Jet Club option that offers locked hourly rates, with no peak or high-demand premiums. Initial investments range between $75,000 and $500,000.
|Discerning private jet travelers who want a wide range of aircraft types and destinations|
4. JSXJSX bills itself as a hassle-free, crowd-free travel experience with business-class amenities. Semi-private scheduled flights are available from multiple California cities along with Denver, Los Cabos, Orlando, Miami and Westchester County in New York. Seasonal flights connect travelers with ski and beach destinations. Flights start at $119 one way during non-peak times, and all flights include private terminal access, two checked bags, free snacks and drinks. JSX operates 30-seat jets with business-class legroom. Flights can be easily booked on the JSX app and you have to arrive at the airport only 20 minutes before your flight.
|Jet-setters with flexible schedules who can take advantage of off-peak travel times with fares not much higher than commercial flights|
5. BladeWith a fleet that includes jets, turboprops, helicopters and seaplanes, Blade makes it easy for busy travelers to access destinations like the Hamptons, Nantucket and Palm Beach. They offer end-to-end travel — think taking a helicopter from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport, flying from JFK to Miami, then enjoying Blade-coordinated ground transportation to your hotel. No membership is required, and there are multiple price points available thanks to a variety of scheduled semi-private and private chartered options.
|Commuters and vacationers who want flexible options in the air and on the ground|
6. NetJetsNetJets is one of the best-known carriers in the semi-private and private aviation space, and for good reason. It’s the biggest and oldest private jet operator, founded in 1964, with 700 planes in its fleet from Embraer light jets to 14-seat Bombarbiers. Unlike carriers that pair membership fees with per-hour flight charges, NetJets offers a card program and fractional ownership opportunities. The card lets you pre-purchase a set number of flight hours and use them at your leisure — this offering is great for travelers who fly less than 50 hours each year and take mostly short-haul flights. Frequent or long-haul travelers are better suited to the fractional ownership program, which offers perks like included peak period days, aircraft interchanges and guaranteed flights with as little as four to six hours' notice.
|Frequent and last-minute travelers who value convenience and customer service and are less worried about the price tag|
7. XOWith XO, it’s all about options. This carrier offers a range of membership options, plus on-demand flights and the ability to book instantly on their mobile app. XO members can charter an entire flight, and even sell extra seats to fellow XO flyers through the app. Alternatively, you can book a seat on an existing shared flight, or use the app to crowdfund a flight with other members. Membership costs vary significantly. For $595 a year, you can purchase individual seats on private jets. This option can be appealing to occasional fliers. Full membership is available with a minimum deposit of $100,000, which you can use to schedule flights and seats on XO’s fleet of over 360 aircraft. The highest tier of membership is available with a minimum deposit of $250,000. It boasts priority access to the fleet, no blackout dates and a price cap for non-peak days. Membership isn’t the only option. You can also fly on demand by searching on their website or the app and choosing from non-member rates.
|Travelers who want the freedom to choose from a variety of membership options, pricing and aircraft.|
8. Wheels UpAnother big player in the private jet scene, Wheels Up operates primarily in the United States and offers three membership tiers: Core, Connect and Business. Private flights are the name of the game, but members can propose or join a shared flight and split the cost of the charter. Wheels Up takes care of the billing and logistics. Both Connect and Core memberships require an initiation fee: $2,995 for Connect and $17,500 for Core, followed by yearly dues and capped per-hour flight rates. All members have access to the company’s fleet of more than 1,500 aircraft, with Core members enjoying guaranteed access to almost all types of aircraft, which you can book with at least 24 hours' notice. Wheels Up members enjoy a myriad of on-the-ground perks, like invites to exclusive events, the ability to earn Delta miles and elite status, president’s circle status with Hertz, and more.
|Frequent and discerning travelers who want access to additional lifestyle benefits as part of their private travel investment.|