I knew something was different when the co-pilot took my wife’s bag.

    We were at Million Air  in Love Field, Dallas, for a quick trip to Santa Fe. There was no waiting for others to board. No sitting next to people dressed for the local coin operated laundry. No cringing to avoid being crushed by errant bags.

    It was private air travel: The New First Class.

    We taxied to the runway and took off. Moments later our wine connoisseur friend pulled a cork and smiled. He had yet to solve the wine cellar problem on his jet, but he was working on it. 

    We raced the sunset, landing in Santa Fe, not Albuquerque. This eliminated the need to pick up our bags, prove they belonged to us, take a bus to the car rental terminal, and drive the 60 miles to Santa Fe. Instead, a rental car was parked on the tarmac, waiting to take us to Geronimo for dinner.

    “I could get used to this,” my wife purred.

    “It’s a quality of life thing,” a pilot friend explained later, “It’s not an investment. It doesn’t pay off for most people because it’s hard to make the Time-Is-Money equation work.”

    But if money is just money and life is precious, private air travel is the way to go. Today, getting from A to B is immeasurably better if you charter, flex, or fractional own a private plane. Indeed, experienced pilots--- the people who know what it really costs to operate an airplane--- will tell you that flex or fractional is the only way to go unless you’ve got more money than John Travolta. 

    You can be practical about it, as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is, and charter a King Air turboprop. One can take her anywhere in Texas in less than two hours. Or you can go for it and travel by jet with outfits like Flex-Jet , Flight-Options , Marquis, or Net-Jets.

    How exactly do you do it? It depends on the check you write.

    One way is to spot charter. You’ll pay more because you’ll probably pay for the return trip, too, even if you’re not on the plane. The advantage is that you only write one check, once.

    But if you know you want to travel this way you can pay as little as $109,000 for a Marquis Jet Card. That’s a one-year 25 hour pre-paid lease. The 25 hours is actual flight time when you are on the plane, a Citation V Ultra in this case. You only pay for flying, not for time on the ground. So you can whisk yourself and six friends from Dallas to Santa Fe, and back, in about 3 hours for $13,000 and change.

    Fly American Airlines First Class to Albuquerque and you’ll pay about $1,600 a person or about $11,200. But you’ll be in Albuquerque, waiting for the rental car bus.

    Apply the same process to taking your family to Florida, a Caribbean sailing charter with friends, or a golf weekend and you get the idea--- “It’s a quality of life thing.”  With the new low cost, fuel sipping Eclipse 500  jet likely to hit the market next year, this is one luxury that will cost less in the future, not more.

    Want to wet your toes before you plunge? Try a private jet vacation with INTRAV. The luxury travel company offers a 22 day trip around the world for $52,500 per person, caviar included.