How I booked a round-the-world ticket in business class for 170,000 miles

Jun 22, 2020

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Round-the-world trips in business or first class are only a mere dream for many travelers. However, those armed with an arsenal of miles and points can do it on the cheap — in fact, they can do it for well under $1,000.

I’ve been dreaming of taking my own round-the-world trip for some time now, and being quarantined during the coronavirus outbreak has only made me dream of it more. So one evening in late May, I decided to put my thoughts into words and price out the ultimate round-the-world trip.

I spent a couple of evenings researching the best ways to do this, finding award space and, finally, booking the ticket. It took hours of my time but in the end, I walked away with a booked itinerary for only 170,000 points and roughly $1,000 of pocket for over 28,000 miles in business class.

Want to do something similar? To save you hours of searches and analyzing award charts, I’ll show you step-by-step how I booked my round-the-world trip in this article. I’ll start by discussing my booking criteria, looking at different RTW booking options, and then move onto finding award space and ticketing my flights.

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In This Post

My criteria for booking a round-the-world trip

I had a few criteria that needed to be met when looking for my round-the-world ticket. The first was that my ticket needed to be in first or business class — after all, if I’m going to travel over 25,000 miles over the course of two weeks, I want to fly in comfort.

This is especially important as — due to the coronavirus outbreak — this will be one of my first big trips in almost a year. After not flying in business class for months, I’m itching to revisit some old favorites and experience new products.

Additionally, I wanted to redeem Membership Rewards for my round-the-world ticket. These are my favorite types of transferable points and I try to earn them whenever I can. After not spending my Membership Rewards for a few months, I wanted to liquidate part of my growing balance for this trip.

Fly Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa, when booking with Avianca miles (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
Fly Star Alliance partners, such as Lufthansa, when booking with Avianca miles (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Picking an award program

You have a few different options when it comes to booking round-the-world tickets. Each is great in its own right, but it’s important that I explain why I booked my ticket the way I did. Here’s a look at my flight criteria and the different options I had available to me.

This left me with three options for booking my round-the-world trip: Aeromexico Club Premier, ANA Mileage Club and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Each of these has its merits and downfalls — here’s a quick look at each of the programs and its respective RTW booking options.

Aeromexico Club Premier

Aeromexico is SkyTeam’s premier option for booking round-the-world tickets. The airline offers one of the most flexible routing options for these tickets and is a transfer partner of Membership Rewards. Oddly enough, the airline uses “kilometers” instead of “miles” for its loyalty currency, so things can get weird when you transfer and redeem Aeromexico kilometers.

A round-the-world ticket costs 224,000 kilometers in economy class or 352,000 kilometers in business class. Membership Rewards transfer at a 1000:1600 ratio, meaning that you’d need to transfer 220,000 Membership Rewards points for a round-the-world ticket using Aeromexico miles.

As far as routing rules go, Aeromexico is pretty lenient:

  • Travel must continue east or west
  • Travel must begin and end in the same country
  • You can have a minimum of three or a maximum of 15 stopovers, with no more than five per continent
  • A stopover is defined as any city where you remain for 24 hours before continuing your travel
  • No backtracking is allowed
  • All flights must be booked in the same class of service
  • Pass is valid for one year from the date of issue

Aeromexico has the leg-up on other round-the-world awards by offering set pricing for your 15 stopovers, with no cap on how far you can fly. While you can’t backtrack in your routing, SkyTeam’s diverse set of airline partners makes it easy enough to plan connecting flights or book nonstop flights accordingly.

Another plus is that Aeromexico doesn’t cap the number of connecting flights. To contrast this, ANA Mileage Club only allows a certain number of layovers, making it hard to maximize all included stops.

That said, it can be more expensive than other programs on this list if you don’t maximize all the available stopovers. For example, you will get a better deal if you book an ANA award ticket that’s under 34,000 miles and has fewer stopovers.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Aeromexico Club Premier

ANA Mileage Club

ANA Mileage Club is your best bet for booking round-the-world tickets on Star Alliance carriers. You can transfer points from American Express to ANA at a 1:1 ratio and all prices are quoted in miles. It has a few more rules than Aeromexico and includes fewer stopovers, but it is better for trips with fewer than eight stopovers. Here’s a look at the rules:

  • You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans once
  • No backtracking is allowed
  • You can book a maximum of twelve flight segments and four ground transfer segments on the same ticket
  • Up to eight stopovers are permitted between the departure point and the final return point
  • Up to three stopovers can be in Europe and up to four stopovers can be in Japan
  • Your return date must be 10 days or more days out from the departure date of your first international flight
  • Transfers between airports in the same city also count as ground transfer segments. This means that a transfer from London-Heathrow (LHR) to London-Gatwick (LGW) counts as one of your four ground transfers
  • Mixed cabin bookings are allowed but you’ll be charged at the rate of the highest booking class regardless of the class of service of your other flights

Pricing is pretty simple — the more you fly, the more expensive your ticket will be. Here’s a look at how much you can expect to pay for an award ticket:

One downside to ANA is that the airline does pass on fuel surcharges for most of its Star Alliance partners. Thankfully, United and ANA flights are exempt from this, and many airlines have very reasonable surcharges.

