How to Visit 6 Continents, 38 countries, for $1K and 215K Airline Miles

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I almost never plan my travels in advance.

Rough outlines, yes. Set schedules, no.

During my South America bicycle tour I put effort into learning about the best gear and getting my finances in order…but not much else. The plan was simple: pedal south. Everything unfolded beautifully from there.

Today I’ll deviate a bit from my travel philosophy by outlining how many miles and how much money I would need to fly my hypothetical round-the-world itinerary across six continents. Note: Scott’s formula was used to calculate cents per mile award value; all prices are in US Dollars.

The three major benefits of this post are:

  • Showing you how this itinerary, or segments of it, can be recreated
  • Identifying areas to exploit with lesser-known routing rules and airlines
  • Receiving routing feedback from people who are much smarter than I

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.04.45 PM Shall we begin?

LET’S JUMP ACROSS THE POND TO SEE WHERE EUROPE MEETS ASIA….

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Newark to Istanbul

Flight: Newark (EWR) to Istanbul (SAW) (via London)
Airline(s): United, Turkish Airlines
Alliance(s): Star Alliance
Miles/points needed: 12,500 millas mexicanas
Taxes and fees: $47.96
Lowest ticket price: $1,125 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 21.31¢

Thoughts: I alluded to this one-way trick in my Million Mile Secrets interview. For those who want more details, I provide enough clues here for an easy investigation. This redemption won’t work for everyone. Interestingly, the 12,500 miles weren’t withdrawn from my account, meaning a cool $50 will carry me across the Atlantic. Not sure if this is a replicable glitch or pure luck. Upon arrival to Istanbul I’ll be curious to see if my miles are still there. I’m flush with Southwest Rapid Rewards points so positioning myself out of the NYC area to take advantage of this trick was free. From July 11th through the 16th I’ll explore the Big Apple.

Other options:

…THEN RIDE OLD SOVIET STEEL TOWARD GHANGHIS’ GRAND CHILDREN….

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Overland: Turkey-Bulgaria-Serbia-Romania-Moldova-Ukraine-Russia-Mongolia-China — Trains!

…PROFICIENT NOW IN KUNG FU & MANDARIN, LET’S BUILD A BUSINESS….

Guangzhou to Chiang Mai

Flight: Guangzhou (CAN) to Chiang Mai (CNX)
Airline(s): China Southern Airlines
Alliance(s): SkyTeam
Miles/points needed: 20,000 Delta Skymiles
Taxes and fees: $66.53
Lowest ticket price: $245 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: .85¢

Thoughts: China Southern Airlines (CZ) availability is searchable on Air France (AF). If I were to redeem, I’d use Delta SkyMiles instead of transferring American Express Membership Rewards (MR) because I value British Airways Avios more as a MR transfer partner.

The 20K Delta Skymiles are worth about US$244 (and increasing in value once Delta allows one-ways in 2015). This redemption ‘saves’ me $178.47 ($245 paid ticket – $66.53 fees), but could be better maximized on Aerolineas Argentinas from Miami to Buenos Aires, or on AF from Paris to Antananarivo (Madagascar) or Tokyo to Noumea (New Caledonia). To redeem on CZ or pay out-of-pocket? I’m still unsure.

I’ll fly over Vietnam and Laos in order to attend the Dropship Lifestyle Retreat in Chiang Mai, then hopefully another conference in Bangkok the same month. This direct CAN-CNX flight would allow more time to explore China without rushing to meet the deadline. According to Gary, CZ allows stopovers on one-ways. If so, CAN-CNX-stopover-BKK would be much sexier in my eyes.

Other options:

  • 20,000 ANA Mileage Club hidden ticket redemption on Thai Airways via Bangkok?
  • Other sub-$250 low-cost carriers from Guangzhou or Hong Kong via Bangkok

…INSERT FOSTERS AND KANGAROO AND G’DAY JOKES HERE….

OZ

HCMC to Perth 17.5K United + US$34

Flight: Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) to Perth (PER)
Airline(s): Thai Airways
Alliance(s): Star Alliance
Miles/points needed: 17,500 United MileagePlus
Taxes and fees: $47.96
Lowest ticket price: $313 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 1.29¢

Thoughts: Easy to earn, easy to redeem, thanks United. Annoying fees aside, I can deal with the low 1.29¢ per mile because I have United miles in surplus. I considered departing from the Philippines for one last beach get-away before getting dirty down under in a manual labor position, but after four months in SE Asia I think I’ll be ready to start my Australia chapter. Myanmar and The Philippines will be visited post-Australia, maybe in quick trips from Kuala Lumpur.

  • Scoot and TigerAir from Singapore, AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur
  • 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage on Malayasia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur (Book on ba.com)

…HERE WE’LL BECOME BEACH SNOBS & LEARN TO LOVE SHARKS….

