Flying around the world is the ultimate bucket list item, and something that is perhaps easier done now than ever before given the current availability. Of course, the idea of booking a round-the-world (RTW) trip will feel intimidating to some people, not only when it comes to the complexity of the trip but also the cost. A paid RTW ticket will cost $10-15,000 dollars in Business Class at the very minimum, or, if you’re willing to fly economy, the cost may come down to roughly $3-5,000. That’s a lot for a life in cramped seats on strange airlines.
Airline miles are great for flying around the world
What you may not know is that airline miles are great to use when flying around the world. In fact, you’ll be surprised how relatively inexpensive these RTW awards are compared to regular round-trip tickets. In this article, we’ll go through three different airline frequent flyer programs and what redemption options they offer for booking RTW tickets for way less than you thought possible.
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Note that all of the solutions we explore are in Business Class. With almost no exception, we believe that economy class travel is best to purchase with cash. It is basically never worth redeeming miles for economy class tickets.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
Pay around 175,000 miles in Business Class
ANA Mileage Club is one of our favorite frequent flyer programs. Not only is it a member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, it also offers some of the lowest redemption prices on the planet. Also, ANA Mileage Club is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, making it a great solution if Amex is your main source of points.
ANA Mileage Club uses a distance-based award chart for Star Alliance RTW redemptions, which means the cost in miles will depend where on the chart your trip falls based on the total distance flown of all flights on your itinerary.
A typical RTW itinerary will cover a distance of 30-35,000 miles, which will cost you 200,000 or 220,000 miles.
You can, however, fly upwards of 50,000 miles and hit more destinations along the way. This will cost a total of 300,000 miles.
Considering a typical long-haul return trip award redemption to a single destination usually runs around 150,000-200,000 miles in business class, this really is a well-kept secret worth considering.
These conditions need to be met
Certain conditions need to be met in order to meet bona-fide RTW redemption criteria.
You can only fly in one direction, eastwards or westwards, so backtracking (i.e. flying to a destination in the opposite direction) is not allowed. There are some exceptions to this rule though. For instance, Star Alliance has been known to allow limited backtracking in order to reach a hub.
You’ll need to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in order to qualify for a RTW.
Your trip needs to be at least 10 days long and start/end in the same country.
It can contain a maximum of 8 stopovers and 4 ground transport sectors, meaning you land at one airport and take off again to continue your trip on another.
One of the major limiting factors is the fact that RTW redemptions may only contain 12 flights (what is called “flight segments” in travelspeak), so nonstop flights are preferable to be able to reach the full 8 stopovers. This might complicate things when booking complex itineraries, especially if they include short “feeder flights” to destinations away from large hubs. The best option would be to book as many long-haul flight segments as possible, and use the 4 available ground transport sectors to book those separate flights between the long-haul segments. Especially since these local flights can often be had for relatively low prices in cash.
AeroMexico Club Premier
AeroMexico is part of SkyTeam, an alliance that tends to get overlooked, mainly because its main frequent flyer programs Delta SkyMiles and Air France/KLM FlyingBlue tend to offer relatively poor redemption value. But as you’ll see when you read on, RTW redemptions with AeroMexico represents a massive exception to this rule.
Aeromexico Club Premier is a transfer partner to Amex, Citibank, and Capital One. Amex membership rewards points transfer at a 1:1.6 ratio, which is actually the same value as the standard 1:1 ratios of most other programs because they use kilometers instead of miles. Citibank and Capital One transfer at 1:1 and 2:1.5 respectively, which represents significantly lower redemption value as they transfer at the same rates as they would to programs that use miles as measuring unit. So, Amex would be the preferred transfer partner here.
Ordinary on the surface, exceptional for Round-the-World
On the surface, Aeromexico’s Club Premier program looks fairly ordinary with some decent but not overly spectacular redemption opportunities. That is, until you discover its RTW award chart. A RTW redemption in business class costs 352,000 kilometers, the equivalent of 220,000 miles. That’s a serious bargain considering that there is no limitation on the flown distance, a whopping 15 stopovers, and no published limitation on the number of flight segments. It's insane!
There are of course some rules to follow:
Travel must be in the same direction either eastwards or westwards, with no backtracking allowed, no surprises there. Although much like with ANA, some backtracking is allowed in order to reach a SkyTeam hub.
All flights need to be booked in the same class. In other words, for a Business Class round-the-world, all flights must be booked in Business Class. This may pose some challenges for short-haul connection flights where Business Class isn’t available or even offered.
You need to complete the trip within one year of the ticket issuance.
Finding Business Class all the way takes some work
The biggest challenge with SkyTeam is the relative lack of availability in Business Class, so what you gain in price, you will have to pay for in the work you’ll need to put in to find available seats. Whereas Star Alliance and Oneworld make it relatively easy to find availability, SkyTeam is somewhat trickier because alliance members such as Air France/KLM and Delta release fewer award seats to partner airlines. However, this can be mitigated by booking far in advance. You should have no problem then.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a popular program for Oneworld redemptions. It is a transfer partner with Amex, Citibank, and Capital One with a transfer ratio of 1:1 for Amex and Citibank, and 2:1.5 for transfers from Capital One.
Reasonable redemption prices, based on miles flown
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles doesn’t have a published round-the-world award chart. Instead, its Oneworld multi-carrier award chart works largely the same way, as it is priced based on the flown distance (similar to ANA’s award chart) and allows RTW routings. Prices are reasonable with a typical 35,000 mile itinerary setting you back 210,000 miles, or 240,000 miles for a 50,000 mile itinerary.
The rules are in this case more fluid:
Multi-carrier redemptions allow up to 5 stopovers and two open-jaws, which is sufficient to plan a RTW trip.
The exact routing rules aren’t published, though just like Aeromexico and ANA, Cathay doesn’t allow backtracking unless you’re connecting to a Oneworld hub.
The rules for RTW are somewhat fluid, it’s actually at the discretion of the booking agent to determine whether a routing is allowed or not.
The Oneworld alliance is home to some of the world’s best airlines including Qatar Airways, Japan Air Lines and Cathay Pacific, and award availability in premium cabins tend to be easy to find when booking far in advance. Some regions such as Africa are underserved by Oneworld, making them a bit hard to reach.
And The Winner Is...
Flying around the world in Business Class for 200,000-240,000 Amex points is a fantastic deal and all three programs offer great redemption opportunities. In terms of getting the most flying for your points, Aeromexico wins hands down as they offer a near-unlimited amount of flying for 220,000 Amex points. They are a great option in theory, but in practice may present some challenges when it comes to finding SkyTeam award availability unless you are booking well in advance.
Cathay is a great option, though with some limitations on the amount of flight segments and stopovers. But with some of the world’s best airlines in the Oneworld alliance, this will probably be the best cabin experience of the three.
... All Nippon Airways
Our winner is All Nippon Airways. While it may not be the cheapest, it is a part of the Star Alliance, which is the world’s largest airline alliance. Not only does this mean superior connectivity and reach when compared to SkyTeam and Oneworld, but also in terms of actual availability. In other words, you stand a better chance of finding your preferred route on your preferred dates.
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