My Round the World business class adventure (planning phase)

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I have 269,000 miles set to expire soon, and there’s no practical way to extend their life other than to use them to book future award flights.  I previously wrote about my dilemma here: 269,000 ANA miles expire in about 9 months. What to do?  At the time of that writing, my points were set to expire March 31 2021, but more recently, ANA has promised to extend the miles until September 30, 2021 for those who register (which I did, of course).  That’s great, but I still need to figure out what to do with my miles by then.  I don’t think another extension is very likely.

My situation has been a big problem… for at least one of my readers.  In a recent “Ask Us Anything,” a participant declared his suffering and offered up a great solution:

32:56 – ​Greg your ANA “dilemma” is causing ME sleepless nights. Why don’t you book an open ended year long ANA RTW [Round the World] trip for you and your wife? Could Also be a great challenge for Greg! ​

I think that’s a great idea.  We know that ANA’s “round the world” award is one of the best deals in travel (see: Around the world in business class for 115K [Sweet spot spotlight]).  There’s arguably no better way for me to use my miles and I’ll almost certainly learn things along the way that will benefit readers.  Let’s do it!

This is the first of what will likely be a series of posts about my planning this around the world business class adventure.

Around the World Objectives

Here are my initial thoughts about a Round the World trip that my wife and I would like to do, ideally starting January 2022 (Obviously, if worldwide travel isn’t an option by then we’ll have to change our plans):

South Africa

Marriott Protea Hotel Kruger Gate Marriott Rewards sweet spot

We have a good friend who lives in Cape Town and we are determined to visit her and her family.  I visited them myself in 2019 thanks to the 40K to Far Away Challenge (see this post for details), but it was only for 1 day and without my wife.  We’d like to bake in a safari trip while in South Africa and maybe even see Chef Bjarne as well (if you’re reading this Bjarne, dinner and drinks will be on us).

India

My wife has a friend/colleague from England who is currently living in Delhi.  She has invited us to visit and we’d love to take her up on that.

Singapore

One of the many trips we cancelled in 2020 was my wife’s business trip to Singapore where she has a friend/colleague.  We haven’t ever been to Singapore, but we’d like to visit and see our friend.

Australia

My wife will be on sabbatical this winter and has a potential opportunity to collaborate with a group in Australia. If that pans out, we would make southeast Australia our home base and would venture out from there for occasional trips around Australia.

New Zealand

We’ve never been to New Zealand, but we’ve long been itching to go.  I imagine that we might do a couple of trips to New Zealand while staying longer term in Australia.

Is ANA’s Round the World award a good fit?

ANA’s Round the World award is priced based on distance bands.  Here is a selection of the business class Round the World award prices for two adults:

  • Distance of 18,001 – 20,000 miles costs 230,000 ANA miles for 2 adults
  • Distance of 20,001 – 22,000 miles costs 250,000 ANA miles for 2 adults
  • Distance of 22,001 – 25,000 miles costs 290,000 ANA miles for 2 adults
  • Distance of 25,001 – 29,000 miles costs 340,000 ANA miles for 2 adults
  • Distance of 29,001 – 34,000 miles costs 400,000 ANA miles for 2 adults

My 269,000 ANA miles would be more than enough to fly up to 22,000 miles around the world.  Flying farther would require me to transfer more Amex Membership Rewards points to ANA.  Here’s how much I’d have to transfer for each distance band:

  • Distance of 22,001 – 25,000 miles: I’d have to transfer 21,000 points.
  • Distance of 25,001 – 29,000 miles: I’d have to transfer 71,000 points.
  • Distance of 29,001 – 34,000 miles: I’d have to transfer 131,000 points.

Obviously I’d prefer not to transfer any more points to ANA.  On the other hand, I do want to use up all of my ANA miles before they expire.  So, I’d say that the ideal distance band for me is 22,001 to 25,000 miles.  That would require transferring only 21K more points and would use up all of my soon-to-expire miles.

In order to get an idea of the distance I would likely fly, I used Google Flights not to find award space, but to find Star Alliance routes that were likely candidates for my trip.  Later I’ll worry more about award availability.  The purpose of this exercise was just to get an idea of the likely mileage.

ANA’s Round the World awards require traveling in one direction (e.g. west to east or vice versa) and require crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Using Great Circle Mapper, I mapped out a potential route that starts in Detroit and ends in Los Angeles.  I could use other miles to fly the last segment home.  Finding nonstop business class award space from New Zealand to the US for 2 adults is extremely unlikely, but I was willing to sneak in one very unlikely award to shoot for.  If I couldn’t get that exact route (Auckland to Los Angeles), I could try instead to find award seats from Auckland to San Francisco, Houston, or Chicago.

