How To Book A Round The World Trip With Miles
We’ve all heard of those magical round-the-world (RTW) trips with stops on every continent. Today you’re visiting museums in Europe. Next week you’re going on an African safari. And a month from now, you’re sipping wine in Australia. As fun as these itineraries seem, they’re not the easiest to put together, especially using miles.
Some airline programs still offer official RTW redemptions to their members, such as All Nippon Airways Mileage Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. However, many programs have eliminated the option of building such a whirlwind trip on one award ticket.
Even if you don’t have a large stash of miles with a program that still offers RTW itineraries, don’t fear missing out. It’s possible, and maybe even more feasible, to build your RTW itinerary using multiple programs. And there’s no pressure of hitting all seven continents—and the Moon, for good measure—in one trip.
Round-The-World Tickets: Defined
This might sound obvious, but a round-the-world trip must take you around the globe. If you’re booking a RTW award with an airline that still offers it, you’ll have to meet certain requirements. Typically, you’re free to travel in any one direction, either eastward or westward, must cross at least two oceans and make at least two stops. You must start and end the trip in the same country (or at least on the same continent) and avoid backtracking. Each program will have slightly varying rules.
However, booking a RTW award with multiple programs gives you a lot more flexibility. You’ll be able to fly from place to place as needed, won’t necessarily have to start and end in the same country and won’t have to worry about backtracking.
How to Book a Round-The-World Trip Using Multiple Rewards Programs
With access to multiple rewards and airline programs, you have more options when booking flights to multiple destinations. Here’s how to put together a simple trip around the globe with different types of points and miles.
Leg 1: Salt Lake City to Colombo, Sri Lanka, for 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + $16 to $33
Let’s start your round-the-world journey in Sri Lanka, because why not. Assuming you live near Salt Lake City, your first leg will take you from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB). This one-way itinerary can be booked with 40,000 AAdvantage miles in economy class or 70,000 miles in business class plus $15.70 to $32.60 in taxes, depending on which airline you fly.
AAdvantage Award rates from Contiguous 48 U.S. States and Canada to Indian Subcontinent on Qatar Airways
The one-way flight can be operated by Oneworld partners American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways or a combination of carriers. If you’re located elsewhere in the U.S., you should find the same redemption rates from your departure city as long as there’s availability.
Leg 2: Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Istanbul, Turkey, for 34,000 Avianca LifeMiles + $120
For your second destination, let’s visit Turkey and book the next flight out of Colombo (CMB) to Istanbul (IST) where you’ll want to eat a lifetime supply of doner kebab in just a few days. Turkish Airlines, a Star Alliance carrier, flies from Colombo to Istanbul via Male, Maldives (MLE), where it makes a short technical stop. (Some would stop here for a luxury trip to the Maldives, but we’re saving that for another day.)
You can fly this one-way itinerary by redeeming 34,000 Avianca LifeMiles. The taxes clock in at $120. Not cheap, but about half of it is attributed to embarkation tax from Sri Lanka and is unavoidable.
If you don’t have Avianca LifeMiles at the ready, you can transfer these from either American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points accounts at a ratio of 1:1.
Leg 3: Istanbul to Salt Lake City for 33,000 United MileagePlus Miles + $103.75
Now that you have the fun flights secured, the only thing left to do is find a way home. Because it’s another Star Alliance program, United MileagePlus miles can come to the rescue if you need to travel on Turkish Airlines. You should be able to find space from Istanbul back to Salt Lake City, or another U.S. city, on a mix of Turkish Airlines and United for 33,000 miles and $103.75. Taxes might be lower if you fly without layovers in European cities.
Even if you don’t accumulate United miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to United MileagePlus at a ratio of 1:1, so they’re not difficult to obtain.
What A Similar Trip Would Cost If You Pay Cash
They say cash is king, but if you spent said cash to pay for a similar itinerary with somewhat reasonable layovers, you’d be out about $3,700.
When it’s all said and done, you could redeem 107,000 points and about $240 on taxes and fuel surcharges and save that $3,738 for activities while on your RTW trip. Granted, you’re not gallivanting around the world in a premium cabin as all flights are booked into economy class, but you can adjust the class of service by redeeming more miles.
What It’s Like Booking a Round-The-World Trip with One Program
As mentioned above, round-the-world award tickets are still possible when booked with certain programs. Let’s take a look at what a similar trip would cost in miles if you were to book it using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
The sample trip above covers 20,868 miles flown. This is important because Asia Miles determines the number of miles required for a flight based on distance traveled.
If you book this round-the-world ticket in economy class through Asia Miles’ Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award, you would pay 115,000 Asia Miles. In this case, it isn’t that much more than what the original ticket costs using miles from different programs.
However, the real benefits of using different airline programs are you can fly with carriers that belong to multiple alliances, you can mix classes of service as you wish and you don’t have to follow restrictive itinerary rules. Additionally, the difference in the number of miles required may not always be this close.
For someone looking for ways to minimize cash costs as much as possible, mixing multiple award programs will do the trick. It’s also easier to collect miles in different programs.
How to Earn Enough Rewards to Build a Similar Trip
Go After High Welcome Offers
It’s common for credit cards to offer welcome bonuses. It’s also relatively common for banks to offer limited-time offers on certain cards. It’s worthwhile to watch for increased offers before applying for a card, or at least be aware of what offers normally are. Because banks limit how many cards you can apply for and how often you can receive a welcome bonus on a particular card, or a whole family of cards, it’s important to earn certain bonuses while they’re higher than usual.
Nobody wants to sign up for a credit card while the bonus is 30,000 points only to learn that the offer has gone up to 60,000 points a week later. That said, if this happens to you, be sure to reach out to the credit card company to check if they would honor the new offer.
Earn Flexible Points
Sure, it’s nice to see your airline mileage balance go up when you credit flights to a specific airline program. However, airline miles stuck in a single spot do you little to no good when it comes time to redeem them—especially when a different airline program has better connections and requires fewer miles.
The answer is to earn flexible points that can be transferred to multiple airline programs. American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, Citibank ThankYou Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards are all flexible point currencies. These programs partner with a number of airlines and sometimes hotel loyalty programs. This offers more choices when it comes time to redeem your points. You’re in control of how your rewards are used.
Learn How the Programs Work
This is likely the most important aspect of earning rewards—knowing how to redeem them properly. With different award charts, application restrictions and what might as well sound like intergalactic lingo to a novice, rewards programs seem like rocket science at first. However, once you learn the basics, they’re not that intimidating.
Keep in mind, though—effective results require you to put in the work first. You’re not going to be an all-star award booker by skipping practice. Look at award charts. Learn how to make a basic award search and hone your skills by scouring multiple programs.
If you are trying to book a complicated and expensive itinerary, an award booking service will help you redeem your miles for a fee averaging around $200 per ticket. If you save tens of thousands of points by using a booking service, the fee could well be worth it.
A round-the-world itinerary doesn’t require collecting hundreds of thousands of points. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate journey, either. Pick two or three places you want to visit and piece together an itinerary using the miles you have.