How we maximized our status miles to book the world's cheapest round-the-world flights.
It's taken a lot of research on websites like FlyerTalk - but we've learned how to use the fine print in frequent flyer program policy to our advantage. We live in Ottawa, making Australia about half way around the world for us. Given that it's just about the same distance no matter which way we fly, the Aeroplan program rules allow us to essentially fly to Australia going east and go home by flying west. There are a few provisos to that though, so for full rules, check out Aeroplan, look on the FlyerTalk forums, or check your own frequent flyer program website. The rules of our program also allow for two stopovers of our choosing as long as it's on an established flight path. Rarotonga, Auckland, Tokyo, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Los Angeles - they all fit the bill.
The program rules also allow you some flexibility with airport layovers. So long as you make your connecting flight in under 24 hours, it's not considered a proper stopover, just an airport layover. You are not compelled to take the very next available flight to your destination. This allows you to enjoy short visits of up to 23 1/2 hours along the way. Imagine the many ways to enjoy nearly 24 hours in New York City, Singapore, Munich, Jakarta, and more!
If you've been following along, you've grasped much more quickly than us that you can turn these loopholes into one heck of a trip! For the amount of points it takes to get to Australia, you can not only enjoy as much time as you want 'down under', but you can have a week at each of your chosen official stopovers (and they can be back to back, one before your destination, one after, it doesn't matter) and every time your plane touches down you can get off and spend nearly 24 hours in town before taking the next plane onto your destination.
After a lot of research, examining other successful routes and taking into consideration many tips and suggestions, we settled on our route. Newark (New York City) 12 hours, Brussels (5 days as stopover #1, with our own side trip to Paris) Istanbul (13 hours) Bangkok (7 days as stopover #2 with our own side trip to Myanmar), Singapore (23 hours), Sydney (our main destination where we'll stay for 8 days), San Francisco (23 hours) and - we can't forget! - 2 hours in the Chicago airport! We had originally hoped to make our stopovers in Asia and in the South Pacific, but we weren't seeing any published rewards routes that went through Rarotonga during our desired timeline.
We researched the exact routes and flights we wanted. We chose airports and airlines within our alliance that minimized "scam charges" - extreme surcharges for airport improvement fees, outrageous fuel surcharges on certain airlines, and the like. For instance, we took care to avoid expensive airports like Pearson and Heathrow and avoided using Air Canada when flying to Europe. Overall, we paid approximately $350 each in fees ($320 in taxes, a $30 phone booking charge - necessary for a complicated route), an excellent deal when you consider how many flights we're taking. But to get the route and savings we desired we had to make some compromises. We are flying through Newark airport, which consistently ranks among the worst in the United States for delays. And we're taking two very long flights on United, which receives mixed reviews.
A Wee Splurge
While we did make the extravagant upgrade to economy plus on our overnight flight from Newark to Brussels (1 of us was seated there for free (unknown reason), so we paid the fee to get us seated together), for the rest of our flights we are flying in bare bones economy. In order to make the most of our travels, we used Seat Guru to choose the best possible seats. When it made sense, we chose seats near the front of the plane so we can exit as easily and quickly as possible. We avoided seats that offered more leg room (for instance, at emergency exits) if it limited storage or armrest movements. When possible, we chose configurations of two seats so we could of course sit next to each other but also sleep and slump, get up and move around, without bothering a third person.
Of course, you don't have to go literally around the world to enjoy this kind of trip. People have used their points to fly to places in Asia and/or Europe and still take advantage of the two stopovers. There was just something about circumnavigating the globe that greatly appealed to us and, with a little luck, going in a continuous circle will help us with jet lag.
Part 2: The Start of Our Accommodation Search for Bruges, Belgium, and getting value for our time and money.
Part 3: Slow Travel on a Fast Trip - How you can make sure you're actually getting a vacation.
Part 4: Our Proud New Partnership - We'll be travelling in style with Tilley Endurables