Last month, Virgin America decided to sell a pretty unique deal through Gilt City. Anyone with $60,000 could get a roundtrip charter flight anywhere Virgin America flies in the US. That in itself isn’t that unique, but the purchaser also got something special . . . the right to permanently (at least as long as the airline exists) name an airplane in the Virgin America fleet.
If you think about it, this is a great deal, depending upon how you use the flight. With 146 seats, it ends up costing only about $410 per person for a roundtrip flight. That’s not bad at all. In fact, I even briefly toyed around with doing it myself and turning it into an airline dork charter, but I figured there was absolutely no chance at all that Virgin America would let me name an airplane “The Cranky Flier.”
This offer actually went pretty quickly and it ended up being purchased by a group of alums from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), my alma mater. I was able to find one of the co-conspirators, Liz Anderson, and she told me all about how this came together.
Apparently, she was on vacation with some other recent GSB alumns when this opportunity came up, and they started talking about it seriously. In the end, five of them agreed to go all-in and buy the thing. They put one credit card in and clicked. It bought the whole thing. Oops. Since I don’t believe anyone had a $60,000 credit limit, they called Gilt right away and had it split five ways. Then it was time to fill up the airplane.
The group decided to pitch this as Miami FOAM. What does that mean? At the GSB, classes generally run Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday so people use their Wednesdays for a variety of other things. (I spent mind volunteering with a group called IHAD.) But one thing that was constant was that Tuesday nights were great nights for going out and blowing off a little steam to break up the grueling week.
The top 10 percent of students are known as Arjay Miller Scholars (he was a former dean), so when students created a weekly Tuesday night drinking club, the name naturally became Friends of Arjay Miller (FOAM). In other words, if you were out drinking instead of studying on Tuesday night, you weren’t going to be an Arjay Miller Scholar yourself. Part of the FOAM tradition is an annual trip to Vegas, where hundreds of students dress up in ’70s gear, fly down to Vegas on Tuesday night, party all night, and fly back the next day. Curious what that looks like?
That’s right. That was my first year trip down to Vegas. We had about 100 seats on that airplane, and just about everyone looked as stupid as I did. (I imagine that most of you can figure out which airline it was from that picture.) In fact, it was such a great time that I continue to do an annual alumni Vegas FOAM trip with friends from school. (Though it’s generally a lot more tame these days.)
For this organizing group, it naturally made sense to turn this opportunity into an alumni FOAM event, and they’d take the party to Miami. Why Miami? “We just picked the coolest, farthest place you can get,” Liz said. Since most of the group was still in San Francisco, they figured they’d go to Miami (Ft Lauderdale, actually) and spend the weekend down there with 141 of their closest friends.
The website went live and they emailed the 2009, 2010, and 2011 graduating classes. Within 30 minutes, they had 100 people committed, and it was completely sold out in less than 3 days. And why not? It’s a great deal.
Technically, the group isn’t allowed to sell seats on the flight. I assume this was a stipulation to prevent some corporate entity from buying up the package and re-selling it. So this group is charging for events on the ground. But let’s assume that $410 per person somehow gets allocated to the flight. That’s not a bad price for a weekend roundtrip from San Francisco to Miami on its own, but this is even better.
Since it’s a charter, they got to pick the departure time to fit their schedule (morning out, evening back). They also get to operate at a fixed base operator, away from the passenger terminal. This means that they don’t have to go through any of the security hassles everyone else faces. And they can bring liquids, etc.
But they don’t need to bring a lot of liquids onboard, because the flight includes free drinks (yes, alcoholic) and food. I’m afraid that with this group, Virgin America might lose thousands just on the booze alone. But if you’re a traveler, this is a steal.
And yes, they still get to name an airplane. What’s the plan for that? It sounds like the group wants to name it the “Friends of Arjay Miller,” but with Arjay Miller still alive, they’re trying to get permission from him first. Virgin America also has the right to refuse any name that’s suggested, but I can’t imagine there’s be a problem with this one.
Now that the trip is fully subscribed, they’re working on plans for while they’re there. There’s going to be a charity component to this that might involve auctioning seats or asking for donations along the way. That’s all in the works now, but I’ll post about it here when it comes together.
I won’t be on the flight, but I’m hoping that I can get someone who will to write me a trip report.