Yesterday I booked an around the world business class award for two! It wasn’t easy, but it’s done! But… I made a few mistakes along the way. In this post I’ll offer up some lessons learned while they’re still fresh on my mind…
For the 3 Cards, 3 Continents Challenge, the goal is to build as amazing of a 3-Continent trip as possible with the welcome bonuses from 3 cards (which we picked in an online draft).
While the Challenge is challenging enough as stated, I decided to make it a bit tougher for myself. I decided to go all the way around the world using ANA’s fantastic Star Alliance Round the World award. And, despite this being the “Summer Of Non-Existent Airline Award Seats,” I decided to make the challenge even harder by booking a round the world trip for two. Adding a second person made the task much harder because I had to find award availability for 2 instead of just 1. That said, points and cash needed to book my travel companion did not come out of my 3 Cards, 3 Continents budget.
As a reminder, in our Credit Card Draft, we started with a $1,000 budget and I selected the following cards: Amex Gold Card ($250 annual fee, 90K bonus); Citi Premier Card ($95 annual fee, 80K bonus), and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card ($95 annual fee, 5 free night bonus). After “paying” the first year annual fees, my cash budget was down to $560, but I had lots of points and free night certificates to work with.
Since our starting and ending points were slightly different, I booked two separate Round the World awards: one for me and one for my travel companion. For my booking, I transferred* 90K Membership Rewards points to ANA. Taxes and fees for this booking came to $454.17. This used up most of my remaining cash budget. Separately I also transferred* Citi ThankYou points to Avios in order to book some key filler flights (see this post for some background).
* Note that I didn’t really transfer the points as described above. For the challenge, we are accounting for transfers as if they’re real, but we let the contestants use miles and points that they already have to book the awards. In one case, I even used AA miles rather than Avios to book an award, but the amount that I would have been charged in Avios and fees is the amount that was subtracted from my budget.
Lesson 1: Search thoroughly, book quickly
One of the hardest challenges with booking a Round the World business class award is finding award availability across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. After many hours of award searches, I found several good 2-person options for both ocean crossings. Then I took more than a week to figure out the rest of the plan: Where exactly would we go and when? This was necessary because ANA doesn’t allow route changes once the award is booked. All you can change is the date or time of a flight or you can move up to business class if you were booked in economy as part of a business class Round the World award.
The downside to spending so much time nailing down the specifics was that our preferred ocean crossing awards disappeared (likely gobbled up by others — Nick? Stephen?). Luckily I managed to find alternatives that were arguably just as good, but by then the pickens were thin.
Lesson learned: As soon as you find good awards for the hardest-to-get segments, book the Round the World award quickly. ANA only charges 3,000 points to cancel an award and so the downside of booking quickly isn’t extreme.
Lesson 2: Award holds are precarious
Mid-week last week I had ANA put an itinerary on hold for us. The agent told me that I had 72 hours to call back and book it. As the 72 hour hold expiry neared, I called back, made a few changes, and then agreed to move forward with booking the award. This included giving them my credit card information to pay for taxes. The award request then was sent to the ticketing desk to book it. Unfortunately, the ticketing desk didn’t get to it right away.
ANA called me the next day — about 24 hours after I thought I had the award all set. The agent told me that by the time the ticketing desk got around to doing the ticketing thing that they do, one of the ocean crossing award seats had disappeared. I think that the hold expired before the ticketing desk got to it. I was out at dinner at the time of the call so I couldn’t research options readily, but luckily I remembered that an equally good flight had award availability. Unfortunately, only 1 seat was available in business class and none in economy. I took the 1 seat. The result is that we will still be fine, but the two of us won’t be able fly together on this segment as originally planned.
This turned out to be only a minor setback, but it could have been disastrous.
Lesson learned: If working with an award on hold, try to call back to book it at least 24 hours before the hold expires.
Lesson 3: Check & double check the itinerary
Since there is no way to book a Round the World award online, you’re at the mercy of the phone agent getting all of the details right. I’ve found that ANA agents have been very good, but they do sometimes make mistakes (I do too!). Before putting an award on hold and especially before booking the award, ask the agent to go over the entire itinerary step by step. I caught a couple of mistakes this way while on the phone. These were easy to immediately correct. Once I was emailed the held itinerary, I noticed another mistake (a flight that was booked for a day later than intended) and was able to fix it when the agent called to tell me that one of our award seats was no longer available (as described in the section above).
Lesson learned: Check the details many times. It’s very easy to make mistakes with complicated itineraries!
