It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a bunch of nerds in a flying billboard

By Michael Carney , written on November 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Virgin America knows it audience, and the über cool, social media-savvy airline is speaking directly to that crowd with its latest Cyber Monday promotion. This morning, the company partnered up with luxury flash sales company Gilt City to offer a “#Nerdbird for Hire” promotion, that allows any group to buy out all 136 seats on one of its Airbus A320 jets for a round-trip flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas during the January 8-11 CES conference, and get some sweet swag for their trouble.

The cost: a cool $49,000, including all taxes and fees, or $360.30 per passenger for those not mathematically inclined.

Not only do 100-plus friends and colleagues get to do their best Richard Branson while piling into a swanky Virgin nightclub in the sky, but the purchasing company gets to have their logo or another image of its choice adorn the jet for the entire month -- airline approval required, unfortunately. Also, the purchaser and a guest get Elevate Gold status for one full year, with the remaining passengers get Elevate Silver. More mundane, but no less appealing, perks include free in-flight WiFi for all (not a trivial matter), free standard inflight food and beverage (In-n-Out truck not included), and up to three free checked bags per passenger (it’s a two day trip). Finally, each passenger gets an entry pass for CES, valued at $100 ($200, after January 2, 2013).

All swag aside, the economics of the offer are solid. Individual seats on Virgin flights those same days range in price from $200 to $300 depending on time of day, which pencils out nicely when including the conference tickets, in-flight perks, and branding opportunity. Not to mention, it’s entirely badass to take a company road trip by private Airbus.

The only odd part of the whole arrangement is that the flight must leave on January 7 at 4pm and return on January 9 at 2pm. Given that the conference runs January 8-11, it might be nice to offer a bit more flexibility, but apparently one-of-a-kind luxury travelers can’t be choosers.

So what kind of company does this appeal to? It’s not uncommon for the tech big boys like Facebook, Google, Apple, and the like to send full contingents of exhibitors and attendees to events like CES, SXSW, etc. so they’re definitely an option, although an uninteresting one. It’s also not an entirely unreasonable sum for a few mid-sized, well-funded startups to split, assuming they can agree on the branding.

What’s far more interesting is the thought of some self-promotional entrepreneur scrounging up every last couch nickel to plaster their face, logo, or favorite catchphrase on the side of a jumbo jet. Some might even turn to Kickstarter if they can pull it together in the next 12 hours or so. Sarah Lacy suggested that Paul Carr, for one, may buy it and put “Fuck You Pepcom” on the side just for shits and giggles. There are just so many ways this can be a win.