The rise of the ‘air cruise’ – the new holiday for the super-rich

Aman’s ‘Grandest Tour’ consists of a 21-night trip around the globe in a spacious Airbus ACJ319 jet
Aman’s ‘Grandest Tour’ consists of a 21-night trip around the globe in a spacious Airbus ACJ319 jet

It can sometimes seem as though the world exists in two parallel universes. On the one hand, ordinary folk are constantly being urged – by politicians, eco-activists and celebrities – to fly less. On the other hand, demand for private-jet travel, which spiked during the pandemic, shows no sign of slowing.

Such is the clamour among wealthy travellers to avoid the crowds, some of the world’s top luxury tour operators and hotel groups, constantly on the search for new and innovative ways to keep their regulars happy, have come up with a new holiday concept: the “air cruise”, offering whistlestop world tours by private plane.

“As a market leader in more classic escorted touring, we were keen to come up with something new,” says Andy Squirrell, the managing director of Titan Travel, which ran its first private jet adventure last year, a 23-day VIP expedition aboard a Boeing 737, covering Italy, Montenegro, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Turkey, among other destinations, for about £28,000 per person. “Coming out of Covid, we really got the sense that people had saved and didn’t want to wait any longer for their once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. It felt like the right moment to launch the touring-by-air concept, but at a price point that’s more accessible than conventional private air travel.”

Titan Holidays 747 air cruise
Titan Travel ran its first private jet adventure in 2023 - Titan Holidays/Michael Leckie

Among the very wealthy, travel has long involved private aviation. But what we’re seeing more of now is a re-invention of that traditional private jet experience, catering for bigger groups by using bigger aircrafts, closer in size, or sometimes comparable to those used for commercial flights, reconfigured to carry between about 50 and 80 passengers in great speed and comfort.

Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent offers its private jet tours aboard Boeing 757s, allowing 48 customers to travel in first-class style with fully lie-flat beds. Touching down in exotic destinations not easily accessible via major carriers, the flight timetables are built around the itinerary, not the airline.

Abercrombie & Kent offers its private jet tours aboard Boeing 757s
Abercrombie & Kent offers its private jet tours aboard Boeing 757s, seating up to 48 passengers - Juliet Lemon

The cheapest of its next three trips starts from £142,210 per person. It circles the globe in consummate style, taking in some of the world’s most seldom-seen wildlife, from the Sri Lankan leopard and the Tasmanian devil to the migrating humpback whale, touching down in Hawaii, Fiji, Tasmania, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Zambia and Brazil. The travelling party includes a valet, a doctor and a “photo enrichment” coach.

Hotel groups have also played their part, with Four Seasons and Aman offering global adventures by private jets of varying sizes since 2015. Aman’s offering is a collaboration with the luxury tour operator Remote Lands and offers trips that often stop in three different continents to take in all of its properties. Its Airbus ACJ319s carry up to 16 passengers, allowing them to get even further off the beaten track.

“You can’t fly commercially between the destinations we visit, so the only way to do it in one itinerary is to fly privately,” says Catherine Heald, Remote Lands’ co-founder and chief executive. “The expeditions provide the perfect hybrid of small-group and private travel, with each couple or solo traveller having their own private car, driver and expert guide for touring. They allow guests who wouldn’t typically consider a small-group expedition to do exactly what they wish to do each day, as they would on a private trip, and this has been the key to our success.”

Amanpuri, Thailand is one of the stops on Aman's 'Grandest Tour'
Amanpuri, Thailand is one of the stops on Aman's 'Grandest Tour' - Aman Resorts Limited

But it’s not all about rushing from place to place in a box-ticking exercise, there is an increased thirst for learning about a particular destination or subject in greater depth and spending more time on the ground, than you would, say, on a luxury cruise.

