If money were no object, how would you choose to see the world? Would you do it “all in one go” on the luxury trip of a lifetime? Or would you spread it out over several years and multiple journeys, so that you could absorb and appreciate everything that you experienced? Would you travel with strangers? With just one other person? Or with 50 of your closest friends?
It’s a champagne dilemma. And one that the uber-rich are increasingly faced with. Taking a Grand Tour of the civilized world was a cherished ritual of the wealthy in the 19th century – the trips lasted for months, sometimes years, and were an important facet of becoming a sophisticated adult in high society. Fast forward to today, when such a trip can be completed in a matter of days if you have the right budget. New York, London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Jaipur, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Sydney – if you’ve got a couple of weeks and lot of stamina, you can check all of these destinations and more off your travel to-do list.
The concept of taking an around-the-world trip on a private jet originated in 2012 with the Four Seasons Hotels – the first flights were with a third-party provider, and demand was sufficient to justify the brand’s 2015 acquisition of a Boeing 757 outfitted for 52 passengers. The idea has recently escalated to mad-crazy heights, and recent developments indicate that the market may have peaked.
Earlier this year, eye-catching headlines about these kinds of trips were the norm, including one about a travel agency offering a 20-day trip around the world for 50 people for the bargain price of $14 million. Other hospitality companies have tried to join the party, and at least one – Crystal Cruises – has already hit heavy turbulence.
Given recent developments, we thought this was an ideal time for Dandelion Chandelier to examine the current state of the market for short-duration private jet tours circumnavigating the globe. Who’s offering these trips? And who’s taking them? Is this a passing fad? Or a lasting element of uber-luxury travel?
There are two basic types of offerings on the market in this rarified air: pure luxury excursions, and educational journeys.
Luxury focus. The intention of the original ground-breaking Four Seasons jet program was to cocoon guests in a luxurious bubble – travel by private jet, accommodations in Four Seasons hotels throughout the world, and private tours and experiences far from the madding crowd. That uber-luxurious concept has now been copied by many others, and the ante has been upped:
–To celebrate Aman Resorts’ 30th anniversary in 2018, Remote Lands is offering a six week, nine-country private-jet excursion for 16 guests aboard a retrofitted Airbus ACJ 319 originally designed to seat 126. The jet has living rooms, bedrooms, and a shower. Each couple will have their own private car, driver and guide for transfers and touring. The trip begins April 15, 2018 at the Aman Tokyo, then moves to Aman resorts in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, India, Greece and Montenegro, ending in Italy on May 5. The price is $114,888 per person, with a single supplement of $31,000.
–Experiential travel boutique DreamMaker has designed a trip around the globe aboard a privately outfitted Boeing 767 for its ultra-high net worth clientele. Passport to 50 is available for a group of up to 50 (some of whom will fly in tandem on a second Boeing Business Jet.) Offered at $13.875 million, and scheduled to depart this month, the experience covers 20 cities in 20 days. The voyage begins in Koh Samui, Thailand, before stopping at Siem Reap; Kathmandu; Agra; Florence; Siena; Cannes; Moulinet; London; Barcelona; Ibiza; Marbella; Marrakech; Havana; Knoxville; Kona; El Nido and a “secret island” before it reaches its final destination in Manila. Guests will be attended to by 50 staff members, and the trip’s souvenir will be a set of 18-karat gold swizzle sticks with white and blue diamonds, said to be worth $1 million.
–Mundy Cruising, based in the UK, launched a 357-day “World of Travel” tour of the seven continents by sea. Billed as “the longest cruise ship journey in the world,” the trip began in Miami in January 2017; the ship headed for Rio, then up the Amazon toward Machu Picchu. After short breaks (13-39 days) between continents, different ships will carry the passengers from Athens through the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the Baltic, concluding in Russia. The third leg of the journey will be from Vancouver to Alaska, from Central America through the Panama Canal to New England and Quebec. And that’s the halfway point. Guests will spend the remaining seven months cruising around Africa, then Antarctica, Singapore, China, and Indonesia. The journey concludes in May 2018. Prices started at $155,000 per person.
–The Four Seasons continues to evolve its own offerings to stay ahead of the curve. In 2017 it debuted a three-week journey designed specifically for foodies called Culinary Discoveries. Its recently-announced 2018 private jet journeys include:
–Timeless Encounters (March 1 to 24, 2018) covers four continents, taking guests from Hawaii to Bora Bora, Sydney, Bali, Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai, the Taj Mahal, Dubai, Prague, concluding in London. Prices begin at $135,000, based on double occupancy.
–International Intrigue (September 14 to October 7, 2018) departs from Seattle and touches down in Kyoto, Hoi An, the Maldives, the Serengeti, Marrakech, Budapest, St. Petersburg and London. Prices begin at $135,000, based on double occupancy.
–World of Adventures (October 19 to November 11, 2018) begins in Seattle, and goes to Kyoto, Bali, the Seychelles, Rwanda, Marrakech, Bogotá, the Galápagos Islands, ending in Orlando, Florida. Prices begin at $138,000, based on double occupancy.
–Interestingly, in the midst of these over-the-top offerings, Crystal River Cruises unexpectedly cancelled plans for its highly-promoted inaugural Crystal AirCruise in partnership with Peninsula Hotels. A private 84-seat Boeing 777-200LR called Crystal Skye was to circumnavigate the globe over 27 days, with sleepovers at 10 different Peninsula Hotels. The cost was $159,000 per person, and the departure date was supposed to be August 31. However, last month the plan was abruptly scrapped, and refunds were offered for those who had booked the trip. No word on why, but it may be that the audience for these kinds of trips is just not large enough to accommodate so many new entrants. Crystal did accept delivery of the jet; it’s now being billed as a “private charter” available for booking directly with the cruise line. Its inaugural voyage will now be a 10-day trip, the Golden Week Holiday AirCruise, from Hong Kong or Macau, from September 29 to October 8. There will be two destinations: Nairobi and Tahiti. The trip will accommodate 86 guests, with prices starting at $45,000.
