What is the Difference Between Charter Brokers and Charter Operators?

What is the Difference Between Charter Brokers and Charter Operators?

Schubach_Aviation_Aircraft_MGMT_MainIf you’re looking to charter a jet out of San Diego but don’t know which company to choose, you will probably start with Google. Your search might turn up roughly a hundred results for “charter companies,” even though there are only about 4 or 5 actual charter operators in San Diego.

Most of the related results you will see are for charter brokers and not true aircraft operators. Both will offer you the ability to charter a private jet for your specific itinerary but there are fundamental differences between the two. To understand which option fits your needs best you need to understand the differences, advantages and disadvantages that go along with each.

Jet Charter Operators

A charter operator directly manages, maintains, and crews a fleet of aircraft available for charter. To be an operator, you initially have to earn your operating certificate issued by the FAA. It’s a rigorous process designed to provide a certain standard of safety for the general public when chartering aircraft. Charter operators are required to continuously interface with the FAA having every aircraft and pilot approved before an aircraft is made available. Whether you book through a broker or with an operator directly, if it’s a legitimate, legal charter, you will end up flying on a charter operators aircraft.

Cost savings would be one of the top reason people choose to book directly with an operator. Another big advantage is having direct communication with the operator. Anytime there are more links in the chain of communication, information is liable to get lost – from the smaller details in regards preferences for your trip to the larger items such as a flight delay due to weather. Other advantages would be the ability to create a relationship and comfort level with the same group of pilots, the chance for upgrades within that operator’s fleet, more flexibility, and peace of mind knowing this operator’s history and reputation.

Some possible disadvantages to booking through an operator is that you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. If that operator is fully booked when you call to schedule a trip, you may have to go out and search for other options, which can be time-consuming. The operator’s fleet may also not be diverse enough to meet all of your needs. For example, they may have small jets that can fly you to Vegas but nothing that could take you to the East Coast non-stop.

Jet Charter Brokers

Just as with brokers in other industries, charter brokers act as middlemen between operators and customers. Their offices may or may not be run out of an airport, often they run out of the broker’s home. When a customer calls a charter broker to book a flight, the broker is tasked with finding aircraft options for that customer, typically based on price point or aircraft preference.

They scour the network of charter operators for available aircraft. Once they have quotes from charter operators, the broker adds a standard commission to the quoted price and delivers the new, marked up price to the customer. The key phrase to keep in mind when you come across a jet charter website is “access to” rather than “operation of” private jets. The former typically implies a charter broker whereas the latter is likely a charter operator. There are no special aircraft you can only book through a broker – most operators work directly with customers and with brokers.

Brokers can be a good option for someone who frequently hops between varying cities and does not have the time or interest in researching the different charter operators based in different parts of the country. It can be easier to let a broker do that work for you. Brokers can also put several options in front of the customer at one time, giving them some room to make a choice on aircraft based on specific needs. Some brokers also offer to vet the charter company for you; if you trust this broker’s aviation expertise then it could help alleviate the stress of doing that yourself. Another frequently advertised benefit of using charter brokers is the ability to source one-way flights.

In addition to a higher price, there can be some other drawbacks when booking through a broker. For instance, because they are responsible to the operator for payment, brokers are required to have very rigid contracts with little flexibility. This can be a hefty price to pay if you need to cancel your flight for any reason.

The relative lack of regulation over brokers and the large sums of money that is being moving around attracts many charlatan types. In some states, the passenger can still be held liable for the price of a flight if the broker doesn’t pay the operator – in other words, you can end up paying for the same flight twice. If you book through a broker, it is imperative that you make sure it’s one who has been in business for a while and who has a solid reputation. Sadly, over the years we’ve seen several brokers shut down overnight, still owing operators for flights completed only to reappear shortly after as an entirely new company with a brand new website.

What’s your best option?

I personally think the ideal solution is to find a charter operator that also acts as on your behalf as a broker when the mission calls for it, finding one-way flights and sourcing aircraft outside of it’s. Because operators don’t rely on the money from brokered flights they are usually marked up a minimal amount and done as more of an added service for the customer. This solution meets all of your aviation needs and ensures that you are always getting a good value.

If you do decide that a broker is the best fit, I suggest you select one that embodies these two characteristics:

  1. Aviation Expertise. The whole point of using a broker is that they have some knowledge about aviation that you do not and can use that knowledge to your advantage, whether it’s vetting the safety of an operator or just recommending the best aircraft for your trip. Every once in a while, we’ll get a call from a broker who is brand new to the industry asking for a turboprop quote to Hawaii, an aircraft type that doesn’t nearly have the performance capability to make it over the long stretch of ocean. Clearly, this person is in need of some education and should not be representing your aviation interests.
  2. Trustworthiness. As mentioned above it is very important that you find a broker who is trustworthy. There are good ones out there. Asking for references from current customers is always a good idea.

For a more detailed comparison between charter operators and brokers, see our broker comparison page.

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