If you read the copies of emails and texts from its salespeople to customers, it would appear that promises made or inferred were not kept. In the New Jersey lawsuit, one text read, "You can get seats on private planes – with no additional fees – to cities including NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Vegas, SF, Europe, the Middle East and more. Join now.” The plaintiffs said after they joined they discovered per seat charges ranged from $990 to $5,885, and they ended up buying airline tickets instead.
Emails sent from sales reps were allegedly designed to look like they were coming from Petrossov himself. Flyertalk's "Gold23," posting about opening emails he thought were from the boss wrote, "This is one of the things that has bothered me about JS as I've investigated the service and considered joining. The amazingly low brow marketing. I don't want to give my money to people with this type of boiler room tactic." However, many others signed up. JetSmarter claimed in April to have reached over 14,000 members.
Flyertalk's "Gold23" wrote of JetSmarter's marketing approach, "This is one of the things that has bothered me about JS as I've investigated the service and considered joining. The amazingly low brow marketing. I don't want to give my money to people with this type of boiler room tactic" after receiving emails from sales reps designed to look like they had come from the CEO.screenshot
Executives also pimped their own investors – which include the Saudi Royal Family and Sean Carter, known as Jay-Z. One executive told Business Insider in August 2016 that 90% of investors were customers who used the service before backing it financially. It echoed those old ads where Victor Kiam used to crow about Remington, “I liked the shaver so much I bought the company.”
Feelings about JetSmarter are as divided as American politics. Of 28 Yelp reviews, 10 give the company five stars, 17 give it just one star, and there's a single 2-star review. There’s no middle ground – not a single review with three or four stars. The average score has dropped from 3.5 stars in May 2017 to its current 1.5 stars.
In a recent Yelp review, Thomas B. of Miami Beach wrote, "If you feel like getting shampooed or bamboozled this is the company for you." Others echoed similar sentiments, including using phrases like "scam" or "bait-and-switch." JetSmarter hypes its app as the core tool in bringing efficiency to private aviation, yet while it's used to signup, provide credit card information, messenger requests, pay, find and book flights, customers say when they had a complaint, they were directed to the phone. Their belief is JetSmarter wanted to minimize the paper trail of complaints or written pledges for resolutions.
Membership is no longer a requirement. Non-members can book flights or start shared charters, albeit at higher prices, although last month there was a multi-week "Christmas in July" promotion that gave member rates to non-members. Those who had just shelled out either $4,950 for individual and $9,950 for family memberships were not amused, and are concerned it is a sign of another devaluation. One member who said he paid for the family membership plan then learned it was offered for $1,950 to another member. The company simply says it’s trying to grow membership, something that will benefit all members. Others complain that they were told non-members would be paying significantly more but then find flights where the difference is only $200.
While on its own all those free flights might have seemed compelling enough, users of the service say they were coaxed to signup with promises they would be protected against future increases. In a November 2016 interview with South Florida Business Journal, JetSmarter spokesperson Ronn Torossian commenting on a recent price hike said existing members were “grandfathered” against the increases. Members say the inference was that by jumping aboard in the early stages both the rates and their free flights would be protected as long as they were members. Promising to lock-in a price and then gutting benefits would be meaningless.
Take It Or Leave It
JetSmarter executives don't seem to care much about any damage from the vortex of complaints it is leaving in its wake. “There are some people, primarily those who joined two years ago, who might not be a fit for the company today,” Torossian told The Verge in March 2017. In that same article, Petrossov said, “It’s kind of trivial, you have wealthy people complaining about private jets. It’s a bit crazy in the whole scheme of things. It is painful to us when certain members really think they are not getting enough value,” although he did give, “At the end of the day a lot of this is about managing expectations.” That’s something the company apparently still hasn’t mastered.
Many posters on Flyertalk and those taking legal action say the new seat pricing puts membership beyond their means. The former member suing in California was paying $9,000 per year and is seeking at least $2 million, in part based on the value of the free flights he was getting that is lost for the future. A New York-based member who once held memberships for himself, his wife and two daughters has gone from a cheerleader to detractor. He admits to getting booted after making threats and using foul language. He says he became irate after being misled about the impact of changes on his memberships, then finding something he had just paid nearly $10,000 for was being sold to others for a fifth of the price. “If you stand in line at the deli and buy a ham sandwich for $10, then they charge the guy behind you $2 for the exact same thing you would be mad too,” he says.
The former member says when JetSmarter started adding a surcharge of up to $500 for the cross country flights he was understanding. Now with seats on JetSmarter between Los Angeles and New York in the $3,000 range, each way compared to first-class airline seats that start under $1,000, it’s a far different proposition from the halcyon days of tokens and plentiful free seats.
