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Tours by private jet soar along with high-net-worth incomes

Aerial view of Easter Island, a destination on Abercrombie & Kent private-jet trips.

Justin Weiler/Globe and Mail Update

During a stop on a recent global voyage by private jet, 50 well-to-do travellers found themselves surrounded by centuries-old, intricately tiled madrassas in the ancient city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Later, with a nearby square all to themselves, they were treated to a performance by musicians from the country's capital, Tashkent, a fashion show by an Uzbeki designer, and a gourmet dinner featuring local specialties.

The travellers also visited geothermal pools in Iceland, attended a bridal ceremony in the Solomon Islands and took in a show of archery and horsemanship in Mongolia during their around-the-world vacation.

They flew aboard a luxury aircraft with a dedicated crew and chef. Every Italian-leather massaging seat on the plane laid flat and came with embroidered linens, a pillowy duvet and Bose headphones.

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Operated by travel company Abercrombie & Kent, and with a starting price of $129,000 (U.S.) per person, the Tropics to the Arctic tour this past spring featured 11 stops in 26 days. Forget lost luggage, red-eye flights and long layovers – interest in this kind of travel appears to be soaring as high as that tour operator's deluxe Boeing 757.

"We've already published jet departures into 2018 and we continue to see strong interest," says Lisa Lesperance, Abercrombie & Kent's product manager for private jet. "A lot of our guests are repeat guests. For individuals who love to travel and have the means, it's the next step."

Private jet charters are becoming more popular, says Christa Craig, vice-president of Renshaw Travel, a luxury agency in Vancouver. She has booked trips for a group of business people going on a golf tour, a couple seeking a deluxe honeymoon and families spending holidays together.

In some cases, chartering a jet is more economical than booking a dozen first-class seats for a traditional long-haul flight.

"Private jet travel used to be more business people, but it has rolled over into leisure travel," Ms. Craig says. "It all comes down to flexibility, convenience, comfort, privacy and exclusivity."

While flying by private jet may be just one more way for the Trumps of the world to flaunt their wealth, it's a priceless commodity that's driving the travel trend – time, Ms. Craig says.

"It's a reflection of the value people place on their time. That's what I see as the biggest changing factor. If you're flying for five or 10 hours then it's not just a waste of time on a flight," she says. "It's relaxing. It's your own little home in the sky."

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Prices for private charters vary tremendously, depending on time of year, size and type of aircraft, locations and other factors. However, ballpark figures look like this: A round-trip journey from Vancouver to Los Angeles on a midsize jet could cost $23,000; from Vancouver to Hawaii on a heavy jet, $100,000; and Vancouver to London on a heavy jet, $190,000.

A few years back, Four Seasons Hotels Inc. unveiled its own private aircraft. The company offers exclusive itineraries, and guests stay at its properties around the world. "The response was overwhelmingly positive," says J. Allen Smith, Four Seasons' president and chief executive officer. "Every trip sold out that year."

The chain's pending International Intrigue package, scheduled for September, has sold out and has a wait list, according to Mr. Smith. At $135,000 (U.S.) per person, the trip includes a private dinner on the Great Wall of China, night snorkeling in the Maldives, hilltop meditation in the Serengeti, a private visit to St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum and time with locals in Africa's Atlas Mountains.

"Private-jet travellers have a curiosity for new experiences and value highly customized service and recognition," Mr. Allen says. "They want ultimate personalization but simple, seamless service delivery."

Luxury travel experts say their clients share certain traits, beyond immense wealth. They are often highly educated and "have a real curiosity about the world," says Ms. Lesperance. Most of Abercrombie & Kent's clientele is between the ages of 35 and 64 and, aside from Canada and the United States, they come from Britain, Europe and Australia as well as Brazil, Mexico and China.

A chef travels with the group, Ms. Lesperance says, but "we really try to balance fine dining with experiencing local cuisine. It doesn't always mean eating in a five-star Michelin restaurant. Sometimes it's a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where the locals go. [Guests] want to make sure they have that local experience."

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Private jet options

Here are more elite escapes for high-net-worth travellers:

Crystal AirCruises: Based in Los Angeles, Crystal Cruises operates a customized Boeing 777 and offers itineraries to a maximum of 84 passengers a flight. Butlers, a concierge and a chef serve guests, who can enjoy a standup bar and dining room when they're not resting in their lie-flat seats.

Great Plains Conservation: A jet takes six passengers a trip on the company's Great Plains African Safari, focusing on Kenya and Botswana. The journey includes a stop at Zarafa Camp, a Relais & Chateaux-recognized luxury property in the Selinda game reserve.

&Beyond: This company specializes in African safaris by private jet. Guests can track rhinos via helicopter, gaze at the stars with an astronomer, go shark-cage diving and enjoy a meal on the floor of Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater.

National Geographic: The venerable institution offers around-the-world tours by private jet. Passengers can explore Easter Island with archaeologists, see a traditional Samoan fia fia (a performance of dance and song) in Apia, and go on a Dreamtime walk in Australia's Mossman Gorge with an aboriginal guide.

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