How and Why I Planned My RTW Trip

First Class on Etihad Airlines A380

You saw in my previous post that my RTW itinerary is Chicago – Hong Kong – Dubai – Abu Dhabi – London – Dublin – Dallas.

This is undoubtedly the most random but interesting itinerary that I’ve ever cobbled together. People have been asking my how and why I selected those cities.

A Christmas Present to Myself?  Sure!

It all started on Christmas 2014, the day of the infamous Etihad Airlines Christmas mistake fare.

I woke up early and, as usual, I checked my phone, with a quick look at e-mail, Facebook, and twitter. Yes, I am one of those people. There were lots and lots of posts about some amazing fares from the US to Abu Dhabi for only $187 round trip. At first I ignored the information.

This was a Christmas that I had decided to stay home, and there are no little kids at home, so there wasn’t much activity going on in the morning. Sometime midmorning, I went online and began reading more. People were bragging about the fare still being around, and — more importantly — that they were able to book itineraries that included stops in Paris or Manchester or Dublin for just slightly over $200. Things began to sound more interesting to me.

Earlier in 2014, I had obtained dual citizenship with Ireland (grandparents born there.) Since then, I wanted to make a return visit to the Emerald Isle. The idea of going to Ireland, with a “side trip” to the middle east for just under $200 sounded like an ideal Christmas present to myself. Sure it was in coach class, and required getting to Chicago. But still. A deal is a deal, right?

So I found an itinerary that had stops in Dublin both ways. Cost $237. My plan was to fly to Abu Dhabi, visit the UAE for 4-5 days, fly back to Dublin and not continue. Then I could find a return flight from Dublin to my home using frequent flier miles. I booked a one way return on American Airlines in business class for 50,000 miles.

Etihad Airlines Throws A Monkey Wrench Into the Deal

All was looking great until Etihad airlines mixed things up. To its credit, Etihad quickly announced that it would honor what was clearly a mistake fare. But then they decided to minimize their costs by changing itineraries to eliminate stops (which involved codeshares on American Airlines which cost Etihad more money), and put people all on nonstop Etihad flights. So my nice Irish plan turned into two 14-15 hour nonstop flights in 10 across coach seating. Ouch.

By that time, I had done lots of research about Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and was looking forward to visiting. So I started looking at other options.

Amazing Alaska to the Rescue

Enter the fabulous Alaska Airlines mileage program. Alaska has great partners, including Cathay Pacific Airlines. With 70,000 Alaska airlines miles, you can book an amazing FIRST CLASS trip to Hong Kong and beyond, including to Dubai. And include a stopover in Hong Kong. With some frequent searches I located a First Class seat from Chicago to Hong Kong, and then on to Dubai in business. So I booked it.

That got me from Chicago to Hong Kong and Dubai, and the AA award had me getting home from Dublin. So the final step was getting from Dubai or Abu Dhabi (just 45 minutes by car from Dubai) to Dublin.

Etihad First Class Apartment

The “final” decision was made easier after reading about the ultra luxurious Etihad First Class “Apartment” on its A380 which was available from Abu Dhabi to London for just 40,000 American Airlines miles. Then just 9000 Avios points for a first class short flight from London to Dublin. Add in great Club Carlson hotel availability in Dubai, London, and Dublin – and doing the trip was a no brainer.

Lessons Learned

  • Booking a mistake fare is like drunk booking.  Sounds like so much fun when you are “under the influence” – crazy travel geeks endlessly posting about their great deals on www.flyertalk.com somehow make you want to jump in on the deal.  Later, you could end up signed up for 30+ hours in coach, and saying “what was I thinking?”
  • Sometimes even when you do crazy things, the end result can be good.
  • Having frequent flier miles in a variety of airline programs gives you more flexibility (duh).

    Etihad Airlines A380 First Class Apartment

Around the World. 21,333 Miles. $258 plus points.

Coming soon on my Facebook Page and on this website — my next adventure.

Around the world. Premium class (mostly). 22 days. $258 paid for airline fares and hotels.

Flying Around the World. 21,333 miles
Flying Around the World. 21,333 miles

Itinerary:

Chicago- Hong Kong – Dubai – Abu Dhabi – London – Dublin – Dallas

How?

Tallahassee to Chicago:
Delta Airlines, economy class, 12,500 Delta miles and $5.60 taxes

In Chicago:
Hyatt Centric the Loop. 3 free nights. 2 are free anniversary award nights for using the Hyatt Visa credit card. 3rd night is 15,000 Hyatt points.

Chicago to Hong Kong:
Cathay Pacific First Class, 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles and $73.70 taxes and fees (this amount also includes the onward ticket to Dubai)

In Hong Kong:
Intercontinental Hong Kong. 3 nights. 2 free nights based on IHG points. 3rd night paid with cash and points at $70.00

Hong Kong to Dubai:
Cathay Pacific Business Class (included in the cost of the previous ticket)

In Dubai:
Park Inn by Radisson at Emirates Mall. 5 free nights using Club Carlson points

Abu Dhabi to London:
Etihad First Class (featuring its amazing A380 First Class “Apartment”), 40,000 American Airlines miles and $21.80 in taxes.

In London:
Radisson Blue Edwardian Grafton Hotel. 4 free nights using Club Carlson points.

London to Dublin:
British Airways First Class, 9000 Avios (BA) points and $40.00 fees.

In Dublin:
Radisson Blu Royal Hotel. 4 free nights using Club Carlson points.

