It’s Still Possible to Fly a 747 Jumbo Jet Around-the-World, But Hurry

If you lack royal blood but have a regal itch to scratch, you can always treat yourself to a trip around the globe with the Queen of the Skies. Not long ago, it would be inconceivable to take a trip around the world without setting foot on Boeing’s monarchical jumbo jet, the 747. Those days are fading fast.

But for now, it’s still possible to string together a point-to-point itinerary circumnavigating the earth in exclusively royal fashion. If you’re willing to buy one-way tickets and parse alliances, you may have more options. For those looking to cash in on an around-the-world ticket, here are your last few remaining options.

For longer itineraries it might make sense to take advantage of around-the-world itinerary options, either in cash, or using an around-the-world award ticket.

In lieu of an around-the-world award, some airlines have lax routing rules for regular award tickets, meaning it may be possible to book the European portion of this journey as a connecting flight en-route to Asia.

If you need help finding award space or planning an around the world 747 trip, Juicy Miles can help find award space on 747 aircraft.

Oneworld: British Airways and Qantas

The last two Oneworld carriers to fly Boeing 747s are British Airways and Qantas. Longtime jumbo-jet stalwart Cathay Pacific took its last 747-400 out of service several years ago. The days when American Airlines, Iberia and JAL boasted a Queenly fleet of jumbos are but a distant memory.

Given that no Oneworld carriers have orders for new 747-8 jets, this may be the most endangered routing of the bunch.

Beginning in New York City, you can snag a place on the most royal of routes, British Airways’ transatlantic 747-400 service to London Heathrow. London just wouldn’t be London without those noble hump-nose beauties soaring in overhead.

The 747-400 has long been — and for now still is — the crown jewel of the British Airways fleet. God save the Queen.

Hello!? British Airways!? You can’t be British without a Queen. Source: British Airways.

British Airways’ 747 is equipped with four cabins, World Traveller (economy), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), Club World (business) and First Class (enough said).

Club World  is generally one of the least popular business class seats, spread across the 747 in a cramped 2-4-2 yin-yang configuration, but British Airways onboard service is highly regarded. The small touches, like ceiling lamps, are just splendid.

There are a lot of seats in the British Airways One World business class cabin, shown here on a 777 (same seat and configuration).

From London this monarchy moves south, to Johannesburg, for a rendezvous with the commonwealth. Australian flagship carrier Qantas takes over from here, onward to Sydney. Down under, this bird is endangered. Qantas’ fleet of 747-400s is holding steady at 11, for now, but the airline has plans to replace the Queen with diminutive 787 Dreamliners.

For those in business class, the Aussie switch might afford a refreshing change of hard product. Qantas offers a more spacious 2-3-2 layout in the main business class cabin and a 2-2 layout up front and in the hump. While these aren’t the latest and greatest in business class design, Lucky at One Mile at a Time called the Qantas seats excellent, and lauded their heavy padding.

 

Qantas calls its business class seats “Skybeds.” Despite a side-by-side configuration, the seats have garnered rave reviews for sleeping comfort and space.

The Australian flagship carrier does not offer a first class cabin on its 747s, however, so that brand of luxury ends in Johannesburg on this route.

Qantas’ once-staple SYD-LAX-JFK  747 flight has been replaced by a Brisbane to LAX to JFK flight. The Sydney to Los Angeles flight is now serviced by an A380. That means repositioning to Brisbane for a regal return to the states.

For the sake of purity, this can be done using the New South Wales Train Link sleeper car XPT service between Sydney and Brisbane. For cheaters, Qantas flies a 737 between the two cities in about one hour (hey, it’s only one number off).

With Qantas 747 retirements encroaching, time is running out on this gambit.

Ride the hump, while riding in the hump of a 747. Source: Great Circle Mapper.

Booking with points and miles

There are few good options to book a traditional round-the-world award with Oneworld partners, but there are some distance-based awards that can be used instead.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles is a Starwood Preferred Guest, American Express and Citi ThankYou transfer partner. The above itinerary uses up just over 25,000 miles, putting it in the second highest award chart bracket. This award would cost 130,000 miles in economy, 190,000 in business or 275,000 in first.

