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Adventures Around the World

$368 Round-the-World Ticket

Round-the-world ticket

Round-the-world ticket


While there was not just one thing that inspired me to do this trip (you can checkout my Credits page for more on that), the fact that I was presented with an opportunity to get a round-the-world air ticket for $368 was the tipping point for me. Oh, and did I mention that the ticket is in business class?

Do not believe me? Wondering how is that even possible?

Well. Read on!

It sure was one exciting and emotional ride over the few days it took me to set it up and here is how I did it.

Round-The-World Ticket Using Frequent Flyer Miles

Some people know that a round-the-world ticket could be purchased from one of the three worldwide airline alliances. Not many know that such a ticket could be quite affordable – I have heard of people getting one for as low as a couple thousand dollars.

Even less people know that the same ticket could be had essentially for free using the frequent flyer miles and only paying associated taxes and fees (there is no information about it on alliances’ websites). Luckily, I was told about this option by Charles, a couchsurfer I stayed with when I ran one of my half marathons in Los Angeles.

My ticket is with Star Alliance (including airlines such as United Continental, Lufthansa, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, ANA, and others). They used to charge 160,000 frequent flyer miles for an economy class award ticket and 220,000 miles for business class. In June 2011 they raised those to 180,000 for economy and 260,000 for business . Skyteam and oneWorld (the other two alliances) also have a similar pricing.

Three worldwide airline alliances

You Do Not Have To Fly To Get Frequent Flyer Miles

Whenever I tell my story, at this point many people think that I was just ‘lucky’ enough to actually fly the needed amount of miles in order to get this ticket. That could not have been farther from the truth – as much as I love flying, I have not flown anywhere near that much.

In fact, I only had about 10,000 miles with United Airlines, mostly from some previous promotions and not the actual flying. I do not even use airline-branded credit cards for every day purchases – even though those normally give a mile for each dollar spent, I find it to be a very poor reward ratio and use a different credit card to get straight 2% cash back on all my purchases.

Frequent Flyer Miles From Credit Card Sing Up Bonuses

So how did I get those miles? I just applied for three (yes, only three) credit cards using promotional offers that credited 50,000 miles each to my accounts after I reached a certain spending limit within the promotional period. So, essentially I got 150,000 miles for free using the following cards:

MilesPlus Card ImageUnited Millage Plus Visa Card – 50,000 miles after first purchase, no annual fee for first year (I purchased Netflix membership for $9.98). I actually got this card a year before and have not used the miles yet. Because the card comes with the annual fee after the first year, I closed it before the first year anniversary so I do not even have it anymore.


OnePass Master CardContinental OnePass Plus MasterCard – 50,000 miles after first purchase, no annual fee for first year (I purchased $20 worth of groceries at HenHouse). This is actually a useful card for travelers as it comes with free primary car rental insurance so I held on to it up until the end of the year when they were not willing to waive the annual fee for an extra year, so I cancelled.


AmEx Platinum CardAmerican Express Platinum Card – 50,000 Membership Rewards points after $1000 spent in three months (I used it for some Costco purchases as well as getting gift cards that I used up later). Prior to October 2011, AmEx Membership Rewards points could have been turned into Continental OnePass miles at one-to-one ratio essentially giving me another 50,000 miles. As it turned out, I was able to make this even sweeter by getting 100,000 points/miles from them, but I will get to to it in a bit. Unlike the previous two cards, this one did come with a hefty (at first glance) annual fee of $450, but the additional travel benefits of the card have well paid for that fee since then. I seriously love this card and will write up a separate post on it later.

One aspect that I kind of gotten lucky with is the fact that normally, it is not allowed to combine the miles balances from different airlines, but United and Continental were merging at the time so I could indeed combine all these miles.

Business Class Upgrade For, yes you guessed it, FREE!

So, I had enough miles (50,000 x 3 plus 10,000 United miles in my account) to book an economy class ticket. That got me thinking – there sure will be quite a few very long flights on that itinerary and being as tall as I am, I would probably commit suicide at some point if I am forced to sit in the economy seat with my knees quite literally embedded in the seat in front of me for hours and hours at a time.

If I could only get those extra 60,000 miles to fly in Business…

Singapore Airlines Economy vs Business Class (from Airliners.net)

It took me five minutes of googling to find a thread on FlyerTalk discussing the AmEx Platinum card I have gotten. It turned out that around the same time I applied for the 50,000 points bonus, there was another offer for the same card that came with 100,000 points instead and some people have been able to get it matched by calling AmEx and simply asking to do so.

So I got on the phone and was promptly told that that the 100,000 points was a targeted offer (not true) and they could not match it for me. I politely thanked the representative and hung up. I tried my luck again the next day with a different representative and he applied the extra points to my account right away.

Cha-ching!

All you gotta do is ask… and ask again! 🙂

At that point I was still only at 210,000 miles and had to purchase the extra 10,000 miles directly from Continental for $112 but it was reimbursed to me by AmEx as part of the Platinum card benefit.

But What About The ‘Price’ Increase?

If you have been following along, you are probably wondering why I only needed 220,000 miles if the Star Alliance jacked their business ticket ‘price’ up to 260,000. This was another painful setback for me – I was not aware of the increase until after I celebrated the acquisition of 220,000 miles.

What a way to ruin it, *A!

Once I found out about that, I was down all day, trying to think of all possible ways to get the remaining 40,000 miles. I could have tried to apply for another card, but the bonus miles would not likely post in time. I could rack up $40,000 in spending by buying up gift cards, but how would I be able to get rid of them to get my money back? I could try to buy $40,000 worth of $1 coins from US Mint, but with restrictions on the order amounts and the fact that the local banks would probably refuse to take that many coins from me, that would be a major hassle as well. I could pay for the 40,000 miles, but that would cost close to a $1000 making the ticket way more expensive.

