Forget ocean liners—these seven luxe air cruises will take you around the world in record time

By Jaclyn Trop 16 August, 2023

Converted airliners with luxurious seating, gourmet cuisine, and open lounges are becoming the preferred means of transport for multi-week, global travel. Their biggest attraction: time savings

You don’t need to own a private jet to vacation in one. Luxury resorts like Aman and Four Seasons, not to mention adventure-travel brands such as National Geographic and Abercrombie & Kent, are rolling out six-figure transcontinental tours, providing guests with bespoke itineraries and insider access to hot spots while eliminating the hassles of flying commercially.

Air cruises (think cruise ships in the air, but more exclusive) are growing as a niche in luxury travel, thanks to the perks of flying privately. But the most attractive feature: time savings. These trips offer the fastest way to see distant parts of the world with the most comfort. Think a time-compressed, 21st-century version of an early 20th-century, round-the-world cruise that took six months.

By flying in small groups, say the organisers, guests dramatically cut the costs of private flight but enjoy similar perks of enhanced service and cuisine. These cruises are often connected to five-star hotels, have their own doctors and private chefs, and sometimes include private limousines and drivers for each couple or family—so if the aeroplane feels crowded, an escape is available on landing.

Midsized business jets are used for regional travel between destinations. Photo by Abercrombie & Kent

The trips use midsized business jets for regional travel or, for traversing time zones, “bizliners.” These are converted commercial jets with luxe interiors that feature a smaller number of seats (often recliners for sleeping) as well as open areas, a serious galley and larger bathrooms.

The Four Seasons Private Jet, for instance, is an Airbus A321 with just 48 seats to accommodate roughly a quarter of the passengers of the A321’s commercial configuration. The aircraft travels with an executive chef, doctor, a Four Seasons concierge, a journey manager, and an assistant journey manager. The jet also has a lounge.

Machu Picchu is also a favourite on air-cruise itineraries. Photo by Getty Images

The luxury brand, in fact, pioneered the hotel/private jet mashup in 2015 with the launch of its Private Jet Experience. In the last eight years, the scope and number of trips for members have grown. On November 30, its Uncharted Discovery tour takes off, transporting guests on a 21-day journey through seven very different landscapes: New Orleans, Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Antarctica, Bogota, and the Bahamas.

The itinerary includes stargazing in Costa Rica with Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz, visiting the world’s largest waterfall system at Argentina’s Iguazú National Park, and taking a four-night cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula aboard a luxurious polar ship. There will also be a cocktail party at Machu Picchu and a private concert by the Bogotá Philharmonic, among other insider-access events.

Stopovers aren’t always famous landmarks. This Southeast Asia tour included the world’s largest cave in Vietnam. Photo by VistaJet

Not everyone can clear three weeks to join a standard tour. For the time-strapped, the brand is debuting more family-friendly programmes for 2024 and 2025 that cover more ground in less time.

Its African Wonders tour takes travellers across a wide swath of geography in 13 days, starting in Athens with a visit to the Parthenon, before heading south through the African continent to see Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, and attractions in Rwanda, Mauritius, Zambia, and South Africa.

There are also smaller group trips closer to home. Starting at US$227,000 for two adults, Four Seasons Resorts Hawaii is partnering with VistaJet and Lanai Air to curate a four-island journey showcasing Hawaii’s history, culture, and natural beauty for private parties of up to eight.

Angkor Watt is on the Four Seasons’ itinerary for 2025. Photo by Four Seasons Private Jet

VistaJet has fashioned its own Private World tours that range from single destinations to longer, multi-stop itineraries. Its three-week tour of Southeast Asia, in association with Ariodante, begins in Jakarta before heading to Sangiran and Cambodia to explore the remnants of the Khmer Empire, including the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. Following that is a helicopter trip into Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park for a four-day trek through the jungle with a team of experts into the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong.

Want a single destination? The company is also offering a private visit to the Maldives via its Private Island Escape. The trip begins with a 40-minute journey aboard a private yacht to the Waldorf Astoria’s Ithaafushi resort, comprised of three secluded-but-interconnected islands. The property has multiple accommodation types, as well as dedicated chefs and a personal concierge. Instead of trekking jungles, this trip explores the resort’s lifestyle-spa sanctuary as well as its water sports and 11 dining venues. VistaJet will arrange private flights to the resort.

Athens is one of the stops on Abercrombie & Kent’s “Wings Over Europe’s Iconic Capitals” tour. Photo by Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent’s Wings Over Europe’s Iconic Capitals is an air adventure that spends 11 days experiencing the best of London, Paris, Rome, and Athens.

Limited to 13 guests, the tour takes you by private charter to the changing of the Mounted Guard in London, breakfast atop the Eiffel Tower, and a secret passage that connects Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican. Afterwards, you’ll travel along the Athenian Riviera by electric trike.

Rwanda’s mountain gorillas are a highlight of multiple air cruises touring Africa. Photo by Getty Images

By contrast, the company’s Africa: Across a Continent by Private Jet is a 22-day trip that explores the continent’s natural and manmade treasures, from the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the Serengeti to the mountain gorillas of Rwanda to the medina of Marrakech.

Starting at US$134,000 per person, the aircraft is a converted Boeing 757 with just 48 recliners for crisscrossing Africa. The journey includes exclusive access to many of the sites, including the Sphinx in Egypt, a hot-air balloon trip over the Serengeti, luxury safari camps in the bush, and glamping in the Sahara. Helicopter trips, wine-tastings and even a voodoo ceremony are also options.

“This is the next best thing to having your own private jet,” says Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of product development at Abercrombie & Kent. “Guests enjoy the benefits of private air, while on an itinerary that makes the most of each day.” Put another way: Maximising time is why these air cruises work.

This story was first published on Robb Report USA