Why Become a Wheels Up Member

A white paper by Greg Savettiere

Having flown with nearly all the major fractional aviation companies over the past fifteen years, I had a very detailed list of questions when I spoke with my Wheels Up sales representative.

They say that the mark of a great salesman is one who addresses every excuse you have not to buy until there are none left and my sales representative David Blechman was no exception. When he finished his presentation I simply could not come up with a reason not to join.

Pay As You Fly Membership: After paying the initiation fee of $17,500 for a pay-as-you-fly Individual/Family membership I would have 365 day access with 300 day guaranteed availability on the Wheels Up exclusive brand new fleet of King Air 350is in addition to midsize Citation Excel/XLS jets paying fixed hourly rates for occupied hours only with no additional fees for positioning, empty legs, fuel, etc. I would be able to name four additional family members as named members who would also be able to call out a flight. Guests and pets are of course permitted but it is against DOT/FAA regulations to charge a guest (or a pet!) for a flight.

Peak Days: Availability for the additional 65 annual peak-days is on an “as available” basis and requires five days notice with trip confirmation by Wheels Up three days out. I could obtain up to 365 days guaranteed access by pre-paying for flight hours with the 100K Pre Purchase Program described further below.

Click here for the 2017 Wheels Up Peak Day Calendar

King Air 350i

Wheels Up's brand new King Air 350i's are gorgeous aircraft with state-of-the art, luxury, avionics, and passenger features including Wifi plus Gogo Text and Talk which allows you make and receive calls in the air.  They have eight club chairs and a belted toilet seat so be conscious of who you are offering the ninth seat to! Unlike any light jet and most midsize jets, the King Air 350i can easily accommodate eight large golfers with eight golf bags.  It is a pressurized turboprop and can fly comfortably above the weather at 35,000 feet. The King Air has enough range to fly from New York to the Bahamas but this is an airplane where the aircraft range can outlast the passengers and for most people, a two hour flight (i.e. NYC to Hilton Head, SC) is the cut-off where you may want to consider moving up to the Citation Excel jet.

King Air 350i Specifications
Max Cruising Speed 313 knots (350 mph)
Max Ceiling 35,000 feet
Engines (2) Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60
Shaft Horsepower 1050 each
Seats 8 plus belted toilet
Luggage Capacity 71 cubic feet
Interior Dimensions 4'9" H x 4'6" W x 19'6" L

King Air 350i Travel Time: On trips under two hours the King Air 350i can arrive within minutes of any light jet while costing nearly half as much to operate with nearly double the passenger and luggage capacity. What many people do not realize is that a 500 mph jet can only achieve those speeds when it is cleared by air traffic control to cruise at an altitude over over 35,000 feet.  On most regional trips, there is not enough time for a jet to climb to its optimal a cruising altitude and even if there were time, air traffic control is not going to guide a jet up through all the cluttered air traffic only to have to guide it back down minutes later.  As a result, on regional trips, jets are cruising at lower altitudes at speeds much closer to the King Air 350i's cruising speed while wasting tremendous amounts of jet fuel.  In addition, The King Air 350i requires approximately 1,000 feet less runway than a jet adding to safety and the number of airports you can access getting you closer to your final destination.

King Air 350i Power-plant - Dual PT6A-60 Turbine Engines
The King Air 350i is powered by dual Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60 turbine engines. Unlike piston powered aircraft used in general aviation that rely on automobile like engines, the PT60-60A is a turbine, the same type of power plant that powers a jet engine. 

PT6A-60 Reliability: The PT6A-60 is the latest in the series of Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprops, arguably the worlds most reliable engine. As of 2013, the 50th anniversary of the PT6 engines, over 51,000 PT6 engines were powering more than 130 different applications and have achieved over 380 million flying hours.

Citation Excel/XLS

The Citation Excel, the world's best selling midsize jet, has stand-up head room, six club chairs, a couch seat for two people, and a seat belted toilet. The Excel technically has eight more cubic feet more storage than the King Air 350i but the storage is in a compartment underneath the plane and fitting eight golf bags plus luggage is tight. It is still best in class for a midsize jet and has far more luggage storage than the midsize Hawker 800XP so a NYC to Florida golf trip for six people on a Citation Excel with six golf bags on board is extremely comfortable. 

If you use ShipSticks to send your golf clubs to Florida ahead of your trip, then an eight person Citation Excel trip golf trip from NYC to Florida is very reasonable, just understand that two people will be on the couch which may be a bit tight for two large golfers. Unlike the Hawker 400XP light jet, a fully loaded Citation Excel does not have to stop for gas when traveling from NYC to Florida. (That used to drive me crazy.)  Also unlike the 400XP, the Excel's straight wing allows it to fly out of high altitude airports on a hot day.  I've been stuck at both Telluride and Aspen on more than one summer day waiting for the sun to set! 

