Would You Pay $70,000 for Your Vacation? Don't Laugh, Many Do

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Linda Landers and her husband, Jim, wanted to see the world but didn't have time to plan a complicated route hopping from one continent to another.

Then Linda learned about a $70,000 per person private jet trip that would allow the Arkansas couple to see nine countries in 23 days.

They booked immediately.

"It was such good value for what you got," Landers said, "even though it was a terribly expensive trip."

The Landers are members of an elite travel club that indulges in lavish vacations that go well beyond first class.

For those who can afford it, there are a growing number of options at the gilded top of the luxury travel market.

The Landers went on a trip, dubbed the Nine World Wonders, offered by tour company Abercrombie & Kent. It included stops at Easter Island, ruins in Cambodia, the lost city of Petra in Jordan and the pyramids of Egypt.

Linda works in home construction and interior design, and Jim is a doctor. She said that planning such a complicated trip would have taken a lot of time and research.

"We're both working so much. We didn't have time to fool with this," Landers said. We just wanted to get on the plane and relax."

Abercrombie & Kent took care of the couple's travel visas, hired guides, provided local currency at each stop and even arranged a private museum tour by the curator before the building opened to the general public.

"We didn't have to do a thing," Landers said. "It was like being the president of the United States for three and a half weeks."

Most Americans can't afford such a trip costing $140,000 per couple. That's more than three times the median household income, which stood at $46,242 in 2005, according to the U.S. census.

But those who can afford it are increasingly shelling out big bucks for grander vacations than those taken a generation ago.

A Growing Market

There is very little data on this market because it is so small, but what is out there shows the general luxury travel industry is growing at a steady clip.

On average, room rates for luxury hotels in the first three months of 2007 increased 7.2 percent to $292.51, while the overall hotel market went up 6.1 percent, according to Smith Travel Research, a hotel-benchmarking firm.

Luxury rooms were also occupied more often then regular rooms. The luxury segment increased occupancy by 2 percent, while the overall hotel occupancy rate stayed essentially flat, with a 0.3 percent increase.

"Luxury outperforms the general market," said Jan Freitag, a vice president with Smith Travel Research.

Even for Abercrombie & Kent, private jet trips are a very small part of the overall business. The company sells tours to about 20,000 people a year. Just 100 of those go for the private jet trips.

The company's first such trip was in 1989 and took travelers to seven world capitals, according to George Morgan-Grenville, president of Abercrombie & Kent's North American operations.

In the 1990s, the company ran private tours on the Concorde. After 9/11, there was not as much of an appetite for these trips, Morgan-Grenville said. But now the company is expanding the private jet trips again as the rich look for new and exotic adventures. Three were done this year, and six or seven are planned for next year.

Abercrombie & Kent's next private jet tour to South America will cost $73,750 per person. It sold out within three weeks of being announced.

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