Private aviation has taken off.
The wealthiest among us have long owned private jets or chartered flights to scoot them around the world at a moment's notice. But these days, there are myriad alternatives to simply flying in the first class cabin.
Fractional jet ownership lets you own a piece of a plane you might not need in its entirety; a fractional card or charter card gives you the right to fly a certain number of hours on planes in a particular fleet. Then there is a bevy of new air clubs and commercial services that provide all-first-class or all-business-class service.
Those benefits of such services can be considerable: customized itineraries; runway boarding; full galley kitchens staffed with private chefs; state-of-the-art, surround-sound entertainment systems; on-board concierges; pet care; child care; and leather and teak furnishings.
Interested? So are affluent consumers across the globe. And specialized options, created to accommodate corporations and individuals at a range of price points and levels of commitment, are fueling major industry growth.
The private aviation market has grown between 15% and 20% in the past 12 months, estimates Joe Moeggenberg, president of the Cincinnati-based Aviation Research Group U.S. Jet-ownership, charter programs and even major fractional jet providers don't count for much of that, and fractional providers alone have grown just 5% in the last year, says Moeggenberg. But innovative charter card programs have skyrocketed, increasing sales by close to 30%.
Sentient Jet, a Weymouth, Mass.-based private aviation company that follows the charter card model, is certainly feeling the lift.
"The company has tripled in size in 24 months," says Steve Hankin, chief executive of Sentient Jet. "Right now, our growth is well into 60, 70, 80% range year-over-year." He declines to release specific sales figures, however.
Sentient Jet membership can be purchased at two levels: Silver ($100,000) or Gold ($250,000). The account is debited for the number of hours spent in the air; rates vary depending on jet size, class and whether the trip is one-way or round-trip, but they start at $2,500 an hour.
If that sounds pricey--or too cheap--there are plenty of other options available depending on how often and how far you fly. Make the jump between New York and Los Angeles every week? You might want to consider membership in Avion Private Jet Club, a self-proclaimed "country club in the sky." Membership fees cost between $18,000 (for an individual) and $75,000 (for ten-member corporate access). On top of that, clients pay annual dues and a fee of $7,000 for each one-way cross-country seat on one of Avion's eight Gulfstream or Challenger jets. The company currently flies at least three times a week.
"My clients stopped flying commercially after Sept. 11, 2001," says Gary Mansour, chief executive of the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company. "In the very beginning, it was for security reasons, fear of terrorism. Now it's more convenience than anything. In London this summer, you couldn't bring water on board? You can't bring your chap stick? People are just fed up with the inconvenience." Avion currently has 60 members, and Mansour aims for a total of 1,000 in the next three years.
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Mansour says many of these members are already participants in NetJets--the Berkshire Hathaway (nyse: BRKA - news - people ) subsidiary that pioneered fractional jet ownership--or Marquis Jet Card (NetJets' fractional card option). So why would anyone already plunking down at least $406,250 for a 1/16 interest in a Hawker 400XP (the starting cost of a NetJets share) need other options?
"It's economics," explains Mansour. "In an hourly card program, taking a jet smaller than ours round-trip from Los Angeles to New York would cost about $80,000."
If all this math has your head spinning faster than an airplane propeller, a fleet of industry service providers stand ready to advise wealthy individuals and corporations on their flight options. One of them, The Helium Report, a San Francisco-based buying guide for wealthy consumers, has introduced a decision guide for jet ownership, which divides the universe of private aviation options into five broad categories
"The evolution of the jet market has resulted in developed product sets that fit different consumer needs. We reduced those to five simple concepts," says Jamie Cheng, co-founder of The Helium Report.
To better understand your alternatives to first class, Forbes.com borrowed The Helium Report's five categories and added one of our own. The costs range from the $40 million-plus you would pay for your own Gulfstream, all the way down to a few thousand dollars. Now all you need is a place to go.
© 2012 Forbes.com