Combining online with personal service

Over the past five years or so, more than $100 million has been invested in online charter broker platforms with the idea being that you can book a private jet charter in the same way you are able to book a regular, scheduled flight on Expedia.

Most of these companies have gone bust. One particularly high profile example, backed by an internationally renowned airline, reportedly lost more than $30 million in the venture and the rest have made little impact compared with the investment ploughed into them.

So why have these companies not made more of a dent in the overall charter market?

Established private aircraft hire business, Air Charter Service (ACS), believes the success of its strategy, combining online pricing systems and award-winning personal service, may be the answer.

James Leach, marketing director, ACS

James Leach, marketing director, ACS

This new breed of online aircraft chartering startups say they offer simplicity and convenience, with dozens claiming to be the “Uber of the skies”. But hiring a plane is not like booking a taxi or a conventional air ticket – there are many factors to take into account. With up to 50,000 charter planes to choose from, which one suits your needs? Is the carrier reliable? Who do you call if something goes wrong? Will your skis fit in the hold? What about owner release, airport slots, parking, and so on?

James Leach, marketing director at ACS, explains: “There are so many variables when booking a private jet to fly on your own schedule and most of the required information is not yet digitised. Not only that, but in order to guarantee their prices online, aircraft operators need to build in pricing contingencies.

“This means that while it is possible to book online, you’re actually more likely to get a better price by speaking to an adviser who will go directly to the best operators and negotiate an actual price.”

We are offering customers the best of both worlds – top-level technology on the website that tells them what is on the market, complemented by personal advice from our staff

ACS has already invested in expanding the number of specialist advisers throughout its global network of offices and at the start of 2015 pledged to invest £10 million over the next five years in its charter technology to continue its expansion.

The first step in ensuring their continued success was relaunching their websites. They have achieved a 15 per cent increase in new customers since then, adding up to some 1,800 new customers last year, which in the charter industry is a significant number. The sites now feature a state-of-the-art pricing system and attract 100,000 unique visitors every month.

ACS also has an extensive six-month specialist training programme during which their customer advisers study the legal, administrative and safety requirements of air travel, and become acquainted with the hundreds of models of planes that are available for charter. Mr Leach believes such in-depth expertise is the key to the gains in market share the company has experienced.

“We are offering customers the best of both worlds – top-level technology on the website that tells them what is on the market, complemented by personal advice from our staff,” he says. “We have found the ‘look online, buy after to speaking to us’ combination is particularly popular with first-time bookers, personal assistants and travel professionals, who want to be reassured that their every question can be answered.

“People love online shopping, but as is the case with cars, houses and high-value items, they like to talk to someone in the know before parting with a large amount of money – and this is exactly what we offer.”