If you own a private jet or have a fractional share and take it for leisure trips, you already know how nice it can be to not have to mess with airport security, baggage restrictions and all the things that can go wrong when flying commercially. However, beyond owning a jet that has the range to go between Continents, many of us fly commercially on our vacations, and depending on what your vacation is all about, flying commercially means spending more time to do less, which if you are tight on time, can mean missing something you would really like to have done.
Private Jet Tours
Over the past few years, a number of companies have emerged selling what is often referenced as private jet tours. The promoters (Abercrombie & Kent, TCS World Travel, Travcoa, Four Seasons, etc.) have been using 757s converted to about 50 flat bed seats and organize a set itinerary. The 757s have been sourced from TAG Aviation to Icelandair, and then reconfigured. Genting Hong Kong’s Crystal Cruises is planning to launch similar luxury tours using a 777 it is converting with 100 seats that will convert into flat beds. Unlike the aforementioned, Genting already owns and operates private jets, so its Crystal offering will be on a plane it owns and operates.
While you have the advantage of using FBOs and avoiding the airport, you are part of a group and on a fixed schedule, although some of the operators allow you to leave and rejoin the group. However, you may not want to. In talking to people who have participated in these trips, the organizers strive to surprise and delight, often coming up with unique experiences in addition to the formal agenda, so you do your own thing at the risk of finding out you missed meeting with a King or visiting the private race track of a former Formula One driver.
Ad Hoc Charters
If you have a good travel agent – something I recommend – it’s not unusual to have them arrange private jet charters for certain segments of a trip they might be planning for you. On a route like Phuket to Bali, where flying commercially would make a three hour nonstop flight an eight hour trip, an agent will arrange a charter. While commercial airports in India have improved quite a bit, again, it’s the type of place where it can save a lot of time by chartering a jet. Taj Hotels & Palaces, which is owned by TATA Enterprises, has several jets it markets under Taj Air. Most agents I know don’t work directly with aircraft operators when arranging charters, but use brokers. The drawback in having your agent arrange private jet charters for you, is for the most part, they are not experts, so you and they are reliant on the broker they choose. The bizav professionals I’ve met are some of the most serious professionals I know, however, if sourcing jets, particularly in far flung locations, is a concern, it is something to think about.
Independent Private Jet Vacations
Several companies are organizing private jet vacations, where you get the entire jet, and as part of it, they put together all of your hotel accommodations and tour activities.
TCS World Travel, which operates the private jet tours for Four Seasons with 757s, organizes trips for private groups via private jet as well, although that is a small portion of what they do. Abercrombie & Kent does the same, and has an agreement to be on call for NetJets customers, while Butterfield & Robinson offers a travel planning service for XOJET customers. Broker PrivateFly earlier this year partnered with travel agency Black Tomato featuring skiing in the US, Canada and Japan over eight days with travel between the resorts by private jet, although the accommodations seemed rather off the shelf. Some of the stuff that is put out there is more of an effort to generate PR than a real trip you would want to take.
In terms of benefits of flying privately for your entire trip, depending on where you are visiting, you can easily pick-up two or three extra days to explore on a 10-day trip. These would be days normally taken coming and going to the airport midday because of flight schedules or losing a day flying during the daytime.
At the same time, if you have time to spare, having a private jet can mean flying late morning or afternoon, avoiding having to wake up before dawn to catch a flight, or that feeling you get when you land at 1am. If you don’t like overnight flights going to Europe, fly privately during the day.
Other benefits include having the same plane and flight crew with you for the entire trip or extended periods of the trip, and flexibility in changing your itinerary. If there is bad weather in X, switch with Z. Or if Y doesn’t meet your expectations, cut it short and go onto W. Nothing is more frustrating than when weather gets in the way of an exciting adventure. Having a private jet at your disposal enables you to quickly re-arrange your itinerary.
Spotlight on Presidential Private Jet Vacations
Presidential Private Jet Vacations (PPJV) is coming at Private Jet Vacations from a different angle in two ways. First, it is focused on doing itineraries for private groups so your party has the entire jet. Secondly, the company is a division of Presidential Aviation, a private jet management company based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. In addition to ad hoc charter, it manages jets for owners, and it also has a significant maintenance operation for private jets. They operate an FAA approved CFR Repair Station. In other words, their expertise is private aviation.
Beginning in early 2015, it launched PPJV. Like travel agents, it works with Destination Marketing Companies (DMCs) to put together fully inclusive itineraries for its customers, including hotels, sightseeing, activities, transfers, etc (More on DMCs in a moment). In fact, it works with travel agents as well, so if you have an agent PPJV will work with your agent. In terms of sourcing DMCs, it mainly follows the preferred DMCS of Virtuoso, a large network of independent luxury travel advisors.
To get a sense of how PPJV works, I spoke with the CEO of a Florida-based medical company who recently used Presidential to organize a trip for he and his wife to Argentina (trip map below). One of the most important reasons in working with Presidential he cited was confidence in sourcing private aircraft outside the U.S.
