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Business aircraft or commercial airlines?

Why the answer changes with the mission

When the distance is too far to drive to attend a conference or to meet your customer, it’s time to decide whether to travel by airline or business aircraft. Companies that consider both options look at the question from all sides and then choose based on the answer that saves time, money or both.

What should I consider?

Industry comparison models show several factors affect overall travel cost, including how many people are traveling, the average wages of those traveling, the prices of airline tickets, hotel costs, rental car rates and meal reimbursements. Also, when you need to travel makes a difference, too. Two weeks’ notice to the airlines reduces airfares, but planning a trip at the end of the week could cost $1,000 or more per person in airline tickets alone. Business aircraft offer convenience and flexibility – you fly when the opportunities arise.

Hard costs

  • Airline ticket
  • Hotel
  • Rental car
  • Meals

Indirect costs

  • Lengthy waits at the airport
  • Travel time to reach your final destination
  • Lost productivity of top earners
  • Extra days on the road due to distance

The models show indirect costs from airline travel can add up quickly, too. Consider the example below of three employees traveling from Boston to Savannah, Georgia. When you consider the business effectively pays the travelers per hour of work, it costs the company an additional $11,000 for them to fly via the airlines. Fatigue after the three-day trip can cost the business another $5,000 in productivity.

*Total costs include: lost production in transit, hotel, rental car and meals.

  • Commercial aircraft

  • Private aircraft

Three-person trip: Boston, MA to Vidalia, GA

Total cost Total time en route Trip time
Flying KING AIR 350i turboprop $26,267 5 hours 1 day
Flying commercial airline $28,425 14 hours 3 days

When going by airline, it often takes an entire day of travel just to get to the final destination. Business aircraft offer far more efficiency because you can reach 10 times the number of airfields than airlines serve. That brings passengers closer to their colleagues, customers and facilities and in much less time.

In our Boston to Vidalia scenario, the cost of the trip favored flying onboard a regional turboprop by nearly $2,200, in large part because business aircraft’s schedule flexibility shortened the trip by two full days.

Cost breakdown for the three-person trip

King Air 350i Commercial airline
Time in transit (hours) 16.86 20.1
Wait time (hours) 9 36
Total loss of productive time (hours) 16.95 50.83
Total travel time (hours) 27.36 60.1
Employee costs while waiting and in transit $3,446.88 $8,386.50
Fatigue costs first day after travel $2,062.50 $5,249.50
Production loss $3,897.50 $11,689.75
Total aircraft/airline ticket costs $16,560.58 $1,350
Rental car 0 $250
Hotel 0 $600
Meals $300 $900
Total costs $26,267.46 $28,425.75

Of course, financial models can only calculate so much. They can’t project the costs of lost business deals when added travel time limits the number of opportunities team members can pursue. Those same models can’t calculate cost savings that come when companies are able to retain top earners by reducing time away from family and other personal goals. It’s also impossible to quantify the ease of conducting confidential business in private en route.

Most executives agree traveling two fewer days in an already-packed schedule is an invaluable advantage for any employee. Rather than default to a particular travel option, most companies that use business aircraft adopt responsible travel policies. They analyze each trip on its own merits and choose the option that makes most sense for profits and productivity.