To call it a new hotel concept wouldn’t really be accurate. But to call it an airline isn’t entirely correct, either. If you've got $119,000 to spare, per person, double occupancy, Four Seasons' new jet will treat globetrotters to the lost grandeur of the golden age of air travel.
Yet, as an increasing number of the world’s superrich champion frugality over extravagance, many in the travel industry have questioned whether there's an appetite for such luxurious adventures. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, after all, will have to compete with similar luxury tour companies such as National Geographic Expeditions, Smithsonian Journeys and Abercrombie & Kent.
A Four Seasons spokeswoman told CNN last week that its current jet journeys, via a charter company, have been extremely popular, “which encouraged the company to look for new ways to evolve.”
Beginning in February, the Four Seasons Jet service will treat 52 deep-pocketed guests to individually handcrafted leather flatbed seats, globally inspired cuisine from expert chefs, a dedicated on-board concierge and “exclusive experiences,” the luxury hotel-resort operator said. Each all-inclusive journey includes air travel, ground transportation, planned excursions, and meals and accommodations at a Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.
The company based in Toronto is touting this as the hospitality industry’s first fully branded private jet service, which seeks to duplicate 30,000 feet in the air the same, luxurious amenities its customers have come to expect on the ground. The hotel said on its website that it has 92 hotels and resorts in 38 countries. The Four Seasons Jet will whisk passengers to such interesting locales as Bora Bora, French Polynesian, Thailand, London, Mumbai, Bali, Sydney, Australia, Kona, Hawaii, Istanbul and Los Angeles. Solo travelers will pay a single supplement of $11,000, boosting their fare to $130,000. Minibar charges aren't included.
Unlike a traditional airline, Four Seasons Jet doesn’t take reservations for individual flights. Rather, travelers book lengthy excursions spanning several weeks and multiple destinations. For example, reservations are currently available for a 24-day, nine-destination, around-the-world trip for its inaugural flight in February 2015. The journey begins in Los Angeles and takes in “dynamic cities, exotic islands, architectural wonders and awe-inspiring natural environments.” Other scheduled trips include "Backstage with the Arts," a 16-day, six-city trip in April through Europe’s most spectacular art centers, and a second 24-day, nine-destination, around-the-world trip in August, spanning Africa, the Indian Ocean, Asia and North America.
The upmarket hotel chain said that it brought in its in-house design team to completely retrofit a Boeing 757 airplane. It will adorn the aircraft’s fuselage with the Four Seasons name and paint its logo on the tail.
While Boeing stopped producing the single-aisle, medium-range 757 passenger jet in 2005, an estimated 1,030 of a total 1,050 757s are still in service. Most commercial airlines fit out the planes with a minimum of 200 seats, though Four Seasons has opted for just 52, in a 2-2 configuration.
Susan Helstab, Four Seasons' executive vice president of marketing, said in a statement, that the company believes "taking our legendary service to the skies is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing in our hotels for more than 50 years.”
A foray into high-altitude hospitality could be seen as a natural extension for the Four Seasons brand. While the Boeing 757 is its first fully branded jet, the company has actually been in the business of private jet journeys since 2012, when it launched trips that focused exclusively on stays at its worldwide properties.
“The Around the World trips continuously sold out, and often had waiting lists, underscoring how important this level of experience is to our guests,” the Four Seasons spokeswoman, told CNN. “In fact, many of our travelers have booked more than one private jet trip with Four Seasons and some even have private jets of their own, but what they are seeking is an unforgettable adventure in the company of like-minded travelers, one that delivers the uncompromised luxury that is the hallmark of Four Seasons.”
CNN pointed to a 2014 study on the global business of luxury from the Boston Consulting Group that showed the ultra-rich are seeking out experiences beyond the ordinary.
“Luxury experiences are by far the most powerful driver of luxury spending anywhere,” BCG senior partner, Jean-Marc Bellaïche, noted in the report. "Collectively, they make up nearly $1 trillion of the annual global total."
Bellaïche noted that “as older consumers realize that they have all the 'things' they want -- and as younger people favor experiences they can share with their friends -- consumers are spending more on everything from dining at five-star restaurants to exotic vacation travel."
Others aren’t so sure there is an upward trend. Pam Danziger, president of the luxury research firm, Unity Marketing Inc., based in Stevens, Pa., told Bloomberg that, while affluent consumers enjoy spending money on travel and hotels more than any other category, they’ve been holding back. “They are hesitant to indulge now because of their concerns about finances and the overall economy,” she said.