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I’ve had a few wild and crazy travel dreams in my 36.5 years on earth. Some have actually happened and some haven’t happened quite yet. However, I don’t really remember ever having “fly on a private jet with friends” on my list of travel dreams. I mean, who really gets to do that? Well, apparently I do. At least I did today, and most shockingly of all…it was free.
How I Flew a Private Plane for Free
First things first, I was able to fly on this private plane for free thanks to a three month trial JetSmarter Simple trial membership offer that was given to those who proved they had 1,000,000 frequent flyer miles or credit card points or certain elite status with a major airline. This offer was only open for a few days about six weeks ago and sadly isn’t available at the moment, though maybe they will do something similar in the future. I jumped at this chance for three free months of JetSmarter back in early June, but I hadn’t put it to use until today. This wasn’t from lack of desire, but instead mostly because (shockingly) jumping on a last minute free private jet doesn’t align well with life with two little girls.
With this level of JetSmarter membership you can fly yourself for free on scheduled shuttles under 3 hours long, or you can also get two free seats on empty legs that show up typically 24 – 36 hours before the scheduled flight. These empty legs are used to position the planes for actual charter customers, so they can get cancelled out from under you at any time with no notice or recourse if the charter plans change. I love the idea of the scheduled shuttles much better as you can plan those weeks in advance, but there aren’t any operating from Houston at the moment. The ones from Dallas to New York and Los Angeles are over three hours in length, so they are not included in Simple membership without paying several thousand additional dollars for the flights.
Planning Our Free Private Plane Adventure
Yesterday morning as I was getting the girls ready for their daily schools and camps I logged onto the JetSmarter app, as I often do, and there was an empty leg flight scheduled on a fancy Challenger 300 for the following morning from Houston to San Marcos, which is just a little south of Austin. With a little help from grandparents back at home I knew I could make this one work! Josh is out of town, so I quickly texted an adventurous friend of mine and asked if she was busy the next day. She’s a working parent too, so she is always busy, but not too busy for this! Within a few minutes we were all-in and started our countdown to ‘wheels up’.
Because I don’t trust Houston traffic, and there was no way we wanted to miss this (or pay the $1,000 no-show fee) I left my house about three hours before boarding to make the 60 mile trek to Hobby. Thankfully on this day, and at that hour, traffic was a non-issue, so we had plenty of time before the flight to relax in the private Atlantic Aviation terminal located a few hundred yards away from the main Hobby terminal building. When I pulled up I just parked right in front of the door, got out, and walked in.
There were no parking garages, shuttle buses, security lines, or anything remotely similar to deal with. It was like walking into a hair salon or office building or other civilized location where you just park, check-in at the front desk, and then sit and wait in a comfortable and non-crowded area. Given how complicated it can be to even get in a normal airport, this was outstanding.
For the next few hours we watched the beautiful aircraft outside and chatted. Not only had my friend Andrea agreed to join me for the flight, but I told my friend Gary Leff about the flight as he also had a trial JetSmarter membership, and he was able to take the first flight in from Austin on Southwest to join in the fun. As busy 30/40 somethings, honestly any excuse to hang out for a few hours is a good one. This was a really good one. One other actual private jet flyer was also on board, and he was a ton of fun as well.
What it was Like Flying in a Private Plane
When it was time to go we had our IDs checked by the pilot, walked out to the plane with him, posed for tons of photos in front of the plane (of course), and then went up the stairs into the glamorous cabin. It’s just as pretty as it is in pictures. Maybe better.
On this particular plane there were six individual leather chairs and then a couch that could fit two or three. I wouldn’t want to share the couch with two other strangers, but it would be amazing for kiddos. Since there were only four of us on this flight, we all had our pick of chairs, plus some chairs for our day bags. There was no fighting for overhead bins today.
When we were told it would be a few minutes before take-off I was glad because the flight was already going to be very short, so every extra minute to enjoy this experience was appreciated.
Once airborne, the flight literally flew by. It was a very smooth ride with working WiFi, comfortable seats, fun conversations, and great backgrounds for selfies and photos. In fact, my friend who joined is a travel photographer, so we will end up with some great souvenirs from the flight. I mean, where better to do photos than on a free private plane?
As expected, all too soon we were landing in San Marcos. My aunt lives in that area and had generously agreed to pick us up from the San Marcos airport, but I think I audibly gasped when we walked out of the plane’s door and there she and her car were picking us up on the tarmac like we were rock stars. There was no schlepping back through the airport to ground transportation. You just walked down the stairs with the wind blowing in your hair and into your aunt’s waiting Camry.
And this is where private air travel really shines. Of course the flight is nice. Of course the plane is gorgeous. But what is even better than that is how smooth and easy the logistics are outside of the flying time. This would be especially true if you were the one chartering and got to pick your flight time and closest airport. Now, that really doesn’t matter because most people, myself absolutely included, do not have the money to turn to chartering their own aircraft on a regular basis. However, I can 100% understand why it is worth it for those who can afford it. If there were a scheduled JetSmarter shuttle to a city where Josh or I worked regularly I would be interested at the right price.
The fourth person on our flight today said he actually owns a private plane, but still likes to use JetSmarter as it is a much better deal. So, I will trust those who actually pay real money to fly private planes that JetSmarter is a good way to save even when you are the one actually chartering as opposed to just catching free empty legs. I’m not sure I will ever find that out for myself, but that won’t take away from what we got to experience today for ourselves.
I would absolutely jump on another free empty leg via the JetSmarter Deals while I have my trial membership if the opportunity presented itself. I have noticed deals to or from the Houston area about once or twice a week, often early in the morning to the Dallas or Austin areas. That said, you never know when a really cool empty leg will become available. I don’t know that I would do it all again essentially just for the sake of flying for the day, but if my family could join, or if it was to somewhere I wanted to go, then I would do what I could to make it happen as it is a pretty special experience.
Even if I never do anything like this again, I am thrilled to have days, months, and years to look back at the fun we had today. The fact that the experience was shared with friends made it over-the-top awesome. Of course our flight back to Hobby was decidedly not on a private plane, but instead it turned out to be my first Southwest flight in seven years. It seemed entirely appropriate to toast to today’s private jet memories with some sparking wine on our Southwest flight, so that’s exactly what we did.
Cheers to adventures with friends as you never know where they may take you…
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.