The experience: "Fighter Pilot for a Day"
Air Combat USA
Be a "Fighter Pilot for a Day". After an hour-long preflight briefing that includes all the basics—safety, simple aerodynamics, fighter maneuvers and rules of engagement—you'll suit up for a high-flying aerial adventure. Once airborne you'll fly to a practice area to engage in six aerial dogfights. You are doing the flying 90 percent of the time. Your entire flight is captured on mini digital video cassette. The tapes are used for debriefing purposes and then are yours to keep. Cost: $1,195 per person
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updated 10/10/2007 2:51:26 PM ET 2007-10-10T18:51:26

Earlier this year, Anthony Keaton gave his wife, Sheila, a spectacular birthday present: the ultimate girlfriends’ getaway for his wife and her best friend. The pair flew from the Keaton’s home on Merritt Island, Fla., to Los Angeles for an Oscar-themed weekend including tickets to the Elton John AIDS Foundation party to celebrate the Academy Awards.

While dining on filet mignon, the star-struck friends and Elton John devotees watched the Oscars and the goings-on at the celebrity table. Later, Keaton, a diehard fan of “24” and “American Idol,” met both Keifer Sutherland and Simon Cowell. Then she was introduced to sexy singer James Blunt—who also performed at the event—and his date, the model Petra Nemcova, and later mingled with Sharon Stone, Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow and Jon Bon Jovi.

“It was an out-of-this-world experience,” says Sheila, who lives near the Kennedy Space Center where her husband works as a security consultant.

Networking
Who are you going to call when you want tickets to an invitation-only Oscar party? Anthony Keaton called VIP First Class, one of a new crop of luxury lifestyle brokers. VIP First Class arranged the tickets, the limo and accommodations at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The price tag for two? $10,000.

These companies use the connections and relationships they’ve developed over time with corporate sponsors, sports organizations, charities, celebrity event organizers and other insiders to arrange once-in-a-lifetime adventures that once upon a time were available only to the very wealthy and well-connected.

“The idea is that if you can’t have it all, you can buy a slice of the millionaire lifestyle utilizing someone else’s connections,” says Lalia Rach, Associate Dean of NYU's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. It’s like owning a timeshare in the high-life, or a fractional fellowship in the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

These "experience agents" can snag tickets to the Emmys, the ESPYs, the Superbowl, a movie premiere or the Playboy Mansion. They can organize entrée to a hot club, restaurant or after party, arrange a meet and greet with Beyoncé, dinner with Hulk Hogan or a drive in a Formula 1 race car.

“We can arrange just about anything,” says Steve Sims, founder of Bluefish Concierge, one of the better known experience providers. Sims, a Brit of Irish descent, developed his “connection” cred in Hong Kong. He was, he says, “a useless financial planner” with a nose for ferreting out the best clubs and parties and an art for arranging entrée for colleagues and VIPs. Eventually he ditched his investment career to devote himself fulltime to fulfilling one-of-a-kind wants, wishes and desires.

The experience: Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp
Rock 'N Roll Fantasy Camp
Offered three times a year, this five-day Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp is designed to tune up your musical talents. Campers are grouped into bands each lead by a musical mentor such as Max Weinberg, Alan White (Yes), Simon Kirke (Bad Company) and others. After five days of rock 'n roll rehearsal, your band will take part in the "Battle of the Bands" at B.B. King's in Times Square, New York. Camp visitors include Ted Nugent, Paul Stanley (KISS) and other rock legends that will swing by throughout the week to meet each camper and play with each band. Cost: $8,999 per person
Since opening the American office of Bluefish Concierge in 2001, Sims has arranged hundreds of experiences and arranged entrance to countless clubs and events around the world, including creating a stirring fantasy for a James Bond wannabe complete with a staged kidnapping by a devilish villainess and an eventual rescue by actors playing Navy Seals. The only thing that wasn’t make believe was the cost: $250,000.

Experience is everything
One reason for the rising popularity of experiential trips is that “people have accumulated a lot of ‘things’ in their life,” says Chris Widdess, VP of Marketing at Signature Days. “They realize that if your life is the sum of your days on earth, then some of those days should be extraordinary.”

Extraordinary is exactly how 48-year-old Joellen Gill describes playing “Fighter Pilot for a Day,” one of hundreds of experiences offered by Signature Days. Last Christmas, Joellen’s older brother, Rick, who’s 56, purchased the $1,195-per-person action adventure for the competitive siblings. When Rick and Joellen, both safety engineers at Applied Cognitive Sciences in Spokane, Wash., arrived at Air Combat USA, they were given an hour-long briefing, then donned flight suits, parachutes and helmets. Joellen and Rick and their copilots then boarded two twin engine Marcheti SF 260 fighter planes.

The moment the plane lifted off, “I got such a rush,” she says. With her instructor by her side, Joellen executed Split S and inverted flying maneuvers while engaging her brother in six dogfights. The pilots filmed the entire sequence. “It was worth every penny,” says Joellen.

Image: NBA All-Star Game
thebluefish.com
Go to the NBA All-Star Game at the New Orleans Arena, on Feb. 17, 2008: To sit in lower midcourt, you'll have to cough up the top price of $10,890 per ticket. That's it—no accommodations, no meals and no limo. For $4,415 per person, you can sit in the lower corner of the arena while $2,000 will get you a spot somewhere up in the 300 section. Cost: from $1,235 to $10,890 per person.
While some experience providers quote prices on their Web sites, others don’t delve into money matters online, meaning you won’t know the price until you call to inquire. Given that several companies offer similar experiences, it’s worth checking each web site and calling for a price quote before committing.

For the commitment phobic, Signature Days may be the best bet. This online experience provider doesn’t charge for its services. Instead, providers pay the company a commission. And for a $4.95 fee, Signature Days experiences can be transferred or exchanged which means consumers aren’t locked in or need be fearful of losing the 50 percent deposit charged by other providers. The popularity of the Signature Days model is reflected in the up-tick in bookings: In 2006, the company booked 16,500 experiences. This year, Widdess expects that number to reach 27,000.

Andre Verrone, the 31-year-old CEO/President of VIP First Class, has spent the year expanding his menu of lower priced experiences. He plans to add a slew of lower priced packages, some starting at $1,000.

On the other hand, Bluefish Concierge’s party and sports events are available only to those willing to pony up a $5,000 annual membership fee that entitles the member to round-the-clock concierge service as well as free tickets to certain membership-only events. Parties at the Playboy Mansion are among the most popular and sought after experiences.

In June, William Pape, 44, acquisition manager for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., took his second trip to Los Angeles and the Playboy Mansion. The first time he paid $2,500 for a ticket and was disappointed by the less than stellar guest list. This time he got satisfaction. He even shook hands with Hef and briefly conversed with The Girls Next Door.

For Pape, the best part of the adventure was “bragging rights back in the office. Most people can’t get into a Playboy Party, but everyone wants to go,” he says.

There are some experiences that even the most well connected concierges say would be difficult to arrange. Among the impossible dreams: dinner with Brad and Angie, Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey. “We’d find out their favorite charities and then try to arrange something,” says Steve Sims. Then again, donating a million or two to a star’s favorite charity is likely to get you entrée without the services of a concierge.

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