A few weeks ago I started a trip round the world flying in Business Class the entire way. This includes stops in Montreal, Paris, Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and San Diego. You want to know the best part? I paid a total of $670 for the entire ticket. This would normally cost at least $10,000.
How did I do this? I used reward points to book a trip that would otherwise be unaffordable. In this case, I converted American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points into 115,000 All Nippon Airways (ANA) reward miles, which was enough to fly round the world in Business Class. This really isn’t that many American Express and SPG points. With a little effort, pretty much anyone can do the exact same thing I did.
ANA Round the World Award, a Gold Mine Found
Prior to this year, I’d flown Business Class twice my entire life. The first time was from Atlanta to Raleigh on AirTran, which was basically the shittiest Business Class possible at the time. The second time was from Chicago to San Diego on United, which currently holds the crown for shittiest Business Class since AirTran was acquired by Southwest. I’m not complaining, I’d just always wanted to get that premium experience. You know, the works. A lie flat seat, 5 star food, unlimited champagne, and my own personal space.
So when I started planning a trip round the world a few months back, flying Business Class was one of my goals. I had a fair amount of points across multiple programs, but wasn’t sure if I had enough to fly Business Class. In particular, I had a bunch of American Express and Starwood Preferred points, which can be transferred to a few different airline reward programs.
I spent a lot of time researching which program would give me the most value and came across All Nippon Airways’ round the world award chart. This is hidden deep within their maze of a website. Let me be clear, this is the best airline award I’ve ever come across. I actually think few people even know this award exists, even experienced travel hackers.
ANA Round the World Reward Chart
When I first looked at this award chart, I honestly wasn’t even sure if it was a good deal or not. I didn’t really know how many miles it took to go round the world. I ran a few simple routes using Web Flyer’s tool and realized you could do a basic round the world trip starting at ~18,000 miles (distance flown). I was instantly astonished that I could do a round the world trip starting at ~65,000 reward miles in economy. What was even more astonishing was the fact that Business Class wasn’t really that much more, starting at ~105,000 miles. To put that in perspective, a single destination round-trip flight to Europe in Business Class on United would cost you 115,000 – 300,000 United reward miles.
I had enough American Express and SPG points to convert into 115,000 ANA reward miles, so I needed my route to be under 20,000 miles flown. This meant my route needed to be efficient, so I planned on staying in the northern hemisphere (North America, Europe, and Asia). I couldn’t afford to go to South America or Australia given bouncing north and south would add a lot of extra miles. Here’s what I ended up putting together:
So there you have it, my total distance flown came in at 19,841 miles. Just a few miles to spare!
This route actually took much more planning than it might appear. The hardest part of booking an ANA round the world award is avoiding fuel surcharges and finding award availability. I also wanted to fly on airlines that had high quality Business Class products. Keep in mind that not all Business Classes are created equal even within the same airline. Some are pretty shitty and some are so nice its just like flying First Class. I made sure to do my research beforehand so I’d be flying in style on long-haul flights over 3,000 miles.Air Canada’s Business Class I flew from Montreal to Paris featuring a 1x2x1 reverse herringbone configuration. This is only offered on Air Canada’s fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs and 787s. The featured image at the top of this article is another picture of Air Canada’s Business Class. Photo Source: Aircanada.com
How did I accrue 115,000 ANA Reward Miles?
I actually didn’t accrue any ANA miles. Luckily, ANA is a transfer partner of both American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) reward programs. This means I could convert points I accrued with American Express and SPG into ANA miles. Luckily, I had just enough points to pull this off. Here’s how I did it:
- I transferred 65,000 American Express points, which converted into 65,000 ANA miles. When I signed up for an Amex Gold Card last year, I got a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. The remaining points I accrued from normal spending.
- I transferred 40,000 SPG points, which converted into 50,000 ANA miles. SPG points can be valuable since you get a 25% bonus when you transfer in 20,000 point increments. Earlier this year I signed up for an SPG American Express card, which got me a 35,000 point sign-up bonus. The remaining points I accrued from normal spending.
At the bottom of this article I go over various ways you can easily accrue enough American Express and SPG points to do the same thing I did.
What Would a Round the World Business Class Ticket Normally Cost?
I wanted to see how much this ticket would cost if I had no airline miles and had to pay with cash. I used Star Alliance’s website, which actually has a search engine specifically dedicated to round the world flights. All my flights are on Star Alliance member airlines, so I was actually able to use my exact routing and get a very accurate price. The total price came out to $10,064.36!!! That’s some serious dough saved.
Why Was the Ticket Not Free (I paid $670)?
When using reward miles or points to book flights, you’ll generally still have to pay taxes and sometimes fuel surcharges. For this ticket, I paid ~$220 in taxes and ~$450 in fuel surcharges. It was possible to pay far less in fuel surcharges, but I had a specific route I wanted to book. In particular, flying to Thailand from Europe makes a large fuel surcharge just about impossible to avoid on Star Alliance member airlines.
You Can Accrue Enough Miles for Business Class Too!
The best part is that it’s really not that hard for anyone to accrue enough miles for their own round the world trip. You just need to open up a few new credit cards for the signing bonuses. Here’s your best options:
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – ANA is a transfer partner of American Express’ rewards program. At a minimum, you can always get a 25,000 points bonus for opening up this card. I recommend holding out for a 50,000 points bonus, which is offered periodically throughout the year. This card is also good at accruing points quickly as you spend. You’ll get 3x points for flights, 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations, and 2x points at restaurants. All other purchases will net you 1 point per dollar.
- American Express Platinum Card – at a minimum, you can generally get a 40,000 points bonus for opening up this card. However, this card carries a hefty $450 annual fee that is never waived. There are many reasons why that fee is actually worth paying, but is probably too much for most people. What you really want to look out for is the highly coveted 100,000 points targeted offer. This is rare and won’t come to everyone, so take advantage if you’re lucky enough to get one. Those points have tremendous value if used properly. Using this article as an example, you could do an ANA round the world trip just on that bonus alone. That’s a pretty damn good reason to pay the $450 annual fee.
- Note – you can get personal and business cards for both the Premier Rewards Gold Card and the Platinum Card to maximize points. However, you can only get the bonus once on each American Express card. This differs from most other cards which will offer it to you again after a period of time.
- Other American Express Cards – there a few other Amex cards that offer small points bonuses, normally in the 10,000 – 15,000 range.
- Starwood Preffered Card – Starpoints can also be transferred to ANA like American Express points. The bonus points offer is normally in the 25,000 – 35,000 range. The nice thing about Starpoints is that you’ll get a 5,000 points bonus for every 20,000 points transfer. If you stay in Starwood hotels frequently, you can accrue points fairly quickly. You can get up to 5 Starpoints for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Startwood hotels.
- There are other ways to accrue, but none of which I think are very advantageous. This includes ANA’s credit card and flying on ANA flights or other Star Alliance partner flights.