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Melbourne to Hobart

Flight: Melbourne (MEL) to Hobart (HBA)
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 7,000 Virgin American Elevate points (or 4,900 with 30% MR transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $12
Lowest ticket price: $184 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.32¢ (or 3.26¢ with 30% MR transfer bonus)

Hobart to Sydney

Flight: Hobart (HBA) to Sydney (SYD)
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 5,500 Virgin American Elevate points (or 3,859 with MR 30% transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $16
Lowest ticket price: $212 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 3.19¢ (or 4.35¢ with MR 30% transfer bonus)

Sydney to Christchuch 7.2K Virgin Australia

Flight: Sydney (SYD) to Christchurch (CHC)
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 7,200 Virgin American Elevate points (or 5,040 with 30% MR transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $65
Lowest ticket price: $262 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.31¢ (or 3.10¢ with 30% MR transfer bonus)

Thoughts: All of the above Virgin America redemptions on Virgin Australia offer the best value I’ve found between the destinations listed. Underrated redemptions no doubt since I couldn’t find much info about how MR transfer bonuses sweeten these deals. Here’s the Virgin America calculator to play around with routes.

Alaska Airlines Auckland to Fiji 17.5K + $39

Flight: Auckland (AUK) to Vanuatu (VLI), with stopover in Fiji (NAN)
Airline(s): Fiji Airways
Alliance(s): OneWorld
Miles/points needed: 17,500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Taxes and fees: $39.60
Lowest ticket price: $405.03 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.66¢

Thoughts: Fiji! Never, never did I imagine I’d visit these exotic places. Quite literally, I have goosebumps as I write. Focus. With such a good thing going with Virgin Australia, why the sudden shift to Fiji Airways?

Auckland to Nadi to Port Vila (stopover evidence)

If I’m correct, then it’s possible to stopover in Fiji en route to Port Vila, Vanuatu (Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan allows stopovers on one-ways). It wouldn’t be bookable online, and I haven’t called yet, but I’m hopeful because there are paid flights between the islands. Can anyone confirm this?

There are also twice weekly Air New Zealand flights from Auckland to Tahiti for only 17,500 United MileagePlus (!). This is a very tempting option, but out of Tahiti, Fiji, and Vanuatu islands the latter most peaks my interest. Whether or not I visit Tahiti will depend mostly upon the one-way availability between Tahiti and Fiji. That, and cash flow of course. Tahiti is honeymoon central, which means boo koo bucks.

Port Vila to Brisbane for 3.5K + $90

Flight: Vanuatu (VLI) to Brisbane (BNE)
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 3,500 (or 2,450 with 30% MR transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $90
Lowest ticket price: $298 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 4.45¢ (or 5.74¢ with 30% MR transfer bonus)

Sydney to Tabibuga 16K round-trip

Flight: Sydney (SYD) to Tabibuga (TBA), round-trip
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 16,000 Virgin American Elevate points (or 11,200 with 30% MR transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $180
Paid ticket price: $1,056 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 4.38¢ (or 5.77¢ with 30% MR transfer bonus)

Before They Pass

Photo from Before They Pass Photography Project

Thoughts: Mount Hagen in the central mountainous region of Papua New Guinea wasn’t discovered until the mid-1930s. Cannibalism, tribal warfare, body paint, it was all alive and well just decades ago. I’d don’t keep a bucket list, but if I did this would be number one. Regarding booking, this Sydney-Tabibuga route is a steal. Beforehand I was pricing out paid tickets from Cairns to Port Moresby, then additional tickets from the dangerous capital to the highlands. All in all, it would have been $500+, not including transport to Cairns. Hopefully this SYD-TBA flight isn’t seasonal.

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Flight: Sydney (SYD) to Bali (DPS)
Airline(s): Virgin Australia
Alliance(s): None, lots of partnerships
Miles/points needed: 15,000 Virgin American Elevate points (or 11,500 with 30% MR transfer bonus)
Taxes and fees: $90
Lowest ticket price: $488 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.24¢ (or 2.72¢ with 30% MR transfer bonus)

Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur

Flight: Jakarta (CGK) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Airline(s): KLM
Alliance(s): SkyTeam
Miles/points needed: N/A
Taxes and fees: N/A
Lowest ticket price: $71 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 9.85¢

Thoughts: I’ve never done a mileage run before, but at almost 10¢ per mile shouldn’t I hire a fleet of Asians to fly back and forth all day, every day, then use their accounts to book future flights? I remember reading about a guy whose similar activity gained the FBI’s attention. Apparently he had a team doing this in the heroin triangle sans drugs, ha. Maybe not such a good idea after all.

…NOBODY WILL EVER QUESTION OUR DEVOTION TO INDIAN FOOD AGAIN….

Kuala Lumpur to Dubai

Kuala Lumpur to Male

Flight: Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Male (MLE), direct
Airline(s): Malaysia Airlines
Alliance(s): OneWorld
Miles/points needed: 10,000 British Airways Avios
Taxes and fees: $142
Lowest ticket price: $427 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.39¢

Thoughts: The Maldives have some of the most pristine diving in the world, FYI.

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Flight: Male (MLE) to Colombo (CMB)
Airline(s): British Airways
Alliance(s): OneWorld
Miles/points needed: 4,500 Avios
Taxes and fees: $25
Lowest ticket price: $138 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 2.27¢

Thoughts: Like Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka has always fascinated me. I plan to spend time in the hills learning how tea and cinnamon are harvested. Yes, yes, very idyllic, venomous snakes and all.

