I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been obsessed with the 40K to Far Away Challenge. Nick, Stephen, and I each have a budget of 40,000 points and $400 to try to get as far away as possible (details here). Nick is working with Citi ThankYou points, Stephen has Amex Membership Rewards, and I have Chase Ultimate Rewards. I’ve written before about why I think I have the easiest and best option (since I can pay for flights at 1.5 cents value with my points). And I’ve written about the extensive research I’ve done (Greg’s Chase Ultimate Rewards battle plans). Behind the scenes, I’ve been thinking and plotting non-stop.
One of my early ideas was to circle the globe for 40K and $400. But, guess what? That’s too easy. At least with Chase points it is. For example, I could easily book something like this:
New York to Beijing for 21,331 Chase points:
Then, fly Beijing to London for 18,669 Chase points and $3.68:
Finally, fly London to New York by using $178 of the $400 cash budget to book a low cost carrier:
Altogether, the above flights cost 40,000 Chase points plus $182. In other words, if all I wanted to do was fly around the world with my 40K Chase points and $400, I can do so easily. I don’t think it would be an interesting route, though, so it’s not even close to what I really have in mind, but it’s something.
Can it be done with 40K miles?
I started wondering if it’s at all possible to cobble together an around-the-world itinerary entirely with airline mile award sweet-spots. What if I wasn’t allowed to purchase any flights at all? What if every single flight must be booked with airline miles? Can it be done?
In this thought exercise, I’m assuming that there are no transfer bonuses and no award sales. The question is whether it’s possible to use regular every day airline mile awards to get around the world for 40K. Do you think it’s possible?
US to Europe is easy and cheap
There are a number of sweet-spot awards for flying to Europe from the US. For example, you can fly Chicago to Madrid for as few as 17,000 Iberia Avios and $85:
Or fly New York to London for 10,000 Virgin Atlantic miles plus $89:
Europe to Asia can be cheap too (at least in miles)
Using Virgin Atlantic miles again, you can fly all the way from London to Asia (Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Beijing) for only 12,500 miles:
Flying west to east, the fuel surcharges are quite high (~$240), but flying the reverse route from Hong Kong to London costs only about $42. That’s an incredible deal.
You can also fly to Delhi from London for only 10K miles!
Crossing the Pacific is hard
In the above examples, we would spend at least 20K miles to go east from the US, across the Atlantic, through Europe, and to Asia (JFK-LHR-DEL). So, we only have up to 20K miles left to bridge the Pacific.
The tool AwardHacker tries to find all of the best possible award prices for whatever route you choose. To be clear: it doesn’t identify whether or not the awards are currently available, it just finds actual routes and calculates the best possible award price. For flights from Asia to the US mainland (Hong Kong to Chicago in this example), the best the tool could find was 30K Alaska miles or 32.5K BA miles:
Obviously a 30K award would completely bust the budget. How about getting to Hawaii from Asia? It looks like that can be done for as few as 20K miles if you have hard-to-get Lufthansa Miles & More miles, or 27.5K Avianca LifeMiles:
The problem is that even if you could get to Hawaii for only 20K miles, you’d still be short of completely circling the globe. Sure, it seems at least theoretically possible to go from the eastern US to Hawaii, around the world, for around 40K miles, but I just can’t find a way to bridge that last gap.
The best path I found
Using miles that can be readily moved from transferable points programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points, the best route I found to get almost around the world, goes like this:
- Hawaii to New York for 17.5K Singapore miles
- New York to London for 10K Virgin Atlantic miles
- London to Hong Kong for 12.5K Virgin Atlantic miles
- Total cost: 40K miles.
I failed at this game. I couldn’t find a way to get all the way around the globe for 40K airline miles. Can you? Or can you find a path that at least gets closer than the one I proposed?
This is purely a theoretical puzzle. Can you find an award path that would take you all the way around the world, or even mostly around the world, for only 40K miles? For this exercise I’m not worried about fuel surcharges and fees. I simply want to know if it’s possible at all. Note that some mileage programs (such as BA and Iberia) will let you use fewer miles by chipping in extra cash. That’s not allowed for this game, since it’s obviously possible to stay within 40K if you use enough cash.
Do you have ideas for how to get closer to a full circle around the globe? Please comment below!
[…] Around the world in 40K […]
The Alaska Award charts on Finnair said 32,000 from Hawaii to Asia on Cathay Pacific.
[…] decide the winner. Many more details about the challenge… (Click to continue reading) Around the world in 40K (7/1/2019) by Greg The Frequent Miler – I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been […]
Just want to let you know how much I’m already enjoying this series, and how much I’m looking forward to the payoff! I understand a variety of content keeps readers coming back (Wait until you hear this 1 weird trick to save $0.50 on a $500 gift card!!!), but these are the kinds of posts that make your blog special.
