Jet Fuel is one of the most expensive aspects of operating a business aircraft.
It is also an area where discounts can be found with just a small amount of planning and investigating. And yet, many pilots, flight crews and travel professionals find themselves confused or inconvenienced in the process of finding the best fuel options. It’s important to understand how to source jet fuel for business aircraft.
First, you need to source fuel prices to compare.
There are many open databases to research online, but AirNav.com is reliable and consistent in posting accurate retail fuel prices on their website. There are also excellent aircraft fuel software available for subscription that you can tailor to your aircraft type, account details, and communications with vendors and FBOs. Whichever database you have access to, start there and select an FBO at your destination airport that looks to be the best for your trip requirements. And then – Call! Ask to speak to the customer service manager about fuel pricing and try to negotiate a discount. Of course, the more fuel you buy, the better discount you will get. This can be frustrating process if you are operating smaller aircraft types or if you don’t intend to take on much fuel, but don’t be discouraged. You may need to call multiple FBOs to find the best price.
Second, you need to determine the best payment method for purchasing fuel.
There are multiple ways to paying for aircraft fuel – credit card, contract, invoice through fuel vendor, or cash (if you have enough on hand!). Each method offers different a price per gallon, additional discounts, ground services may be included, and loyalty or rewards points programs. Researching all of the options and comparing the best ‘deal’ is somewhat like solving a Rubik’s cube. Did you know that there are over 12 different credit cards available from FBOs and specific fuel providers? You need to decide whether aircraft fuel should be purchased on the company Visa/American Express/Mastercard or if you should acquire an FBO-offered credit card or a Fuel Vendor-specific credit card. But, which offers you the best deal? Keep in mind that a good ‘deal’ at one FBO at one airport, does not always translate to the next FBO at your next destination. If you are armed with just a regular credit card, talk directly to the FBO, especially if there are no fuel card accounts set up.
Third, you need to evaluate additional services available by using a specific vendor.
Certain FBOs, often the large ‘chains’ branded at multiple airports, have programs that you can join. However, for smaller flight departments, they are mostly uninterested in giving out much of a discount. Remember FBOs make the most money on fuel gallons purchased. If your aircraft is ‘stopping through’ once a year, chances are that the FBO won’t be offering you any significant discounts on fuel. These situations are difficult to negotiate and you should spend your time researching what services are most beneficial to you with the vendor you will be using most often in order to make the best purchasing decision.
Finally, watch the invoices that come back.
Sometimes the price that you were quoted is not reflected correctly. If you don’t look, you could end up paying retail and then all your hard work finding the lower price has gone out the window. Many scheduling softwares have a way to track what the retail fuel price was and the price you actually paid, therefore showing the money that you saved at the end of each quarter. This is a good justification for having the programs (and you to find the discounts).
There are many programs and fuel vendors available to private aviation. Very few (if any!) can compete with fuel prices offered by CAA (Corporate Aircraft Association). The CAA program is an annual subscription (per aircraft) allowing for access to pre-negotiated rates and discounts at select FBOs. Many times, along with the good fuel price discount, there is also a discount on the handling fee. Many locations have no minimum fuel purchase to waive the handling fee with CAA – This can really save you money! CAA sometimes offers a 6 month free trial to new users and it is definitely worth a try! The sign-up is easy and gets activated right away. Another important note is that CAA is not a payment method, it gets you a discounted price but you still need to still use a credit card or fuel card to pay for your fuel and fees. Again, CAA offers extremely good pricing but… you do have to use only the FBOs that they have contracts with. Again, you need to decide, what is the best option?
If you’re ready to engage with a specific fuel vendor, look towards the brokered fuel companies like World, AEG, Avfuel, Colt, UVair, Epic, Phillips 66 and the list goes on…
As you can see, there are a ton of options and their offerings vary.
CAUTION: You don’t need 10 cards in your aircraft wallet!
Pick 2-3 of them that are offered at the locations you frequently travel. Balance your selection with 2-3 available domestically and look for 1-2 that are competitive internationally if you plan to venture out of the US. You will need to apply for each account, providing your company information and bank account details. Once that is done, many of these vendors have websites where you can source fuel, review invoices and talk with your very own sales representative directly about further discounts.