Charter Advisors Special Feature
Charter Advice of a Different Kind - Charter Flights!
by Capt'n K.J.
Those of us who travel to the Caribbean from the United States often find ourselves landing in Puerto Rico for a transfer to an "island hopper" most often run by a smaller partner of a large airline. The flight into San Juan is easy enough, but the transfer to the smaller plane can sometimes be a different story. Like any flight anywhere, delays and cancellations are inevitable. No, these are not constant themes, but it only takes one time to realize that a delay on your way to the islands can be far more expensive than one on the way back. Why? Because there is a good chance if you're reading this there's a chartered yacht waiting for you on the other end. The charter goes on with or without you! No, the boat doesn't leave, but she is yours for the dates you chartered her for.
This kicked off a debate here at the Charter Advisors base. Are the services offered by Caribbean Air Charter Companies worth the extra dime? Or, is flying charter just a good way to show off the fact you can afford a Rolex?
Here is a story the good folks at Fly BVI shared, that helps shed some light on these very questions.
A family was flying to the BVIs via San Juan from two different points in the States. The father booked a charter with Fly BVI for the San Juan to Tortola leg of his trip. The adult son, coming from a different location didn't necessarily see the value in a charter flight. So, he stuck with one of those big name airlines.
Long story short, the son's flight into San Juan was delayed, just 30 minutes, and he missed the scheduled airline connection. Hours turned to days waiting on standby. The earliest flight available would be at least a day later, but most likely two, maybe more, all on standby. At this pace, by the time the son arrived he'd already have been "on charter" for a couple of days at least, shoving off on day three at a cost of $1,500 dollars per day non-refundable! All to save three hundred bucks on the flight in.
Ok, yes I know this is an extreme example, but it's also a true story. Not a very unique one at that.
So, is flying value solely the realm of ticket price or does it also include service and flying ease? Wow, service and flying in the same sentence and my computer hasn't blown up. I dodged a bullet there. That could have been like Y2K. "Does Not Compute. Shutting Down!" Seeing as how my keyboard isn't on fire yet, maybe service and flying can go hand in hand and still be a value. Still no smoke...maybe we're on to something here.
Like chartering a yacht, chartering a flight has some of the same cost misconceptions. If you charter a yacht and she's the Queen Mary, expect to pay Queen Mary prices. I don't know about you, but what I charter is slightly smaller than that. Same goes for chartering a flight. There's no need for a luxury jumbo jet or some uber-business jet to fly from San Juan to Tortola. So you can skip over the credit card melting charter prices. Fly BVI is an ideal air charter company example. In my view, they emulate the same values I'm used to with charter yachts. If I only have a couple of people sailing with me, I pick up a smaller charter boat. If I have a larger group, bring on the 50-footers! This is how Fly BVI is set up too. Smaller aircraft for smaller groups and larger planes for bigger groups. Smaller crafts cost less than larger ones. Larger crafts carry more people, splitting the cost between more people. Sounds like chartering to me!
Trying to get to the bottom of this flying, charter, value conundrum once and for all, I sat down with Jeffrey Brown of Fly BVI, a well-known and well-respected BVI Air Charter company. Jeffrey is a pilot and has seen it all. The stories he had to tell like the one above were all variants of the same thing: value being a blend of price and service. This is not the same impression I get when talking with a large airline. But hey, maybe that's me. I questioned what kind of "value" a charter flight really could offer. After all, it's still a charter flight. I don't mean some overall value that comes from ease, simplicity, service, and a bunch of flash. I'm talking about the cold hard cash kind of value. With that mindset, could there really be value in an aircraft charter? As it turns out, yes.
No, Jeffrey at Fly BVI didn't do the Jedi mind trick on me. It all just added up. All in all it came to just over $1600 bucks for up to 9 people aboard a nicely appointed twin-engine Cessna 404 to go from San Juan to Virgin Gorda or Tortola. For nine people that's $177 per person one-way or just over $355 round trip. Placing a smaller family of four into a very comfortable 6-seat Piper Aztec yields a per-passenger price of just $260 though. Granted, this is more than flying one of those big airlines but by how much? About $10 per person, roughly, depending on the aircraft and number of passengers on board. Larger groups actually save money over purchasing individual tickets, and there are no baggage fees!
I chose their Cessna 404 Titan (pictured above) and Piper Aztec (below) for comparison because they are, in order, their largest aircraft size-wise and the most often chartered aircraft in the Fly BVI fleet. The first time I punched all this into the calculator, I found myself scratching my head. The flight costs were slightly higher, but the services included were exactly what I'd be willing to pay the extra money for. I expected all this to cost so much more. In that instant, charter flying went from being some aloof fantasy to something very real. I also realized I made the "Charter Advisors Cardinal Mistake." Charter Advisors exists to educate, inform, and dispel myths about yachts and the chartering experience, and here I am falling victim to the very misconceptions and myths we're trying to clear up!
