Is The Four Seasons Private Jet Overrated?

A year ago to the day I wrote about Four Seasons introducing a 757 private jet.

The plane is equipped with 52 fully flat seats, and the intent is that the 757 is used for some of their “Four Seasons around the world itineraries,” whereby the jet flies a group of a few dozen people around the world between Four Seasons properties. It’s super innovative, and the first time a hotel brand has outright introduced a private jet as part of a group excursion.

This morning Bloomberg published a story entitled “Exclusive Look Inside The Four Seasons’ New Private Jet.”

Truth be told I expected I’d be super jealous and come away thinking “damn, I wish I could take one of these trips.” But the reality is quite the opposite, at least for me.

Four-Seasons-757-1

Don’t get me wrong, this is hands down the sexiest 757 in the world, both from the outside and inside. And this also looks like a great onboard experience… for 757 business class.

Four-Seasons-757-2

I figured I’d share a few highlights of the article:

There are, at minimum, 21 hotel-trained crew and staff on board each Four Seasons flight, including three pilots, two engineers, a “journey manager” (travel coordinator), a concierge, and an executive chef. A physician and a photographer also come along, when adventurous itineraries—such as diving the Maldives’ coral reefs or game watching in the Serengeti—require it.

21 crew on a 757? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds sort of unnecessary and almost takes away from the privacy of such an experience?

On the upscale à la carte menu, Petrossian caviar and Dom Pérignon champagne are anytime staples. But surprise dishes rotate, depending on your itinerary. Just returning from Kona, Hawaii? You might have fresh lobster salad sprinkled with macadamia nuts. Just made friends with elephants in Thailand? A dark chocolate elephant is on board waiting to greet you. It’s “airplane food” as much as typical in-flight snacks are smoked salmon canapés, fresh fruit kebabs with passion fruit sauce, or pristine petit fours.

The food and drinks do sound fantastic, though not really better than what you’d get in international first class on a top carrier.

Dom-Perignon-Four-Seasons

Yet somewhat disappointingly, there is no partition or privacy to protect you from unwanted chit-chat—or snoring from the robber baron next door. With two seats on each side of the aisle, these are not the enclosed enclaves of Air France’s La Premiere class or Etihad’s on-board bedrooms.

In fact, the ethos here is more communal in general. There may not be purpose-made social areas, such as an A-380 bar/lounge, but with three pilots on board, one is always free to chat with guests, as they are with each other. Flying with Four Seasons is a choice to meet, socialize, and share adventures with new people.

“We didn’t sleep much on the flights, because we were always having much too much fun drinking champagne and giving our neighbors nicknames,” said passenger Davidson. An interior designer from Calgary, she booked the trip to celebrate her 55th birthday and wound up forging new friendships. “We loved our space and all of the people who were surrounding us.”

It’s no surprise that seats are in a 2-2 configuration, given that we’re talking about a 757 here. So by 2015, the lack of direct aisle access from every seat almost makes this a sub-par hard product. Then again, the experience seems focused around being social, and since none of the flights are especially long, that’s not really a big problem.

When you take your seat, you’ll find serious stash: Bvlgari toiletry kit, cashmere blanket, Bose noise-canceling headphones, and a custom-made leather travel journal by Moleskin with matching ballpoint pen. Each guest also receives an iPad Air 2 in advance of the trip, on which you can preload music and movies as a personalized entertainment system. They’re all yours to keep.

Best part: There’s free Wi-Fi—unlike the actual hotel properties you’ll sleep at. High-speed isn’t guaranteed, but guests can visit any website and send e-mails; they just can’t stream video content while on board to ensure a good connection. (Instead, a select library of both new and contemporary films and TV shows is available to download.) Taking the tech-forward cue from newer planes, the in-flight entertainment here is as good as any.

The kits are small, though—even if reportedly costing $100 each—and provided twice, once at the beginning and then halfway through the journey, instead of on each leg. Run out of dental floss? An additional supply is always available. Just don’t leave your own supplies at home.

The amenities do sound quite good. Though the valuation of the Bvlgari kits and the fact that you only get two per trip sound a bit off.

Unlike the epic four-star commodes you can expect on the ground, the four bathrooms on board are coach-class tiny. As bright and clean, custom-designed, and suffused with Bvlgari green tea air freshener they may be, there was no wow moment here. Also a tick in the “con” column: paper towels instead of cloth. Not a big deal in the grand scheme, sure, but it’s the small details that really send luxury over the top.

I do hate those 757 bathrooms. Given how many modifications they supposedly made to the plane, I’m surprised they couldn’t improve them more.

Why I’m surprised the Four Seasons jet “works”

Don’t get me wrong, this does sound like a great experience. It basically sounds like La Compagnie if they decided to go after the opposite end of the business class market.