There just did not seem to be a way to do it in the time frame I had to work with.

So, once again, I decided to just ask (and beg a bit).

I called up Continental Star Alliance travel desk and explained that I was not aware of the price increase and asked if there was any way I could still get the old pricing. The representative put me on hold for good twenty minutes looking into any possibilities and eventually told me that it was not possible.

I then asked if it would be possible to somehow credit me with the extra miles needed with the understanding that I will use them for this trip (and not just get free miles for nothing). I used the argument that AmEx was actually running a promotion for transferring MR points to Delta Skymiles with 50% bonus at the same time I transferred them to Continental so I essentially missed out on those extra 50,000 miles by going with Continental. That argument seemed to make some sense and the representative put me on another 20 minute hold while they were negotiating with their AmEx liaison. Eventually, she came back, and told me that they would do it for me!

We spent another 40 minutes on the phone putting together my itinerary and a few days later it was confirmed and ticketed.

All you gotta do is ask…

My final travel itinerary, made possible by this crazy round-the-world ticket

14 Comments

  1. Sheer genius! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow! What an inspiration!

  3. Hi Dima,

    Thanks for the informative post on your *A RTW award ticket experience. I just have one question: how did you get so many segments on your RTW trip? Was each stop a stopover? Reading on other sites, *A RTW tickets are limited to 16 segments and 6 stopovers. Your image at the end of the article seems to show at least 25 segments.

    • Aaron, the map at the top of the page is the actual round-the-world ticket, the map at the bottom is my actual round-the-world trip. 16 segments and 6 stopovers (one can be an open jaw) is correct. Although I did have 17 segments – the LAX-ORD and ORD-GRU segments were somehow part of the same flight in United system (even though operated by two different airplanes) so I was able to bend the rule there.

      • Do you think you could go into further detail regarding the map at the bottom and/or the trip in general? I just don’t understand how you were able to do so much traveling given only 6 stopovers. I’m debating between getting enough points for this vs booking 2 or 3 separate round-trip award tickets each with a stopover and open-jaw. This could hit the same amount of destinations using less miles, correct? what do you think?

        • Lucas – the map at the top is the actual RTW ticket. The map at the bottom is my entire trip. The rest of the flights (and some overland segments) I paid for separately from my rtw ticket. The point here is that the RTW ticket allowed me to do all of this. By essentially making a stop in five different parts/continents/however you want to classify it (Europe, South Africa, South East Asia, Australia and South America), I was able to take care of the “big” picture while figuring out the rest as I went.

          You have a good point about the point differences now – I was just thinking about writing a blog post about that. Essentially, when I booked the ticket, an economy RTW ticket could still be had for 160k, making it a no-brainer. Now, it is very different, so depending on your goals, how solid your plans are and how much time you plan on spending doing this, booking a few different trips may very well be of greater value.

          Edit: In fact, that is exactly what I am trying to do right now – I booked a round trip to Europe for this fall and as a separate ticket(s) will be booking a trip to Hawaii, Micronesia, AU/NZ (maybe) and South East Asia.

  4. I’m wondering if opening credit cards and closing them relatively soon is damaging to one’s credit score. Also, I wonder if credit card issuers may decline your applications in the future as they notice a pattern?

    • Andrew – short answer is no and no.

      Opening cards dings your score insignificantly, although not recommended if you are planning to apply for any other loan soon (mortgage, student loan, car, etc). In some instances, my score actually went up after another round of applications for 6-8 cards. If you get the card, get the bonus and close it right away, then some banks will frown upon it, while others don’t care. The general rule of thumb is to keep the card for six months to a year before closing it.

  5. Thanks for clarifying, Dima!
    Your trip is inspiring. Reawakened an old dream. Starting to figure out how to make it happen.
    Can you lists your itinerary? How long did the entire trip take you?

    • Andy, just catching up with my emails as I am about to leave on another epic trip (see my latest blog post). The first image above shows my round-the-world ticket and the image at the end shows my full itinerary including other flights and ground segments I booked. I planned the trip for six months, then extended it twice to almost night months but then shortened it to just over seven months.

  6. Hey Dima,

    Randomly found your profile on the San Diego (where I’m orginally from) CS website and wanted to check out your blog. As I finish up my own long-term trip and start looking for a way to make money again, it’s inspiring to see that your first time traveling just made you hungry to do it again! When I get a normal job I’m going to follow your lead and apply for these credit cards–brilliant idea!

  7. Inspiring. I am currently accumulating points in hopes I can do a similar trip in 2016. Hope points are still being used then.

  8. Awesome story that I’m frankly trying to replicate for my wedding – we are paying for everything so we are taking a trip instead of choosing table coverings…

    Did you purchase this ticket through Star Alliance or through United or how? You mentioned that you spoke to the help desk who helped you plan and book this ticket – who was that (the airline or Star)? Finally, how was AMEX Plat concierge able to help?

    Thanks for your time and feedback!

    Mike

    • Mike, that’s an awesome decision regarding the wedding! For the round-the-world tickets, you need to book with your country’s airline so in this case it would be United for Star Alliance. It was United help desk that I spoke with and they have a dedicated one for RTW tickets (generally, with very knowledgeable agents): 877-726-7282.

      I used AmEx concierge to get me information on visa and immunization requirements, as well as addresses and phone numbers of US embassies for each country – just gave them a list of ~25 countries I was considering and had the info emailed to me the next day.

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