Educational focus. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, several luxury companies, and brands associated with history and geography are now offering around-the-world trips accompanied by subject-matter experts. The focus is as much on having exclusive access to these guides – whether seasoned reporters or local experts – as it is about the number of destinations or the luxuriousness of the accommodations.
–The New York Times has teamed up with travel company Abercrombie & Kent for an around the world trip on a Boeing 757 focused on “cultures in transformation.” Journalists from the Times (including Pulitzer-prize winner Nicholas Kristof) will join with tour directors and local experts from A & K for a 26-day journey to 9 countries with a maximum of 50 travelers. From February 8 – March 5, 2018, after a tour of the Times’ newsroom in Manhattan, the group will visit Havana; Bogota; Easter Island; Apia, Samoa; Sydney; Yangon; Jerusalem; Marrakesh; and Reykjavik before returning to New York. Prices begin at $135,000 per person.
–Abercrombie & Kent also offers ‘round-the-world trips on its own. Earlier this year, the company offered a 26-day private jet tour (marketed as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift) starting on May 1 for $129,000 per person. Departing from Ft. Lauderdale with a maximum of 50 passengers aboard a Boeing 757, stops included Columbia, Easter Island, French Polynesia, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, St. Petersburg and Iceland. Hotels en route included properties owned by the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton.
–National Geographic seems to be having great success with its curated world tours on a 757 jet outfitted to hold 75 passengers: its website indicates that the trips for the remainder of 2017 are sold out. The company is offering 5 journeys in 2018, one of which is also already sold out. The trips around the world last 22-24 days. The primary route begins and ends in Washington DC, with stops in Machu Picchu; Easter Island; Apia, Samoa; The Great Barrier Reef; Angkor; Kathmandu; Lhasa, Tibet; the Taj Mahal; Tanzania; The Lost City of Petra in Jordan; and Marrakech. The “Northern Route” starts in Seattle and ends in Boston, with stops in Kyoto; Ulaanbaatar; Lake Baikal; St. Petersburg; Ålesund, Norway; Iceland; and Greenland. The price is a relative bargain at $75,950 – $82,950 per person double occupancy (add $8-9,000 if you want a single room.)
–The Wall Street Journal is offering a specialized itinerary with a focus on business, innovation and new technologies in partnership with National Geographic called Celebrating Human Ingenuity: An Exploration of Technology and Creativity. It’s a 19-day trip (October 22-November 9, 2017) for 75 passengers across six continents with editors from the newspaper (including Editor-in-chief Gerard Baker) and experts from Nat Geo. The itinerary will take travelers from Silicon Valley to Kyoto; Singapore; Jaipur; Seychelles; Kigali; Rwanda; Jerusalem and Barcelona. Hotels include 5-star Ritz Carlton and Taj properties. Prices start at $81,950 per person double occupancy. Single rooms require an additional $8,000.
–The Smithsonian is also marketing trips around the world by private jet. The World’s Greatest Treasures & Legendary Places tour covers five continents and lasts 24 days. Orlando is the point of departure; from there, the group travels the exact same route as the National Geographic tour previously described before returning to Orlando. Prices for the 2018 trips start at $82,950 per person (next year, Fort Lauderdale is the point of departure; Orlando remains the return stop.)
Why are the itineraries for many of these journeys suspiciously similar, you ask? Because there’s a powerhouse company called TCS World Travel behind many of them (travel agent Travcoa offers the identical itinerary as the Nat Geo and Smithsonian trips under its own name, and TCS powers the journey.) The company was founded in 1999 by T.C. Swartz and his sister Charlene Brannon. It’s a clever business model and win-win for all: companies can put their brands front and center (including on the tail of the plane), and they can decide which experts tag along on the trip, but TCS supplies the infrastructure that allows the journey to unfold seamlessly. Think of the brand’s contribution to the journey as “curation light.”
What kind of travelers tend to opt for these excursions? Generally it’s well-heeled retirees who have the time and the money to do so, and who may not have been able to travel extensively earlier in their lives. They may have a “bucket list,” or concerns about the rigors of the road, making this an ideal way to travel. They may also be lifelong learners, which is surely part of the appeal of an expert-guided trip.
Of course, if money is truly no object, you can put together a bespoke around-the-world trip yourself, working with a high-end travel agent. As we were researching and writing this post, our families had fun trying to guess where the stops would be on all of these tours, and designing our own personal wish-lists of how we would chart a course around the world.
Ultimately, it all comes down to what true luxury means to you: feeling cosseted and safe, or seeking unexpected adventures; following a strict itinerary, or going where the wind blows. Having an expert travel with you, or being self-taught; learning a great deal or just chilling out with some friendly companions; avoiding the hassles of the airport terminal or experiencing travel in full – the good, the bad and the ugly. If you have a lot of influence, you don’t need help gaining access to the kinds of experiences these tours offer– but as one travel agent put it: “a gala dinner in St. Petersburg’s Catherine Palace? You can’t plan that alone.”
So travel alone, or with a crowd, on your own steam or perched on the shoulders of the Four Seasons. It’s your call. If you have the resources, the sky’s the limit.