Private Jet Flights For $715: Is This The Ultimate Australian Travel Hack?

The high life at low-low prices.

Private Jet Flights For $715: Is This The Ultimate Australian Travel Hack?

Image: Turning Left For Less

Flying on privately owned business jets usually relies on very deep pockets or a very generous employer, but there is a hack that can make private jet travel more accessible — flying empty legs.

Business jet charter operators have clients who want to go from, for example, Sydney to Melbourne, but the operator needs to return the plane to base, often empty. The operator factors the cost of the empty return leg into the initial charter cost. However, they also often seek to sell that leg at a deep discount.

Let’s not play coy here. This isn’t cheap as in $150 up to the Gold Coast. But it can work out when you have a bunch of mates willing to pay the approximate cost of a business-class fare. For that you get a taste of business jet travel, VIP treatment, and can avoid the unwashed terminal crowds.

First, let’s set the scene. Rich guys and companies own the planes, often via elaborate taxation-friendly but perfectly legit corporate structures (there are exceptions to the latter part… but they’re rare). They hand over the aircraft to management companies who maintain and operate the planes. These companies maintain charter businesses that, depending on the agreement between them and the owner, charter the planes out to anyone willing to pay to get from A to B in style. This sideline charter arrangement helps the owner offset the aircraft’s cost, and the management company collects a fee on each charter. Everyone’s happy.

People boarding a private jet at sunset
This could be you… for a bargain price. Image: Getty

Another set of players in the business jet ecosystem is the brokers who’ve sprung up to sell the empty legs. There are quite a few of them in every market, including Australia, and a simple Google search will flush them out. Individual brokers have relationships with charter operators and their business model relies on them selling those empty legs, for which you can assume they will also collect a fee. It’s not so different from Uber.

Some revenue from the empty leg is better than no revenue for everyone concerned. In mid-July, one broker is listing a morning empty leg between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast on a ten-passenger Bombardier Challenger 604 for AUD8,800. The normal charter cost is AUD35,000. Fill that plane with your buddies, and you are looking at a per-person cost of AUD880, which is doable for many.

Another broker has a 14-passenger short-stop Falcon 900 running an empty leg from Melbourne Essendon up to Hamilton Island in early August. That broker is asking AUD10,000 (including catering), or around AUD715 per person (assuming 14 passengers are travelling). Further, as anyone who uses the airport will tell you, it’s so much easier flying out of Essendon than Tullamarine. 

An Embraer Phenom 300
An Embraer Phenom 300… fancy a spin? Image: Wiki Commons

There’s a neat little six-passenger Embraer Phenom 300 scooting up from Sydney to Brisbane one afternoon in mid-August, perfectly timed to exit town after a lunchtime meeting. The cost? AUD4,500, or AUD750 per passenger. There are empty legs available out of Australia to New Zealand and Singapore listed, and multiple sectors on multiple days on domestic routes.

So what’s the catch? The empty-leg hack can work if you have some flexibility with dates. These guys are not Qantas. They won’t have departures on the hour every hour. But there are empty legs listed right through to the end of the year, so there is time to get organised. Unless you can sustain the cost, the prices rely on you being able to fill the plane, so you need reliable people to commit, not your flaky mate who decides he has a broken nail three days out and is yet to pay.

On matters of money, you’ll need to pay the cost upfront. You need to be prepared to do that and either take your freeloading family on board or have the confidence that your friends will pony up the cash shortly. In short, this gig isn’t for everyone, but it might be for you.

long queues at Sydney airport
Flying out private means missing the long queues and longer delays of commercial travel… but you have to be flexible with your dates. Image: X/Twitter

As for the one-way issue — you could pay the full business jet charter rate to return. However, it’s probably more sensible to slum it and fly commercial on the return leg. Or you could reverse it, fly out on a regular airline and fly home privately. You could make a weekend of it, or at the very least, have a very long lunch somewhere sunny. Maybe in a vineyard. Or by the beach.

Depending on the broker, you can either make your arrangements online or via the telephone. Some of the slicker operations have booking apps. Most have the option to sign up to receive email notifications of upcoming empty legs. For your pains, you’ll get a five-star flight experience and an insight into how the 1% live. It will also probably really hurt to go back to flying commercial, but the business jet industry is likely counting on that…