Can fly Air Asia from Osaka to Honolulu for as little as $139 one way, if that helps!
It’s not a real RTW since you don’t cross the equator! Try doing that with 40K miles!
Can we do a first class challenge? Maybe one where we see the MOST miles we can use to travel. I can get to HKG from SFO for only 172,000 Singapore miles one way. It’s still a good deal v. paying cash unless you buy a RTW in first.
Do you guys think if I start a blog my readership might be sort of limited?
It would be nice to have a challenge for say the average family of four. It’s a lot easier to book cheap flights and tickets for 1 or 2 people than it is for four or more.
I agree – throwing a few kids into the mix makes this much harder to find those flights. Single or couple – easy, family of 4, now you have a challenge. Awesome to see how this unfolds
I, too, have found that the availability of award seats is <4 on many flights. I reckon there are 2-3x as many flights with 2+ seats as with 4+; I don't fly solo, so don't know what the ratio of 1-seat to 2-seat availabilities is.
However, since this challenge is somewhat open-ended as far as dates and times go, I don't think availability would affect it much at all. I would figure 4x the price and a lot more flexibility with dates and times – or a requirement to book many (more) months ahead of time.
Just the raw horror of traveling economy is keeping me from reading any further. You guys are triggering me. I’m suing.
Second snarky comment on this post. If you’re gonna criticize, you could at least TRY to be civil.
Hey, maybe you can make that other blog all about how fed up you are with other blogs’ focus on premium cabins; I’m sure your readership will be great! Or you could, you know, make it actually useful, like Seat 31B. But hey, you’re not starting a blog – that requires time, effort, and uhh… CIVILITY. You just want to whine to as many people as you can while making minimal effort. And I guess you’ve found your spot…
George, I appreciate your comment and the sentiments. In this case, I happen to know losingtrader, and I know that he’s just kidding around. I realize that it’s not obvious, but it’s just his weird sense of humor. He didn’t really mean anything negative by it.
@Greg: Duly noted. Feel free to remove.
George, just joking around, pal ; Sorry if I offended you. And sorry to Greg for having to explain me.
I noticed he deleted one of my snarky posts about Albania (although it was true)
The reason I don’t fly economy is blogs like this one that have given me good alternative ideas.
And you’re correct. I wouldn’t start a blog. It does take time and effort. I worked really hard for a long time to afford to retire and lose money in the stock market while it went up 500% in the past 10 years.
I thought you were being a sarcastic schmuck, not making an inside joke. Or were you being doubly sarcastic, mocking sarcastic commenters fed up with premium cabin posts? If so, joke’s on me, and kudos to you. Anyway, apologize for reading too much (or too little) into it.
Sadly, I can only dream of premium redemptions, at least for the foreseeable future. You might say I uhh… work too hard for too little money. C’est la vie…
Actually, I AM a sarcastic schmuck. You have me pegged. Good call.
Love the exercise, but i find that, realistically, this seems to look for cheap, low hanging fruit that is out there, probably we would never collect.
How about doing the same exercise with Premium cabins , understanding fully that the points and miles will be used at a higher agreed amount?
Thanks as always for sharing your brain trust.
Yes, we definitely have in mind to do a premium challenge in the future. That said, even for this challenge part of my goal is to do it in as much comfort as possible. The itinerary I presented above was for illustrative purposes only. I am not going to do something so boring and uncomfortable.
Having flown transatlantic Economy regularly for 20 years, I’m stoked about this challenge as it is. Not enough focus on Economy in this corner of the blogosphere IMHO.
That said, a companion challenge for Premium cabins does sound nice, and I’m glad to see Greg is on board with it.
If this was a fair challenge (ignoring whether one currency is more valuable than another) you should not be able to use your Chase Sapphire Reserve card to get 1.5 cents/pt. Does Stephen have the AmEx Business Platinum card, thus getting 1.5 cents value when using points to book through AmEx Travel? And Nick would only get 1.25 cents redeeming points, assuming he has the Citi Prestige card. It would be a more even challenge if the premium cards are NOT in play…
Well, those guys chose the currencies they wanted. I gave them multiple chances to swap with me because I thought Chase was too easy. At the end of the challenge, we’re going to give readers a chance to judge who won. This way, if you don’t like that I used points at 1.5 cents (assuming I do), you could argue that whatever I did wasn’t as good as Stephen’s trip all the way to Mexico.
I’d argue that the differences between the currencies and card collection part of what makes this challenge interesting. I think that type of differences leads to good discussion: is the CSR’s 1.5cpp really that big of an advantage for award travelers? Is it more of an advantage for economy class travel vs premium cabins? etc.
I look forward to different opinions on this and I’m glad to have you call Greg a cheater ;-), but I think the relative differences based on currency and cards makes for good demonstration of how to maximize those types of things and discussion about which are truly important/useful. At least, I hope so.