This is the year of the upgrade. We are investing in our holidays, making up for lost time and trying to eke out each last drop of enjoyment. The overall amount travellers have been spending on trips with tour operator Scott Dunn so far in 2022 is up 25 per cent on 2019. At luxury travel company Carrier, meanwhile, the average booking value for a trip rose from £16,000 in 2019 to £22,000 in 2021.
Both firms believe this increase cannot simply be attributed to rising costs over the past couple of years. “I think customers have opened their minds and let their imaginations run away with them,” says Simon Jeffries, head of product and commercial at Carrier.
Minds are wandering towards fresh destinations (French Polynesia, Oman and more offbeat US spots, such as Cape Cod and Portland, are piquing interest among Carrier’s customers), a desire for privacy (think countryside villas for multi-generational stays) and super-luxurious trips.
Sinking more money into each break isn’t confined to holidaymakers with heaving bank accounts, however. At Unique Caribbean Holidays, the in-house tour operator of Sandals Resorts, the majority of booking amendments made by customers over the past few months have been flight upgrades.
Indeed, it appears that many travellers who have saved a little money during the global shutdown are coveting the holiday habits of the one per cent. The super-rich skirted tricky and fast-moving border rules in creative ways. Private jet use bloomed (total flight hours were up 56 per cent in January 2022 compared with January 2020, according to fractional ownership aircraft provider Flexjet), private islands were snapped up and luxury yachts became to billionaire entrepreneurs what gadget-laden sports cars are to James Bond.
Some 993 superyachts – defined as vessels over 79ft long – were bought worldwide through brokerage sales in 2021. In 2019 that number was 501, according to luxury yacht broker Cecil Wright & Partners. The boom in sales has, in turn, led to an uptick in interest in hiring such a vessel – and yacht charter company High Point Yachting has seen the market move away from corporate customers and towards families.
Meanwhile, exclusive membership services, such as Scott Dunn Private, are proving increasingly popular. This offshoot of the tour operator, aimed at high-net-worth customers, had been operating by word of mouth for around a decade until a dizzying travel landscape led tourists to become “more needy”, according to Jules Maury, head of the service. PCR testing, passenger locator forms and border regulations can all be more easily navigated if you have a travel adviser – and a global team – on hand 24/7.
Of course, the average holidaymaker might wonder how this differs from the service offered by a traditional travel agent. “We proactively reach out and build relationships and discuss trips a year or two years ahead,” says Maury. “Our guests are people who have made a bit of money.”
UK members include lawyers, people working in the financial sector and entrepreneurs, their ages running from about 40 to 65. From organising a private performance by the operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli, to arranging a visit to a leading Italian jeweller to design a customised piece of jewellery, Maury’s team and their little black book of local contacts create amazing experiences.
For those who crave such insider knowledge, but don’t plan on sinking tens of thousands into their annual holidays, Maury has some tips. She suggests investing in local guides (say an eminent Egyptologist for your first trip to the pyramids) and talking to those in the know, such as the hotel concierge or hotel manager.
Should you still hanker after some of the trappings of super-rich travel, however, then how about reserving the top cabin on a cruise line’s new yacht or reserving a seat on a luxury semi-private jet? The latter is available through Aero, a service that was first trialled in 2019 and now whisks families to the likes of Geneva, Milan and Nice via direct flights through private terminals for £1,200 return per passenger.
Uma Subramanian, Aero’s chief executive, says that its customers enjoy “80 per cent of the value of private jet travel for 20 per cent of the cost”. They can save up to four hours of airport fuss, sidestepping the paperwork-laden check-in queues (typical of post-Covid travel) and the slalom of duty-free aisles.
There are many other means by which you can slip on the costume of the super-rich on your next luxury holiday. For full immersion, try the “sky’s the limit” options. Or, should your budget be slightly less stratospheric, our “upgrade” options will still be sufficiently luxurious.
Fancy a private yacht?
The ideal upgrade: Board a small ship cruise
From Scenic to Ponant, a number of cruise lines are launching superyachts. One option with relative exclusivity (it has a 100-passenger capacity) is a trip on Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Azzurra. Book into an Owner’s Suite and you will have a private terrace from which to enjoy views of each new port and a large lounge area where you’ll be served daily, pre-dinner canapes.
And where is more apt to sample the lifestyles of the rich and famous than the French and Italian rivieras? An eight-night voyage from Nice to Rome includes stops at the Côte d’Azur seaside town of Menton, beach time in Portoferraio on the island of Elba and wine tasting in the Corsican countryside.
How to do it: From £10,490pp, staying in an Owner’s Suite (0808 271 3972; emeraldcruises.co.uk).