You can estimate your fuel surcharges by looking for your flight on ITA Matrix and looking for the YQ and YR fields in the price breakdown. Add these numbers and you’ll see how many fuel surcharges are added for your specific ticket.

The upside to booking with ANA is that you’ll pay fewer miles for shorter itineraries and — given Star Alliance’s huge global reach — the most airline partners and destinations to pick from. That said, the more restrictive routing rules make it tougher to truly maximize ticket and the addition of fuel surcharges may make your ticket a bit more expensive.

Related: TPG Lemonade session: ANA Mileage Club

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles loyalty program offers a special ticket called “Oneworld multi-carrier awards”, which is the airline’s wording for a round-the-world ticket. The program has attractive pricing but also has strict route rulings that make it hard to book a true RTW ticket. Here’s a look:

  • You’re allowed up to five stopovers
  • You can fly a maximum of 50,000 miles
  • You must return to your original point of departure
  • You must fly at least two Oneworld partners, or three if including a Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon flight
  • You can book mixed-cabin flights, but you’ll be charged at the rate of the highest cabin

Asia Miles offers attractive pricing for these awards too. Like ANA, they’re priced based on the distance of your flights. This is how much you’ll pay for your ticket:

While Oneworld has fewer partners than Star Alliance, it does have the most airlines with first-class cabins. You can fly top-notch products like Cathay Pacific first class, Japan Airlines first class and Qatar Airways Qsuites with your Asia Miles round-the-world ticket, so it’s great for those who want to fly in true luxury.

That said, only being allowed five stopovers makes this ticket a tough sell for me. Further, Oneworld’s limited European route network makes it hard for me to visit the three European cities on my list.

My choice: ANA Mileage Club

Each of these three round-the-world booking options are great, but I settled on booking with ANA Mileage Club. It allows me to book flights to the cities I want to see for the least miles possible, despite the somewhat strict routing rules (especially when compared to Aeromexico).

I am planning to max out the number of stopovers with ANA Mileage Club. If I was looking to book more than eight stops, I would have booked with Aeromexico instead. On the other hand, if I was planning a shorter trip I would have booked with Asia Miles.

Related: The easiest airline miles to get and why you want them

A look at my round-the-world routing

After narrowing down my booking option, it was time to plan out my route. I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go — a mixture of old favorites and new destinations — but it was time to get to business and plan out a specific route with Star Alliance carriers.

The first order of business was to decide whether I wanted to go east or west. I decided on starting my trip by heading to Europe, as I wanted to visit family in Prague on the way out. Since it would have been hard to find a route going from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, I decided to fly to Frankfurt first and then connect onto Prague after visiting the city for a day or two.

Then, my itinerary would continue to Asia and the South Pacific, before making my way back to New York City. When planning out my itinerary, I would pull up the Wikipedia page for each airport and look for Star Alliance partners that flew there. This helped me build an itinerary and discover some interesting new destinations along the way.

Here’s a quick look at the tentative itinerary I planned out before I started looking for award space.

Leg 1/Stopover 1: Newark (EWR) to Frankfurt (FRA) – United Airlines
Leg 2/Stopover 2: Frankfurt to Prague (PRG) – Lufthansa
Leg 3/Stopover 3: Prague to Istanbul (IST) – Turkish Airlines
Leg 4/Stopover 4: Istanbul to Singapore (SIN) – Turkish Airlines
Leg 5/Stopover 5: Singapore to Hong Kong (HKG) – Singapore Airlines
Leg 6/Stopover 6: Hong Kong to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) – ANA
Leg 7/Stopover 7: Tokyo-Haneda to Sydney (SYD) – ANA
Leg 8/No Stopover: Sydney to San Francisco (SFO) – United Airlines
Leg 9/Stopover 8: San Francisco to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) – United Airlines
Leg 10/Home: Chicago to New York (LGA) – United Airlines

Photo by The Points Guy
Lufthansa Business Class/photo by The Points Guy

This itinerary maxes out the eight allowed stopovers and falls two segments short of the 12 allowed. I didn’t use any of the allowed ground transfers, but that’s fine with me. If I have the choice between a business class cabin and a train or bus, you’ll find me on the plane.

Round The World Trip map from GCmap
(Image courtesy of GC Map)

I mapped out my itinerary using GC map and verified that it didn’t backtrack. I did this using the “Magnetic Heading” column listed at the bottom of the screen — so long as none of the routes went West, I was gold and could book the ticket.