I’d still be very surprised if this concept works long term. It’s innovative, but I tend to think the greatest thing about high end travel is flexibility and the ability to customize your journey as much as you’d like. If you’re dropping $100K+ per person on a trip, don’t you want the ability to go where you want when you want for as long as you want, rather than being tied down to a specific itinerary?

I guess this works for some people precisely because of how structured the trip is. You don’t have to make any decisions, you just show up and get to see some amazing places — everything else is taken care of

But personally I’d be surprised if this business model works long term or is expanded. I’m guessing some high end travelers are trying it once out of curiosity, but long term do you really want to drop that kind of cash on such a “rigid” trip, when you could ultimately fly better airline products and have a more customized experience for less?

(Tip of the hat to Michael)

Comments

  1. A lot of (very) wealthy people want exactly this – structure, and all the details taken care of. They do not have the time nor the inclination to plan their own trip of this magnitude, and their staff likely lacks the experience. There is a large subset of people that will find this appealing. In general, (multi-) mllionaires want to be taken care of, and not have to sweat the details. They are not into travel hacking.

  2. i think i disagree with you… the concept is awesome… kinda like taking a cruise but in the air.

  3. Personally, I love “resort friends.” The people you meet while on vacation, hang out at the bar, the pool, go to dinner, etc. I think a lot of people really like that aspect of resorts and cruises. So, I think this thing could have legs as a sort of hybrid Crystal Cruises of the sky.

  4. I used to work for a hotel company that is frequented by these types of travelers. They come in a private plane, get customized experiences in unique destinations, are served hand and foot, and are wealthy beyond belief. But they buy the brand, the lectures on board, and the experience. Yes, you can do these trips on your own, but you can’t do it with $100,000 and still fly on private plane.

  5. I think the key is in your conclusion here — “I guess this works for some people precisely because of how structured the trip is. You don’t have to make any decisions, you just show up and get to see some amazing places — everything else is taken care of”

    Isn’t this kind of the experience your parents get from your amazing trips for them? They seem to love it! 🙂

  6. I guess you got their business model all wrong. They are targeting wealthy people that are 55 or 60 years old and up. Most people that will take this trip are elderly couples (thus the 2-2 configuration works). Also, they could fly Emirates first class, etc.. but they are more interested in a hassle-free experience where Four Seasons people take care of them all the time. If I am not mistake, this type of plane may offer the same advantages of flying a private jet where you don’t get mixed with regular passengers in an airport. It is way easier and faster for them to board and leave a place rather than wait for all the process in a regular airline. Also, I had grandparents that loved trips with other people at their age. They are not looking for privacy but an opportunity to socialize and make new friends. Thus, having privacy on the plane is not what they want but chat with everyone and have their own party on the plane, drinking, playing cards, chatting, etc… In my opinion, there are many wealthy people that are the perfect target for this type of trip and I always read they sell out this way in advance so there is way more demand than supply. Again, it is all about being pampered and taken care 24/7.

  7. The appeal seems pretty straightforward to me:
    -Instant gratification: spend zero time on planning/research/searching for flights, hotels, etc. I’m sure time is more valuable than money for most guests who would be attracted to this.
    -Prices are all based on double occupancy. This is meant for couples—2×2 seating is a feature, not a failure.
    -It doesn’t look like there are any ultra-long-haul legs—no need for on-board showers or fresh pajamas on every flight. And every time you land you check in to a Four Seasons.
    -Fly private (and presumably direct) on a decent hard product. Good luck finding better (and easier) options from Costa Rica to Lanai to Sydney or in and out of the Maldives.
    -Flying private is awesome, as you may remember from your short trip on a Gulfstream. Multiply that experience times 9 longer flights.

  8. There are plenty of airlines that haven’t yet fully converted to flat beds in business class. Among those that have, direct aisle access isn’t universal, even on spacious, wide-body jets. So I’m not prepared to accept that flat beds without direct aisle access on a 757 can be considered “sub-par” in 2015.

  9. I was talking to a friend’s mom who was considering booking these for herself and her two daughters (one of whom is my friend). She rather sheepishly began to justify the expense to me, but what she said makes sense (for them)–to visit x, y, z and not have to deal with ANY of the arrangements–just go on the trip…that’s worth a lot to her. Not having to deal with the minutia that comes along with traveling is/would be a blessing. Boarding documents, hundreds of other passengers, arranging a car from the airport, etc… none of it… you don’t need to deal with NONE of it…none (lol). Anyway, she made a good case for it; unfortunately after inquiring at least two times, they have yet to get back to her, so she’s a little over it.

  10. Flying first class, for me, is mostly about the ground services than the difference in the air between an Emirates suite and a Brussels business class seat–I’ll sleep just fine in either. I want to make the experience of travel less painful, if possible.

    Being able to fly in and out of private airports with their staff managing all the bags, food that truthfully sounds much better than the top carriers first class, and being surrounded by people also looking to enjoy themselves instead of potentially on business or whatever else sounds like a MUCH, MUCH better way to travel than how I currently do.

