Pinnacle of Points
Over the years, I have redeemed points for some unbelievable experiences. I have stayed at amazing hotels in New Orleans, New York, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. I have personally flown in business class and first class, and I have helped my family members fly across the world in a similar fashion. I have also saved a lot of money on regular travel needs.
But this summer my wife and I are going on a trip around the world in business class, with a redemption ticket that takes the cake in terms of value gained!
Around The World, 101
In the world of points and miles, there is one redemption ticket that is consistently talked about as the most valuable ticket out there - the ANA “Round the World” ticket. Very few people book this award because it is not very well-known, and honestly because it is not that easy to redeem.
Also, the (sad?) reality is that very few people have the time in their lives to go on vacation around the world. But this summer, after I graduate from residency, my wife and I decided to take some time to travel. Most of our travel will be based around seeing family members, some of whom I have not seen for over 10 years!
The ANA Round the World award is booked with Air Nippon Airways, hence the ANA abbreviation. ANA is a national Japanese carrier, and is also an airline partner with American Express. All you need to book this award is an ANA online account, which can be made easily on their website. Once you set up your account, you can add your membership number to your American Express account, and your American Express points can immediately converted to ANA points.
You do not need to fly ANA at any point in your journey, although you can do so if you would like. You are simply booking a Round the World ticket with their system.
The number of points you need for a Round the World award is dependent on two factors: the class you want to fly and the total distance you are traveling. You will need more miles if you want to fly further and/or in business or first class. Here is the full award chart.
There are a number of other rules that you must follow. They are:
You can only travel in one direction (East to West, or West to East)
You must cross the Pacific and Atlantic ocean
Your trip must last at least 10 days
You can only fly on Star Alliance airlines (United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Thai, Singapore Airlines are examples)
Your trip can include a maximum of 12 segments (a segment is essentially one flight)
You can have a maximum of 4 ground transfers (a ground transfer is flying into one city and flying out from a different city)
You can have a maximum of 8 stopovers (a stopover is spending more than 23 hours in one country)
You have to travel through three areas (see below), and you must start and end in the same one
I think you can already start to see how booking this award trip can become very complicated. In order to calculate total flying distances, I used a website called the Great Circle Mapper. To see whether or not an award flight was available, I used the United Airlines search engine. The United search engine is the best way to search for Star Alliance award tickets.
To clarify, I was not necessarily booking flights on United but just used their search engine to see if a flight was available. Once I found a few flights I liked, I would write down the date, departure time, and flight number and put it on a spreadsheet.
After two months of research and planning, I was finally ready to book my award ticket. I transferred my points, called an ANA agent (you can only book the award over the phone), told the agents my desired flights and departure dates, and booked my ticket.
Our final itinerary is as follows:
Toronto - Copenhagen (3,907 miles, 1 stopover, 1 segment)
Vienna - Bangkok (5,256 miles, 1 stopover, 1 segment, 1 ground transfer)
Bangkok - Singapore (875 miles, 1 stopover, 1 segment)
Singapore - Sydney (3,908 miles, 1 stopover, 1 segment)
Taipei - Vancouver (5,971 miles, 1 stopover, 1 segment, 1 ground transfer)
In total, we have 5 segments and 2 ground transfers on our trip. With the ground transfers, I also had to figure out how to get from Copenhagen to Vienna (easy - we are also going to Spain and Switzerland) and from Sydney to Taipei (a little harder; I booked a different flight with points).
Our total mileage tallied up to 19,917 miles. Since we wanted to fly in business class, 115,000 points were required per person.
There was also a $240 award ticketing fee per person I had to pay, which was on the lower end. This fee changes significantly based on which airlines you choose to fly.
Obviously you do not need to make your trip this complicated, but based on where my family was located we had to visit quite a few locations.
Once I booked this ticket, I felt a combination of satisfaction and relief. I would categorize this award as an advanced redemption, and is certainly not for the faint of heart!
Again though, you really cannot beat the value here. For 115,000 points, my wife and I will get to fly around the world in business class! In some award programs, just flying to Europe and back in business class would cost 110,000 points!.
If I had bought our tickets with cash, it would have been approximately $8,200 per person! This means that I received an incredible 14 cents per American Express point, much higher than my regular 1.7 cent redemption value!
Go Forth with Points!
So there you have it, a very real illustration of how points and miles can work in your favor! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to send me an email or drop a comment.
If you are interested in an around the world trip for a honeymoon or post-residency, I do have an award service available for consultation!