Some call them “isolation vacations.” Others call them corona breaks – safe travels to beautiful spots where you can cut away from your crowded daily life and try out a new normal in holiday-making without getting tripped up by COVID-19 worries of gloom and doom.
Comfort. When I first started traveling extensively, I joined a travel club to be assured of like-minded companions, a staff dedicated to smoothing my journey end to end, and amenities keyed to my contentment. It made travel easy, comfortable.
These days, travel is fraught with difficulties involving not only the intrinsic hassles of the experience, but the unknowns due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Once again, clubs come to the rescue. But growing trends in membership clubs and subscriptions are taking hold. They’re the travel equivalent of gated communities offering private transportation, vetted accommodations, expert travel advisors and on-site concierge services, plus stringent cleaning protocols and no contact check-in options.
The two basic categories for these arrangements are the travel and the stay.
Air travel is an essential. Business travelers fly to meet clients because it’s inefficient to drive long distances. Most companies cannot afford to keep private jets and dedicated pilots available. That’s where business jet clubs and subscriptions come to the rescue.
Of course, business travelers can buy tickets on commercial carriers, but flying on a smaller jet means being exposed to far fewer passengers than on larger aircraft, thereby lowering the exposure possibilities to COVID-19. In addition, terminals reserved for private jets allow passengers to avoid the often-long TSA screening lines in the public terminal. The ability to schedule flights at the passenger’s convenience is obvious.
Chartering a jet is pricey – that’s why flight clubs have emerged.
Flying private is expensive, but if you’re “sharing,” it’s not as much as you might think. “When charter flights fill empty seats, typically the price of the flight goes down for all the travelers,” according to Carl Marbach, president and CEO of SharedCharter, a flight-sharing service.
How does sharing work? The process starts online. Passengers can search the network for existing flights or sign up for a no-cost membership to initiate a new itinerary or join an existing trip. When two parties match a flight, SharedCharter provides secure, anonymous communication between them to discuss specifics. Assistance from the company’s concierge can manage flight arrangements among potentially thousands of private air travel brokers and certified FAA aircraft operators.
Jet Linx, a private jet membership and aircraft management company, has opened its 19th private terminal location in the United States, providing service in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Omaha, San Antonio, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Washington, DC.
Jet Linx Jet Card members, who have access to more than 5,000 airports around the world, are charged a round-trip rate based on occupied flight time only, as is the one-way rate. There are additional fees for catering and de-icing. The company guarantees availability of an aircraft with 24 hours advance notice.
If your company has a private jet or two, it’s likely that they sit on the tarmac more than they’re in flight. Jet Linx offers aircraft management. Your aircraft becomes “part” of their fleet, available to Jet Card members when your company doesn’t need it.
JetAway Charters arranges global private air travel and air charter service with access to more than 6,000 aircraft and 50,000 airports worldwide. The company’s Private Jet Charter Cardholder Program takes a somewhat different approach to membership, which involves buying “transaction units” at one of four card levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Black.
At the Silver level, a JetAway Jet Card would cost $10,000, which would buy 50 units. You can then redeem the units for charters. Flight legs within 1500 miles of origin, for example, on a light aircraft would “cost” 10 units each, so you could fly a total of five legs on the card. At the highest level – Black – you’d purchase 550 units for $50,000, and be able to fly 55 times at an attractive cost of about $91 per unit.
Some airlines are experimenting with books of flight coupons (think: amusement park ride tickets – buy a bunch and use as you need them). Lufthansa Innovation Hub launched SWISS Flight Pass last September, and Austrian Airlines Flight Pass in December. The Flight Pass offers ten flights within Europe at a fixed price.
For the SWISS passengers, The Discover Europe Pass offers ten one-way flights within Europe from or to Geneva. The City Pass offers ten one-way flights between Geneva and a single European destination of the holder’s choice. The Europe pass in Austrian Airlines includes access to 60+ destinations, whereas The City Pass functions like a book of ten tickets for flights between Vienna and a European destination of the passenger’s choice.
For flights within Mexico, Volaris offers the v.pass plan, providing monthly flights for a predetermined fee starting at $299 MXN pesos (about $16 USD) per month. The VEMpresa, aimed at the corporate account or frequent traveler, gives a 30 percent discount for all three Volaris fare categories for $335 USD per year plus the ability to make one name change per ticket at no charge.
Airline lounge access is routinely granted to those who purchase tickets in business and first class. Priority Pass membership gives passengers at all price levels access to airport lounges. Holders of an American Express Platinum card can use Centurion clubs.
Getting Out of There
Emergencies do arise during travel, and medical transport is costly. Medjet memberships offers both global air medical transport and a travel security option for travelers.
As a MedjetAssist Member ($295 per year) if you become hospitalized internationally or domestically – 150 miles or more from home – Medjet will arrange medical transportation to a home-country hospital of your choice for inpatient care. New this fall, COVID-19 patients can be transported from within the US, Canada, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Mexico back to their home hospital.
MedjetHorizon, pricier at $444 annually, includes all the medical benefits of a MedjetAssist Membership, plus worldwide travel security, crisis response and evacuation services powered by FocusPoint International. This is the coverage for terrorism, kidnapping, natural disaster, violent crime and other safety concerns.
Accommodations clubs are more problematic for business travelers. Geared toward the leisure market, they’re often located in out-of-the-way resort locations rather than city centers. If you’re a digital nomad who can work from wherever there’s fast Internet connection, a month-long stay at an out-of-the-way luxury property might be perfect. For the “if it’s Tuesday, it must be Cleveland” road warrior, it’s not much of an option.
At the top end is Inspirato, a luxury hospitality company with an extensive collection of branded vacation homes. The monthly subscription fee is $2,500 (plus a one-time enrollment fee of $2,500).
The company has added a subscription-based travel option. Instead of paying that monthly fee to access “free” nights in one of the company’s properties by participating in Inspirato Pass, those who join Inspirato Club pay $600 per month (plus a one-time enrollment fee of $600) – but they do pay nightly rates when they travel.
US locations offered by Inspirato include Hilton Head, SC, Sedona, AZ, Nantucket, MA, and Telluride, CO.
SoHo House, founded in 1995, has a motley range of memberships. The “every house” membership, priced at $2,250, gives access to all 28 locations around the world (except Malibu – a special case).
Selina Nomad Passport specifically targets the wandering worker. Subscribers purchase specific numbers of nights in advance at a discounted rate and can use the credits at any Selina location (there are, currently, just five in the United States). In addition to a place to sleep, Selina offers a variety of local adventures including everything from wellness packages to rappelling.
Selina CoLive is for the digital nomad who stays at one property for a longer period of time (in this case, at least one month). Programs start at $300 per month. The B2B Remote Work Pass is aimed at the frequent traveler who wants to stay at a Selina property for a fixed period each month.
ClubCorp membership doesn’t include hotel accommodations, but it does provide amenities. As an owner and operator of more than 200 private golf and country clubs, city, and stadium clubs in markets across the country, on offer are golf courses, restaurants, fitness centers and swimming pools.
The corporate level O.N.E. membership offers multiple designees for companies that want to enroll five or more active Golf or Social Members. Members may select from a range of different club locations.