  11. On the other hand, you missed one of the worst parts about this: you can’t earn points/miles for almost any of it! Per the T&Cs you can charge the initial deposit ($2500 per person for 2015 trip; $10K per person for 2016 trips) to a card but the rest is check or wire only.

    (2015 language)
    Reservations & Payments: To reserve your place on a Tour, complete and sign the Reservation Form and return it with your deposit of $2,500 per person. The deposit can be made by check; wire transfer; or by a major credit card such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover Card. Make checks payable to “FSATW2-15 Escrow.” If you pay your initial deposit by credit card, it is fully refundable until you sign the Reservation Form. Please fax or mail the completed form to TCS Expeditions, Inc. 3131 Elliott Avenue, Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98121; fax to 206-447-7717. Or call 888-215-2728
    (North America) or 206-753-0048 (worldwide). The second payment of $15,000 per person is due Dec. 15, 2014. Final payment is due April 16, 2015. The second and final payments are payable by check or wire transfer only, made out to the secure escrow account as set forth below.

  12. “i think i disagree with you… the concept is awesome… kinda like taking a cruise but in the air.”

    Exactly why this is my idea of hell. I can appreciate the appea for other people but this not for me.

  13. Rory,

    That seems needlessly annoying. Strange that such a high service business would make payment such a hassle. Then again perhaps most yacht and jet charters also require a check or wire transfer so it’s SOP.

  14. @Rory/@John: There may be some sort of limit in which it is not worth for them to take higher payments by credit card. Similar to a car purchase. I just bought a new car and my dealer only allowed $2,500 in credit card payment and the rest had to be a check or wire transfer. I guess the fee they have to pay for the credit card company does not make sense for them for such high value purchases.

  15. The credit card issue is about two things: First and foremost is the dispute process. If you dispute a charge with your card issuer, they will tie up that money until it is resolved (often 6 months). They don’t want $200k being tied up because somebody wasn’t happy. Second, paying 2.5% on $200k eats into the margins so why not simply make them wire and be done?

  16. It still looks pretty awesome to me. There’s a lot to be said for having everything planned & organized for you. Maybe that should be your next Kickstarter? 😉

  17. Horrible configuration. They should have chosen a plane that allowed a 1+2+1 to allow couples to be together and allow singles their desired space, either reverse herringbone with sufficient shell wraparound to provide good privacy, or the configuration like you see on Etihad’s 787 with full enclosures and drop down panels between the middle seats. The notion that everyone wants to socialize is false. I want to have privacy on the plane just as I want to have privacy in my hotel room. I have no desire to share a bunk room with 50 other people no matter how beautifully decorated it is. 🙂

  18. It’s the same argument for DIY trips vs going on a guided tour. There’s a huge market for travellers who don’t enjoy the time and effort needed to properly plan a trip and execute it yourself, and would rather outsource to a travel agency.

  19. @Tara do you really think singles would go for a 200k vacation on their own ???? I imagine all of their customers are actually couples, hence the configuration …

  20. @ Mark S. — Sure, there are “plenty,” but you don’t think most decent airlines nowadays have fully flat beds in business class?

  21. How much would it take to rent the whole plane? If this product was avaliable like a few years ago, my dad didn’t have to go through his 48 hours China-S. America couch chip.

  22. @Lucky — Of course flat beds are the standard expectation these days, yet angled seats continue to fly on AA, AF, KL, LH, UA, et. al. These airlines are all working toward fleet-wide beds, yes, but they aren’t there yet. And then some airlines that have fully converted don’t guarantee direct aisle access. A confined window seat is one thing, but middle seats? In business class? I say all that to say, “par” in 2015 isn’t as great as you seem to think it is.

  23. SamJess, I would. 🙂 I think wealthy solo travellers will find this very appealing, it provides the safety of travelling in a group, the ease of pre-planning, and the posh quality of the Four Seasons brand. When I travel alone I really hate sleeping close to a stranger. I will go out of my way for 1+2+1. Only 2+ if it’s the configuration that allows direct aisle access and privacy from the shell.

  24. I think the reason this isn’t appealing to Lucky is that it’s not targeted at Lucky, so in essence I’d say Four Seasons have done their job well!

  25. Even at 106K+ per passenger, it is a bargain given the other services that come with it. A private flight alone from lets say Texas to Paris will be near 200K. If you were to duplicate these itineraries including all excursions and hotel stays, you would likely spend well over 2.5 million for 8-9guest (ie pay 150% more). The author should keep all of this in proper prospective.

  26. Lucky, what this offers is a seamless experience for travel. Guest preferences are updated en route if need be, and special assistance as required is also provided by the FS hotels at the destination. Four Seasons has a set of insanely loyal clients who will happily spend this money for an almost bespoke experience. The plane is also available for charter when not on tour.

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