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From Submarine Treasure Hunts to 10-Person Dinners at Nobu: Bonkers Members-Only Benefits Are Private Aviation’s Newest Draw

Despite the perks, analysts say most clients choose their companies based on safety and service records.

More private jet fliers plan to fly more hours this year according to Private jet Card Comparisons Courtesy Wheels Up

Breakfast at the Superbowl with an NFL legend. A one-on-one conversation with a former president. An intimate dinner whipped up by a celebrity chef. These are just some of the money-can’t-buy perks that come with being a member of a top private jet company.

“The interesting trend is that as consolidation has occurred amongst the providers, over the last decade, these programs have grown, both in number and scope,” says Nick Copley, founder of the Sherpa Report. “That’s to say as providers get bigger, they tend to offer these benefit programs to their members and customers.”

Providers with more than 100 aircraft and 1,000 clients is “where the programs and benefits really start to grow,” Copley adds.

And as demand for business aviation continues to set records, the race to offer the most exclusive perks is also increasing. Wheels Up is known for creating special experiences for its members at national blockbuster events like the Superbowl, Art Basel Miami, and the Masters, in addition to offering regional, smaller draws, like a 10-person dinner by chef Nobu.“

A general view of the interior of SoFi Stadium from an elevated position during Super Bowl 56 football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. There are 23 venues bidding to host soccer matches at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong, File)

Wheels Up creates special experiences for its members at events like the Superbowl.  Kyusung Gong

We’re always trying to find curated, interesting ways to bring our members together,” says Lee Applbaum, Wheels Up’s chief marketing officer. “We look at the flight data, and we survey our members. We follow where their interest lies.”

Wheels Up has created unusual events that go beyond the usual sports finales. It launched a new partnership with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, with a private exhibit of film memorabilia and dinner hosted by The Academy’s COO. Applbaum says members also get about $35,000 in “lifestyle benefits” a year through discounts, upgrades and complimentary membership with partner brands, such as Porsche, Abercrombie & Kent, American Express and Delta Airlines.

At Vistajet, the membership perks are more private by design and built around single groups and families. Think: treasure hunts by submarine in the Bahamas and exploration programs in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, or meetings with favorite fashion designers or noted philanthropists. “When we do these types of things, more often than not, it’s one-to-one. These are intimate moments,” says Matteo Atti, Group EVP of Marketing. “We offer access and enrichment. We have a five-person team who scout for the best-of-the-best all over the world to ensure that we not only connect with the largest players but also with experts; with those who have something to say.”

The 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier was named Best of Show at the 2021 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Flexjet offers extraordinary experiences at events like Concours d’Elegance.  Tom O'Neal/Courtesy of Rolex

Some companies, such as Flexjet, focus on niche interests and long-term event partnerships that last for years. “We want to make sure we’re in the areas that are important [to our members],” says Megan Wolf, chief operating officer. Flexjet has around 40 passion-driven partnerships and perks, including extraordinary experiences at the Snow Polo World Cup; Monterey Car Week (including Concours d’Elegance, where Flexjet has had a presence for 20 years); and Naples Winter Wine Festival.

Additionally, members get access to the Flexjet Forum, a series of conversations with thought leaders from around the world (the last speaker was George W. Bush). Other benefits include complimentary Health Nucleus 100+ diagnostic screenings, which always proves very popular year after year, and a gift program, where loyal members are thanked with bespoke presents, like Isaia garment bags and Ghurka leather luggage.

But the perks are exactly what the name suggests—value-added benefits. “When I talk to people about private aviation options they are really focused on service and safety, and pricing always comes into the conversation,” says Copley. “These benefits aren’t on most people’s key criteria lists as they decide how to fly and who to fly with—they’re just more like ‘nice to haves.’”

Magellan jets Gulfstream

A Gulfstream from the Magellan Jets fleet.  Magellan Jets

“Four or five years ago, one of the questions that would get asked is about partnerships,” says Anthony Tivnan, president and co-founder of Magellan Jets. “Now, reliability and communication seem to be two leading motivators for new customers and existing clients to remain in the programs.”

But Tivnan adds that many of the partnerships that Magellan has cultivated, especially during the Covid period, are to give clients the ability to be around “like-minded” people. “We are doing client meetups to get these folks together. It’s a nice way to build relationships among them.”

“A core foundation of Wheels Up has been transcending private aviation and building a community with our membership,” adds Applbaum. “It’s amazing the networking I’ve seen happen: Some of it can be very personal, like families coming together and kids meeting and it resulting in flight-sharing opportunities. And I’ve also seen business done, somewhat serendipitously, where two different people come together and all of a sudden, a business deal comes out of it. Obviously, we’re not trying to create these networking events, that’s not what we do, but when they come together organically it’s very cool.”

The events also present an opportunity for companies to have invaluable face time with their members. “We use events to cultivate the connection and strengthen it because we want to use these events as a means to retain,” says Wolf at Flexjet. “We always try to be face-to-face in the relationship, and it’s hard with everyone around the country, so using these events is one of the best ways to do that.”

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