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Cheap and Creative Around-the-World Award Itineraries

July 21, 2016
8 min read
Cheap and Creative Around-the-World Award Itineraries
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For some award travelers, an around-the-world booking holds a special place on their bucket list. You can book these awards through various frequent flyer programs, but as TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr explains below, it's often a better deal (and more fun) to piece together your own trip segment by segment.

A few airlines still offer the ability to book around-the-world award itineraries, but the booking and routing rules can be overly complicated, and the miles required are often inflated. You're also locked into flying the airline in question and/or its partners. If there are no partners that fly where you really want to go, you're out of luck.

For those reasons, a better way to travel around the world using miles could be to book separate award tickets through programs that require the cheapest number of miles for the routes you want to travel. Today, I'll look at combining several awards from different programs to create around-the-world itineraries for relatively few miles.

Strategies for Creating Your Around-the-World Itinerary

1. Look for programs that allow one-way award travel, since you'll be piecing your trip together segment by segment.

2. If you have Starpoints, look at the transfer partner list and look up those airlines' award charts to find sweet spots (e.g., Asiana's partner award charts hold several gems)

3. Use the Travel Codex Award Maximizer as a starting point to find the cheapest program to use between two airports. It's a great tool but note that it does not yet include all the programs you should consider.

4. Always investigate the fuel surcharges the different programs impose. Flights through the UK have notoriously steep charges, as do British Airways award itineraries in general. Meanwhile, ANA recently reduced fuel surcharges on award tickets, making it a more attractive option than ever.

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5. Don't forget about non-alliance airlines like Alaska, Etihad, Virgin American and Virgin Atlantic; they have several partners and some great redemption opportunities.

With those strategies in mind, let's look at a few example itineraries:

Southpaw Hopper — Tokyo/Auckland/Bangkok/Dublin from Boston for 107,500 Miles

Visit three continents from Boston for 107,500 miles.

For 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles and 82,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards you can start in Boston and spend as much time in Japan, New Zealand, Thailand and Ireland as you like. Here are the tickets to book for this trip:

  1. 25,000 Alaska miles: BOS-ORD-NRT on American Airlines
  2. 12,500 United miles (transferred from Chase): NRT-AKL-Oceania on either Air China, Air New Zealand or Thai Airways. United charges 12,500 miles for a Japan-Oceania ticket that routes through AKL, but charges 22,500 miles to fly just Japan-AKL. By adding an onward destination flight to the NRT-AKL ticket, you'll lower the cost of this segment. This is a hidden city ticket.
  3. 17,500 United miles (transferred from Chase): AKL-BKK nonstop on Thai Airways
  4. 40,000 Flying Blue miles (transferred from Chase): BKK-AMS-DUB on SkyTeam partner KLM
  5. 12,500 British Airways Avios (transferred from Chase): DUB-BOS on Aer Lingus

Total fuel surcharges for all tickets combined: roughly $200

Here are the cards and sign-up bonuses you could use to earn more than enough points and miles for this itinerary:

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card — Earn 30,000 Alaska miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. (Annual fee: $75)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card — Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus, earn an additional 5,000 points when you add the first authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months. (Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95)
  • Ink Plus Business Card — Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. (Annual fee: $95)

You'll actually have 29,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points left after booking the trip and meeting minimum spending — more than enough to take another trip somewhere!

Etihad Express — Spain/Czech Republic/Korea/Hong Kong from the US for 151,490 miles in Business

Visit Europe and Asia from the US all in business for 151,490 miles.

This is a fantastic all-business itinerary requiring few miles utilizing the Etihad Guest and Asiana programs. You can start from and end anywhere in the US and can spend considerable time visiting more destinations in Europe or Asia, as this is all booked on separate tickets where you aren't bound by any stopover, segment or open jaw rules or time limits. Here's how to book it:

  1. 40,000 Starpoints (transferred to Asiana): US-Madrid on any Star Alliance carrier
  2. 10,880 Etihad miles (transferred from Citi or Amex): Madrid-Prague on Czech Airways
  3. 25,610 Etihad miles (transferred from Citi or Amex): Prague-Seoul on Czech Airways
  4. 20,000 British Airways Avios: Seoul-Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific
  5. 55,000 Etihad miles (transferred from Citi or Amex): Hong Kong - Los Angeles/Dallas on American Airlines

Total fuel surcharges for all tickets combined: roughly $350

If you take advantage of the current 25% transfer bonus Etihad is offering when moving points into your Etihad Guest account, you can lower the total cost of around the world in business to 133,192 points if you transfer Citi ThankYou points to Etihad. Remember this is all in business class, and you'll need to read up on booking partner awards with the Etihad Guest program. I've been able to find availability for the above routes with Etihad phone agents.

45,000 Miles to Everywhere — Hawaii/Caribbean/Europe/Singapore/New Zealand/South America from the West Coast for 157,875

This is truly an around-the-world itinerary.

This itinerary isn't for the faint of heart, coming in at just under 45,000 miles in the air. Considering everywhere you can visit for ~158,000 miles, I think the price is a steal. Here's how you book it:

  1. 25,000 Avios: West Coast to Hawaii round-trip on Alaska or American
  2. 17,500 Asiana miles (transferred from SPG): Hawaii to St. Maarten on United via EWR
  3. 25,000 Asiana miles (transferred from SPG): St. Maarten to Frankfurt on Copa and Lufthansa via PTY
  4. 40,375 Singapore KrisFlyer miles (transferred from Amex, Chase or Citi): Frankfurt-Singapore-Auckland. You can pay $100 to add a stopover in Singapore.
  5. 30,000 Avios: AKL-SCL on LAN
  6. 25,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles: Chile to Hawaii on United via IAH

Total fuel surcharges: roughly $600

Asiana and Singapore Airlines consider Caribbean destinations like St. Maarten to be in the same region as Hawaii. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

These routings take advantage of the fact that Asiana Club and Singapore KrisFlyer consider Hawaii and the Caribbean to be in the same region. In case you have problems booking the routing with Asiana or KrisFlyer, Flying Blue also groups Hawaii and the Caribbean together, so you have a back-up program to utilize, though it will cost 5,000 more miles to book with Flying Blue.

You can book all of the above tickets if you have 120,375 Chase Ultimate Rewards and 37,500 Starpoints. You best bet is probably the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to collect Starpoints to transfer to Asiana, though there's also the Asiana American Express Card from Bank of America, which you can use to earn Asiana miles.

Bottom Line

The above three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. You could spend a few hours each day for a month coming up with new around-the-world routings to hit the exact sites you want to visit. It would be difficult to define a "best" or "cheapest" itinerary using miles, since it really depends on your preferences. You could fly from the US to one destination in Europe, then one in Asia, and back across the Pacific to the US for a very few amount of miles. While that's technically around the world, I don't believe it is a desirable itinerary.

Auckland is an easy destination to include on most around-the-world itineraries. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Booking on separate tickets does have its drawbacks. If your luggage is lost or there are any delays or cancellations, you and any bags are only going to be rerouted to that specific ticket's final destination. If you book several tickets back to back without sufficient time in between, you could miss out on subsequent tickets if delays are severe enough. I recommend using the Citi Prestige Card card to book, as the travel insurance benefits were recently updated to specifically cover award tickets when you pay for award fees with the card.

Which award chart sweet spots would you use as part of an around-the-world trip?

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.