Empty Legs occur when an operator has to position an aircraft from one point to another, empty. This happens when it finishes a charter at one airport, then has to reposition to either another airport for it's next charter, or back to it's home base.
Sometimes operators advertise these empty legs as available for charter, which means they are usually far less expensive than a regular charter - great news for the client!
There are however a number of factors that MUST be considered if you're looking to secure an empty leg flight.
Firstly, empty legs are NOT guaranteed, even if you decide to book one, and the operator confirms it, and you've paid the asking price it is still NOT guaranteed. This is because the operator may decide to use the aircraft for a full paying charter client for example, and if this happens the operator will give you a full refund, and you'll have absolutley no say whatsoever about it. To be fair, if the operator could fly from A to B for $25k why would they operate the same flight as an empty leg for $10k?
Secondly, because of the reason above, empty legs don't generally become available until 5-7 days prior to being operated and quite often it's way less than that, sometimes only a couple of days. Therefore if you really want to book an empty leg, you MUST have the funds available immediately to pay for the flight in FULL, and you MUST be ready to commit to the flight. Talking about payments, remember aswell that paying for the flight be it a full charter or empty leg, can take up to 72 hours. The banks can be tricky beings to deal with because of money laundering regulations across international borders, so trying to get a flight on the same day if you're a new client for an operator or broker probably won't happen. Many brokers and operators have schemes or agreements with clients to put a sum of money 'on hold', a bit like an initial deposit for a flight should one come up. The broker or operator can use this money to pay for a last minute flight in full if there's enough in the kitty. Otherwise the banks could hold things up when the payment is made from the client, and any reputable broker or operator simply won't risk losing $25k or more if they've never done business with you previously. They will wait until that payment has cleared into their business bank account BEFORE confirming the flight is all good.
Third, you need to be flexible. Empty legs are sporadic in their nature, so if one comes up last second you need to be able to get it booked before it vanishes, and it will. However flexibility is key. If you can fly from various airports to various airports on various dates you'll give yourself a much higher chance of finding (and securing) a suitable flight. All too often I see people trying to find an empty leg on a specific date, from a specific airport, to a specific airport. Unless you're looking for a very popular route like New York Teterboro to Miami Opa Locka chances are you'll not find anything. And if you do, and it's a popular route, the prices will reflect that and heavily discounted empty legs will in any case be less likely available.
Something else you'll need to consider is positioning costs.
Lets take an example:
We have two passengers looking to fly from Paris Le Bourget to Barcelona. They have a budget which should cover the overall cost, and they're sort of flexible with dates, they have a window of ten days in which they can depart. They have a look around and find nothing that matches the airports of origin or destination, but they do find a flight advertised as operating from Antwerp to Madrid, and it's on their ideal day! So they make the inquiry, and suddenly they find out that a flight that should be around $10,000 is actually going to cost them more like $17,000. Why?
Well, the aircraft has to fly empty from Antwerp to Paris, that needs to be paid for by the client flying from Paris to Barcelona. It will also need to fly empty from Barcelona to Madrid once they've been dropped off. Guess what? Yep that has to be paid for too. The operators costs have gone up dramatically as he now has to do two more landings than previously planned, and pay handling agents in Antwerp, Paris, AND Barcelona prior to arriving in Madrid, not to mention the extra fuel this will burn. The operator may also now have to factor in an overnight hotel stay for the crew due to crew duty limitations. All of a sudden an empty leg isn't as inexpensive as was once thought. Add to that the idea that the flight may not even happen at all and the stress that can mean, sometimes to get the best value for money on a charter it's best to just book a full charter and go with that. At least if you're paying for a full charter, you will know 100% it will be waiting for you when you need it to be.
Almost on a daily basis I see posts in various social media groups about looking for an empty leg departing in two or three months time, or even further ahead. Don't waste your time. If you've done a search on the web and found a few flights which appear to be a good match for your empty leg requirement but they're advertised as available further ahead than 2 weeks, chances are they won't happen. The same goes for ultra long distance empty legs. These are VERY rare indeed, although they do happen on occasion. I say again, these are RARE! Operators will generally not bother flying a jet half way round the world empty, or across the Atlantic Ocean empty as it costs them far too much money, so they'll wait for a charter wherever the jet is, and operate it as a full charter. For any operator, putting the crew in a hotel for a week and leaving the aircraft on the ground is far more cost effective than flying 12 hours empty at over $10k/hour.
Something else that really needs to be mentioned - return flight empty legs.
Asking for an empty leg in one direction, then another in the opposite direction is understandable, certainly from a cost point of view. The fact is, empty legs are VERY difficult to find a perfect match for. In other words, if someone is looking for an empty leg from New York to Sarasota, on a specific date, just finding the perfect routing is tricky for any particular day, but try finding one for the day it's actually required, using a jet to carry the amount of passengers needed.. Then factor in the work that needs to go into finding one the other way, a specific route, on a specific day, specific number of seats, it's pretty much impossible. The amount of work a broker or operator would have to do just to find one empty leg for anyone is actually quite extensive. Personally, I'm more than happy to put the leg work in to find a suitable empty leg for anyone, but 999 times out of 1000 it comes to nothing because of one reason or another. And that's fine. But if you're needing a return flight, request a full charter. Yes it's more expensive, but the value it will give you in terms of a lot less stress, the guarantee the jet will turn up to fly you, at the time you want, from the airport you want, to the airport you want, with the catering you want, the newspaper or magazine you want on board etc etc.
Well I hope that has given a small insight into what the world of empty legs looks like. Flying on an empty leg can be done, and does happen frequently, but I would suggest anyone goes into it with their eyes wide open. If you'd like more information please feel free to send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org - I answer all emails that arrive.
Intelli.Jet is a broker and not an operator, therefore does not offer any empty legs itself, but send me your requirements and I'll be happy to make the inquiry on your behalf to see if anything is potentially available.
Thanks for looking, and happy flying!