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Sep 13

How Much Can You Really Making Smuggling In GTA Online?

How Much Can You Really Making Smuggling In GTA Online?


So you’re thinking about expanding into the Air Freight business, and want to know just how profitable this can be. We have reports that the return on investment for this business is terrible, not worth doing. And on the opposite site, huge paydays when full hangar sales are made. The big questions: How much do you actually make per hour (or minute)? And what can you do to maximize this profit?

Rockstar did a bit of mix and match with this DLC. You have sourcing missions much like biker MC supply stealing combined with vehicle sourcing, and selling something like special cargo — with bonuses for large sales and cooldown times making it hard to get a full hangar fast.


The math of smuggling. Or how Less is More:

The sourcing method makes this a bad solo business, which is unlike any other business in the game. If you have to do it, you want to optimize your choices to make the best income, and the method might not be obvious. Second, Rockstar has put in enough complications on both sourcing and selling that Less Is More — sell a cargo for a lower bonus but less cooldown time — can be literally true. It is almost like they are trying to trick you into running your business inefficiently. Nothing in the in-game laptop information really prepares you to figure this out, so I’m going to try to break this down with a bit of math and analysis.

The basic payout of the Air Freight business is not very high. Each crate you get is only worth $10000. The sourcing steal missions take about 10 minutes each — some can be faster than others. So 10k in 10 minutes is only 1000 per minute. Or 60k per hour.

This is a pitiful rate of return for a hands-on business. On the positive side, it costs nothing but time to run the steal missions. In this, it it like the vehicle warehouse.

Unlike the special cargo warehouse, the number of crates you source is based on the number of players in your organization, up to a maximum of four. This makes it like the steal supplies operations for MC and Bunker businesses. And in many ways, the missions do resemble those of the gunrunning operations.

Unlike the supply stealing, where you can just pay cash to get supplies right away, the number of crates you can steal is directly based on the number of players you have in your organization.  To explicitly state:  the payout from this business is directly based on the number of players you have when sourcing product.  Four players make four times as much per minute as one player.  However, when you divide this up among the four, the smuggling income ends up exactly the same as for the solo player.

Rockstar didn’t make the rate of return on this business easy to figure out. There are three tiers of products to source. Each gets bonuses from different quantities. The top tier needs 25 for a 35% bonus, and a full hangar of 50 for the 70% bonus. The 2nd tier needs only 10 for a 12% bonus, and gets an additional 12% for each additional 10 crates, with a maximum of 60% at 50. The lowest tier gets a 5% bonus for every 5 crates, with a maximum of 50% bonus.

To further complicate things, there is a cooldown between sourcing runs of the same product. And that cooldown is longer for the higher tier products, and also longer if you get more than one crate per sourcing run with more players. As long as you alternate products, you can avoid the cooldown. But when you are trying to get a full 50 of one product, that is no longer possible, so you have to find something to do while you wait — or effectively reduce your rate of earnings because of your idle time waiting.

In practice, I think the only way to get solid numbers on the actual earning potential of this business is to track the time spent and the earnings per player for each product, and each method of mixing them on the way to a full 50 when you do that. Given that it can take eight or more hours to fill a hangar solo, and two or more even with a solid group, this kind of analysis will require dedicated players with a lot of time on their hands, and the willingness to carefully track the details.

Instead, I’m going to do some basic analysis of the business. I hope it helps those who are struggling to get the most from this business, especially those who are daring to run it solo, or without a large crew.


Running Some Numbers

Let’s run some simple numbers. We’ll use easy round numbers to try to keep the math easier to understand. We’ll give an average source mission a time of 10 minutes, and round off the combined source and sale missions to 10 minutes per crate as well. Yes, the sale missions do add to the time, but this keeps the numbers easy.

A single crate source of 10 minutes gives you a sale of 10K, or 1000 per minute, as I mentioned earlier. For a solo player, this business is no money maker.

The best bonus is 70%, which would bring you to 17K per crate, or 1700 per minute. That is ignoring the cooldown time, which will be a factor.

A partnership can source 2 crates in 10 minutes, for 20K. That isn’t bad, 2000 per minute, but only one gets that money. They could completely eliminate the cooldown time by changing roles, sourcing 2 crates for the 2nd player in another 10 minutes. This gives each 20k, in 20 minutes. The same 1000 per minute, each, that the solo player gets. Each partner also gets 10 minutes of CEO bodyguard or MC member pay, which isn’t very much, but it does add up. Call it 5000 per 10 minutes — you might beat that when your salaries get boosted, but retiring usually resets the salaries, so it evens out. 25K in 20 minutes brings us up to 1250 per minute. The maximum bonus will net you around 40K in 20 minutes, or 2000 per minute.

