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As anyone who’s flown into or out of an airport that’s way out of town, that limbo between deplaning and hotel check-in can be a travel buzz-crushing drag—especially after an already long flight. If you’ve got the cash (or in some cases, the points), you can have a helicopter whisk you directly to your destination, then back to the airport on your return. Buckle up as TPG Contributor Adam Erace tells you how.
Launching today, Gotham Air is poised to be Blade’s main competitor in the copter commute game, with crowd-sourced, six-minute flights between three different Manhattan helipads and JFK/EWR on a fleet of Hermes-furnished Bells and Sikorskys. First-time users get a bargain deal at $99 one-way; after that the rate jumps to $199-$219 depending on departure time. But the two aces up Gotham’s sleeve? Flights come with a side of hors d’oeuvres from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, and if weather doesn’t permit flying, their backup plan is a ride to the airport in a sleek Tesla S.
The branding is slick as oil at this New York-based company, whose fleet of six-seat onyx Eurochoppers looks like something out of a black-ops mission. Called the Uber of helicopters, Blade launched their smartphone-enabled service this past summer, ferrying fashion and finance types (and our own Points Guy) to the Hamptons in under an hour for $575, but their big new service is Bounce, which choppers passengers between Manhattan and Teterboro (TEB) or New York’s JFK. These five-minute transfers will set you back $800 and $1,250, respectively, or just over $133 and $208 per person—not so bad when you consider the cost of re-booking a missed flight because of bridge-and-tunnel traffic.
Premiering this month, the German flag carrier commences copter service from Munich airport to Alpine ski resorts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland through a partnership with HTM (Helicopter Travel Munich). Sans-chopper, you’re looking at one to three hours’ driving to resorts like Zillertal and Kitzbühel. Passengers booking with HTM through Lufthansa are whisked from their arriving aircraft by Munich’s VIP Wing service to their copter. Downsides: there’s no online booking—you need to call or email—and even though the service is offered through Lufthansa, you can’t use Miles & More (their miles program) or miles from other Star Alliance members. Rates are customized depending on the number of passengers, but a rep quoted us €3,100/$3,586 US from MUC to Kitzbühel.
On a good day, it takes half an hour to get from Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE) to Monaco, the glamorous principality ensconced between France and Italy. On Grand Prix weekend (and really, any weekend in the summer), the traffic along the serpentine cliff-side road between the two can make this scenic drive a real drag. Happily, Héli Air’s 12-deep fleet of red-and-white Eurocopters does the transfer from the airport to the principality’s helipad seven minutes for €135/$156 US per person. In business since the ‘70s, they also offer a bunch of sightseeing tours along the Riviera, as well as charter flights to Corsica, Marseille, Paris, Florence and dozens of other cities in France and Italy.
In the Caribbean, many of the best resorts are well-secluded, far away from airports. St. Lucia is no exception, with Hewannora International (UVF) located at the island’s southern tip, over an hour from Capella’s Marigot Bay, The Landings, The BodyHoliday and dozens of other resorts on the northwest coast. If you’re already shelling out for a room at any of those hotels, you might as well splurge on a chopper transfer with St. Lucia Helicopters. The fleet of six-passenger crafts goes between UVF, where all incoming U.S. flights arrive, and George Charles Airport (SLU), which only services inter-island flights and private charters but is very close to the resort areas of Marigot and Rodney bays, as well as Castries, the capital. The 10-minute trip runs $165 per person, or you can opt for the longer West Coast Shuttle route, a 15-minute, $180 trip that flies over Soufrière Volcano and St. Lucia’s majestic green Pitons.
In February, the cheapest flight from New York (JFK) to Key West (EYW) listed on the ITA Matrix is $395 round-trip, and as you might expect, involves a connection in Charlotte (CLT)—and eight hours of your precious vacation time. Consider the alternative: assuming you can find four friends to share the cost, you could fly to Fort Myers (RSW)—which has a lowest published fare of $178 round-trip—drive over to nearby Naples municipal or Marcos Island executive airports, and collect a transfer to Key West or Marathon on one of Raven Air’s choppers for less than $100 additional, round-trip. The company also runs transfers to the Keys from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) for $1,290 each way and to Miami (MIA) for $1,250 each way. More money, to be sure, but a huge time savings when you consider the three-hour minimum drive from Miami to Key West.
You won’t be able to use miles for any of these copter transfers, but you can use points from cards like the Capital One Venture Card, BlueSky from American Express and the BarclayCard Arrival Plus to erase travel purchases from your statement. With the Barclaycard, you’ll also get 5% back for your booking, since it’s a mileage redemption. While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.