The sky’s the limit: Charter a yacht
High Point Yachting is a charter service that covers 10 destinations across Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. Its top seller is Croatia, which can be explored on board the Acapella. This vessel has room for 12 guests, who will be looked after by a charter team of 10. Between calls in Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir, Sibenik, and the island of Hvar, you might opt for guided tours of Unesco sites, dine at historic restaurants (such as Villa Kaliopa on the island of Vis) and visit wineries.
How to do it: From £58,518 for a week’s charter in low season; £72,583 in high season (01865 339481; highpointyachting.com).
Prefer your own private island?
The ideal upgrade: Rent a room
Private islands provide the ultimate billionaire’s seclusion. While renting an entire isle might seem like the type of extravagance reserved for the Kardashians and their ilk, renting a single room is more accessible. There’s a destination to suit every taste: from Song Saa, a castaway-like Cambodian resort in the Koh Rong archipelago with 24 villas, to experiencing Necker Island hotel-style. Included in the Necker offer are all meals and drinks, transfers from Virgin Gorda or Beef Island and the expertise of a team of watersports instructors.
How to do it: Song Saa (0855 92 609 488; songsaa-privateisland.com) from £897 per night, year-round. Necker Island from £3,799 per night (020 8600 0430; virginlimitededition.com).
The sky’s the limit: Reserve an entire isle
To seriously upgrade the experience, one might book out the entirety of Richard Branson’s Necker Island for £78,900 per night. The Great House includes 12 en-suite rooms and the chief guest could opt for the master suite, which has its own hot tub and sundeck. Take your meals on Turtle Beach and look out for iguanas and tortoises as you meander around the island.
How to do it: From £78,900 per night (020 8600 0430; virginlimitededition.com).
Looking for some Indian Ocean inspiration?
The ideal upgrade: Book a Maldives villa
Perhaps paradise-like views, scuba diving on coral reefs and barefoot beach days are your ultimate holiday tonic? The villa menus at Maldives resorts allow you to buy into varying levels of luxury. At Soneva Fushi, a hotel room that includes a private pool, kitchen and dining area should prove sufficiently indulgent. Eateries include Flying Sauces, which transplants the menu of Singapore’s Michelin-starred Odette to a restaurant in the Maldives treetops.
How to do it: From £17,038 for seven nights in the one-bedroom Crusoe Suite with pool (00 960 660 0304; soneva.com).
The sky’s the limit: Choose a ‘private reserve’
If you want to push your experience several degrees higher on the pampering scale, book into a secluded private villa that can fit the extended family. Soneva Fushi’s Private Reserve includes a sauna, spa area, library, gym and saltwater pool. Younger guests are well-served with a children’s room and water slide.
How to do it: From £232,499 for seven nights in the nine-bedroom Private Reserve, which sleeps 14 adults and nine children (00 960 660 0304; soneva.com).
Want a multi-country tour?
The ideal upgrade: Book a guided trip
If your curiosity about the rest of the world was piqued during lockdown, consider a cultural tour. An extended trip, such as Exodus’s 23-day Five Stans of the Silk Road itinerary, will allow for full immersion. It covers five former Soviet republics (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) over three weeks, taking in grand Islamic architecture and tales of the traders who once trod this route.
How to do it: From £5,099pp, including flights, accommodation and some meals (0203 1312 785; exodus.co.uk).
The sky’s the limit: Take a private jet
Strip out all the hassles of a multi-centre trip with a three-week private jet tour. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is launching its first trips of this kind in 2023. On its Timeless Encounters itinerary, you’ll begin in Hawaii, then venture to French Polynesia, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Dubai and the Czech Republic.
How to do it: From £139,533pp, based on two travelling together, departing March 26, 2023 (1888 215 2728; fourseasons.com).
Set on a safari?
The ideal upgrade: Try a couple’s tour
Gather up a wildlife-curious partner and plan a two-person private tour through the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls. A light aircraft flight over the delta provides an aerial view of grazing animals, while a trip on a traditional mokoro boat puts you within touching distance of elephants heading to shore for a drink. After three nights at the Nxabega Concession, head to Zambia and relax on a private island on the Zambezi river.
How to do it: From £8,200pp, based on two travelling, including flights and transfers (020 8682 5080; scottdunn.com).
The sky’s the limit: Enjoy the ultimate pairing
Should you qualify for a membership to Scott Dunn Private, its curated holiday options include a six-night Limitless Tanzania and Rwanda trip. It combines two of the continent’s most memorable wildlife experiences: witnessing the Great Migration in the Serengeti and trekking to spot gorillas in Rwanda.
How to do it: From £18,300pp, based on two travelling, includes flights and transfers (020 8682 5080; scottdunn.com).