How’s this for a sweet airfare deal: $499 for all four seats on a private jet from Santa Monica, Calif., to Las Vegas. Drinks and refreshments included. You choose the departure time.
That was the offer made by JetSuite, a West Coast charter-jet company, last week on Facebook and Twitter for a flight the following day.
There were a few catches: Only one flight was available, it was one way and it was subject to 7.5 percent federal excise tax.
But for a flexible traveler going that way, perhaps with a few friends or business colleagues to help split the bill, the last-minute deal offered a chance to experience private jet travel without having to pay per-hour flight costs that, industry-wide, can range from $2,500 to $8,000 per hour.
Like other private, on-demand charter jet companies, JetSuite (created by JetBlue founder Alex Wilcox) offers membership programs for customers willing to put down cash in exchange for guaranteed rates. But although JetSuite’s best membership plan claims to offer the industry’s lowest rate (“only $2,975 per hour”) and private jet travel offers clear benefits over commercial airplanes (faster travel, no security checks, plush seating and luxury amenities, to name just a few), this sort of travel is likely remain the bailiwick of corporate executives, celebrities and the super rich.
Still, to expand the number of people who might someday consider booking a private jet, JetSuite has turned to social media to fill empty seats and broaden the market.
Each day between 4 and 6 p.m., JetSuite sends out a message on Twitter telling followers that the company has posted the next day’s $499 SuiteDeals on Facebook. Most last-minute, one-way offers will be short hops between the West Coast or Northeast cities regularly served by JetSuite, but company president Keith Rabin notes that because JetSuite is a charter company, “the flights could be anywhere. Missoula, Las Vegas, San Francisco; wherever someone may have booked one of our four-passenger jets.”
“It’s an interesting concept,” said Joe Brancatelli of the business travel website, Joe Sent Me. “There are some other private-jet rental firms doing this kind of ‘remainder’ stuff in various channels,” but they all face the same problem. “You’re left to the commercial system for your return flight. In most cases, prices for walk-up, one-way fares — unless, of course, you can score a Southwest or JetBlue flight — are insanely high.”
(This story first appeared on msnbc.com’s Travel Kit: Private jet travel – at affordable prices.)