CONCORD (CBS SF) — Those “in the know” call it one of the best kept secrets in air travel. JetSuiteX is a little known start-up airline that has been flying out of the Concord airport for about a year, offering many perks of a flying in a private jet, for prices as low as $79 each way.
The 30-seat refurbish jets aren’t exactly “private”, but the tickets come with many of the conveniences and perks of flying in a private jet. The most significant benefit for most is saving time.
Convenience Is King
“You get here five minutes before your flight, you just give them your ID because you’re all pre-checked. So even if I’m late, I’m on time, explained Michelle Rowson. She says she fly’s JetSuiteX out of Concord as often as three times a month.
Because the airline flies out of smaller, underutilized airports and terminals and the number of passengers is limited, travelers don’t have to deal with traditional TSA and security protocols. Many say they arrive 15 minutes before flight, grab a complementary snack or cocktail in the JetSuiteXC lounge, and head directly on to the plane.
And for East Bay residents, that convenience combined with bypassing the commute to SFO or Oakland, can shave hours off their total travel time.
Even A Premium May Pay Off
Tickets range from $79 to $350 each way depending on route and how far in advance you book. Right now, the cheapest seats from Concord to Burbank are $99 each way. The most popular Bay Area route –the weekend round trip from Concord to Vegas — runs closer to $200 each way when booked well in advance.
The airline says the tickets are generally comparable to their commercial counterparts for any given flight. However, even with a slight premium, passengers say the public charter pays off.
On JetSuiteX, bags fly free and so do pets, which can typically cost $100 each way on commercial flights. The terminal offers free parking just steps from the tarmac. In some cases, they even have valet parking.
“JetSuiteX’s vision is to provide flying that moves people’s soul,” explained airline’s senior marketing manager Chris Bernabe. “From a modeling perspective, we want to price accordingly so that it’s affordable and everything is inclusive.”
He said they keep costs competitive by flying a limited number of passengers out smaller airports like the one in Concord, allowing the airline to offer many of the amenities passengers use to enjoy on commercial flights in the old days.
The planes themselves are Embraer 135s — “powered by two Rolls-Royce AE 3007 – A1 engines,” according to the airline. The refurbished jets have a bit of a luxury feel with faux wood paneling and floors as well as leather seats and upgraded lavatories.
On board, passengers enjoy free wi-fi, free drinks and added legroom, similar to what you might find in business class on a commercial carrier. Bernabe noted there are no middle seats, just window and aisle seats on the left of the plane and window seats only the right.
JETSuiteX passengers also earn Jet Blue frequent flyer miles. However, flyers should keep in mind that these are only fly short-haul flights, so the miles accumulated are minimal.
The airline also charters traditional private jets for significantly more money under its JetSuite brand.
Smaller Airports Cash In
JetSuiteX is the first airline to fly scheduled flights out of the Concord since the 1980s. Representatives from Contra Costa County say they would love to attract more small carriers.
For small airports like Concord, it’s about more than just convenience for the growing number of East Bay residents. The airport brings in much needed revenue for the county.
A Growing Trend
While JetSuiteX is the only airline to fly this type of public charter on the west coast, alternative private jet travel is a growing trend nationwide.
SurfAir is a subscription based private jet airline offering unlimited flights between west coast destinations for a monthly membership fee. JetSmarter offers discounts to members who share private jets with others going to the same place.
There are also East Coast start-up airlines, like OneJet and Elite Airways, which offer a public charter model similar to JetSuiteX.
“It is becoming more common between airports that are not well served or communities that have a larger population base,” explained CBS travel analyst Peter Greenburg. He noted the public charter flight schedules are traditionally geared toward business travelers.
However, they are gaining popularity as commercial carriers continue to nickel and dime passengers and increase fares on the types of short-haul flights that the public charters generally offer.
But could the start-ups actually cut into the commercial market?
“The only time commercial airlines will pay attention is if the startups gain frequency,” said Greenburg.
Greenburg says the biggest drawback to public charters is the limited flight schedules.
JetSuiteX currently operates scheduled service out of six markets: Burbank, Las Vegas and Concord (every day except Saturday) with seasonal service to and from Mammoth Lakes, San Jose and Bozeman, Montana.
The more popular routes tend to fill up fast and cost more, which has some worried the best kept secret in air travel may not stay that way for long.
“So please, do not put this on the air,” Rowson jokingly pleaded after we interviewed her at the airport.
Most of the passengers we spoke with were on their first flights with JetSuiteX. One learned about the airline form an Instagram promotion, another heard about it from a friend’s 18-year-old son.
As popularity increase, they worry prices will too. But JetsuiteX says the airline does have plans to add more airports and planes to their fleet.