What is your ultimate fantasy?
As a travel filmmaker and journalist, mine is the ability to fly exclusively on private jets -- cutting out the hassle of airports, layovers and exposure to germs.
And while that dream may not sound attainable for most, it is not far out of the realm of possibilities either. That is because these days, you can book a private flight for no more (or even less) than what you are already paying for your commercial seats.
It is a phenomenon called empty legs. Here's the scoop. Private jets are chartered every day, but often the pick-up or drop-off destination is not where the airplane's hanger is located. That means that much of the time jets are flying without passengers to and from jobs.
Private jet companies allow you to purchase rides on those empty planes for a deeply discounted price. These deals often only pan out to be less money than a commercial, coach flight if you are traveling in a group and can divvy up the cost -- as prices for empty legs are for the entire plane not by seat.
The catch, these flights are booked last-minute so you have to have a flexible schedule. And plan on only flying private one way because it is unlikely you'll find a ride home at your convenience. Despite the hassle and last-minute nature of these deals, the added creature comforts are quite persuasive. Think no lines, no security check, easy and free parking, free wifi and free food on the plane.
As Alex Wilcox, CEO of JetSuite, a prominent private jet company and pioneer in the empty leg industry explained to me, the key to being successful in booking this kind of flight is spontaneity. He sees his target market for these flights as retirees, students and anyone with a very flexible schedule. That is because often, notice for these flights happens only within a 12-hour or less window of their departure time. And it is in that time frame during which you can get the best prices. Just check out the company's daily Facebook alerts.
Normally, booking a private plane can cost you upwards of $3,500 per hour. But snagging an empty leg can cost you around as low as 15 percent as that. For example, an empty leg on a private jet from Vegas to Los Angeles can run you $536.43 for the whole flight! Curb that cost by filling the plane up with friends and you've got yourself one great start to a Vegas weekend!
The empty legs industry is still in its infancy. But in time look out for more organized programs similar to the mobile app and car service Uber -- but for planes. Wilcox hopes that customers will be able to book these flights right from their phones - making being flexible that much easier.
For now, you can simply Google "empty legs" and find scores of companies that offer private plane flights at discounted prices.
But before you jump for this new opportunity, there are safety precautions to consider. Private aircraft is held to different safety standards than commercial aircraft. Regulations are not as strict. And while flying private is pretty safe, statistically it is not as safe as commercial flights. That's why it is a really good idea to do your homework about your flight before you book.
There are two main safety-auditing companies, AR/GUS and Wyvern that rate flights by pilot, aircraft and other safety standards. If it gets the Argus Green stamp of approval (indicating a Gold, Gold + or Platinum rating) you are likely in good hands. Also, make sure the charter company has a Wingman rating from Wyvern. I would not overlook this step, personally.
You might be thinking, ugh, this is just too much hassle. But believe me, speaking from experience, once you board a private plane you won't be thinking that anymore. Biggest hazard here is being spoiled for life after seeing how comfortable a private flight can be.