Air travel for the rich and famous

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NEW YORK -- A recent study by the New York Times found that the top one-tenth of 1% of Americans -- about 145,000 people -- have an average income of $3 million a year, up from $1.2 million in 1980. That sliver of Americas nearly 300 million population earns 7.4% of the nations entire income. According to the Times, the hyper-rich are leaving even the rich behind.

Changing demographics are creating new markets based on products and services that target members of the economic stratosphere, and Gary Mansour, founder of Avion Private Jet Club, is proof that those markets can be tapped.

Mansour has served upper-crust clientele for 30 years as the owner of a Beverly Hills travel agency, Mansour Travel. He fell into handling travel for film production companies in the 1970s for films such as Star Wars and 10.

Along the way he developed a taste for working with high rollers.

Thats what got me hooked into the entertainment side of the [travel] business, he said. These people are fun, crazy, 11th-hour, adrenaline-pumping, creative types -- and they dont want to hear no.  

Mansour charges his clients $10,000 a year to use his services. It shows a commitment, he said. They can leave anytime they want, but it changes the way they deal with you. They look at it as if were under contract together. It creates a stronger loyalty. But if theres a hiccup, they want to talk to you.

Last March, Mansour launched the Avion Private Jet Club. Using private aircraft, such as eight-seat Gulfstream IV commuter jets or Challengers, Avion operates Los Angeles-New York flights for an exclusive membership clientele.

Members pay a one-time $10,000 fee to join and then are entitled to use the service -- at a price of $4,950 each way -- whenever the schedule fits with their plans.

The initiation fee is intended to hold to a much higher, exclusive level of traveler, said Mansour. 

The high bar is part of the appeal.

I have some pretty impressive clients who hold privacy very close because the press always wants to know where they are, he said.

The jets fly in and out of private airports. Private town-car transfers are part of the service. Catering is by Wolfgang Puck.

According to Mansour, Avion is economical for his clients.

Chartering [for Los Angeles-New York] would be $45,000 to $60,000, he said. Or if you use an hourly card or fractional ownership programs, it can be in excess of $70,000 because you have to pay monthly maintenance fees.

Avions clientele includes those in show business, the financial industry, fashion, Wall Street people, designers, the Hollywood crowd -- A-listers. Our least affluent member is making at least half a million. I didnt expect it to go below a million, Mansour said.

He said he is remaining loyal to his travel agent brethren.

Agents are commissioned 10% across the board, including the $10,000 fee and all seat sales, Mansour said. Im supporting the industry. 

For details, visit www.flyavion.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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