Lesson 4: United does impose fuel surcharges (on some routes)
Throughout my planning, I had in my mind the idea that United flights wouldn’t add materially to the taxes & fees in the award. I thought that United’s own flights never have fuel surcharges. I was wrong. I had forgotten something that I read years ago: United does impose fuel surcharges on their flights from or to Japan and Hong Kong. They even have a dedicated page that says so: www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/fuel-surcharges.html.
While there’s no easy way to check the fuel surcharges for each segment in a Round the World Award, after booking I finally thought to check the taxes and fees imposed on round trip flights between the US and Japan. I found that fees were almost exactly the same regardless of whether flying United or ANA. In other words, both impose fuel surcharges. Here are some examples:
- LAX to Tokyo Round Trip Business Class:
- Fees flying United: JPY 101,860 (~$749)
- Fees flying ANA: JPY 102,570 (~$754)
- Tokyo to LAX Round Trip Business Class:
- Fees flying United: JPY 85,730 (~$630)
- Fees flying ANA: JPY 87,930 (~$646)
It’s reasonable to assume that fees for a business class United flight to Japan would cost roughly half of the amounts shown above (e.g. somewhere between $300 and $375). In my case, since my entire fee was only $454, I think that the United segment cost much less than $300, but it’s hard to tell from the receipt. Fees are listed, but without specifying which segment of the trip each fee is from. I think that I dodged a bullet by booking my flight through Japan without a stopover.
Lesson learned: Be careful about adding international United flights to ANA awards when flying to Japan or Hong Kong. A better solution for crossing the Pacific (and likely a much better flying experience) would be to book EVA Air if you can find their elusive award space. EVA Air doesn’t impose fuel surcharges and is known to offer a fantastic business class.
Also note a potential issue crossing the Atlantic eastward… With regular round-trip awards ANA doesn’t pass along surcharges on United flights (other than those from/to Japan or Hong Kong). However, a member of our Frequent Miler Insider’s Group on Facebook has found that all eastbound international flights crossing the Atlantic that she priced out recently as part of her Round the World award (including on United and TAP Air) added huge fees to her Round the World itinerary. She found that economy flights added about $200 in fees while business class added over $700 in fees. I’ve never heard this reported before, so my guess is that this is new. Is it intentional or a bug? My guess is the latter.
More About ANA Round the World Awards
For more details about ANA’s Star Alliance Round the World Awards and other sweet spots, see these posts:
- Tips for booking ANA’s Round the World award
- Around the world in business class for 115K [Sweet spot spotlight]
- ANA Mileage Club sweet spots for award travel (economy or business class)
This post and its comments prove that ANA is only releasing 2 seats to its own FF members for business. Even worse is *partners are only getting one seat allotments. But even more important for me, is that ANA is not releasing any space to Virgin. I love ANA, but I am not sure if one can really plan on getting awards seats from ANA anymore.
Greg, just curious if you were able to choose seats on all of your flights for the RTW trip? If you could were there any extra fees for seat reservations? I booked a trip to South Africa and 2 segments were on Egypt Air. I had to call to choose seats and there was a fee. TIA
Yes I was able to select seats on all legs for free, but whether that’s allowed varies by carrier. See this post for details of how to select seats: https://frequentmiler.com/how-to-select-seats-on-partner-bookings/
My wife and I just got in from our ANA world trip last night. We traveled from Boston to Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul, Singapore, (took a side trip to the Maldives) then onto Bali, then Bangkok ending in Tokyo before flying home. We began the process almost 10 months ago. At first back then we had booked tickets to spend time in Japan thinking it would open up – but it did not. We had to change plans and added Bali which was great because the Ritz Carlton Reserve just began allowing guest to book using Bonvoy points. The Mandapa Ritz Carlton is the best hotel we have ever stayed in. Truly unbelievable. The Imperial Hotel in Vienna was another highlight of the trip.
Thank you Greg and your team for this blog. I had learned enough to open two AmEx Platinum cards that earned enough points for my wife and I to fly to some incredible places. While I spent hours in researching and planning, in the end it was very worth the time and effort. Without following this blog and others we would have never been able to take such a once in a lifetime trip.
Been looking for next late June/early July and I’ll be damned if I can’t get a single thing from Europe to the US, westbound TATL. I’m guessing I’m still in high season at that point. Literally looking at every *A hub across 2 weeks. Maybe we should shoot for early September to be sage.
I am trying to book round trip SFO-SIN or SIN-DEL
Almost everyday next year from Jan to May has business class on waitlist
I am searching Award Reservation/Round Trip
Is there something I am doing wrong. Should I do multi-city instead
Paid $55 in surcharges on Lifemiles for LAX-HND on UA in biz.
