My year with JetSmarter
My JetSmarter membership expired April 5, after I decided not to renew. I had been a member only one year and had originally budgeted for the renewal, but the value was just not there.
Let me start by saying JS handled my cancellation very professionally. I was asked to provide any feedback, that I deemed helpful to their service, and I spoke to a retention specialist for about 15 minutes the day my membership expired.
I did a lot of research before joining in 2016, but information was scarce. Once I made a connection with a sales representative - via the JetSmarter website - I got some more insight and started to learn about the cost and also the token system.
I had to think long and hard about a $9,000/year membership, but my logic was I would fly 8-10 roundtrips from San Francisco (Oakland, CA) to New York (Westchester, NY). The cost per trip was approximately double what I would have to pay for the economy class at a major carrier. The benefits of flying in a business jet clearly were worth the extra dollars.
And then there was the aspect of the jets… I love planes, and I love flying. I have held a license, and have sat at airports looking at Gulfstreams, Citations and other business jets hoping that I would one day get a chance to fly one. I am grateful for having had that opportunity, and although all the coast-to-coast JS flights I’ve been on were all Gulfstream IV-SP, I’ve flown other types of jets over the last 12 months. I don’t know when such an opportunity will come along again. That part saddens me.
A side note here is the discovery of the term “footsie”. It’s a first-world problem if there ever was one, but sitting face-to-face with a stranger with a somewhat limited amount of legroom can be tiresome on a five-hour flight. I feel like a jerk writing this, but that part surprised me, and I see it mentioned in the online forums fairly often. It doesn’t help that I’m 6’4”. Sure, the chair swivel, but you’ll soon have four people claim the aisle way, and you are essentially blocking the way for the crew when doing so.
JetSmarter comes with a token system. My $9,000 membership got me in at the highest level available at the time, and I got two tokens. You use these when you book and depending on the length of the flight; you have to use one or two tokens. The coast-to-coast flights require two tokens - each way. As such, you can not book your return flight until your tokens are re-deposited into your account; which typically happens during the takeoff roll.
It quickly became apparent that this was a severe limitation of the JetSmarter model, and as the number of members grew, it became impossible to fly both ways in a reasonable timeframe. I took my last JS flight from OAK to HPN on March 31, 2017. The earliest return available was four weeks later! In fact, during the 12 months of my membership, I was only able to book a same-weekend return flight on a few occasions - both right after I signed up. Don’t let anybody fool you: Right now JetSmarter is essentially a one-way service forcing you to fly commercially one of the two ways.
I’ve raised this with JS on several occasions. In the beginning, I was told to sit tight - more flights would be added (never happened), and later I was told that I could just upgrade to the $50,000/year membership as that would guarantee early pre-booking and give me four tokens.
It’s one part of the problem that you can’t book early, but it gets messy quickly because you are charged - sometimes very expensive - fees for canceling your flight. In other words: JS force you to book four weeks out and then charge you should you have to cancel or change your reservation. As other people have pointed out, you get a one-time courtesy cancellation. After that, you pay (and I have paid….) upwards of $1,000 for canceled flights.
Other things surprised me: I live close to SFO and got notified of repositioning flights originating as far north as Sacramento and as far south as Monterey - all labeled “San Francisco flights”. It would take you four hours to drive in between those airports!
The number of repositioning flights has gone down significantly over the last months. I also addressed this in the early fall of ’16. JS’s reply was that there was a general slowdown in the number of booked business jet flights and that it was expected to pick up the following month, but it remained the same.
Speaking of repositioning flights: I had my fair share of canceled flights and only managed to get on-board twice. One time I made to the terminal only to find out that the XO Jet decided to leave without us - we saw the plane take off. Not cool to stand there with invited passengers and purchased tickets to Disneyland. JS offered to fly us to SNA first class, but no seats were available according to their rep. The United app I was looking at told a different story.
Overall I’ve meet interesting people on the planes - wine growers, promoters, entrepreneurs, flight attendants and even law enforcement (running a side business). There have also been the loud ones that talked about money that it’ll never run out and a guy that was on the phone trying to raise millions to keep his company afloat. There have certainly been times I’ve appreciated being able to turn my noise canceling headset on, but the people I’ve met have been great. Nobody has been obnoxious - even after two bottles of champagne. And credit where credit is due: The crews I have met were all professional, and I’ve felt safe and well taken off.
I wish JS well - I really do. I can’t say, I understand their business model and the luxury aspect that they continuously push. Having a 24-carat gold-plated membership card is outright silly, and while I can see the appeal to a section of the member base, I think the same of their expansion of services such as house swapping, VIP events, and alignment with celebrities. The offering continue to change to become profitable (or sellable?). The turnover at JS seems high - I had four reps in a 12 month period.
I don’t see the current model sustainable, and recent articles seem to paint a picture of a facade that’s starting to crack.