Keeping It Simple

 - November 26, 2014, 10:43 AM
Surf Air offers members unlimited San Francisco/Los Angeles flights for a flat monthly fee. (Photo: Surf Air)

No consumer likes a surprise on the bill, unless, of course, it’s the rare happy surprise. But lots of companies seem to consider inflated invoices integral to the business plan. As we all know from too much experience, the ploy works like this: hook the customer with a low advertised price, then hit him with extra charges.s*.

Business jet travelers’ bills sometimes come loaded with surprises, at least for those who haven’t perused all the fine print. If you’re a charter customer, for example, even the basic flight charges can be difficult to predict: in addition to a per-hour fee for time in the air, there’s a price for taxiing, and some operators also impose minimum flight times, daily minimums or premiums for international or overnight routes. In addition, you can be charged fees for positioning, de-icing and catering, plus federal excise tax, segment and fuel surcharges and an assortment of other add-ons.

Oh, and while payment of all these fees will get you up in the air and to your destination, it won’t cover landing. If you’d like to actually return to the ground at the end of your flight, you’ll likely have to pay a charge for that, too.

Despite all of this, charter invoices are a model of simplicity compared with what many fractional-share buyers face. You could almost finish a Tolstoy novel in the time in takes to wade through some fractional contracts—and if you do read yours, you’ll find that acquiring a fractional share involves a lot more than simply deciding what portion of what aircraft you want and paying for it. In addition to the purchase price, there’s an hourly operational fee, plus charges to cover such things as fuel stops and peak travel days. Yet another substantial cost consists not of an amount you pay but of an amount you don’t receive when you sell, to account for depreciation.

You know the old acronym KISS, for Keep It Simple Stupid? As it happens, it was coined by someone in the aviation field—Kelly Johnson, a renowned engineer at Lockheed Martin. I suspect some people in bizav could have benefitted from his advice.

Now, finally, it seems that some of them are getting the point, as we might be witnessing the beginning of a shift toward simpler billing for private aviation services. Many jet cards, for example, tout all-inclusive pricing, with locked-in rates, no fuel surcharges and no interchange fees for using an aircraft model other than the one specified in your contract. 

The latest trend may be to do away with per-flight charges altogether. As columnist James Wynbrandt noted in BJT last August, California-based Surf Air now offers an all-you-can-fly membership deal that lets you take as many trips as you want for a flat monthly fee (plus a nominal one-time membership charge).

So while private jet travel will never be as inexpensive as taking a bus, paying for it may one day be nearly as simple. And that’s good news. Low come-on prices can seem great initially but the thrill can end abruptly with the arrival of a much higher final bill.