A syndicate of four players can pull in 4 crates in 10 minutes for 40K. That is a pretty nice 4k per minute for the boss. The same rotation system as the partnership gives each that 40K, plus 30 minutes of bodyguard money — rough estimate 55K for 40 minutes for each. A bit better than the partnership deal, but still only 1375K each.

The maximum bonus will push this to 68K for the crates each, plus the same 15K for the bodyguard time, for a net 83K in 40 minutes, or just over 2K per minute each.

As a sustainable business for a crew working together to make the most money for all members, this isn’t very impressive. The CEO businesses are far more, and even VIP work and contact missions are solidly competitive with this.

So how can you make decent money doing this business? Well, if you always remain a boss and never work for anyone else, and can always get enough associates to keep the business going (it takes a full 4 people, either CEO or MC, but I recommend CEO because the CEO vehicles are very helpful and associate pay is better for time on steals), to get the crates in the least amount of time) — you can keep all the big money for yourself. This can happen for the special cargo warehouse work too, but that business at least does have potential for solo or partnership work. If you get 68K in 10 minutes (4 crates with 70% bonus), that is a very impressive 6.8K per minute, or over 400K per hour!

But wait! We are mitigating the cooldown time entirely by changing command, a method which works well for other businesses, especially the vehicle warehouse. If you don’t change roles, that means you have to cope with the lost time from cooldown when you are going for 50 crates. This problem also applies to the solo player. If you are going to try this solo, the methods to manage the cooldown here can help you too.

If you are trying to completely fill the hangar with one product as fast as you can, that cooldown time is going to be a big problem. Let’s run some solo numbers.

Top tier — 70% bonus — products have a 4 minute cooldown. Add four minutes to the 10 minute per crate time, that gives you 14 minutes for a crate which will sell for 17K. That’s 1214 per minute.

2nd tier gives a 60% bonus but has a 3 minute cooldown. 16K in 13 minutes is 1230 per minute.
The lowest tier gives a 50% bonus with a 2 minute cooldown, or 15K in 12 minutes. That’s 1250 per minute.

If these average times hold true, paradoxically, the lesser tier cargo actually gives you more money per minute, because you aren’t sitting around idly waiting to do another steal run. This is solidly true for a solo player, but less so for a sole CEO with four people gathering crates. Even so, the extra two or three minutes of cooldown per cycle makes the three tiers pretty close in terms of how much you’ll make per minute, if you only source one type of product.

Well, wait some more! If you go for two top tier products alternating, you have no cooldown and each one will be at a 35% bonus. Or 1350 per minute solo (5400 for sole CEO)! In this situation, you will literally make more money per minute by selling your product at a lesser bonus price. It is as though Rockstar is trying to trick you into making less income by going for the bigger payoff without realizing just how much longer it takes. When you have more players steal cargo, the cooldown timer is increased (one minute per additional crate), which will still leave the sell at 25 for 35% plan a better deal than going for the maximum bonus in much more time.

A sole CEO actually sources 28 products in 7 steal missions, for a sale of 378K in 70 minutes, or 5400 per minute. This is the highest payout you can get without taking any time out for cooldowns.


Since this applies to both the solo player and the sole CEO boss, are there better methods to work around the cooldown?

The 25/50 method can reduce the cooldown time loss by half. You alternate two top tier products until one gets to 25 or more for the 35% bonus. You then sell that one, and source the other (which will go over 25 on the next steal mission) until it gets to 50. You still have cooldowns — for the solo player, 24 times 4 minutes for 48, along with 25 sourcing missions of 10 minutes (250 minutes), for a total time of around 800 minutes for a full hangar. Total sale base of 1187500, for about 1484 per minute.

The sole CEO gets about the same sale amount — four crates at a time may give you 28 rather than 50 for the 35% product sale — and will bring you down to six or seven cooldowns of about 7 minutes each — call it around 45 minutes. The sourcing times are 7 plus 6 plus 7 at four crates each, or 200 minutes, for a total time of about 245 minutes. 1228000 base sale price. Call this around 5000 per minute for the CEO.

Trying to source just one product alone would be 13 sourcing missions (130 minutes), with about 72 minutes of cooldowns, for a total of 200 minutes. The cooldown time is a killer, taking you down to about 4200 per minute.

Now, you can do something like VIP work or some other business during the cooldown times. If you are working solo or with reliable crew, this isn’t a bad option. It is the one way to let your associates make better money than just their salaries. It will bump up the total time needed to fill your hangar up, but it can keep the crew happier.