“Presidential sourced the planes, found the best plane for the best price. We wanted a spacious plane, new, everything in good shape, because I’m not as familiar with the lay of the land (for private aviation in South America). I felt great, safe, with a great crew,” he told me.
The CEO, who asked that I didn’t use his name for this report, said he flew commercially first class from Miami to Buenos Aires and return as both flights down and back were redeye overnight, so they didn’t waste any trip time, and it didn’t make sense for him to spend the extra $150,000 to $200,000 flying privately would entail to and from Florida. PPJV met the couple planeside on arrival from Miami.
While he wanted a well-sized plane for traveling around Argentina, he didn’t need the large cabin size jet that would have the range to fly the long-haul. He said, Presidential’s knowledge of private aviation, plane types, crews, and costs made him comfortable planning what is an expensive part of the trip, private flying.
In terms of reviewing the 12-day itinerary, and then looking at commercial flight schedules, I would estimate that to get the same things in without the benefits of a private jet would have been an extra three to four days, or as the CEO told me, “My time is money.” It also goes to the point that sometimes you just don’t have the option of spending extra days on vacation, and it really doesn’t make sense to go somewhere and miss key highlights. I constantly regret going to South Africa and missing Cape Town because I had to get back to New York for meetings. Private aviation solves that problem.
Presidential works with DMCs in the different destinations it organizes private jet tours. A DMC is a locally based company that specializes in what the travel industry calls inbound travel, which means arriving travelers. In some cases, they may own assets, such as private cars, and in others, being local, they simply go out and source whatever you need.
When you read about somebody hosting a $3 million party in a faraway castle, a DMC probably had a role in organizing it, working with the event planner. They were the ones who had the contacts locally to organize security, limos, flowers, catering, get permits for helicopters, etc. If you book with a travel agent, and when you arrived you were met by a car and driver, then your advisor organized private sightseeing, VIP visits to museums where you cut the line, etc., chances are your agent worked with a DMC.
While it might sound interesting to work directly with a DMC, I recommend against it for a couple reasons:
First, there are multiple DMCs in most destinations, so using an intermediary such as Presidential or a travel agent you trust means that they have experience working with that DMC in case anything goes wrong. If you are going to multiple places, that might mean multiple DMCs since they tend to be destination specific.
Speaking about his trip, the CEO said, he used a Lear 60 with a flight attendant. It turned out one of his pilots was from Lantana, FL, and he had actually flown with him several years before. He also noted the convenience of using private jet airports and terminals.
When I looked at the itinerary, one key feature was attention to guides. In Buenos Aires, there was a guide who regularly works with A-List Hollywood celebrities, and is also qualified as a personal shopper. In Bariloche (Llao Llao hotel pictured above), the CEO told me that the guide was also an expert in studying condors, which made for some interesting side talk. The guide was selected, but not used, on a trip for President Obama.
In terms of hotels, the selections tick the boxes of providing high quality, but also an extra dimension of interest and authenticity, something this traveling party wanted. For example, the owner of El Colibri (above) is a polo player, and his wife a former Olympic skier, so again, it was more than just seeing sights. There was also a dove hunting expedition, with the catch served for dinner.
The CEO told me at all stops there was the attention to detail you would expect, like arranging advance check-in at hotels, and making sure the suites were available for early check-in and check-out. Accommodations included hotels both from luxury groups such as Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires and small, independent resorts (Llao Llao) and estancias, such as Eli Colibri and Wines of Mendoza (below). The duo stayed in suites previously occupied by heads of state and other folks of fame. One reason that I support using experts to arrange your travel is that all rooms and suites or villas in a hotel or resort are not created equal. Getting the right ones can mean the difference between a great and a bad stay, and experts know how to do this.
In terms of his overall assessment, the CEO says, “It’s nice not being beholden to the airlines, cancellations.” In terms of Presidential, he said, “I was worried in the beginning because you don’t know who you were dealing with, (but) everything they promised they delivered (and) we’ll use them again.”
The 12-day itinerary cost $73,887 for two people, and Jordi Cata, the Director for PPJV estimates the cost of flying privately was $30,000, which is immaterial if you simply don’t have the extra three or four days flying commercially would take.
On its website, PPJV has 18 itineraries for different regions of the world, including Africa, Canada/Alaska, India, South Africa/Seychelles, UAE and even Mexico and Hawaii. Cata says, they are merely “to whet the appetite and begin the discussion.” He also emphasizes, that Presidential can create any itinerary you want, starting from wherever you call home, or wherever you want, and ending wherever you want.
So far group size has ranged from two to eight, and PPJV has been particularly popular with families, with travelers as young as eight years old. China and South America have been the most popular destinations he says.
Presidential Private Jet Vacations Contact: Jordi Cata, Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone number +1 754 200 3000.