Eight Years on, Concorde's Luxury Spirit Lives

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The world's rich and famous lost their favorite way to "cross the pond" eight years ago this week when British Airways clipped the wings of the Concorde, its transatlantic supersonic jetliner.

BA flew the world's last Concorde flight on Oct. 24, 2003, ending the 1,320-mph luxury plane's usage after some three decades of service. ( Air France retired its Concorde fleet in May 2003.)

From the 1970s until the early 2000s, Concordes transported passengers across the Atlantic Ocean in superluxury style in just over three hours. That's about half the time a conventional transatlantic flight takes, which is why celebrities from Queen Elizabeth II to Madonna favored the Concorde despite the airplane's roughly $6,300 one-way fare.

"I remember leaving New York at 9 a.m. local time and arriving at 5:15 p.m. London time -- right on time for cocktails," recalls Jack Smith, who wrote a first-person Concorde review for luxury-lifestyles magazine the Robb Report. "With a regular plane, I would have left New York around 4 p.m. and not arrived in London until 7 a.m. the next day."

BA and Air France grounded their Concordes amid weak ticket sales and high energy costs. The supersonic transport burned some five times as much fuel per passenger mile as a conventional jet did, while demand tumbled following a 2000 crash that killed all 109 people aboard one of Air France's Concordes.

"The major expense was fuel, which was why the Concorde's fares were as high as they were," Robb Report Executive Editor Larry Bean says. "But I don't know that either company ever really recovered from the crash."

Where does that leave glitterati who want to tackle the Atlantic Ocean in style?

Experts say cost-is-no-object travelers can cross the pond in five super-luxury ways these days:

Aboard your own jet

Cost: $20 million-and-up to buy, then $60,000-plus per flight

No one makes a commercial airplane as fast as the Concorde anymore, but you can come close to the supersonic transport's rapid ocean crossing by buying your own jet or otherwise using private aviation.

That's because you won't have to arrive at the airport two hours early for check-in or wait 45 minutes to claim your bags.

"When you own the jet, you can stroll into the airport 10 minutes before the flight," Bean says. "That's the beauty of private aviation -- they're not going anywhere without you."

Private jets typically take off and land at small airfields that have little flight traffic, no lines and flexible departure and arrival times. Border-control agents will usually meet you at the foot of the plane (or even onboard) and quickly check your passport and luggage.

Jets capable of crossing the Atlantic start at around $20 million for a Bombardier ( BBD-B.TO) Challenger 300, which can carry up to 11 passengers.

James Chitty of charter company PlaneClear LLC says you'll also need three full-time pilots, two stewardesses and a mechanic if you use your plane frequently. Also figure on spending $60,000 and up for each transatlantic round trip for fuel, fees, hotel rooms for your crew, etc.

"Owning your own jet is really for people at a whole other level of wealth," Chitty says. "You're really talking about the Rupert Murdochs of Bill Gateses of the world."

Using an airplane "fractional share"

Cost: About $1 million upfront and $60,000 per flight

Well-heeled travelers who can't afford their own aircraft sometimes use airplane "fractional ownership," which is sort of a time share for private jet service.

You typically pay a fractional-ownership firm like FlexJet or NetJets $1 million upfront for a 1/16th ownership stake in a transatlantic-capable plane. That usually entitles you to 50 hours of flight time per year -- enough for four or five round-trip U.S.-to-Europe journeys.

However, you'll have to pay about $60,000 in fees for each round trip, as well as a roughly $13,000-a-month management fee. But you can sell your 1/16th share back to the fractional-ownership company after a few years and get some of your money back.

Using a "flight card"

Cost: Approximately $130,000-and-up per round trip

A flight card is basically a debit card for private-jet usage, and works well for people who fly less than 50 hours per year but want guaranteed access to jets on relatively short notice.

Pony up around $125,000 to $200,000 to a company like Marquis Jets and you'll get a little plastic card that entitles you to 25 hours of transatlantic private-jet service. That's about enough for two round trips.

You'll also have to pay around $70,000-$120,000 for fuel and fees each time you take a U.S.-to-Europe round trip.

Chartering a private jet

Cost: Around $100,000-and-up per round trip

Chartering your own jet makes sense if you only fly now and then and want to minimize upfront costs.

You can book flights using either a charter company like Executive Jet Management unit or a charter broker like PlaneClear.

Prices vary based on when and where you're going and how big a plane you want, but PlaneClear estimates renting a Challenger 300 will cost about $100,000 for a three-day New York-to-London round trip.

Booking a suite on a luxury cruise ship

Cost: About $3,000-$6,600

If a private jet sounds too expensive, consider crossing the pond on a superpremium oceanliner.

"Crossing the Atlantic in three hours is one kind of luxury, but getting there at a leisurely pace is another," the Robb Report's Bean says. "There's a certain luxury in taking a cruise ship and saying: 'I'll get there when I get there.' "

The Cunard Line's luxury ships are famous for stylishly crossing the Atlantic in seven or eight days.

The company's Queen Mary 2 makes the most number of New York-to-Southampton voyages, with top-of-the-line Queens Grill Grand Duplex Suites priced at about $96,000 depending on travel dates. Amenities include a butler, in-room private dining, a whirlpool bathtub and a nightly turndown of your bed -- complete with a chocolate on your pillow.