WannaJet Aims to Make Private Jets Available to Commercial Fliers
Thought it may sound glamorous, most frequent fliers -- even those who tend to fly business or first class -- never consider a private jet for their trip. WannaJet, a new company founded by Parisian Philippe Bo (above), is aiming to change that.
The former CFO and Vice President of Finance at GE had been shuttled all over the world on commercial airlines. With the knowledge that a huge portion of private jets sit on the ground, unused, he had an idea to bring the convenience and comfort of private flying to an entirely new demographic by creating a sharing service with no membership fee and never more than six passengers per plane. The prices can be as low as a first class ticket: a private jet from New York to Boston starts at just $446.
Here's how it works: WannaJet doesn't own any aircrafts, but arranges charters on a by-request basis. You may be flying with strangers, but you'll have an empty seat next to you (as well as a luxe plane and no commercial airport hassles), and you won't be bearing the full brunt of the cost for things like fuel, maintenance and other fees which prevent most of the population from being able to fly privately. If you want to fly from New York to Boston on a particular day, you start by checking whether or not they already have a partially-filled plane going. If they don't, you can request a new plane. You will be told your price before you book (unlike with other per-seat charter companies). The price model is built for four to six passengers. If only three people have booked tickets 72 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart, they will be offered the chance to pay 30 percent more each, or the flight will be canceled -- and WannaJet will book you on a commercial flight of equal value at no charge. You also earn frequent flier minutes (not miles) on WannaJet flights, which can be used toward future WannaJet travel. Sounds fair!
WannaJet launched in the USA on June 9, 2010 with a presentation and cocktail fete held appropriately at New York's Intrepid Museum. We interviewed Mr. Bo at the party about how the service works and the charities WannaJet will be supporting.
Luxist: A private jet from New York to Boston for $446 seems just unbelievable. How are you able to offer such low prices?
Phillipe Bo: It's because you can divide the price of the jet by four or five passengers. If you divide it by four or five -- and provided that you book a return flight, because you get a 20 percent discount -- you get a revenue that is basically around $4,000 - $5,000.
L: Right ... but ... six people times $400 is $2,400.
PB: Well, not everybody pays $400.
PB: It's "starting at" $400. The way it works is, the first person that books gets a 15 percent discount, because that person is taking the most risk. That person doesn't know if three other people are going to join. The second person pays 100 percent, and the third and fourth pay a 5 and 10 percent premium. And then, if you book a return flight, we'll give you 20 percent off the whole journey. That's how the business model works.
PB: We also pay by the minute. You know, if the flight is 36 minutes, we pay for 36 minutes. We don't pay an hour or two hours. Some jet operators will charge you a minimum of two hours.
L: That leads me to my next question: why minutes and not miles for your frequent flier program?
PB: Well, everything is priced on time, that's how we calculate everything, including prices.
L: What if the plane can't land and you have to circle for 45 minutes? Are you giving those passengers all those minutes? Or charging for them?
PB: No, because ... first of all, that never happens, because you're not at JFK. You're at local airports. The second thing is that we have a guaranteed price when we negotiate with the jet operator, and they can't charge 25 minutes because they've been circling around, so we don't either. And thirdly, jet operators charge you for a 12 minute taxiing time. That's the standard for the industry, though you might actually taxi for five minutes or less. In that way, the flight time is buffered, so even in the case of a delay, the time will be compensated for by that buffer. That's how it works.
L: So, we heard you're donating 5 percent to charity. Can you tell us what inspired that and what charities you're donating to?
PB: Yes. We're giving 5 percent of the operating profit. We are dedicated to two things: environmental awareness; we have partnered with the WWF, because they do absolutely great things -- and they do it next-door. We can tailor our support to things that are happening in the United States. The second organization is Save the Children, because green is great, but kids are also very important. They're our future. I'm a parent of two kids and I think it's absolutely necessary that we do more for kids.
L: Great. I love Save the Children and I love World Wildlife Foundation, but ... 5 percent is a lot. How are you able to do that just starting out? I mean, that's fantastic, but I'm wondering.
PB: I'm a finance guy, and when I made my model, I thought that 5 percent was legitimate. I don't want to give 1 percent, it's nothing, it doesn't mean anything. Five percent, in the fifth year of our model, is going to be one and a half million dollars.
Currently, WannaJet is only serving the domestic United States, but they plan to expand the service to Europe in the first quarter of 2011. Visit WannaJet.com for more information or to book your first private jet.