Dublin to Dallas:
American Airlines Business class via Chicago, 50,000 AA miles plus $46.70 in taxes and fees (which also covers the final leg back to Tallahassee

In Dallas. Visiting family.

Dallas to Tallahassee:
American Airlines coach class (no premium class on the regional jet). Cost included in the previous ticket.

 

The Travel Rewards Game: A few basics.

Most of my friends know that I travel a lot. But I don’t actually spend tons of money on travel, because I very rarely pay anything close to full price on airfare. And I often get hotel stays free or at very low cost. How? I have gotten hooked on a little hobby (or game) that gets me to many of the places I want to go, in premium class cabins, for little money. I collect literally millions rewards points and miles so that I can use them to fly and stay around the world.

I get lots of questions about how? Why? What’s the best way? Etc. So, this blog is an evolving attempt to collect some of the info I’ve discovered over the years. All of the information I have acquired, and much more is easily available by reading various travel blogs that cover the subject in much more detail.

First, I don’t fly on paid tickets very often — so that’s not how I earn miles and points. Virtually all of my rewards come from either credit card sign up bonuses and/or strategic use of credit cards to pay my everyday expenses.

image
Venice. Get there from the US with just a credit card application.

What are the benefits, realistically?
A good credit card signup offer will get you 50,000 or more miles in some frequent flier or hotel loyalty program, usually with no fee for the first year. That’s in addition to the 1 point per dollar that you actually use the card to spend (or more, depending on the card). The 50,000 bonus alone is usually enough to get you:
• Two domestic round trip coach tickets (25,000 miles each), or
• One round trip first class domestic ticket, or
• in most cases a one way business class ticket to Europe.
• Round trip coach tickets to Europe are about 40-70 thousand points, depending on the airline and the time of year.
Apply for 10-12 cards over the course of a year, and you should end up with half a million points

Sure, but we know there’s no free lunch. What does it cost?
Absolutely, there is a cost, but if you play correctly, it is low compared to the cost of buying tickets – especially if you want to go long distances, or want to get a business or first class ticket.

• Credit cards generally have annual fees — but in MANY cases, they are waived for the first year. So you get the card, get the points and then cancel the card before the fee is due.

• When you “redeem” the mileage (AKA — here is a mileage geek term of art: “burn the miles”), there will be some taxes and fees. The tickets are not completely free. The costs vary depending on the airline. As examples, I have a business class round trip to Asia using American miles, and the fee came to about $40. Some airlines have higher fees and taxes, and I have sometimes paid $75-$140 for a business class trip to Europe. There are some airlines to avoid in order to avoid the highest fees (British Airways, I’m looking at you). You can get all of the info, and more, on line.

HOW TO GET STARTED

  1. I suggest you start slow to get used to the game, and see if you like it. Start with 1 to 3 applications, wait at least 3 months and see how things are going.
  • Suggested beginning strategy:
    • Important – where do you want to go? That will help you decide what cards you want to apply for.
    • Other factors to consider –
      • what is the minimum spend requirement for each card you are considering? Don’t sign up for more than you can plan on spending.
      • Are there any special limited time offers that are good? From time to time most of the cards have a special limited time offer that gives more points, or some other special deal that makes it worth considering that card.  READ THE BLOGS to get this info.
    • Start by getting one card each from the three major banks (Chase, Citi, Amex)
      • Consider an American Airlines card from Citi
      • Definitely get a flexible points card (Chase Sapphire or an Amex card that gives you membership reward points, depending on who has the best offer)

If you really get into the “game”, you will be applying for a lot of credit cards.  I average 10-12 applications a year. But it took me several years to get comfortable enough to do that.  I really suggest starting with about 3 cards to see if you like it, if you want to take the time needed, etc.

OMG!!  What About My Credit Score??

As long as you do it correctly, this will NOT adversely impact your credit score.  In fact, when you play correctly, your score usually goes up. (mine has)

Remember how your credit score is calculated:

35% of your score — payment history  (pay on time all the time, and this will be great)
30% of your score –your credit utilization (DON’T USE all the credit you have — keep your usage rate low to beef up your score)
15% of your score  — your credit history
10% of your score-the types of credit you use (banks prefer to see a variety, such as credit cards, mortgages, car payments — all made on time)
10% of your score–requests for new credit (This is the only place where applying for a lot of cards causes you to lose a few points.  BUT, by getting more credit (and not actually using it all), your payment history and credit utilization rates will go up)  As a result, many people (including myself) find that after a short period of time, your credit score rises even with multiple credit applications.

The key is to always always always make your payments on time, and keep your utilization rate low.

 

 

 

Business Class to Europe and Africa for $177 plus miles

A week ago I returned from one of the best trips I’ve ever done – both in terms of total enjoyment, and in terms of most “bang for the buck” out of frequent flier miles.

I visited Europe and South Africa. I flew in business class on American, and on Qatar (amazing product, btw). I paid $177 in taxes and fees, and used 110,000 USAirways miles.

map Europe and South Africa

I flew a total of 25,158 miles — about 250 miles MORE than the circumference of the earth. And I did it in comfort in business class seats that convert to lie flat beds on all the longest legs (including a 15 1/2 hour flight from Doha, Qatar to Miami)

The bad news is that with the merger of USAirways and American, the USAirways Dividend Miles program no longer exists. That award to South Africa was a particular “Sweet spot” in the USAir program that has not carried over to American. So getting to South Africa now would cost more miles — 150,000 using an American Airlines award.

But this is still a great example of what is possible using frequent flier miles wisely.