Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 27.
For some, it's the ultimate expression of luxury and exclusivity. For others, it's a glorified bus tour in the sky (albeit for the 1%). That debate aside, the fact is that the market for round-the-world, multi-stop, VIP flights is becoming increasingly busy.
In late September, Crystal Cruises unveiled the latest designs for its new Boeing 777-200LR, an opulent plane being reconfigured to seat just 84 guests as part of the company's new Crystal AirCruises.
Expected to begin in late 2017, Crystal's luxury air cruises will offer 14-, 21- and 28-day itineraries that highlight some of the planet's most exotic and remote locales.
Crystal is joining a field that already includes some heavy hitters such as Four Seasons, which launched its own private Boeing 757 customized with only 52 seats in 2015, and Abercrombie & Kent, which recently announced the "Around the World by Private Jet: Cultures in Transformation" tour that's being conducted in partnership with the New York Times. The 26-day journey is just the latest such private jet offering from the legendarily luxurious Abercrombie & Kent.
"These trips are intended for a very specific audience, it's a very niche group," says Robb Report's Editorial Director Bruce Wallin. "The least expensive of these are around $80,000 and they go up to about $150,000. And then there's the time involved, anywhere from three weeks to 26 days. So not only are these trips for people who are in certain income bracket, but we're also talking about people who have the time to take off for three or more weeks."
All of which translates into a fairly niche market, one that Crystal has been successfully tapping into for quite some time with its high-priced, uber luxurious cruises.
Crystal AirCruise's Plush Sleeping Accommodations
Crystal's air offering provides an exciting new option for its loyal and well-heeled customers.
Inside the plane, which is being customized to meet the Crystal's standards, there will be plush, fully reclining seats, large flat-screen televisions and of course, Crystal's famous butler and concierge services.
No Standard Airline Food Here
Dining will also be far from ordinary airline fare. Those tiny trays of dry overcooked chicken or mystery meat will have no place on Crystal AirCruises, where elegantly plated meals will consist of Michelin Star-inspired cuisine.
Happy Hour and High-Tech at 30,000 Feet
Additional creature comforts onboard include places for guests to socialize and mingle, and perks such as Bose Noise Cancelling headphone; Apple iPads; complimentary global WiFi; 24-inch interactive TVs with on-demand programming; and music, individual USB ports and a live cockpit-to-ground listening channel.
Bedding to Drool Over
The seats, when fully reclined to lie-flat beds, measure 73.5 inches long and will come with custom blankets, lumbar and pillows, plush duvets and mattress toppers, all of which sounds better than many hotel beds.
Pampering at Every Turn
Crystal Cruises has yet to reveal final itinerary details or pricing for the luxury air cruises.
However, industry experts speculate that the longer itineraries for such luxurious, and pampered adventures will be in the $100,000 price range, at a minimum.
"The convenience of this type of travel is in some ways even more important then the seating," adds Wallin. "Everything is taken care of for you - your luggage, getting from the airport to wherever you're staying...In some ways these trips are a bargain, because if you looked into a first class ticket, with ten stops around the world and five star hotels at each stop and the excursions and whatnot, you wouldn't be able to do it for these prices."
Let's just ponder that idea for a moment, that the trips are a bargain...shall we?
Wallin's point is actually a good one though. It probably would be an interesting financial exercise to try and recreate a similar trip on your own, for a comparable price.
Wandering the Globe in High Style
At least one luxury trends expert says that's exactly what he would opt to do, plan his own first-class trip rather then fly with 50 to 80 other people on a luxury air tour.
"There's a difference between being a tourist and a traveler," says Daniel Levine, director of the Avant-Guide Institute and the publisher of WikiTrend.org. "These tours are like are bucket list trips that appeal to a rich person's braggability. I see them as bus tours in the sky. Even if I did have $100,000 to blow on it, that's not how a traveler wants to travel."
However, Levine admits that such trips, are definitely becoming more commonplace.
"They seem to be flourishing," Levine says. "The question is why now? And the answer to that is simply that tourism is flourishing. The number of tourist arrivals around the world is growing exponentially and that rising tide is lifting all boats."
Or in this case, luxury planes.
So if wandering around the globe in high style is your thing, at least now you have a growing field of options, particularly if first class on an ordinary commercial jet simply won't do.