Conducting research for a client this week I found out just how much it costs to secure a charter flight on a 767 private jet.
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Why I’m Looking At A Large Private Jet Charter Flight
As I have covered here often, I am an owner of Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized and a client came to us with a unique request: they’d like to move a large group nonstop from Pittsburgh to Athens, Greece.
There are nonstop flights from Philadelphia (5-6 hour drive or a 40-minute flight) on American, New York JFK on Delta and Newark on United (each slightly further from Pittsburgh.) There is also a British Airways Dreamliner from Pittsburgh to London so if a connection was inevitable, that would also be a one-stop service.
However, with connections come problems. Lost luggage is just one of the things that a private charter solves, departing from the FBO (private aviation) side of the airport prevents mishandled bags as they are loaded from the traveler’s hands and there’s no opportunity to misconnect.
Another issue for a group (200-300 travelers) is the connecting flight options into the aforementioned scheduled service airports. American flies large enough equipment between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to get the group on two flights, but for United who primarily flies E-170/175s on the Newark-Pittsburgh route would require as many as (4) full sell-out flights and potentially part of a fifth flight get the group to the long-haul departure airport, the same is true for Delta. Connecting that many passengers split over that many scheduled flights means that those travelers will be split over a number of flight times with some arriving very early and spending the entire day in the airport, while others will have tight connections.
Lastly, some travelers have mobility issues which exasperate matters, especially around those connection times. Flying on a private charter flight makes boarding and disembarking far easier, more relaxing, and without the need for in-airport support of those passengers. A 15-24 hour total journey time each way (with connections) adds stress and discomfort that an air charter is able to eliminate.
TSA security screening is not a requirement for charter aircraft reducing the time of the journey and stress associated with commercial travel, especially for those who are infrequent travelers or frankly, anyone that’s ever dealt with the TSA.
Families are also willing to pay a premium for the simplicity of boarding a single flight from a private terminal. The journey becomes enjoyable rather than a task to manage for several people.
Lastly, with the current prices of commercial service for such a large group traveling in the summer, the premium isn’t that much higher than what’s available on the open market.
How Much Does It Cost to Charter A 767 in 2023?
For this group, I personally reached out to three private jet rental companies (including charter companies that specialize in large group movements) as well as going direct to the airlines themselves. It’s an interesting question: how much does a private jet flight cost – especially when that jet is an airliner. There’s a lot of nuance and details that go into what I received back from the suppliers but on the surface, here are the results:
- American Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways, and JetBlue (more on JetBlue shortly) declined to bid.
- Hawaiian Airlines and Avianca didn’t respond
- Qatar Airways failed the assignment (more to follow) and used a 777-300ER and priced the return at $1.9 million
- Delta Air Lines offered the route at about $1.1 million with taxes and fees
- Charter pricing was between $710,000-$750,000 for the roundtrip
In the case of American, United, they were simply fully committed and didn’t have the aircraft available ahead of what they perceived to be a very busy 2023 summer schedule. Fair enough.
In the case of JetBlue, they don’t have the equipment per se, but there was a bit of creativity with that selection. An Airbus A321 has the legs to make it from Pittsburgh to Iceland and Iceland to Athens performing a technical stop in Reykjavik doesn’t add much time and may be a more efficient use of fuel while still offering a modern business-class product. However, the aircraft would be so out of position that the airline simply couldn’t perform the route and after re-positioning, it wouldn’t have been economical. The airline is fully committed for its A321-LR equipment on routes to London and Paris this summer.
Hawaiian and Avianca were added to the list because both carriers fly equipment of that size to east coast markets but not necessarily daily. That’s good news for this purpose because this charter might help with aircraft utilization. Neither responded so perhaps that’s not the case.
Qatar Airways, which operates a number of long-haul aircraft types in its fleet, including A330s (260-305 seats) and 787s (254-311 seats) both capable of completing the mission, selected a 777-300ER (354-412 seats) and routed the flight with a technical stop in Madrid eastbound, then Doha, and Madrid westbound due to “political” challenges. For flights to the middle east, this makes sense, but to Greece on a 777-300ER, no.
Delta Air Lines was the closest carrier, operating on an A330 instead of the 767 which still flies in its fleet (either are acceptable to this party if the price is right) but even with a complete sell-out of the aircraft is too expensive.
Examining the quote from a pair of charter air transport operators still leaves the price very high for this particular group, but it’s much more palatable given the rest of the market. The equipment that most closely fit the mission offered 46 business class seats and 203 coach seats with an average price of $3,012 including fuel, crew, food, and taxes.
Limited US Market
One of the things I learned in attempting to book a charter flight of this size is that the US market lacks much capacity for charter services. If you’re looking for business jets, light jets, or even a jet card (pay for a block of hours) for business or pleasure air travel, it’s a far easier proposition. But most of the equipment we found was based in Europe, leaving long empty legs to get to their next mission between the outbound and return flights and adding to the effective hourly rate.
Finding a way to work with American Airlines who serves both airports and runs almost the exact route would have been ideal, but that wasn’t something the carrier was interested in looking at.
If pricing was flat (fix them at the expensive rates for today), a United 767-400ER would cost $163,176 for all 39 business class seats, $193,620 for all 70 premium economy seats and $198,203 for 131 main cabin seats. In sum, that’s $554,999 and that pricing includes a segment from Pittsburgh International Airport to Newark Liberty and back. What remains a little disappointing to me is that United could be competitive with the charter rate and still earn a 35% premium while fitting return trips into their network yet they won’t approach the topic. I know it’s a narrow view of the market, but my clients would be more cost effective if we bought every seat on that scheduled flight by almost $200,000 and in essence have a private flight anyway, all the while giving away the connecting flights. Is that in the best interest of UAL shareholders?
For what it’s worth, I turned over one more stone that could be a very interesting opportunity but I don’t have enough information to share about that in full.
This week I explored serving a large client trip by chartering a private jet of considerable size. Most carriers were committed through the summer and unwilling to approach the topic, but some charter companies did. Some of the costs are higher than expected due to fuel costs and protection against volatility, but there are still some interesting options for those who want to charter a large group. As an aviation geek, it was a fun activity this week, if not ending a little disappointing.
What do you think? Was it more or less expensive to book a private jet the size of a 767 than you would expect to pay? Have you ever considered private jet travel (either private planes or something larger?)