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4 weeks agoupdated Jun 25, 2024

How Air Partner’s JetCard Program Changed Private Aviation

Air Partner’s Ty Smith on why its JetCard remains the longest running private jet membership on the market.

By Ellys Woodhouse

There once was a time when, even for the lucky few, flying by private jet was reserved for only the imagination. Today, as the market floods with more and more options on how to get you down the runway, the challenge has become trying to find a program that works for you; with your lifestyle, work and family life. From fractional ownership, membership programs, chartering flights or outright ownership, there have never been so many ways to get you into the skies. 

One of the companies that has been leading the way with its JetCard program for almost two decades is Air Partner. We may take for granted now how jet cards have become fundamental in many ultra-high-net-worths’ travel plans, but this dominance within the private aviation market is only fairly recent. While Air Partner was founded in 1961 and has been providing brokering services, including private jet and commercial airliner charters since 1980, its JetCard scheme was introduced back in 2008 – making it by all accounts one of the longest-running private aviation membership programs on the market. 

A JetCard membership works by signing up for a pre-paid card that then secures 25-hour blocks or more of flying and guarantees first-class access to Air Partner’s best-in-class fleet – from entry-level light cabin jets like Phenom 300 and Pilatus PC-24, or more spacious global-category cabin aircraft like the Gulfstream G650. And when members are not flying, there are no charges, with an endless expiry date on hours used, allowing for annual under and overflying with no penalty or premium attached.

In other words, as Ty Smith, director of JetCard UK, puts it: “The JetCard just takes all of those headaches away from our members.”

[See also: The Ultimate Guide to Private Jet Membership]

Air Partner Private Jet
Ty Smith, director of JetCard UK at Air Partner / ©Air Partner

The popularity of the JetCard and its quick integration into the industry is easy to understand, not least because it’s much more than an affordable and accessible gateway into the world of private aviation. As Smith tells me over video call from the company’s headquarters near London’s Gatwick Airport, the program is intended to be the middle ground between fractional ownership and chartering services. “The people that tend to want to join our membership program are fed up with the inconsistencies of the charter market, and they want some quality and consistency around the aircraft selection.

“But on the fractional ownership side,” Smith continues, “if you’re not sure exactly how many hours you’re going to be using or if you want to upgrade or downgrade, it can be quite costly.” On the alternative, a JetCard membership is not a long-term binding contract and members can upgrade from a chosen category or downgrade, and there are no premium interchange rates for members to deal with.

[See also: How Much Does It Cost to Own a Private Jet?]

Air Partner Jet Interior Jetcard
Air Partner prides itself on its personalized and seamless experience for its JetCard members / ©Air Partner

Smith joined the company 12 years ago, spending his first 10 years at Air Partner in its sales department. “ I think what that gave me was a really good understanding of what our members actually want,” he tells me. He goes on to explain that the collaborative working environment at Air Partner means he has always been a part of shaping the program to some degree over the years, but he was officially offered the chance to lead the JetCard service 18 months ago.  

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As Smith suspects, this understanding and open communication with its members is one of the key reasons why Air Partner is one of the longest-running jet card programs. In fact, longevity seems to be a running theme at Air Partner – perhaps a testimony to the brand’s success. 

Smith introduced me to Stuart Larkin, an account manager at JetCard, who has been working on the program for 17 years, and he tells me that this insight and awareness for their members has always been at the heart of Air Partner’s approach: “It has never been simply an account management affair, but an in-depth understanding of our members’ expectations and inclinations – their lifestyle and what it takes to be a part of that.” 

Another of Smith’s colleagues, senior sales director Chris Thomas, tells me that within the 10 employees that make up the account management team, there are more than 150 years of industry experience, all contributing to bringing that premier personalized touch to Air Partner’s approach to its members. 

[See also: Everything You Need to Know About Gulfstream Private Jets]

Air Partner Jet Interior
Once on board, the luxury experience continues with treats for all the family, human or not / ©Air Partner

However, something both Larkin and Smith point to is the prominent change over recent years has not been with Air Partner, but in the attitude of its members. “There has been a huge shift in terms of sort of our members’ behavior over the years, where we see a lot more forward bookings now than we ever used to,” Smith explains. “Our forward bookings are probably up 100% of what they were last year.”

Smith is also quick to point out that this behavioral change is not seen in all of the JetCard members either, and that it seems to be the leisure users who are getting organized and booking months in advance. As well as satisfying the designated control freak in their lives, there are benefits to this preference towards planning vacations well in advance, and it’s a jet-setting lifestyle that seems to perfectly complement the JetCard system. “We can then book far in advance and get first access to the best aircraft and get to the front of the queue for slots,” Smith explains. “Because at some of these airports like Courchevel, slots are at a premium.” 

And booking in advance doesn’t mean members are tied down or committed to these flights either. Air Partner’s flexible flight cancellation terms mean flights can be canceled up until three days before departure without costing the JetCard holder anything. “You can say, ‘right, let’s put this in, let’s pencil this in,’ and then if you have to amend it by a day or two or you have to cancel it altogether, you can do so right up until three days before the date of departure with no fees at all.”

For those JetCard users with a more spontaneous attitude or unpredictable schedule, this cancellation policy is, of course, a massive appeal and advantage of Air Partner’s program. As well as the fact that Air Partner’s concierge team takes care of all the admin involved in booking a flight to begin with. “If one of our members is looking to go somewhere and they give us their schedule, within the hour we can send them an itinerary, and that effectively confirms their booking.” 

In other words, a JetCard holder can have their flight confirmed in less time than it takes to pack. “Corporates or corporations have more sort of last minute plans, where they have business meetings and timings and passenger numbers that change right up until the flight,” Smith expands, “[JetCard] allows them a lot more or affords them a lot more flexibility in their schedules.”

[See also: The Biggest Private Jet Companies in the World]

Air Partner Jet exterior JetCard
By forward planning, Air Partner can guarantee its members the best slots at those in-demand airport destinations / ©Air Partner

Of course, all these practical benefits are important and make the process seamless once a member has already signed up into the JetCard program, but they wouldn’t matter if Air Partner’s service wasn’t as equally as accommodating, streamlined and (most importantly) luxurious. No matter where they may be in the world, from the moment members pull up to their elite private terminal – as little as 20 minutes ahead of their flight, may we add – travel is transformed into a personable and enjoyable experience: from being greeted by the captain and crew in the departure lounge, to being served fresh Nobu sushi and glasses of Gusbourne Brut Reserve, one of England’s leading sparkling wine producers (the partnership means those departing the UK will also be gifted a bottle, too, in Air Partner’s version of an airport souvenir).

It’s almost no surprise, then, that a successful model like JetCard would be replicated by other private charter providers. But on Air Partner’s part, certainly for Smith, they seem unphased by any potential competition in the jet card market. “In terms of sort of competitors, I mean, obviously, we can’t control other companies setting up,” Smith rebuts. “But we have to draw on our strengths – and that’s our experience.” 

His confidence isn’t misplaced. Air Partner’s experience and longevity have turned its JetCard program from a pioneer in private aviation to an industry leader. And while the world of luxury travel is always undergoing some form of change, we’re certain that Air Partner’s JetCard program isn’t going anywhere soon.

[See also: Private Aviation: Which Style is Best for You?]

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