Tours by private jet leave busy terminals behind, and the whole plane is the pointy end.
Airports can be such depressing places, can’t they? Sure, there’s the excitement of the exotic destination at the end of the flight. But the waiting in the terminal can be interminable. It’s easy to see why celebrities and billionaires opt for private jets.
For those of us who don’t have our own plane (yet!), the next best thing is a group tour by private jet. With the ability to bypass the usual airport logistics, gliding straight through the VIP terminal, you’ll save hours before each flight.
And when you don’t fly commercial, you’re not restricted by any airline’s schedule. This is how Captain’s Choice, for example, is able to fit so much into its trips, according to senior brand manager Carla Oscuro. “On our South America itinerary, we drop into Iguazu Falls just for lunch! So on a travelling day, you stop there, have lunch, do the sightseeing, and then we can leave again.”
Life on a private jet
Captain’s Choice, founded in Australia almost 30 years ago, is one of the most popular tour companies offering private jet holidays. Using a Boeing 737-700 or 757-200 with a maximum of 58 seats – all business class, of course – it usually offers about six international trips a year.
The South America tour (AU$84,600 per person) includes more than just lunch at the world’s greatest waterfall. As guests sink back in their reclining seat, glass of champagne in hand and meals prepared by two onboard chefs, they’ll be flown to destinations including Peru, Ecuador, and Cuba, over 20 days. With a constantly evolving range of on-ground activities, they’ll see the Incan city of Machu Picchu, the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, and the colourful streetscapes of Havana.
“What guests want to do in the destination has changed. So the experiences are now much more immersive, focusing on local experiences and customs,” Ms Oscuro explains. “There might be three or four options in a day, and people can choose what interests them.”
Luxury in the sky extends to luxury on the ground. This is why some of the world’s top hotels have jumped on board the private-jet holiday trend. Four Seasons has several journeys each year. Its flagship International Intrigue tour (AU$300,000 per person) visiting nine destinations on four continents in just over three weeks.
Nights spent in the Four Seasons properties would be enough of an experience for many guests. But other exclusive activities are also part of the tour. A hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti, an after-hours private viewing of Michelangelo’s David in Florence and lessons from a samurai expert in Kyoto. There are just some of the special moments on the trip that also visits Vietnam, the Maldives, Marrakech, Budapest and Paris.
The ultra-luxury hotels
Less than 10 years after starting the tours, Four Seasons has recently begun using a new custom-fitted Airbus A321neo-LR. And it comes complete with the hotel chain’s name emblazoned across the exterior. As well as 48 handcrafted Italian-leather seats that extend fully flat, there’s an onboard lounge where you can socialise with other passengers. Or, even take part in small workshops with the food and beverage staff.
At Aman Resorts, known for its beautifully crafted properties harmoniously set in their natural environments. They apply the same philosophy has been taken for its private jet holidays. Created in conjunction with boutique-tour operator Remote Lands, the focus is on Asia, where most of the Aman resorts are found.
The Mindful and Cultural Journey tour ($150,000 per person) is one of the most interesting options. And it is led by a spiritual guru with expertise in Asian religions. Over 15 days, guests will be flown from Nepal to Bhutan and then on to India and Sri Lanka. While the tour is full of luxurious moments –private villas, exquisite meals and wine, and a personal car and driver for every couple – there is also a focus on wellness with other experiences. Along with a helicopter ride to Mount Everest’s Base Camp, a hike up to Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest, and dinner with a former UN ambassador, there are yoga classes, massages and a fire meditation.
Aman’s tours feel even more exclusive. A maximum of just 18 guests travel on an Airbus ACJ 319. The interior is fitted with couches, social spaces and large seats facing each other. This creates the atmosphere of an intimate plane that fans of Succession are used to seeing.
The land tour companies
In recent years, bookings of private-jet holidays have increased. More travellers wanting to maximise their time on the ground while visiting multiple destinations. But there has been a particularly marked rise in interest since the pandemic. Guests also appreciate the safety that comes with the “bubble” of travelling with the same guests and crew.
As the interest in private-jet trips has grown, so has the number of tours and the number of operators offering them. Abercrombie & Kent is now running tours in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. All this, on a indulgent wildlife-focused around-the-world itinerary (AU$260,000 per person).
Lakani World Tours has an opulent jet holiday for a maximum of 15 travellers. They cover famous hotspots such as Athens and the Maldives. And they also visit emerging destinations such as Saudi Arabia, and Khajuraho in India ($290,000 per person).
Crooked Compass has a 17-day cultural tour through Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (AU$43,000 per person). Another option closer to home, APT has regular 12-day trips around both islands of New Zealand (AU$14,000 per person).
With growth comes innovation, and there’s now more variety than ever. Four Seasons has started offering a 13-day family-friendly African trip. Children are welcome to join (for a slightly reduced rate).
Captain’s Choice has just launched ‘VIP’ private jet tours that accommodate a maximum of 11 travellers for tours to smaller islands in the Pacific.
“We’ve constantly been evolving what our private-jet travel looks like over 30 years. And the range on these planes and the places they can access is different than our bigger trips,” Ms Oscuro says.
Ultimately, all these tours are about luxury, with champagne in the air and on the ground. But for many travellers, they are also about one simple thing – avoiding all the horrors of a normal airport terminal. How will we ever fly commercial again?
Fly Australia in a private jet
Round-the-world private jet trips come with hefty price tags. But those focusing just on Australia can be much more attainable and offer a perfect taste of the experience.
Australian-travel expert APT has a range of private jet tours across the country, with a focus on harder-to-reach destinations in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. As well as special experiences on the ground, including winery lunches and seafood cruises, the private plane can do figure-eight flyovers above scenic landscapes such as the Bungle Bungles and Uluru.
Imagine Holidays offers a nine-day trip from Sydney to Perth, which stops at the Whitsundays, Uluru and Broome. The charter plane carries just 48 passengers, who each get a leather business-class seat with 37-inch pitch. With luxury accommodation and day trips included, it costs AU$10,499 per person.
And Captain’s Choice, which found its Australian trips were extremely popular during the pandemic lockdowns, has developed new domestic tours to give travellers the private-jet experience at an affordable rate.
A four-day Tasmanian trip departing Melbourne includes a cruise through the wilderness of the Gordon River, a rail journey through the rainforest, luxury accommodation and gourmet food and wine, for AU$5950 per person. Or for a weekend getaway, there’s the two-day Outback trip from Melbourne to Broken Hill, Coober Pedy and Birdsville that includes flying over Lake Eyre and tours on the ground, for just AU$4250 per person.