Recently, my husband and I started talking about our travel plans for summer 2019. We’ve always wanted to go to Japan and my husband wanted to go to a couple of conferences in Europe, so we started thinking about how we can combine all these destinations into one trip. Then I had an idea. Instead of booking separate trips from the U.S. to Asia and Europe, we could potentialy save points by booking an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Around-the-World ticket.
Japan’s largest airline offers a round-the-world mileage redemption that is one of the best deals out there, and can be applied on any airline in the global Star Alliance partnership. If I booked separately, the Japan trip would have cost 90,000 ANA Mileage Club Miles in business class. The US to Europe trip would have been 88,000 ANA miles, 110,000 Aeroplan miles or 120,000 United MileagePlus miles. Tokyo to Munich or Vienna would have cost 90,000 ANA miles. That doesn’t include all the other “side” trips we were able to add to the ANA Round-the-World ticket.
Using the around-the-world ticket, it’s possible to book multiple segments on Star Alliance carriers with multiple stopovers for one flat “price”. The exact amount of miles needed will depend on the total length of your trip. You can read all about the mechanics of booking ANA’s Round-the-World ticket (RTW), the rules and restrictions here, but for this post I’ll share my experience finding and booking my RTW ticket.
Finding Award Availability to Japan and Korea
The trip planning started with finding flights to Tokyo, Japan. For this trip, I used United’s Award Search tool to find open seats. ANA’s website also shows open award seats on Star Alliance partners, but I find United’s site easier to use, and you don’t even need to log-in to use the search.
The first flight I wanted to book was an ANA flight from Chicago to Tokyo on May 21 (ignore the amount of United MileagePlus miles needed, we are just looking for availability). I was looking for award space in business for the long transpacific flight.
If you live near a secondary airport, like me, it might be hard to find award space from your home airport to a major international destination. I always start my search by looking at major international gateways like Newark or Chicago. With the ANA Boeing 777-300ER used on this route it is the most comfortable way to get from the U.S. to Japan in business class on this itinerary.
We will be taking trains to get around Japan and I plan on purchasing Japan Rail Pass. Eventually, we will make our way down to Okinawa and spend a couple of days enjoying the island life. Fortunately, ANA allows us to fly out of a different airport in the same country, so there was no need to backtrack to Tokyo to catch our onward flight.
Okinawa, Japan is not the most popular tourist destination. But I’ve read great things about the island and figured a few days there would be a nice break from all the cities we are going to visit on this trip. If you have suggestions on where to stay, what to see and do on Okinawa, let me know in the comments.
And since we are already going to be in Asia, why not go to Seoul, Korea for a few days? I found a direct flight from Okinawa to Seoul on Asiana Airlines in business class.
Finding Award Availability to Turkey and Israel
Once in Asia, completing an ANA round-the-world ticket is a bit like deciding what you are going to eat at a really good all you can eat buffet. Once I started planning the trip, I wanted to add more and more stops to my itinerary. There are so many possibilities! Originally, the plan was to travel from Asia to Europe. But given that we weren’t paying any additional miles to add stops, I started thinking about other countries we could visit without going too far out of the way? A light bulb went off – Israel!
I started looking at my options on Star Alliance carriers and the most direct route from Seoul to Tel Aviv is on Turkish Airlines.
The itinerary would have required a long layover in Istanbul, so why not make it into another stopover instead? Finding award availability for the direct Seoul to Istanbul flight was fairly easy, I saw availability on almost every date I checked.
Turkish Airlines operates multiple direct flights each day between Istanbul and Tel Aviv, so finding award space to Tel Aviv was not a problem. Booked separately, as you can see from the screenshot below, this award alone would have cost 50,000 United miles for a short two-hour flight. Booked as part of RTW ticket, I only had to pay taxes.
Finding Award Availability to and From Europe
My husband has to be in Europe on certain dates so he won’t be going to Turkey and Israel with me. Asiana has direct Seoul to Frankfurt daily flight. The surcharges for this flight are not bad- $125 for business class.
For the last part of his trip, returning to the U.S., he’ll be flying with LOT Polish Airlines. LOT had good award space availability for transatlantic flights and had the lowest surcharge fares added to award tickets, which matters a lot when booking with ANA (they pass along airline surcharges).
After spending a few days in Israel I will be reuniting with my husband in Munich, Germany. In order to save on surcharges, I decided to book my Tel Aviv to Munich flights on Turkish Airlines with a connection in Istanbul. My other options were Austrian and Lufthansa but both had much higher surcharges and longer layovers. Availability for my dates was wide open on Turkish Airlines.