Still, there is another option. Remember the two lower tier products? They get bonuses at 10 and 5 crates. You can start out with the 25/50 split, but after you sell the 1st top tier product, you start alternating with a 2nd tier on your way to 50. For a solo player, this will be 10 sourcing runs, giving you 35 top tier and 10 2nd tier products. For a sole CEO, at 4 crates per run you’ll get to 36 top tier and 12 2nd tier (assuming no crates were lost when sourcing). You get a 12% bonus when you well the 2nd tier products, for either 120K solo or 144k for 12.

The solo player can then alternate with the lowest tier product, until they have 40 top tier and 5 3rd tier. Sell the 5 with a 5% bonus, and you can repeat this again for 45 and 5. You’ll only have four cooldown periods of 4 minutes to contend with.

The sole CEO gets more crates at a time, so could try this to get 40 top tier and 8 3rd tier, but you’re trading one 8 crate sale run for two cooldown periods. It might be worthwhile profitwise or not. It definitely could help keep the tempo up on your associate’s operations, by minimizing the cooldown periods.


Trying to optimize your business earnings with the air freight business is much more complex than any of the other businesses in GTA online so far. For a solo player, this only matters if you actually want to run these missions to make money rather than for the trade price unlocks or just for fun. This business is not very solo player friendly.
Even a partnership or four player syndicate working equally on this business isn’t going to get great money from it. They do get to completely eliminate the cooldown problems, but they payout just isn’t very high for an active business. The CEO businesses will be much more profitable.

Only the sole CEO who can always have handy associates who work for relatively low wages can actually make something we might call good money from smuggling. If they do about a dozen VIP work runs instead of doing cooldowns, that will help those poor wage slaves out, but the entire operating cycle is bumped up a couple of hours per full hangar.

Sustaining this sort of business profitably doesn’t seem easy. And if you have the sort of crew where everyone wants their turn as boss, this business simply isn’t going to make great money.

What about double GTA$ payouts? This can push the solo player up into the 180K/hour range, which still isn’t impressive compared to other CEO businesses. The 4 player syndicate might get up to 240K/hour if the CEO associate pay is also doubled, but otherwise is maybe 225K/hour. Which is OK, and on the order of a solo vehicle warehouse run, but not nearly as good as the best CEO operations (or even some heist crews).

No, only the sole CEO really gets to exploit this business. Doubling the payouts could bring well over 500K per hour. At that pay point, this becomes a truly amazing business. At least, until your stock of cheap labor runs out.

Strangely, this is sort of like running heists with an 85% or 100% cut for one player — especially the host player. In the case of heists, the income ratio is made clear and obvious. Players can choose to split the income unevenly in order to let one friend make more money fast.

But the Hangar isn’t a cheap business, and a player able to buy and operate one isn’t likely to be the poor one in the crew, needing more funds fast. Rockstar has stuck with a CEO business model where associates are not paid well for the work they do, and this business is the worst one yet for that. The Hangar have-nots would be better off doing other work to make money fast than working as associates for this business. You can, as with the special cargo crates business, incorporate VIP work to help even out the income, which is OK.

But it doesn’t seem like the sort of business which can run indefinitely, as you need a constant turnover of new employees in order to make big bucks. Or at least, moderately large bucks. I fear that participation will rapidly fall off, and for solo players and working partnerships and crew syndicates, the other businesses will remain alive and well while this one dies down. Then again, crates 1.0 (special cargo) isn’t nearly as popular as it once was, in part because of the long grinding time to get the big payoff. Also because it is all or nothing, so you must make a perfect delivery to get anything. If Rockstar were to change that in a patch, it might make the warehouse crates business a little more attractive. Even so, special cargo is profitable solo, while the smuggling business just is not.

So, some bottom line advice.

Whatever you do, don’t just wait out the cooldown time if you want to make money. Going for 50 crates of one type, even the highest tier, is literally making less per minute than the lower selling bonus. You are better off to only do half a hanger, 25-28 of the top tier products, and get a lesser bonus but have no waiting time. Of course, if you use that waiting time to do other work, that takes care of this profit issue, but you’ll take longer to get your money from the hangar business.

LSIA seems like a better location if you are going to run this as a business, especially if you are going to use the cooldown times for other operations from your office or just in Los Santos. Fort Zancudo is better placed for flying missions to anywhere on the map, but has little near it if you are going to do anything other than smuggling runs. LSIA is also probably easier for inexperienced pilots to operate from, as it is a wide open field with few obstacles to trip up planes and cause losses. Plus of course the hangars are much cheaper there, if you are interested more in profits than the coolness factor of being able to use the military base as a hangout. Still, Fort Zancudo has lots of Lazer jets just sitting around if you need extra firepower on a mission.

Plot complication! Many players have reported getting mystery cash when selling 50 crate hangars. There is no explanation so far for where this money comes from. It looks to be up to a 50% bonus. The on screen income indicated matches the info given on the in game website/laptop and here – 850K for a top tier product, plus high demand bonus. If this is an intended bonus, not a bug (has anyone reported it on PC?), it would make going for the big sales worthwhile.