If Avianca ever gets their IT together (more than two segments on one award. Showing all of the *A availability. Not that they’re alone. Aeroplan does not show all ET Europe to Africa & Lifemiles does but I digress), they may be the way to go with the combo of no surcharges & combining biz & economy for less miles. Yes their rules & support suck & changes are expensive! I have found a bit of a magic bullet however. Get the correct email address & you get quick replies with options & direction for their phone support, which have typically low hold times for the US number.
Could you PLEASE describe the process that you go through to find these business class awards? I am unable to find anything that would get me around the world in Business class for that few of miles. Easy to find in coach, but never business. Thank you, in advance.
Interesting the EURO=Dollar..Hmmmmmmm
So much useful info-thanks. Speaking of double/triple checking details, that would be a great topic for an entire column one day (even if you have already done one!). I’ll offer up my worst one (details to follow another time, b/c I have to leave for Finland in a few hours): I am cognitively well aware of how the 24 hour clock works and yet I frequently somehow mess it up. I never get confused over, for example, 21:00. It’s the ones with numbers from the first 12 that get me– i.e., 13:30 becomes 3:30 in my head. You get the idea. I’ve had several disasters and near disasters thanks to that damn clock. (Though I readily admit that system makes a lot more sense than our silly a.m. and p.m. concept.)
Another new tip (or more important these days than it used to be): Check on the times for your flights a few days before the trip EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD FROM AIRLINE. I went to check in today for my flight to HEL tomorrow. I had really critical errands to run before my 1:15 flight from ATL to ORD (first leg of 2). I got around to checking in online around 10 p.m. and found that AA had quit flying the 1:15 ATL-ORD flight in May and I’d been moved to a 10 a.m. flight making my errands impossible. Neither Finnair nor AA had ever sent me an email — I went back and checked (and when I spoke with the rep she didn’t claim they had notified me). The errands involve critical medication and I spent a couple of hours trying to move the trip by a day or cancel it altogether. There was a lot of anger, crying, angst and frustration, but after everything (and absolutely no help at all from either airline) I decided to go after all. I may regret it, but in a few hours, I’ll be HEL bound. Hopefully not HELL bound. ; ) (though it does look like 6 of my 8 days will be full of rain)
A booked trip way out there u have to check on every month then every week or day.About 5% of the time they cancel the flt but always change the times with no email..,
Travel is work..
Amen to that!
Wow the daily getaway deals this year are terrible! Hoping something to use for round the world
Look at SYD I was there 4 years ago Nov. I can go again Same Price ..Nice people and exchange rate Great..ALOHA
Couple of questions, Greg:
Congrats on the RTW ANA booking Greg! Were you able to use up all your ANA miles? If not, do you have any other uses for your remaining miles before they expire?
Thanks Grant. I still have 89K miles that are set to expire end of March. I’ll probably use them to book either a RT to Europe or maybe I’ll book another RTW. Not sure yet!
Feels like the ANA RT open-jaw to SE Asia is also an underrated award. Just booked ANA open-jaw business class to SE Asia next June. IAH-HND-SGN/SIN-NRT-JFK. All for 105k per person including the NRT-JFK flight scheduled (for now) on the new 777-300 with “The Room” seat. Taxes were only about $650 total for two people so much less than just flying to Japan.
Last time we flew biz to SE Asia we spent 80k pp on DL (yeah I know crazy low for DL these days!) ATL-SEA-HKG and 78k pp using LifeMiles USM-BKK-IST-ATL. This is 53k fewer points and 5 years later.
We will have to position to/from IAH and JFK and book some connections within Vietnam, Cambodia, and to Singapore but still a crazy good deal in this age of ever-devaluing points.
I have ANA Platinum status thanks to the recent status match and it appeared that this gave me more award availability when I logged in with my wife’s non-status ANA number and compared.
Good info, thanks! You also inadvertently just solved a question I had about why my travel partner’s taxes & fees were much higher than mine. My itinerary just has a layover in Japan and not a stop. My travel partner’s itinerary looks like it has a stop in Japan. I guess United’s fuel surcharges are only imposed when there’s a stop in Japan.
Awesome trip! You are hitting a part of the world I’m dying to visit. Other than Singapore I’ve not visited any of those. (I’m not counting my layover in NRT!)
Great info. Thanks!
To add to ANA surcharges on United…a few days ago I was looking at SFO-PPT RT in J on United for two people. I was surprised to see about $700ish in fees.
Yikes! Thanks for letting us know. That’s the first report I’ve seen of the surcharges showing up on round-trip awards.
Hi Greg, Thank you! Can you tell me when you booked this? I called ANA twice last week. I thought the first representative told me she could do a hold for 72 hours. The second said she couldn’t. Also, for economy,I know we’re supposed to look for a Saver Award (X), but what is the RTW bookable code for business.