Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts on Around the World Travel

I was discussing around the world travel with my friend Mary at Pies Etc. the other night and an interesting contrast came up.  Mary sees round the world travel as a month long journey to explore several continents, make 8-12 stops, and fulfill romantic travel dreams.  I see it as a way to follow in the footsteps of aviation pioneers.

Mary views RTW travel as one Atlantic crossing, one Pacific crossing, and many stops along the way.  Something like New York to Africa to Europe to India to Southern Asia to New Zealand to Polynesia, then back home.  Airline alliances sell tickets for these travels (Star Alliance, oneworld, Sky Team) that give you a certain number of segments and miles flown for a fixed price.  They can be a very good value, especially if you are going on some expensive flights.  The websites are also a fun way to play at work.  Airlines also offer RTW tickets with miles, but they offer far less.  United for example allows 5 stops (but unlimited segments) and 24,000 miles flown on their RTW ticket.  The pricing is also steep, 200,000 miles in coach, 300,000 in business, and 400,000 in first.  There are award seat limitations like a normal round trip.  Depending on your trip, it may be cheaper to assemble a collection of one way award tickets.  The ease, flight availability, and value provided from the Star Alliance RTW ticket makes paying cash look very tempting. 

My view of RTW travel is based on the International Air Sports Federation, FAI, the final authority on setting aviation records.  They define Round the World as a course beginning and ending in the same location, the course must be a minimum distance of 27,000 kilometers (16,778 miles), and the course must cross all meridians.  I can accomplish that in a few days using a few airline miles, 90,000 US Airways Dividend Miles for business class actually.  Mary decided she would not want to travel in my style and lost interest in my idea, but not before laughing after thinking of me as an aviation pioneer, wearing goggles flying over a corn field.

US Airways charges 90,000 miles to fly business class from North America to North Asia (Japan, China, Korea, and some -stan countries).  They will let you fly via the Atlantic on one leg and Pacific on the other.  You also get a free stopover at a Star Alliance hub.  This award will meet the FAI requirements, be a fun way to see two cities, and a chance to experience different business class products.

I’m thinking of Tokyo and Warsaw can be my stops.  I was booked to go to Tokyo last year, but my trip was to start the morning after the earthquake, so I took United’s refund offer (the ticket was only $700 round trip from Denver through ORD, unmatched since).  My second stop has to be a Star Alliance hub and I’d like it to be in Europe (Star’s Europe hubs are Ljubljana, Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Rhodes, Larnaca, Vienna, Helsinki, London Heathrow, Brussels, Zagreb, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Munich, Duesseldorf, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Lisbon, Porto, Istanbul, Ankara).  I’ve already seen a few of the cities listed and want to go somewhere new.  Warsaw works well because LOT has quite a few flights into North America with outstanding business class availability.  Austrian Airlines has good availability from Japan and to North America, but I’ve already been to Vienna (It’s amazing and I recommend it to all).  Istanbul is tempting too with almost 100% business class availability from NRT to IST, but almost nothing onward to North America (United announced a new EWR-IST flight, but no business awards yet). 

I’m using Continental’s website to find availability and piece this trip together.  Once I find the flights, I’ll need to call up US Airways to book it.  I’ve heard that I should allot an hour for that call.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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