One more thing: the number of sale vehicles depends on the number of crates being sold — much like the bunker business. 10 crates or less is usually one vehicle, and easily done solo. 11-25 is usually two, and should be fine with a partner. 26-50 is usually three, and you should have enough pilots handy if you want to actually get paid. If you are a solo or partnership player, you’ll need to recruit or have available additional players whenever you do larger sale runs. If a solo player wants to do quick, easy sale runs, then going for the 2nd and 3rd tier products and selling at 10 crates isn’t a bad plan. If all you are going for is the steal mission bonuses, this is a viable choice to get some money back from this without spending a lot of time and effort.

Yet one more strange thing: The in game laptop shows a sale amount of 1000000 added when you sell 50 crates. That is 20000 per crate. This doesn’t match what you actually get paid, nor is it the 10000 per crate base amount. It also doesn’t show any bonus % income at all, even when you sell with a bonus.


I hope this bit of analysis is of help to some of you. Rockstar didn’t make the workings of this business simple and easy to understand.


Quick Rules For Getting The Most Money

  • Never wait idly during the cooldown.  You don’t make money waiting around.
  • Alternate product types rather than waiting time if you have nothing better to do with your time.   You’ll make more money from a lower bonus than you would if you waited until you maxed the sale.
  • Four players in  an organization make the most money for the time.
  • Alternating CEO/MC boss spot can let you ignore the cooldown time, and this gives everyone the most money each.
  • If you play solo, you can’t make good money smuggling,
  • A “sole CEO” player who can get three or more associates for support will make the most money for themselves.  If you want to help your hangar-owning friend to get rich fastest (and don’t care about money yourself), this is the best way to smuggle.
  • Three words:  100% cut Heists.  I mean, if you really want to help one friend get rich quick, it still beats smuggling.


Five Best Ways To Run This Business

Always have four players in the organization.

  1. Sole CEO Fastest Smuggler:  Alternate two top tier products, sell at 25-28 crates.  You’ll steal 13 times, sell one set of 25-28, steal the other (which was at 24 or so), and sell it.  14 steals plus two sells gives you the most fast money this business can deliver.  Base sale price is 756000, should take you about 3 hours including sale missions.  Base income is about 252K per hour for the CEO.  Associates might get 40K per hour.
  2. Sole CEO Best Boss Smuggler:  You start out alternating as above, but once you sell the first product, you only steal the 2nd until you get a full 50 of it.  In between each steal run which has a cooldown period now, you run VIP work (or you can do anything else which makes money).  You’ll steal 13 times, sell once at 28 ($378K), then do steal followed by VIP mission six times.  Then, one last steal, followed by the big sale of 50 crates for 850K base.  Total of 1228K base for smuggling, and six VIP work for about 144K, total 1372K.  Takes about 5 hours, but your associates also get the VIP money on top of their bodyguard salaries.  Base income is about 274K per hour for the CEO.  This assumes 10 minutes per steal and per VIP job, 20 per sale.  Associates might get 70K per hour.
  3. Sole CEO Amazing Boss Smuggler.  Only source one type of product.  Do VIP work after each steal mission. 12 steal missions plus 12 VIP missions, then one final steal and then the big sale.  CEO gets the nice 850K smuggling money plus 288K VIP average, total of 1138K.  But your associates get the 288K as well, on top of their bodyguard salaries.  About 4.5 hours for 252K per hour for the CEO.  About 100K per hour for the associates.
  4. Tag Team Syndicate Of Four Hanger Bosses.  Again, you only source one type of product, but you alternate boss roles rather than do VIP work.  Thirteen steal missions plus one sale run each, about 2.5 hours per player for a smuggling income of 850K, but of course a total work time for all of 10 hours.  You get a huge payday during your turn as boss — about 340K per hour — but then get 7.5 hours of associate salary.  About 1150K each, or around 115K per hour per player.  This is the best payout PER PLAYER you can get from this business.
  5. Tag Team Sole CEO.  Rotating roles after each sale gives the best money due to no cooldown and high bonus, but has a huge time commitment.  Use one of the first three methods, but take turns being the boss.  Going with the Fastest Smuggler path, you’ll get 756K smuggling each plus 9 hours of associate pay, or around 1116K for 12 hours.  About 93K per hour each.


I’d be more enthusiastic for this business if the pay amounts were doubled (not counting any double GTA$ events). While this would make the sole CEO pay very high, this isn’t fundamentally any more extreme than running a heist with a 100% cut. The idea of having four friends band together and have their four custom planes take off on missions, in the manner shown in the trailer, is very cool. Too bad that it just doesn’t pay well enough to be worth doing in practice.

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