In November 2016, JetSmarter released the results of a study revealing who its customers were. It was a lot of professions one doesn't normally associate with private aviation. The list included personal trainers, fashion stylists, chefs, digital influencers, designers, image consultants, event planners, nannies and even college students.
Several weeks ago during the “Christmas in July” promotion, I had to go to New York, however, JetSmarter flights at more than $1,000 each way were more than double what I ended up paying first class on American Airlines. What’s more, I was going to Long Island, meaning flying to Westchester County, Teterboro or Morristown and out of Ft. Lauderdale or Opa-Locka Executive Airport would have taken me more time than flying from Miami to JFK.
I tried to contact the six people who posted the most recent 5-star reviews on Yelp, which took me back to early last year. I wanted to know if they were still members and if they were still happy. After I received one response answering in the affirmative and asking, "What's in it for me?" the reviewer told me she wasn’t interested in talking. I guess speaking to Forbes.com was not enough. I then heard from Dan Nainan, a comedian and corporate speaker, who has been a member since December 2016.
He's a fan. In an email, he told me, "For the price of less than one private flight, I've taken almost 60, on all kinds of jets including Citations, Falcons, G4s, etc. I've met some amazing people on board, including some who will be lifelong friends and one who even lets me park my car, a Tesla, in his apartment's garage for free, which is nothing to sneeze at in New York City. A fellow member and I even flew private to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, and JetSmarter even threw in free nights at Club Abaco, which rivals some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen in the world...Twice, I've been the only person on the jet, which has been surreal.
"Certainly there have been some unfavorable changes. For example, the helicopters were taken away, which was a bummer. As things stand, it's still possible to fly free using tokens as I am for my Florida flights tomorrow and Wednesday, but they do require booking further in advance. I look at it this way. I don't think it would have been possible for JetSmarter to fly us around the country forever at such ridiculously low membership rates. But knowing what I know now, I still would join, and I have no regrets. I'm very happy with my membership."
There have only been seven complaints against JetSmarter with the Better Business Bureau, but its grade is D+.Screenshot
There are only seven complaints about JetSmarter with the Better Business Bureau, less than one might think, although it gets a D+ rating. On Trustpilot.com there is only one review, and it’s positive. On Ripoff Report, there is only a single complaint, although it's scathing. On ConsumerAffairs.com and Pissedconsumer.com there are no reviews or complaints about the company I could find.
Clearly, the target for these pricey flights is much different from even a year ago when the changes to that point led Petrossov and Torossian to acknowledge the membership proposition was changing. I was hoping to interview Petrossov after having just covered the two aforementioned lawsuits against the company on my website last week, but the catch was I wanted him to address the ongoing complaints – the seemingly misleading emails from his salespeople, the continuing use of celebrities on social media without disclosure, the alleged promises that weren’t fulfilled, the apparent lack of sufficient free seats for members who bought in under terms promising them, stuff like that. The answer from Torossian was “Thanks pass.”
JetSmarter’s answers to date have been mainly pushback that the dissenters are disgruntled former employees and members who have been kicked out or others who have an ax to grind. It recently obtained a court order against skeptic Peter Maestrales, another charter broker, to take down critical analysis from his website.
After I wrote about JetSmarter's transition to an all paid model for Forbes.com in June, when I talked again to Petrossov he was still pushing back that it wasn't a major change in strategy from the free flights model. I’ve never met him in person, but on the phone, he’s quite likable and often responds to my emails promptly when I’m working on stories. Others I know who have met him say the same. The consensus seems to be he’s an idea guy who failed to build a strong customer-focused leadership team.
I'm not sure Petrossov feels he owes any apologies - or explanations. For a PR-driven profile by Time Magazine in April titled, "Meet the 29-Year Old CEO Who Turned His Hobby Into a $1.5 Billion Business That's Backed by Jay-Z," he declined to discuss last year's highly critical articles written by The Verge. They detailed some of the same criticisms in this article plus JetSmarter’s heavy hand in trying to ensure a reporter it had invited for a press preview would write a positive review.
In due course we’ll find out if JetSmarter can be profitable with the fares it’s now charging, if it can find enough people to pay them or if it has enough additional revenue streams waiting behind the curtain. In terms of the company’s health, one operator who is providing flights for JetSmarter says the money is still flowing, and naturally, he hopes it continues.
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/douggollan/2018/08/17/trying-to-make-sense-of-the-troubles-at-jetsmarter/
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