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Want to fly like the 1%? A guide to private jets

So you've had it with coach, business and first class — all of it. Are you ready to stop redeeming those frequent-flyer miles and join the ranks of Wall Street's elite, trust-fund babies, celebrities, athletes and hoodie-wearing Silicon Valley millionaires? You've got to fly private.

"You've got a chauffeur? Well, I've got a pilot."

Here's a handy guide to the elite world of private jets — from the "Starbucks card" option to the "I'll have what Oprah's having."


The 'Starbucks card' of private jets

Marquis Jet card.
Source: Marquis Jet
Marquis Jet card.

Here's the best way to lose your private aviation virginity: Buy a Marquis Jet card from NetJets. It works just like a Starbucks card. You buy hours of air time — not the jet. The biggest advantage to this program is price and there's no long-term commitment. NetJets has a fleet of over 500 planes you can choose from. The price varies depending which type of jet you fly and pricing starts around $120,000 for 25 hours. Marquis was founded by a friend of mine in 1999, who then sold to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway 10 years later. He tells me everyone struggles with the same dilemma every time they fly: Should they use up valuable hours on their card or fly commercially?

Sounds like 1-percent problems to me.

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My first jet

Cessna Citation CJ4 cabin interior.
Source: JetRequest | Wikimedia
Cessna Citation CJ4 cabin interior.

The entry level of jets is the Citation CJ4. It's about $8.7 million and seats 10 passengers max. This is the private-jet equivalent of when you're 16 and your dad takes you to the used-car dealership to buy your first car. You're just so excited to have your first ride, you don't' even care it's a hooptie. It looks like a puddle jumper inside and out. The Citation, also known as Slowtation, is the Greyhound of jets. You're not flying anywhere nonstop except maybe Buffalo to Cleveland. I have a friend who's a private-jet pilot and he says Salina, Kansas, is an inside joke in the industry — it's the rest stop of aviation. (The airport literally bills itself as "America's Fuel Stop.") Any jet that has to stop to refuel is not a jet you want to be seen flying.

The plus side to making a pit stop is you can grab a Mountain Dew and some Skittles on your way.

40,000-foot office

Once you're ready to take the training wheels off and get a plane that can go nonstop without refueling, you're probably looking at a Hawker Beechcraft 900 XP. The Hawker, which sells for about $14.5 million, has a luxurious and spacious cabin that can seat up to 8 passengers. The interior has a boardroom setting that's conducive for productivity while you work and travel. There's just one teensy problem: It only has five executive chairs. The bathroom has a bench which is called the belted potty. (It's really not a selfie-op — but it is a certified seat.) So, if you're the 6th, 7th or 8th guy invited, you might end up having to strap in to the loo for takeoff.

Let's just say this is not the kind of jet you're going to fight for in the divorce.

Let's go to Vegas

An interior onboard a Boeing Business Jet.
Source: The Boeing Company.
An interior onboard a Boeing Business Jet.

The Boeing Business Jet, or BBJ, as it's known, is the plane that makes you say, "I have arrived." A commercial plane of this size seats 149 people, but as a private jet, it seats 23 partygoers. There are lounge spaces, bedrooms — it's like a gentlemen's club with wings. Think about it like this: drink cart vs. wet bar, fingers crossed for emergency exit row vs. king-size bed, People Magazine vs. drop-down flat screen. It costs about $75 million. It's very popular for Wall Street entertaining practices – which I've been on for the Super Bowl, Bahamas, LA, Vegas and Sundance. But the most customized jet I've ever taken was to South Beach. The car service drove us right out onto the tarmac. The only thing missing was a red carpet. Inside the plane, the leather chairs reclined. There was a couch and a coffee table. An oriental rug covering the floor, and recessed lighting gave the space a muted glow. The kitchen galley looked bigger than most apartments in New York City. And nobody told me to put my tray table in the upright position.

Wall Street party favors are not included; must be purchased separately.

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I'll have what Oprah's having

An interior onboard a Gulfstream 650 jet.
Source: Gulfstream
An interior onboard a Gulfstream 650 jet.

The Gulfstream 650 is, inarguably, the ultimate in private jets. You're sick and tired of your BBJ hangover — this is about you and your essential crew getting where you need to go farther and faster — and in luxurious comfort. One of these will set you back about $65 million. The interior of Million Air's G650 looks like it's out of the imagination of Stanley Kubrick. It's from the future. (Check out this YouTube video.) The seats are better than any plane you've ever been on. The countertops in the full kitchen are better. Even the AIR is better. The engines are designed so cabin pressure is at a higher level which makes flying less tiring and more comfortable. It offers 12 different floor plans for owners. It even has Wi-Fi! The jet boasts two Roll-Royce engines producing a maximum thrust of 17,000 pounds-force. Oprah Winfrey and Ralph Lauren ordered theirs in 2013 and can expect delivery in 2017. These jets are in such demand the value is increasing faster than Manhattan pre-construction. So, naturally, billionaires are already flipping them — like houses on HGTV!

OK, so now you've been flight schooled on private jets and can't imagine the horror and disgrace of flying to the Caribbean on first class. Congratulations! Now you're ready to join Elon Musk and Richard Branson in the race to space.

Yep – it never ends.

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Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side," and is currently working on his second book, a Wall Street novel. He is also featured on the show, "The Filthy Rich Guide," which airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on CNBC. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.