Magnetic Heading on GCmap
(Image courtesy of GC Map)

The total miles flown is also listed underneath this chart, so I could use this to price out my round-the-world ticket. The total came in at a whopping 28,668 miles flown, meaning that I’d pay a cool 170,000 ANA Mileage Club miles for this ticket — not bad given each flight is in business class.

Obviously, my exact routing is dependent on available award space, but this proved to be less of an issue than I thought. Since I was booking in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, many airlines had wide-open award space on even their most premier routes.

How to book a round-the-world ticket with ANA Mileage Club

The actual process of booking an ANA RTW ticket looks intimidating on paper, but it’s not too hard in practice. You can’t book these tickets online, so you’ll need to find award space for each individual flight using your favorite Star Alliance search tool, write down the dates and flight numbers and then call ANA to book your ticket.

Earning enough points

ANA MileageClub is a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy. Points transfer 1:1 from Membership Rewards and can be earned with the following card bonuses:

The information for the Amex EveryDay, Amex EveryDay Preferred, Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Meanwhile, Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to ANA 3:1, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. Here’s a round-up of current Marriott card welcome bonuses:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card – Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Enjoy complimentary Platinum Elite status with your Card for the 2021 status year. Offer Expires 1/13/2021. Terms apply.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card – Earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Earn up to $150 in statement credits within your first 6 months of Card Membership for all eligible purchases on your Card on U.S. Advertising in select Media. Plus receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status for one year (February 1, 2021-January 31, 2022). Offer ends 1/13/21. Terms apply.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card – Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card – Earn 30,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Finding award space using United.com’s calendar search tool

I used United.com and Expert Flyer (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) to find award space. I’d start by looking for saver space on United’s website using the calendar search function, then verify that space is available using Expert Flyer to avoid phantom award space.

Setting up United Calendar View
(Image courtesy of United)

First, head to United.com and enter your search criteria at the center of the screen. Make sure to check the “Book with miles” and “Calendar view” options at the top of the box and press the purple “Find flights” button to start the search.

Viewing award space calendar on United.com
(Image courtesy of United)

You’ll now be greeted with two calendars: dates with a solid line have economy award space and dates with a dotted line have business class award space.

I was only interested in viewing nonstop flight availability, so I also checked the “Show only nonstop flight availability” option underneath the calendars. When you find a date you’re interested in, click on the date to view specific award space.

Look for award space marked with the “Saver award” tag — these flights are bookable with ANA Mileage Club (or any other Star Alliance partner). Once you find a flight you like, you write down the date and flight number.

Calculating fuel surcharges with ITA Matrix
(Image courtesy of ITA Matrix)

Throughout this process, I was also looking at the fuel surcharges incurred for each flight with ITA Matrix. As discussed earlier, you can do this by looking for your flight and adding up the YQ and YR charges listed in the price breakdown.

ANA award ticket hold

I performed this process for all of the flights I wanted to book, and thankfully found award space that fully matched the itinerary I laid out earlier. I prepared myself for a call with ANA Mileage Club, but one thing struck my mind: transfer times.

Unlike most other transfer partners, American Express Membership Rewards points can take up to 48 hours to transfer. While ANA’s website doesn’t mention award ticket holds, I read elsewhere that sympathetic phone agents may offer to put your ticket on hold for up to 48 hours.

Armed with that knowledge, I phoned the ANA Mileage Club line and briefly explained my situation to the phone representative: I wanted to book a round-the-world ticket, had all my flights planned out and found award space. I just needed to transfer miles from American Express.

The agent — who was super helpful — offered to put the ticket on hold for me for 48 hours, giving me enough time to transfer my points without worrying about losing out on the award space I’d already found.

After this confirmation, I read off the flight numbers and dates to the agent and she built out the itinerary. At the end of our conversation, she gave me a mileage and tax quote as well as a booking reference to use when I called back to finalize the ticket. I transferred my points immediately after my ticket was put on hold.

That said, I can’t guarantee that ANA will also let you put your award ticket on hold. If they don’t, find a few backup flights that would also work for your itinerary and verify all award space before you call in to book. This will save you time and ensure that you’re not left with miles you can’t use.

Fast-forward two days, I woke up and checked my ANA Mileage Club balance — thankfully, the miles were right there in my account! I phoned ANA, read the agent my booking reference, and paid the taxes and fees with my credit card.

And that’s it! I walked away from the call with a fully booked round-the-world ticket, paying just 170,000 miles and the cost of taxes and fees. Though the process was time-consuming, I think it was well worth it for an excellent deal (and an exciting trip to look forward to).

Bottom line

ANA Mileage Club round-the-world tickets are one of the best deals in the miles and points world and it has the potential to give you tens of thousands of dollars in value from a single redemption.

Interested in doing the same? If you have the miles available, I highly recommend booking now. As discussed in other articles, now is a great time to book post-coronavirus travel. Award space is wide open, making it easier than ever to book the routes and airlines you want.

Featured photo by The Points Guy

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