New (and expensive) trips combine the just-sign-up ease of traditional group tours with luxurious accommodations, insider experiences and transportation in private planes
FLIGHT DINNER | Inside the Embraer Lineage 1000 used for Remote Lands' private-jet tour.
THE TERM "group tour" doesn't connote glamour—unless, that is, the group is traveling on a private Boeing 757, along with a personal chef.
More and more travel companies are offering private-jet tours, which combine the just-sign-up approach of guided trips with luxurious lodging and billionaire-style transportation. And pampering isn't the sole selling point. Though such tours can cost tens of thousands of dollars, they can save time, aggravation, even money.
"To recreate our Around the World trip…flying first class and staying at the same hotels, would take you twice as long and cost over twice as much," claimed Scott Leviton, director of guest relations at Seattle's TCS Expeditions. It's a hassle to organize guides and lodging, some destinations can be challenging to reach by commercial flight and delays are all but inevitable.
With these five trips, the work is all done for you—albeit at a price.
AFRICA FROM ABOVE
Abercrombie & Kent didn't just pioneer the luxury safari—25 years ago, it offered a private around-the-world journey via Concorde. It relaunched its Private Jet program this March with an African itinerary designed by founder Geoffrey Kent. For next year, he's created a 19-day, seven-country journey that includes gorilla-tracking in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a dinner accompanied by fire spinners in Namibia's dunes and a stint in A&K's mobile camp in Tanzania's Serengeti. The ride is a chartered Icelandair Boeing 757-200ER, configured for just 44 passengers and upgraded with custom leather seats that lie flat and have built-in massagers. An in-flight chef cooks up dishes using ingredients sourced en route, and the open bar is stocked with each guest's preferred tipples. Feb. 20 to March 10, 2015, from $82,995 a person,abercrombiekent.com
HOTEL-HOP AROUND THE WORLD
Four Seasons's Boeing 757
In April, Four Seasons introduced the hotel industry's first fully branded aircraft, a Boeing 757 retrofitted for 52 passengers, with handcrafted Italian-leather flatbed seats. Also on board: a Four Seasons executive chef who serves destination-inspired dishes. February's inaugural, around-the-world trip sold out in two months; the next is set for March 2015, with nine stops—and Four Seasons stays. Activities can include a day trip from Istanbul to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, and a low-altitude flight over Australia's iconic red sandstone formation, Uluru. March 16 to April 8, 2015, from $119,000 a person, fourseasons.com
GOLF THE GLOBE
Known for crafting European golf cruises, North Carolina-based Kalos is venturing into the skies this fall with an around-the-world tour via Boeing 757. The plan: to visit five continents in 23 days, hitting mountain, seaside, jungle and desert courses, from renowned spots like South Africa's Fancourt to lesser-known gems in Fiji and Thailand. (There are plenty of options for nongolfers, too.) Limited to 78 passengers, the first trip has already sold out; a second is scheduled for next fall. Oct. 8 to Oct. 31, 2015, from $73,950 a person, kalosgolf.com
TRACE HUMAN HISTORY
National Geographic Expeditions tapped geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells to help craft an off-the-beaten-path voyage via Boeing 757 to some of the world's oldest centers of civilization, from Uzbekistan to Israel. Among the highlights: joining paleoanthropologist David Lordkipanidze on an excursion to Dmanisi, Georgia, where he discovered the earliest-known hominid remains outside of Africa, and staying in a traditional tent in Mongolia's Gobi Desert. Along with Dr. Wells, a Nat Geo photographer will join the trip, offering picture-taking tips. Next year's tour has filled up, but another is slated for 2016. May 12 to June 4, 2016, from $67,950 a person,nationalgeographicexpeditions.com
ACROSS ASIA VIA AMAN
Covering China, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka, the very first private-jet group tour from bespoke outfitter Remote Lands was designed for Asia enthusiasts—and hotel snobs. The Embraer Lineage 1000 has space for just 18 guests. The itinerary has been built around the eight stylish Aman Resorts in those countries; each hotel offers insider access to nearby sites. From Beijing's Aman at Summer Palace, for example, you can explore parts of the Forbidden City not open to the public. Oct. 4 to Oct. 21, 2014, from $49,950 a person, remotelands.com