Mumbai to Dubai

Flight: Mumbai (BOM) to Dubai (DXB)
Airline(s): Jet Airways
Alliance(s): None, United code share
Miles/points needed: N/A
Taxes and fees: N/A
Lowest ticket price: $151 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 7.93¢

…HERE WE’LL BE ZEN LIKE MOON WHEN BUSES BREAK DOWN….

Africa

Dubai to Addis Ababa

Flight: Dubai (DXB) to Addis Ababa (ADD)
Airline(s): Qatar Airways
Alliance(s): OneWorld
Miles/points needed: 14,500 Avios
Taxes and fees: $15 (?)
Lowest ticket price: $204 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 1.02¢

Thoughts: This British Airways option is ok…but ANA is blowing my mind. The below itinerary is available for only 22,000 Mileage Club round-trip from Dubai:

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Round-trips are required, which if routing from Dubai gives you the best onward options anyway. In one week you could check out Qatar’s…whatever-is-in-Qatar, the Pyramids outside Cairo, Beirut’s Mediterranean-front ancient walls. Or you could actually enjoy yourself by staying a few days in each locale: ANA doesn’t limit stopover time. Unbelievable. Time and political-climate permitting, I’d love to do a Middle East capital tour.

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Flight: Johannesburg (JNB) to Madagascar (TNR) OR Mauritius (MRU), round-trip
Airline(s): South African Airways
Alliance(s): Star Alliance
Miles/points needed: 35,000 United Mileage Plus
Taxes and fees: $75 (?)
Lowest ticket price: $807 (Google Flight search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 1.94¢

Thoughts: Grey boxes equal crushed dreams. Or, in unembellished terms: no availability. Madagascar is definitely an aspirational award with limited open seats. I’ll position myself in South Africa with extreme flexibility in order to wait out an award if necessary. Not airlines, not even the bubonic plague, will scare me away from getting to know this gigantic island’s lemur population. Besides, is it really that rough to kick back in Cape Town drinking wine until your NatGeo-style expedition begins? Extreme scenarios: fly to Paris (CDG) to catch a direct Air France flight or pay the $800 round-trip from Joburg.

…THEN FINALLY BACK TO BRAZIL, MY LOVE, MY SWEET ACAI….

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Flight: Johannesburg (JNB) to Sao Paulo (GRU), First Class
Airline(s): South African Airways
Alliance(s): Star Alliance
Miles/points needed: 45,000 United Mileage Plus
Taxes and fees: $55.30
Lowest ticket price: $2,970.30 (United site search on 5/18/14)
Cents per mile award value: 5.87¢

Thoughts: Lie-flat First Class to my favorite country wouldn’t be a bad way to end this world tour. Plus, from Brazil it’s easy to avoid fuel charges on flights back to the United States.

Here’s another reason visit to ‘finish’ the trip in South America: ANA’s distance-based awards in South America make expensive destinations like Easter Island, the Galapagos, Fernando de Noronha, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and Roraima affordable with clever routing.

HOW MANY MILES USED & FEES PAID TO VISIT SIX CONTINENTS?

I’m glad you asked:

TOTAL MILES/POINTS NEEDED: 215,449
AVERAGE MILES/POINTS REDEEMED PER FLIGHT: 15,390
TOTAL TAXES AND FEES PAID: $1,189.35
AVERAGE TAXES AND FEES PAID PER FLIGHT: $84.95
AVERAGE CENTS PER MILE AWARD VALUE: 4.84¢

Or from another perspective, here’s what I won’t pay for:

TOTAL LOWEST TICKET PRICES WITHOUT MILES: $9,134.33
AVERAGE LOWEST TICKET PRICE WITHOUT MILES: $652.45

Clearly, miles/points trump paying out-of-pocket.

Final thoughts: Before being labelled a sensationalist headline monger: I realize food, drink, accommodation, overland transport, travel insurance, visas, Mai Tais, toothpaste, floss, sunscreen, condoms, and 15% tips for excellent service are not included.

This post was meant to be fun, inspirational, and roughly accurate. To the best of my knowledge, it is. At the same time, it’s difficult to know every airline quirk until going through the educational experience of actually redeeming miles. When that time comes, I’ll revisit each flight and share with you my learnings.

I especially want to investigate how to pay fewer fees, taxes, and fuel surcharges. There MUST be a way.

Besides the brief mention of ANA distance-based awards in the Middle East and South America, this itinerary doesn’t take advantage of layovers and stopovers, like I’ve done in Seoul, Bangkok, Zurich, and other cities. When booking time rolls around, I’ll research and write about those options as well.

On a final final note, I have 1,836,268 in my loyalty accounts.

I could fly this itinerary many times over, fly Business, fly First, invite friends and family to share in adventures, stay in fancy hotels with fluffy pillows. It’s all possible and then some, but I’m not trying to brag. Simply and honestly, I want you to understand that airline miles and hotel points make these trips possible for you, for us, for the average American with good credit scores and a little curiosity about the world.

215,449 miles?! Psst, that’s four credit cards….

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