Adventures in Affluence: How the Billionaire Vacations


Recent market performance notwithstanding, the return of glitzy globetrotting for the super wealthy is back, travel connoisseurs say, as the days of cutting back to seem recession-chic slowly become a thing of the past.

According to the American Affluence Research Center, 35% of Americas wealthiest households plan to spend more on domestic vacations this year, and 31% plan to spend more on vacations abroad. That means the rich are planning to do some serious spending on everything from private jets to private islands.

If you have ever wondered how the most affluent travelers go about planning their perfect summer getaway, you can be sure they dont sit online and compare hotel suites like the rest of us. When money is no object, the rich and famous call a high-end travel agency, or concierge service, as it's more appropriately dubbed, which specializes in fulfilling the sometimes bizarre, always lavish travel and service demands of the elite. These service-providers boast having achieved near-impossible feats in order to accommodate their clients needs, and achieving the impossible doesnt come without a price. Bill Fischer, long-known as the coveted New York travel advisor with the famously unlisted number, charges new clients a one-time initiation fee of $100,000, and annual service fees of $25,000; he says business is booming.

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FOX Business got the what, the where, and the how from Fischer and more of the industry's most exclusive travel connoisseurs on the trends and tips the jet-setting crowd adhere to when booking their joyful jaunts, so you can travel more like the billionaires this year.

Trend 1: Avoiding the Airport

Airport security, both at home and abroad may be a necessary evil for most of us, but for the super rich, its just another inconvenience money can avoid. Private jets--through both shares and ownership--allow rich travelers to skip the lines and hassle of security.

A lot of people who can afford it will go by private plane because its getting more and more difficult to go through the airportsnot only in the U.S., but especially coming from overseas back to the U.S., says Rudi Steele, a sought-after Naperville, Il.-based travel specialist.

Even if flying by private plane is not an option, affluent jet setters will often go the meet-and-greet route, where they are met by someone at the airport who expedites processing through airport security and customs, says Dallas-based luxury travel consultant Jim Strong.

We make sure we have on-arrival or on-departure, someone there to hold their hand and expedite them through the customs lines and the diplomatic lines and there are services offered to get this done, Strong says. The service generally runs between $200 and $500, according to Strong, but he says it's well worth the price. In the Rome airport, or Heathrow, it can save you hours.

Trend 2: The Multi-Generation, Multi-Room Requirement

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of being able to fly private is that you dont have to worry about cramming the kids into coach. More of the rich and famous are bringing the whole family along when they take a trip, creating quite the booking task for travel advisors.

Virtuoso, a network of high-volume travel agents, reports in its January survey that 63% of its 6,000 members in North America predicted the biggest travel trend for 2011 would be family and multi-generational travel.

I think since 9/11, people just dont want to leave by themselves; they want to take their extended family with them, Fischer says. You could sometimes see four generations traveling at once.

Traveling with an entourage requires multi-room accommodations, which is no easy feat. Depending upon the size of the clients entourage, a three to four-bedroom suite at the Four Seasons may not fit the bill.

We do a lot of private islands, but what our clients like the most is staying at a villa with butler service that is attached to a hotel, Fischer says. In other words, there is a hotel component, but the villa is separate and private so youre getting all the accoutrements of the luxury hotel, but are staying in your own private space.

Fischer recalls a situation where one of his clients needed a three-bedroom suite in a particular hotel that only had two-bedroom suites. After speaking with the hotels general manager, Fischer suggested they knock out a few walls, and sure enough, he got a call back from the general manager telling him, Bill you have your three-bedroom suite.

We are catering to a client that can afford anything; [they] want what they want when they want it, and were always saying yes.

Trend 3: Exclusivity and Privacy is Paramount

Because the super rich are often in the public eye, planning a getaway that is extremely private is of the utmost importance. This sometimes means staying away from big name-brand hotels and having back-up hotels booked in case the guest-in-question needs a quick escape from prying eyes.

The desire for privacy is also the driving force behind the popularity of renting a private island, experts say; its easier to guarantee privacy, and top-notch service when you know youre the only guest there.

When you are at a resort, you always wonder if youre being treated as well as the other guests, Strong says. But when you buy the whole island, you know youre king of the hill.

Richard Turen, another Naperville, Il.-based travel planner who writes for industry publication Travel Weekly, says boutique and non-chain hotels have grown in popularity for this reason.

He says one of the more intriguing ideas to help provide that sense of seclusion and intimacy has come out of the Alessandro Rosso Group, which has been creating one-room hotels in some of the best cities around the world.

Your key combination is sent to you, theres a cell phone where you dial one number and you get your butler, and you actually have your own hotel, Turen explains. "Its a very interesting thing because you can stay in the best part of Paris or Rome and have it all yourself."

Trend 4: Once-in-a-Lifetime? Yes, please.

A mundane vacation just won't cut it for the super rich. Travel advisors say their clients are seeking once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like diving with sharks off the coast of Australia or a traditional Italian meal cooked by a famous chef in her home on the Amalfi Coast.

These people want authenticity; they dont want something thats manufactured, or pushed upon them, Strong says. They want it to be natural, authentic, in a memorable scenario that they will treasure forever.

Fischer says hes coordinated parties where famed-tenor Andrea Bocelli gave a private performance, and just last weekend, he managed to get a client special tickets to the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, along with entry to F1 Paddock Club and after parties.

Trend 5: Safety First

In some cases, travel advisors need to accommodate not just a client and the clients multi-generational family, but the security detail as well.

People when they have quite a bit of money, the most important thing they want is security," says Fischer."So we have people who work for us that we will send to take care of the families. They know the destinations; these are former CIA that work for governments and know the inner workings of the countries.

In addition to sending the best private security personnel available, Fischer has sent top-notch doctors with clients on trips. For some destinations he has ordered armored vehicles for clients and registered them with the local police departments so they can be provided with a local police escort.

Trend 6: Accessto Any Place in the World

A luxury travel advisor has to be ready for last-minute requests to visit some of the planets most exclusive locales. While no corner of the globe is out of reach, the clear standout among this summers most popular destinations is Europe, with Italy being the top destination for the wealthy elite.

You have the parents of teenage children who are very much aware of the educational value of travel, and they definitely want to take advantage of traveling to destinations where children are getting some education, Strong says.

In addition to travel mainstays on the Mediterranean, safaris are also all the rage.

"Africa is one of those amazing destinations, especially east Africa and southern Africa, mainly for game viewing, Steele says. If you go on safari once, you would think you would get it out of your system, but when it comes to Africa and safari, it pulls you back; people go over again.

Strong says more exotic destinations such as Morocco, China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all still very popular with clients.

For the beach-going set, places like Fiji and Bali are back and bigger than ever, according to Turen and Steele. Fischer expect travel to Brazil to ramp up as the country readies itself for the 2016 Olympic Games.

For the indecisive industrialist, a cruise may prove a better option, offering the flexibility of multiple port stops. Private yachts that sleep up to 30 people are popular with Fischers clients because they can accommodate multiple generations and an entourage.

Finally, for the wealthy with the most severe case of wanderlust, theres The World. This seafaring sanctuary was referenced by both Fischer and Turen for clients that have the time to travel for longer periods. Turen calls it the worlds top-rated ship, and the 644-foot yacht, which launched in 2002, plans itineraries based upon the input of the owners, offering the utmost in luxury service and accommodations. The World boasts itself as the largest privately owned yacht on the planet, with 165 private residences, valued between $1.4 and $7.9 million, with about $240,000 in annual fees.