First comes the thrill. A trip to the Hershey chocolate factory — what greater wonder at age 5? At 7, a flight to London, with the big clock and the solemn Beefeaters in their fuzzy black hats. But by the time Michael Holtz, BS ’87, enrolls at Washington University, travel is also a game.
These are the early days of frequent-flyer promotions, and both Newark and St. Louis are TWA hubs. By flying back and forth from his Long Island home and routing stops in Columbus and Chicago, he can hit six sectors and win a free trip to Hawaii. A born logistics whiz, he majors in industrial engineering and, for a Fortran class, expands Ozark Air Lines, drawing spokes to cities not yet serviced and writing commands to move a fleet of three DC-9s around.
Now, he is obsessed with travel efficiency. At airport counters, he picks up all the timetables (tech is still low) and studies them the way other people read novels. Soon he can rattle off the best route anywhere for anybody who asks, a skill he brings to the company he starts in 1990. Holtz’s SmartFlyer caters to “luxury travel” — but not as it is usually defined.
“People hear ‘luxury’ and think Four Seasons or the Ritz, white tablecloths and turndown service,” Holtz says. “But I think it’s travel that gives you a great story. Habitas Bacalar is a relatively new brand in Mexico, and you’re in this amazing property that focuses on wellness and serves you delicious, healthy food, and yeah, there might be a few bugs, because you’re sleeping in tented camps at the edge of the Mayan lagoon — to me, that’s luxury.”
His award-winning agency caters to high-end travelers who are curious, not timid and persnickety. For one man, luxury is a chance to ride horseback on Nihiwatu Beach, hidden from daily obligation on a pristine island in Indonesia. And who cares that it took four flights to get there? “Most of our clients want to explore the world, and they understand where they’re going and why.”
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