How I am using Credit Card Rewards Points and Airline Miles to Earn my ‘Round The World Award ticket
I have previously discussed why I use the Starwoods American Express as my primary credit card, how I’ve developed a reward strategy, how I’ve developed a secondary strategy for earning additional miles and points, and finally, I even discussed an opportunity for you to jump start points earning by discussing ordering coins from the U.S. mint. The point of these articles has been to discuss how I am using credit card points and airline miles to get an around the world trip (RTW) award ticket in business class.
I have news…I’m back to discuss an improvement to my overall strategy of getting a RTW business class award ticket with miles and credit card points. Even though my trip is still over 2 years away, I’ve been thinking about ways to best break up the trip and how to best use my miles and points to make this a possibility. One thing that I’ve been contemplating a lot about recently is the fact that staying with one airline or one alliance for the entire award ticket might not be the best idea.
The old way of Thinking and Why it Doesn’t Work
My original thinking for the RTW award ticket was to create a main route or trunk route for the award ticket itself. I would use miles from one program to get the award ticket and call it a day. This would allow me to focus my points earnings in a single awards program. My award ticket would cover this trunk route. If I wanted to do any other flying, my idea was to purchase discount airfare from places like Air Asia, Virgin Blue, or JetStar. My trunk route was going to look something like this at one point –> MSP – SYD – HKG – BKK – JNB – CAI – AMS – MSP.
First, RTW award tickets on airlines like Delta are notoriously filled with mileage restrictions, stop over limits, and back tracking restrictions. Agent interpretation of these restrictions vary and some agents will let you backtrack as long as it is not a stop over and is necessary to get to your next destination. Additionally, since Delta has limited coverage in the South Pacific weird routes from partner airliners might be in order. You ask why this matters? Well, because for e-tickets or other carriers that do not issue paper tickets, a maximum of 16 segments is allowed for the ticket. This is due to a system limitation of the airline’s ticket system. Now, American Airlines and its Oneworld partners still have the ability to issue paper tickets for complex itineraries. My guess is that they would prefer to e-ticket where possible.
The next issue I face when going with one airline or alliance in booking this award ticket is the issue of award availability. Since I was planning on using Delta/Northwest miles, I would have to hope I could plan my travel on my trunk route on days where there is award availability. This removes some flexibility from my travel schedule especially if there would only be availability on a certain day of the week in a given month.
My final issue with sticking with a single airline (in my case Delta/Northwest) was that the mileage requirements for the round the world trip have increased! It used to be an economy class ticket was 160,000 miles, business class – 220,000, and first class was 280,000 miles. Looking at the award chart now, economy class is now 180,000 miles, business class – 280,000 miles, and first class, a whooping, 340,000 miles! To give you an idea of the value of the business class award at the 220,00 mile level – I flew a business class award ticket to New Zealand for 150,000 miles with a routing of HNL – ICN (no stop over) – AKL and back. For another 70,000 miles, I could have flown around the world and stopped in 6 different places. This is the type of devaluation Delta has done to their program and why I can’t rely on earning points in a single program to earn the ticket.
How the Strategy Has Evolved…
Instead of relying on a single program to earn points in, I’ve adopted rewards programs like Starwoods and American Express Membership Rewards that allow you to transfer those points to multiple airlines. Certain airlines like LAN Airlines and Air Canada’s Aeroplan have generous rewards if you use Starwoods points or Membership Rewards points.
Another improvement of my strategy is the announcement of one way award tickets for half the round trip price in miles from American Airlines. I previously discussed American’s announcement here. I’m going to start collecting American Airlines AA miles. I should have 60,000 miles by the end of August by signing up for bonus offers associated with credit cards. I will provide more perspective on earning AA miles through credit cards in a different post.
The Newest Weapon…
Recently, I’ve started studying award charts from the major airlines. The first thing you will notice is how vastly different these charts are. One carrier might require 30,000 miles one way to get a business class ticket to South America, while another carrier would require more miles to get that same business class ticket. This has led me to conclude that it will be better to leverage my SPG and Membership rewards points in those programs with more favorable award charts. This gives me some what more flexibility in the sense it should cost me less points, but I will definitely have to plan the route accordingly especially if I am using 3 to 4 different carriers on different tickets. The main disadvantage is that this adds a little more complexity to the travel, but it allows me to truly maximize my rewards points for premium class travel. It should let me also stay in the place I want to be in longer as well giving me more flexibility.
Stay tuned for my upcoming post regarding my point balances today and if I could take an around the world trip strictly with the points I have right now.