At 30,000 feet, a steward offers a perfectly iced martini. The passenger sets it down next to the newest issue of Forbes, stretches out (leg room is not an issue on a private jet) and leans back in his upholstered leather chair, all the while zooming toward his destination at 550 miles per hour.
But these are recessionary times, and the days of the solo private jet are numbered: For today's flight, two groups of strangers share the jet's cabin — and the expenses.
The groups have been brought together by ShareAJet Exchange, a program launched in June by private jet brokerage firm Blue Star Jets. Under ShareAJet, fliers post either itineraries or desired trips and hope to attract fellow travelers.
Blue Star Jets CEO Ricky Sitomer positions his program as benefiting from a “trade-down effect.” Privately owned jets carry high fixed costs, and revenue within the traditional fractional jet model, in which several customers lease air time in one particular plane, is down between 40% and 50%, he notes.
Under ShareAJet Exchange, fees can be half those of regularly chartered flights. And value and time savings are the two key components of ShareAJet's marketing.
“The rich do spend,” says Sitomer. “However, every day they are reading about the downturn. That makes them cautious.” The company came up with ShareAJet Exchange as a “win-win” for those who wanted some of the experience of private jet ownership.
Spending by the wealthy is a leading indicator, says Sitomer, and he has seen some loosening of purse strings since the first half of the year. “Since business has picked up, we have increased our marketing efforts,” he adds.
How is he getting word of the new program out? “We're doing a lot of Internet marketing and social media marketing.”
The company is also making good use of partner alliances. Andrea Spring, Blue Star Jets' managing director, coordinates strategic relationships with organizations such as the Luxury Marketing Council and the New York City Association of Hotel Concierges. These relationships often involve getting placement — as well as a higher likelihood of word-of-mouth recommendations.
Spring has also arranged for Blue Star to become the preferred supplier to travel agent groups, which feature the brokerage firm in their own marketing initiatives. And inclusion within a top-level Neiman Marcus loyalty program reward package (collected by a customer who earned 5 million program points) didn't hurt the company's image, either.
For ShareAJet's June launch, Sitomer created similarly dramatic promotions. He arranged for 30 models dressed up as flight attendants to hand out marketing material at hot spots within wealthy enclaves in the Hamptons, as well as on Wall Street and Park Avenue.
Not that traditional media didn't get its share. Sitomer ran six large ads in consecutive editions of the Sunday New York Post.
Three months after ShareAJet Exchange's launch, the program boasts 1,500 people logging on. Sitomer expects this number to reach between 6,000 and 7,000 by the end of winter, as the affluent take their traditional holiday trips.