I started to feel a bit silly about not considering charter flying sooner. Besides, I rarely fly alone. I either have my crew or my family with me. I've been buying my "group" tickets in the same way I buy a solo ticket. Why have I been doing that? I don't order ala cart at restaurants I order the whole meal! It's high time those of us traveling in groups to the Caribbean started ordering the whole meal too.
I do want to be clear. Charter flying is not something I'll be doing every time I fly to the Islands. I look at flying this way. It needs to fit the situation. If it's just me and I don't have a deadline on the other end, I don't mind dealing with the usual airline stuff for a cheap ticket. But when I'm flying with a group and have a charter clock about to start ticking, I'll be booking a charter flight.
One - Price
Flying with a charter company like Fly BVI can cost a few bucks more per person. I'd gladly pay a bit more for the convenience, low stress, guaranteed flight (acts of God obviously not included), and the time saved. When I considered everything there was a real value here. Even when compared to traditional airlines. True, value is in the eye of the beholder, but if we're talking a few hundred bucks to smooth out the traveling, all while relaxing in a flying limo I can actually afford, I'd say this is the way to go.
Here's the question: when booking tickets on a major airline website, if you had an option to get all of the following on your San Juan to Tortola flight, would you?
Fly first class.
Only you, your friends, and family allowed in the cabin.
Have a guaranteed flight (it won't leave without you).
Be met at the gate personally and taken to the aircraft or VIP lounge while your bags are taken care of.
Would you click that button?
It shouldn't be surprising that people click buttons like this all the time. Except all they get for the extra few hundred bucks is a refundable ticket or a slightly wider seat near the front and "real" metal silverware (sometimes a grand more per person for this option)! Maybe it's me, but I just don't get it. For my money, I'd rather put it on the charter flight and get even more than a refundable ticket.
Two - Ease
The airport is already a pain. When I've got my crew or my family with me it's even more of a pain. Especially if something doesn't go to plan.
Quick Customs and Immigration. Arriving on a small passenger flight mitigates the long lines of a full airline flight. Fly BVI also helps its passengers though the process to further expedite arrival.
There is no rushing around. Flying charter you can relax once off the major carriers instead of waiting till you get all the way to the destination. A charter flight will be waiting for you and you get to go at your own pace!
No squeezing into seats or rubbing elbows with your neighbors.
Three - Service
Service is worth paying for, to an extent of course. We all have our own ideas of what good service is worth. Me? I don't have a problem paying for service, so long as the service warrants the extra cost. According to Fly BVI, this is the kind of extra service to expect from a charter company like theirs.
You're met at your airline's arrival gate. Like a limo at the airport baggage claim, when you get off your flight, you're met at the gate and escorted to the departure lounge while your baggage is picked up and transferred to the charter flight.
Depart when you arrive and get there on time. With a paid charter boat (or resort) on the other end, arriving late can cost far more than the difference in ticket price. Fly BVI reports never having left a passenger at the terminal. Call it "arrival insurance" or maybe better for sailors, "yacht departure insurance!"
Fast and quiet. Again, using Fly BVI as the example, their prop driven luxury aircraft are ultra sound proofed. On top of being quick, they are also quieter then you might expect. Operational limitations and insurance requirements dictate that only smaller, prop-driven aircraft are used into the smaller island airports. But whatever the reason is, it's fine with me. Prop aircraft are actually affordable to charter! I'll take that unintended side effect for as long as it lasts!
Flying air charter and chartering a sailing yacht share one particular similarity: both have a perception of being elitist or expensive. The phrase "charter flight" invokes thoughts of flashy jets and fifteen grand one-way tickets. "Charter yacht" carries it's own preconceptions. That's all these are: preconceptions. Charting a yacht or a plane does not have to be an expensive endeavor.
General thought aside, flying charter with a company like Fly BVI is an affordable alternative to commercial. The benefits are many and the cost difference is minimal for groups. True, you're not often going to get on a charter flight for less than commercial, but it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, now is it? The service, safety, personal attention,being able to relax, and starting the vacation upon arrival in San Juan (or where ever the island hopper picks you up) sure does add up.
If there is one thing I can't stand it's being sold something I don't need while being told what a great "value" it is. I"ve never been one for flash or a bunch of extras. The services Fly BVI provides their customers are things most of us actually care about.
Are a few hundred bucks more worth it to you? That's your call. But for me, the services combined with not having to do the "dance" in San Juan (and not stress over it), is well worth it the price of admission. What is your time worth?
If there is one thing we keep learning over and over again here at Charter Advisors, it's that there's far more out there that we can do than there are things we can't. But, if we limit what we explore and find possible, we'll never know which is which.
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