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Pros and cons of charter flights

SmarterTravel

You may have heard about great airfare deals you can get by taking a charter flight. Or, perhaps you found a low price on a packaged vacation, and the airfare component is on a charter flight. Chances are you might also be one of the many travelers who doesn’t know what exactly a charter flight is, or the benefits (and risks) associated with charter flights.

What is a charter flight?

Unlike the scheduled flights of most major U.S. carriers, charter flights generally take place outside normal schedules. Seats on charter flights can be sold individually through a charter company or as part of a vacation package through a tour operator such as TNT Vacations. Or, travelers can charter an entire plane for a group (or an individual). Charter flights are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for safety.

Like all methods of transportation, there are benefits and risks associated with booking a charter flight. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons to see if the cost savings (if any) outweigh the potential drawbacks of charter flights.

What are the benefits of a charter flight?

  • Prices: Charter flights tend to be less expensive than commercial flights. Even so, travelers should always compare charter flight fares with fares from commercial airlines as well.
  • Flexibility: Fares for charter flights do not carry most of the stringent restrictions that are imposed with commercial flights. These include specific advance-purchase and minimum- or maximum-stay requirements.
  • Clarity of prices: Many charter fares are not subject to the typical legacy airline fare-class distinctions. However, charters do tend to discount unsold seats close to the departure date.
  • Less hassle: Charter flights are usually direct.

What are the drawbacks of a charter flight?

  • Crowded planes: Charters usually seek to fill the planes to maximum capacity. You’re unlikely to have an empty seat beside you as you might on a commercial flight.
  • Cancellations: If a flight is not sufficiently filled, the charter company can cancel the flight within 10 days of departure. And, because some charters fly unpressurized planes (which must fly around the weather rather than above it), inclement weather can cause flight cancellations as well.
  • Delays: Flights can be delayed before departure for up to 48 hours without a refund. Schedules and fares are subject to change until the departure date.
  • Refund policies: Charters have strict cancellation policies. Travelers will usually have to pay a cancellation penalty and are likely not entitled to a refund. However, some charters may allow a substitute traveler to fly in place of the ticketed traveler for a small penalty fee. If a traveler misses the flight, he or she isn’t entitled to simply take the next flight. Most charter flights have a use-it-or-lose it policy.

How to book charter flights

  • Vacation packages: The easiest way to book a seat on a charter flight is through a vacation tour provider. TNT Vacations and Apple Vacations are two companies that sometimes offer charter flights as part of a package.
  • Chartering a flight: If you’re looking to book an individual seat on a charter flight, your best bet might be to contact a travel agent. It’s difficult to locate accurate information about specific charter flights using the Internet, and experienced travel agents will have more access to that information.
    Charter companies sometimes advertise in the Sunday travel section of newspapers.

    If you plan to charter a plane but don’t have a specific company in mind, consider using a search tool such as AirCharterGuide.com. The website shows a price range for available aircraft, charter operators, and brokers that will arrange the travel for you. Airlines including North American Airlines and USA3000 also operate charter flights.

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