According to Great Circle Mapper, the route shown above is a combined distance of 29,655 miles.  That’s just over the amount needed for the 25,001 – 29,000 mile band.  Instead, this puts me into the 29,001 – 34,000 mile band (which would cost 400K ANA miles for 2).  I’d have to transfer 131,000 points to cover this award.  The good news is that this band would give me quite a bit of wiggle-room in case I wanted to add additional stops or if the ideal award space options were less direct.  The bad news is that it’s not a great optimization of my miles.

Is it worth mixing awards?

As I mentioned before, the sweet-spot for me to use up my ANA miles is to do a Round the World award that fits in the 22,001 to 25,000 mile band.  Would it make sense for me to cut out some stops in order to make that happen and then separately book the missing pieces?

To test this idea, I removed Singapore, Sydney, and Auckland from the Round the World itinerary and added a likely stop or layover in Tokyo:

According to Great Circle Mapper, the route shown above is a combined distance of 24,128 miles.  That’s perfect!  I could book that route for 2 adults for only 290,000 ANA miles.  I would only need to transfer 21,000 Amex Membership Rewards points to make that happen.

Great, but is it worth it?  By cutting out Singapore, Sydney, and Auckland I’d save 110,000 Amex Membership Rewards points, but I’d still want to go to those places.  If I used a different currency (or multiple other currencies), could I fly from Delhi or Tokyo to Singapore, Sydney, Auckland, and then back to Tokyo for fewer than 110,000 points for 2 adults in business class?  That’s only 55,000 miles per person.  I don’t think it’s possible.  Most programs would charge considerably more than that for a similar itinerary.

A more practical route

Now that I’m mostly consigned to the idea that I’ll end up paying 400K ANA miles for this Round the World adventure, I’m starting to wonder if I could really piece it together.  What if I can’t find non-stop award availability from New Zealand or Australia to the US?  Would a more likely route still fit within the 29,001 – 34,000 mile band?

In my experience, finding business class award space flying ANA isn’t too hard.  Flying ANA back to the U.S. would require a stopover or layover in Tokyo.  So, let’s say that I take out the New Zealand part of the trip (I could book that separately).  Here’s a route that seems reasonable:

According to Great Circle Mapper, the route shown above is a combined distance of 31,803 miles.  That’s well within the band limits.  Let’s see if I could get all the way home instead:

In the above route, my return flight is Sydney to Tokyo to Chicago to Detroit.  According to Great Circle Mapper, that brings us to a combined distance of 33,183 miles.  This is still within the 29,001 – 34,000 mile band, but it’s getting close!

Could I sneak in a visit to New Zealand as well?  Not quite…

According to Great Circle Mapper, the route shown above is a combined distance of 35,132 miles.  That’s more than 1,000 miles above the 29,001 – 34,000 mile band.

I could fix the above issue by returning to San Francisco from Tokyo.  I would then have to book the final flight back to Detroit separately.  Nah.  If I can find non-stop award space from New Zealand to the US, that would be much better.  If not, I’ll probably use a different award currency to book trips from Australia to New Zealand.

Next Step: Award Seeking

I can start immediately looking for award space to start the journey, but assuming that we spend a few months away, I can’t yet look for award space for the return.  Most airlines begin to release award space about 11 months before departure.  If we assume that the final legs of our journey will be sometime in March 2022, then I might not be able to find award space for the whole journey until April 2021, at best.

In my opinion, the best tool for finding award space for each segment of the journey is United.com.  United does a good job of showing Star Alliance award space in calendar view.  One “gotcha” is that they often show mixed cabin award space where part of the journey is in economy and part in business.  Ideally, of course, we’d book everything in business class and so I’ll keep an eye out for that issue.

Meanwhile, I’ve already used SeatSpy to setup alerts for the following routes to let me know if United Airlines releases business class award space for 2:

US to South Africa:

  • Newark to Cape Town
  • Newark to Johannesburg

Return from Australia or New Zealand:

  • Auckland to San Francisco
  • Melbourne to Los Angeles
  • Melbourne to San Francisco
  • Sydney to Houston
  • Sydney to Los Angeles
  • Sydney to San Francisco

Reader Suggestions

Do you have any ideas for improving the plans and ideas I described above?  Route suggestions that would lower award costs?  “Must-do” stops along the way?  Please comment below!

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