“There is often a theme with these jet expeditions,” says Chris Brunning, the co-founder and managing director of UK-based Untold Story Travel, who books private jets of all sizes for his clients. “Last year, one client wanted to witness the best of the Japanese cherry blossom season in early April, which involved stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Yoshino, Nara, Fuji Five Lakes, Naoshima and Niseko. They wanted an exclusive-use night in a castle, a helicopter ride to Mount Koya with a head priest and private access to a sumo stable. The trip, for six people, aboard a nine-seat ‘super mid-size’ Citation Sovereign jet, cost about £50,000 per head.”

The interior of a Citation Sovereign jet
The interior of a Citation Sovereign jet

According to Titan’s Andy Squirrel, its new spice route tour was inspired by Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure on ITV. “We realised we had a number of tours that go to a number of different incredible destinations that could work within that theme, touching on the history of the spice routes, the flavours, the scents. So we thought let’s weave them all together.”

So how are these companies reconciling the sustainability issue? Some are investing in sustainable aviation fuels (not yet a viable solution), others are donating to carbon offset projects. Whether it goes far enough is debatable.

“We are very conscious of the carbon emissions element, so work with a company called Climate Partner,” says Squirrel, who also points out that Titan will never do more than three or four of these trips per year. “We make sure we are off-setting all of our flight-related carbon emissions by contributing to relevant projects in the places we visit.”

Aman Tokyo, Japan
Japan is a popular choice amongst 'air cruise' passengers - Aman Resorts Limited

Shelley Cline, the president of TCS Worldwide, a Seattle-based trailblazer in luxury travel, sums up the appeal of the air cruise: “Our guests travel with us because we provide luxury travel with a purpose and transformative journeys that resonate deeply on a personal level. They also get rid of the hassles of expeditionary travel without losing the adventure.”

Three extraordinary air cruises now on sale

Around the world in a customised jumbo jet

Forty-eight people will join A&K’s luxury travel pioneer Geoffrey Kent on an amazing journey designed around a range of fascinating destinations. From Kanazawa in Japan and Ladakh to historic Malta and colourful Senegal, guests will experience every locale at its authentic best, going where other travellers cannot and partaking in exclusive visits to renowned cultural centres and historic sites. Flying in a customised Boeing 747 with fully lie-flat, first-class seats, dedicated crew and executive chef, there will be world-class dining throughout and stays at the world’s finest luxury hotels throughout. From £156,605pp, based on double occupancy; Oct 13 – Nov 7 2024.

Kanazawa in Japan
A&K's expedition will travel to places such as Kanazawa in Japan - A&K/Richard Harker

Aman’s ‘Grandest Tour’

So called because it represents the company’s longest itinerary yet, this 21-night trip is the ultimate showcase of Aman properties, moving around the globe in a spacious Airbus ACJ319 jet, visiting every hotel in the collection, beginning with Tokyo, Aman’s first urban property, before moving on to Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, India, Turkey and Greece. With the freedom of a private car, driver and guide in every destination you can combine private experiences with activities shared with the group. So in Tokyo, for example, you can join the group for sushi-making and a lesson in samurai sword combat before heading off with your driver to explore Jyogai Market and vibrant districts like Ginza and Akihabara, relax at animal cafes and catch a baseball game. From $178,888pp (£141,069), based on double occupancy; April 13 – May 4 2024.

Aman's Grandest Tour
Prices for Aman's Grandest Tour start at £141,069 - Aman

The Spice Route by private jet

Inspired by the fabled Spice Route, Titan’s latest private jet tour follows the footsteps of ancient traders who brought exotic, highly sought-after spices like pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom to the Western world. It’s going to be an aromatic, delicious journey, brought to life with behind-the-scenes tours on spice farms and plantations, visits to lively souks and fragrant spice markets and exclusively chartered cruises on Kerala houseboats and Omani dhows. There’ll be four-wheel drive tours over sand dunes and the chance to see beautiful Petra, creative workshops and art-themed walks in Venice, and banquets inspired by heritage recipes from the spice trade. From £34,995pp, based on double occupancy; March 13–29 2025.