Private Jet vs. First Class: An Overview

Some people may give you flack for asking the question, but if you've got disposable dollars to spend on air travel, it's worth considering. Whether it's a business trip or a vacation, a chartered jet allows you to maximize your time at your destination and minimize the number of hours you spend traveling.

On the other hand, first class is also a luxurious way to travel, even if it means you have to put up with crowds at airport security and other discomforts of commercial flights. So, which factors determine whether it's better for you to fly first class or charter a private jet? There’s no reason to consider both options if you can only afford one, so let’s get the financial elephant in the room out of the way. A private jet is more expensive than a first-class seat, which can run anywhere from $800 to thousands of dollars.

According to Greg Richman, president of on-demand charter service Skyjet, price depends on the plane size: “Light Jets start at $2,800 per hour. Mid-Size Jets start at $3,800 per hour. Super Mid-Size Jets start at $4,500 per hour. Large Cabin Jets start at $6,500 per hour.” On a commercial aircraft, you rent a seat. If you want to bring somebody with you, you rent two seats and pay double the cost. If you want to bring seven other people on a trip from Los Angeles to Vegas, which takes about an hour, you pay up to $8,000 to fly first class on a commercial jet with eight people. With charters, on the other hand, you rent the plane.

Traveling on a private jet is expensive, but when multiple people fly and the value of a senior executive’s time is taken into account, the cost isn’t as outlandish.

Private Jet

Private jets are for customers of the high-end private jet industry. Adam Twidell, CEO of private jet booking platform PrivateFly.com, says, “On any private jet charter you will always receive VIP catering, which on short flights usually includes cold meats, salad, fruit, sandwiches or pastries. Champagne is always available on board, as is a range of soft drinks, tea and coffee.

"However, due to the bespoke nature of private jet charter, you can request any sort of amenity to be available for you during your flight," Twidell continues. "At PrivateFly, we see a wide range of catering requests from our clients, and our Flight Team is able to accommodate all of them. From birthday cakes to a specific brand of herbal tea, we go to great lengths to make sure our passengers’ needs are met.”

Key Takeaways

  • If you are flying overseas, first class may be much more affordable than a private jet.
  • Private planes may be more economical for executives whose time is as valuable as money.
  • Private planes offer more individualized amenities to offer passengers than first-class flights.
  • If you are traveling solo, it is most likely first-class tickets will be less expensive than buying a seat on charter. For larger groups, a private jet may prove less expensive than buying out rows of first-class seats. 

First Class

As of May 2019, a true first-class ticket (not business class) from Los Angeles to Las Vegas costs anywhere from $700 to $1,000, depending on the airline, but there's one situation when it's almost always more cost-effective to choose first class over a private jet: flying overseas.

Long trips require a larger, more expensive plane with a bigger range. This would make a commercial flight considerably cheaper unless you took a very large group with you on the charter and would have otherwise bought everyone first-class seats. (For more, see Credit Cards That Will Get You First Class Flights and How To Fly First Class For Cheap.)

True first class flying on a commercial aircraft comes with amenities, but generally not at the level—or personalization—of flying privately.

Commercial aircraft only have access to the largest airports. If the traveler is flying to attend a meeting well outside the nearest metropolitan area, he or she will need to add significant round-trip driving time to get from the metro airport to the meeting location.

Customers flying privately can also bring pets—as well as golf clubs, skis and other bulky items (presentation boards, anyone?) that don’t easily fit on commercial aircraft. They also avoid the risk of losing these items in checked baggage. In addition, private planes may provide easier access for elderly, handicapped or injured travelers, as well as better accommodating wheelchairs and other equipment.

Special Considerations

To the average onlooker it’s easy to see private-jet flying as excessive—like owning a Rolls Royce or an expensive yacht. What makes it more economical is when you factor in the value of a person’s time. Private jets are able to fly into smaller airports, often getting their clients to their location faster. In addition, flyers don't have to wait in long security lines at large airports, which can be time consuming even for those with Trusted Traveler status.

Because companies don’t want to fly their jets without passengers, they are often happy to wait for their customer if they’re flying back the same day. This courtesy avoids having to schedule meetings around commercial flight schedules that may have stops at other airports before reaching the destination. Executives can also conduct business meetings and work more easily on a private jet, so flight time isn't wasted. Taking into account the value of a high-level executive’s time, a private jet may quickly become more economical than commercial aircraft.

There’s also the reliability factor. Not making it to an important meeting because a flight was canceled could be a risk that some people cannot take. It's likely that most people who charter flights do it because they just don’t want the hassle of flying commercial, and money is no object. But don't assume that, as the saying goes, if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it. In fact, compared to ever-increasing first-class rates, it might be marginally more affordable than many people imagine, especially those traveling as a group.

To help you research what's out there, see Private Jet? There's An App For That.