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"LIKE A STARBUCKS CARD"

If you’re a really, really frequent flyer, you can now book a private jet on Delta

By Leslie Josephs

Members of Delta Air Lines’ frequent flyer program can now cash in their points for a ride on a private jet. All you need is a minimum of 2.5 million SkyMiles to spare.

The offer is part of an effort by Delta to grow its private aviation arm, Delta Private Jets, which operates a fleet of about 70 planes and picks passengers up in Porsche SUVs.

The 2.5 million SkyMiles can be cashed in for a Jet Card worth $25,000. That buys a little under five hours of flight time on one of Delta’s private jets, says Rex Bevis, chief financial officer of Delta Private Jets. “Think of it like a Starbucks card,” he says.

Passengers that decide to trade in all those miles for a private flight can bring as many people on board as the plane seats—no extra per-person cost. They can also apply points from Starwood Hotels and American Express toward the flights.

Private flying has perks besides not having to sit near strangers. Security lines are shorter and the planes often take off from separate, quieter airports.

Delta’s not the only carrier in private aviation. On Oct. 25, JetSuite, a private plane charter company whose JetSuiteX arm operates five 30-seat jets for routes on the West Coast, said carrier JetBlue took a minority stake in the company. (Delta, on the other hand, fully owns its private jet arm.)

For most travelers, a seat aboard a private jet is a pipe dream. But a private flight can be a tough sell even to wealthy passengers because it is usually cheaper to fly commercially in first class—though passengers must be “willing to yield to the chaos of the airport,” says Jason Meltsner, director of the air desk at Ovation Travel, a high-end travel agency. For example, a six-hour flight in mid-November from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport in Delta’s first class was going for as little as $1,333 one way. Meltsner says many of his clients, “even a lot of the ones who can afford [private flights], are not asking for it.”