Citation Excel Specifications
Max Cruising Speed 440 knots (500 mph)
Max Ceiling 45,000 feet
Engines (2) Pratt & Whitney PW-545
Thrust 4,1119 pounds
Seats 8 plus belted toilet
Luggage Capacity 79 cubic feet
Interior Dimensions 5'8" H x 5'5" W x 10'7" L

Notice that while the interior height and width of the Excel are larger than the King Air 350i, the King Air 350i is 9 feet longer than the Excel making the King Air 350i the SUV of the sky!

Hourly Rates: As of September 1st, 2017 the current Wheels Up hourly rates are $4,500 including tax for the King Air 350i and $7,500 including tax for Citation Excel/XLS.

Taxi Time: Six minutes of taxi time are added to both ends of a flight and the minimum charged time for a flight is one hour. Note that if a flight is less than one hour long, the taxi time can be applied to meeting the one-hour minimum. Due to crew rest rules, there is a maximum of twelve hours aircraft usage in a single day before a new crew needs to be called in which can result in additional expense.

Call Out Time: Required advance notice for reserving an aircraft is 25 hours on non-peak days and 5 days on peak days but my sales representative said that the team does whatever it can do to accommodate short notice requests and has delivered some aircraft in as little as 3 hours. If you prepay your hours in order to obtain guaranteed peak-day access, your advance required notice is 12 hours on non-peak days and still 5-days for peak day travel. Wheels Up can technically move any flight back or forwards up to 90 minutes but this is rare and the Wheels Up team does everything it can to meet all customers requests.

Cancellations: You can cancel any flight 24 hours out without charge but if you have to cancel within the 24-hour cancellation window and your aircraft has not been positioned for the flight there should be no cancellation charge.

Charter Aircraft: In the event a Wheels Up aircraft is not available, (especially on peak days) chartered aircraft outside the Wheels Up fleet is used to provide supplemental lift.  My sales rep told me that Wheels Up promises "recovery aircraft" to be equal or better to your in-fleet aircraft booked at no additional charge. In fact the preferred recovery aircraft for a King Air 350i is the Citation Excel at no additional charge since it is less expensive for Wheels Up to provide this aircraft rather than chartering another King Air outside their fleet.

Safety - Wheels Up Fleet: Wheels Up owns the Wheels Up fleet of aircraft but does not actually operate them.  They dry lease their aircraft to Gamma Aviation who operates them on Wheels Up behalf.  I never fly with an aircraft operator who is not Wyven or Argus approved.  The Wheels Up website lists Gamma aviation as the operator of all Wheels Up in-fleet aircraft and states that they hold Wyvern and Argus Platinum (highest Argus rating) approvals.

Safety - Recovery Aircraft: My Wheels Up representative told me that Wheels Up has their own safety manager who originally comes from Net Jets.  With regard to recovery charter aircraft, My representative told me that only 100 charter aircraft of the 600 that applied to the Wheels Up charter recovery program were approved to fly for Wheels Up.  In the event you are offered a chartered aircraft, always be sure to ask about the safety certificates the charter operator holds.  

Safety - Corporate Operations: Wheels Up says it operates all its flights under the "corporate" designation in which the aircraft is operated by a two person professional crew. An NBAA study of NTSB safety statistics illustrates that as of 2013 flying under the "corporate" designation was five times safer than flying under the general "business" designation and nearly twice as safe as flying with scheduled carriers. [airlines] https://www.nbaa.org/ops/safety/stats/ 

Insurance:  My membership agreement states that any aircraft operator for Wheels Up must hold a minimum of $100 million liability insurance.  Always ask for a copy of the certificate of insurance for any operator you fly with (including Gamma Aviation) and ensure that every passenger who flies on the aircraft, including your guests, are additional insureds.

Short Trips: For same day or overnight trips you can't beat the value of the King Air 350i even with the dead leg costs effective calculated into the Wheels Up all-in hourly price. (Wheels Up optimizes their dead leg costs by sending your plane to the next nearest customer instead of back to its original destination)

Flight Desk: On longer distance trips lasting less than two days, you may want to consider using the Wheels Up Charter desk to charter a jet instead of the Wheels Up Citation Excel. On a chartered flight, the cost to have a crew stay overnight may be less than the round-trip hourly cost for the Wheels Up Citation Excel. Once you go over two days, the charter company is going to want to dead-leg their jet back home and the all-in pricing of the Wheels Up Citation Excel is the most economical. This flexibility is a great advantage of a Wheels Up membership, you have both the Wheels Up fleet and the Wheels Up charter desk available to optimize the most economical way to fly.