I booked my return flight to the US on a combination of Lufthansa (Munich to Hamburg) and United (Hamburg – Newark -Cleveland) flights. I decided on United for the transatlantic portion because it offered the best connections and had the lowest surcharges.
Tips to Help You Book an ANA Round-the-World Ticket
For the detailed step by step process of booking ANA round-the-world ticket, click here. Here are a few things I learned from my experience with ANA, hopefully they’ll be helpful to you if you decide to book your own RTW ticket.
Technically, ANA’s call center is open 24 hours. However the US call center is only open till 9 pm Eastern. After 9 pm the calls are routed to ANA’s call centers in Japan. ANA has some of the best, if not the best, phone reps I’ve ever encountered.
When we finally finalized our itinerary and were ready to book, Japan was struck by typhoon Jebi. The call centers remained open and the customer service was still top notch. However, some of their systems were down and they weren’t able to tell us the exact amount of taxes when we booked the flights. Not a big deal, they called us about 24 hours later with the exact amount.
I learned something interesting from an ANA representative about the routing permitted on an around the world ticket. The rules of around the world tickets state that you can either go east or west, however, that only applies to travel between continents. Once you are on any given continent, you can traverse it in any direction and go back and forth. For example, returning back to the U.S., I can fly into Atlanta, then fly to Los Angeles, then fly back east to Cleveland etc. As long as I comply with other routing rules, I can cross a continent several times on one ticket.
I can’t emphasize this enough, when booking award travel it’s important to have some flexibility. Especially if you are booking a complex around the world ticket. By the time we were ready to book, Chicago to Tokyo business class award availability disappeared. This was supposed to be the first leg of our trip and I really wanted to try ANA business class. However, we were able to find award space from Cleveland (my home airport) to Tokyo via Toronto on Air Canada, also in business.
In the end it worked out even better. I was going to buy a separate Cleveland-Chicago ticket but now we have everything on the same itinerary. I’ll have to try ANA’s premium cabin some other time!
Four weeks after we booked the tickets, I got an email from ANA about a schedule change. United cancelled the Hamburg to Newark flight (that’s how I was going to get back to the US) and I had to find another way to get myself across the Atlantic. After looking on United.com for alternatives I called ANA to finalize my itinerary. The best we could find was Munich – Vienna – Newark – Cleveland, all in business except for the last segment. I was afraid that because Munich – Vienna – Newark flights were going to be on Austrian, I would have to pay more in taxes. However, ANA rep assured me that because this was an involuntary change, I didn’t have to pay anything extra.
The Final Product
Here’s what my trip looks like right now. The total distance ended up being 19,626 miles. I used 115,000 ANA miles transferred from American Express and paid $754 in taxes. You can earn American Express Membership Rewards points by opening one or more of these cards: The Platinum Card from American Express, The American Express Gold Card and The Business Platinum and Business Gold Cards from American Express OPEN.
Here’s what my husband’s itinerary looks like. The total distance is 19,036 miles and we paid $648 in taxes. Except for US connections, everything else is in business class. Ironically, finding saver award space on United domestic flights was the hardest part!
Both of our itineraries ended up being just under 20,000 miles, the cut off for 115,000 ANA Mileage Club miles redemption. You can use Great Circle Mapper to estimate your total mileage.
Final Thoughts on Booking ANA Round-the-World Ticket
Before I started looking for flights I was expecting a lot more complexity. Finding award space for intra Asian and Asia to Europe flights was a lot easier than I expected, there is quite a bit of award space available. I am sure that looking for availability 8 months out helped a lot.
I was trying to avoid booking on carriers with the highest surcharges. You can use ITA Matrix to estimate taxes on any given segment. We are flying from Okinawa to Seoul on Asiana which has pretty high surcharges but it’s a direct flight and I am OK with paying a bit more. Some European carriers, such as Austrian and Lufthansa have high surcharges, so I was trying to avoid these and find award space on LOT Polish Airlines and United (much lower fees).
One of the things I love the most about travel rewards is the fact that booking these complex award itineraries doesn’t always have to be all about aspirational trips. In our case we combined aspirational redemption (Japan and Korea) with work (Europe) and family visits (Israel and Canada). Having a good stash of transferable currency, like American Express Membership Rewards points, allows you the flexibility to tailor your travel to your needs.
If booking an around the world ticket sounds too time consuming, rewards experts like Points Pros or Juicy Miles are a good option.
Now the fun part, looking for hotels, planning activities and sightseeing. Please share in the comments your recommendations for must-do things in Japan, Seoul and Istanbul!