British Airways (Chase, AMEX, Starwood transfer partner) and Iberia also offers distance based awards, though they no longer publish award charts. Tip: British Airways Avios can be transferred online to Iberia, which offers the same mileage redemptions, but charges less in fees and taxes.

Star Alliance: China Airlines, Lufthansa and United (don’t blink)

There are three airlines in Star Alliance still operating Boeing 747s on long-haul flights. Don’t blink, United will ground their last Queens no later than October.

As of today it’s still possible to book an around the world itinerary that includes segments a United 747. Begin your journey in San Francisco. Hop aboard a United 747 to Frankfurt, where you can continue on to either Beijing or Tokyo on one of Lufthansa’s brand new 747-8i aircraft. These aircraft feature the same carbon wings and engine enhancements as the 787 Dreamliner, and should be in service for many years to come.

Lufthansa Business Class onboard the 747-8. The A350 will feat…

Lufthansa Business Class onboard the 747-8.

From Frankfurt, Lufthansa gets you to Beijing, and Air China gets you to Shanghai on its new 747-8 outfit. From there, United will bring you home, at least until October.

Thai Airways still operates 13 747-400s, but none of the airline’s current 747 routes connect at both ends with other 747 routes operated by Star Alliance carriers.

Once United retires it’s 747 fleet, this routing will have to begin and end in New York City, where Lufthansa and Air China both offer flights on 747-8 aircraft.

Booking with points and miles

The cheapest Star Alliance around-the-world award option is Singapore Airlines, which charges 180,000 miles in economy, 240,000 miles in business and 360,000 miles in first. Aeroplan offers round-the-world awards for 200,000 miles economy, 300,000 miles business and 400,000 miles first.

These are generally only a good option if you plan to fly more than three segments. United still offers around the world awards, but they are excessively priced. It would be cheaper in the case of these itineraries to book the legs separately.

SkyTeam: Delta, KLM and Korean Air Lines 

Like United, Delta plans to retire its 747 aircraft by the end of 2017. The Atlanta-based carrier has replaced the Queen of the Skies with its new A350 planes on flights between Detroit and Seoul (ICN) starting on the last day of October.

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to fly around the world on a Delta 747 without changing cities in the United States. All service between KLM’s Amsterdam hub and Delta’s last 747 hub in Detroit is now on A330 aircraft. With both KLM and Korean operating a decent fleet of 747-8i jumbos, there should be at least one limited around-the-world itinerary available for the forseeable future.

Start this journey in New York City, where KLM will ferry you across the pond in its newest 747.

KLM’s 747’s feature the timeless B/E Aerospace Diamond business class seats, the same diagonal seats used on Air China’s 747-8i and all of the former Continental Airlines widebody jets now flown by United. It’s not the most extravagant seat, generally unremarkable, but makes for a comfotable wide in the world’s most comfortable airliner. KLM does not offer a first class cabin.

B/E Diamond seating on the upper deck of a KLM 747-400.

The second leg, an overnight from Amsterdam to Seoul, is also on a KLM 747.

From Seoul, passengers can choose from Korean Air’s 747-8, featuring perhaps the most decked out 747 cabin currently flying, or Delta’s 747 service to Detroit.

Korean’s three-class cabins feature semi-enclosed suites in business class and a spacious first class cabin, while Delta offers its most popular and roomy Delta One business class cabin in the nose and upper deck of the 747-400.

 

The 747-400 features Delta’s best business class seat… at least until the Delta One suites begin service on the A350 this October. Source: Delta Air Lines.

To complete this journey without cheating, it’s probably easiest to take the Chicago flight, then return to New York City on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited sleeper car train. Finding a bus route from Detroit can be a bit more complicated.

B0oking with points and miles

The most affordable SkyTeam around-the-world award offer is through Korean SkyPass, a Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner. Around-the-world awards on Korean cost 140,000 miles in economy class and 220,000 miles in business class.

 

Comments

    • Without an alliance it’s not possible to get around the world. There is no 747 to connect you the other way around the world on El Al or otherwise. You need both a transatlantic and transpacific carrier to complete an around the world itinerary.

        • The only option I can think of in this case would be El Al from JFK to Tel Aviv, to Bangkok, Thai from Bangkok to Seoul and Korean back to JFK.

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