Food On Board: Snacks, juices, beer, wine and of course Kenny Dichter's Avion brand tequila are stocked on the aircraft. Additional catering is available for an additional charge. 

Unique Wheels Up Benefits

This is where my conversation with my Wheels Up sales representative became really interesting. Only a Wheels Up membership offers these unique benefits which can radically reduce the cost of a private aviation lifestyle.

Hot Flights: A vast selection of one-way "empty leg" flights on jets, turboprops and helicopters, posted daily to the Wheels UP Member App and updated in real-time, all available for as low as $320 for the entire aircraft.

Shuttle Flights: Private shuttles to and from popular destinations for $858 per seat viewable in the Wheels UP Member app (inclusive of all taxes and passenger fees)

Shared Flights: a forum viewable in the Wheels UP Member app for Members looking to share the cost of travel to come together and book flights to shared destinations. Members can either propose a shared flight for other Members to view in the Member app or join another proposed flight.

Up Together: a Wheels Up member driven community that promotes and facilitates the sharing of in-fight and on-the-ground adventures among Wheels Up members through virtual flight clubs, local meetings, and regional events.

Wheels UP Flight Desk: the ideal complement to Wheels Up's growing fleet of 75 King Air 350i and Citation Excel/XLS aircraft that is available to assist with all  "off-fleet" charter flight needs.

Wheels Down: the ultimate lifestyle and events program that provides Members with unique partner benefits and insider access to exclusive experiences throughout the worlds of sports, business, culture and entertainment.

World Class Partnerships: Each Wheels Up Membership comes with a suite of Member Benefits that includes well thought out partnerships in just about every lifestyle category.

 Click here for complete list of Wheels Up member partnerships

Inspirato: Among the Wheels Up partnerships is a one year complimentary Key Membership with Inspirato, an $11,000 value. Inspirato membership gives Wheels Up members access to a curated collection of private vacation homes, top hotels and resorts and customized experiences in incredible locations. In addition, access to discounted Hot Nights through the Wheels UP Member app at select properties across the World.

As a point of interest, my sales representative told me he has a friend who spent $350 on a "Hot Flight" and then $2000 per-night for three Hot Nights at a $14,000 per-night mansion in Park City, Utah complete with a chef and housekeeping staff. He split the mansion with five friends and had a "lifestyles of the rich and famous" experience for $400 per-night per-person.

Four Hundred Concierge: All Wheels Up Memberships come with a complimentary Wheels Down concierge program that is powered by Four Hundred. Four Hundred is the premier, invitation only luxury concierge services firm. The annual fee of $24,000.00 for year-round Four Hundred concierge services fee is waived for being a Member of the Wheels Up Club.

8760 Experiences:  A unique lineup of private "meet-and-greet" opportunities with top athletes, entertainers, thought leaders as well as complimentary tickets and suite access to world class sporting events, concerts and family shows in cities across the country.

My Wheels Up sales representative sealed the deal with two offers both which expired at the end of the month.

Pay As You Fly Membership Offer: On the $17,500 pay-as-you-fly membership, I was offered a $9,000 flight credit (good for two flight hours on a King Air 350i) with the purchase of my membership in addition to a $4,000 credit against my second year's renewal fee. He also said my membership would not commence until I took my first flight effectively pushing my second year's renewal fee further back on the calendar.

100K Pre Purchase Program Offer: With a single payment of $100,000, I was offered a $2,000 initiation fee credit, a $9,000 flight credit, a $4,000 credit against my second year's renewal fee, and subtraction of my $17,500 membership initiation fee leaving me with an account balance of $93,500 and 365 day guaranteed peak day access. (An effective net initiation cost of only $2,500 to join the program!) As in the previous offer, my membership would not commence until I took my first flight effectively pushing my second year's renewal fee further back on the calendar.

I went for the Pay As You Fly Membership with the 300 guaranteed day guaranteed access as my kids are now in college and I think I can do without the guaranteed peak day access. If needed guaranteed peak day access, I would have jumped at the pre-purchase option.

Click here to see a copy of my Individual Wheels Up Membership Agreement

Promotions: If you have any further questions about joining Wheels Up please feel free to contact me. I will work with your Wheels Up regional sales representative to make sure you receive all the latest discounts, benefits, and promotions associated with your membership. In addition, as a new Wheels Up member, I will ensure that you receive a Wheels Up branded Golf Bag and a Wheels Up branded Ski Bag that is specifically designed such that eight of them can nicely fit inside a King Air 350i on our Up Together shared Adventures.

Please note that the above information that was relayed to me by my sales representative is to the best of my recollection and subject to change by Wheels Up. Please review your membership agreement completely before signing.

Greg Savettiere
Club Coordinator
Up Together LLC
Wheels Up Member