My husband and I aren’t exactly big spenders, nor do we look like international jet setters. But, we’ve managed to pull off not one but two round-the-world trips on points and we’re on the cusp of booking a third. We truly think anyone can do it. All it takes is research and lists! Here’s how we made it happen — twice.
1. Card Hacking Isn’t Necessary
My husband and I each have a Visa Aeroplan gold card. In case you’re wondering why we chose it, the answer is simple: Our bank offered it to us! We don’t spend a lot to get points. In fact, being mindful of credit card debt, we try to do the exact opposite. Still, over time we did slowly accumulate points. We initially debated cashing them in for a short-haul flight. Eager to go as far as we could, we started researching different routes. That led my husband to FlyerTalk.
2. All The Research Is Already Out There
FlyerTalk is a forum where people who love travel, aviation, and rewards hang out. They’re the kind of folks who pass along cool tidbits like how our measly short-haul points could have taken us outside Canada — but we might want to hold off because we were in a good position to collect enough points for a DIY round-the-world trip.
We were enthralled by this knowledgeable community and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We modeled our first trip in 2013 on routes others had successfully booked. When we got a bit more creative with our itinerary in 2018, this is where we went to double-check all our research.
I should point out that, while I’m not into credit card hacking, I did go on a points spree in 2013 when I learned how easy it was to string together a round-the-world trip. It was thanks to FlyerTalk that I easily accumulated bonus points for visiting a certain gas station multiple times in a month — because each “visit” was simply any time you put $3 of gas in your car!
3. Fine Print Is Your Friend
When booking big trips, the fine print is your friend. That’s how we learned we could enjoy two layovers on the reward flights we were looking at. On our first trip, the main destination was Sydney, Australia, and we enjoyed layovers in Brussels and Bangkok. So long as they’re part of your flight path, adding layovers is allowed.
The fine print is also how we learned that you can take multiple stopovers of 24 hours or less. Some travelers might consider this a trip from hell, but for us, it was the foundation of our round-the-world trips.
4. Fees Are Your Foes
In our first round-the-world trip, we incorporated wonderful stopovers in New York City, Istanbul, Singapore, and San Francisco. That trip took us from our home in Ottawa to Newark (and into New York City), Brussels (we added our own side trips to Paris, Liege, and Bruges), Istanbul, Bangkok (with a side trip to Myanmar), Singapore, Sydney, San Francisco, and then back home, all in three weeks!
We each paid $350 in taxes, surcharges, and fees. This is about as thrifty as it gets. We made avoiding extra costs a priority and my husband had a chart to track what airports had improvement fees and what airlines had fuel surcharges. That’s why, even though we collect Air Canada’s Aeroplan points, we did all of our flights on other airlines with Star Alliance. It was more frugal that way!
5. Think Outside The Box For Booking
Including Star Alliance flights in our planning was an absolute game-changer. It allowed us greater flexibility and even easier planning. When we started planning our second trip in 2018, we couldn’t find all the routes we were interested in via Air Canada. We knew they existed, but we couldn’t see them online. Without an official flight number, we couldn’t go too far in our planning. Then, we realized we could sign up for free memberships with all the other Star Alliance airlines and do research via their systems. Some had the information we needed.
Yep, it really helps if you research!
In addition to being a pro-researcher, being organized helps tremendously. You’ll need to triple-check everything, from flight times and confirmation codes to visa requirements and vaccine rules. We did our best to embrace all the research, telling ourselves that it was all part of the travel fun.
Pro Tip: If you and your spouse have different last names like we do, make sure your booking agent links your reservations. If something is changed for one person, it should be for the other.
6. Round-The-World Versus Seeing The World
Technically, we’ve never booked an actual round-the-world ticket. We’ve booked Australian reward flights and maxed out all our options for layovers and stopovers. In our particular circumstances, our final destination (Australia) was about equidistant from our starting point (Ottawa) and it didn’t matter if we flew east or west to get there or return home. That allowed us to circumnavigate the globe in 2013.
On our second trip, we didn’t go around the world, although we could have. Instead, we came back the way we went. We started in Ottawa and our first stop was in Newark. From there, we went to Milan, Victoria Falls (our first official layover, with side trips to Botswana and Zambia), Johannesburg, Singapore, Perth (our official destination), Bangkok, United Arab Emirates, Istanbul, Rome (our second official layover, with side trips to Tuscany, Siena, and Umbria), and finally to Zurich before heading home. We paid about $500 each in taxes and fees and did the trip in six weeks.
Start earning points for your round-the-world trip today!
7. Sometimes, You Can’t Do It All
When you start planning out your possible routes, you’ll undoubtedly fall in love with some spectacular layovers. At one time or another, the Cook Islands, Columbia, and Togo were all on my list! However, pragmatic considerations knocked them off. All were replaced by equally wonderful destinations. We flew to Milan to see Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and eat gelato. One morning in Johannesburg, we visited the Apartheid Museum and saw jacaranda trees in bloom. Zurich’s old town was an unexpected delight, full of elegant architecture.
Know that sometimes things just don’t work out. We missed adding Yangon to our second trip by a matter of minutes — quite literally, as the stopover was just longer than the allowed 24 hours. There are rules about how many flight segments you can take and how many total miles are allowed. Sometimes, you just can’t do them all.
8. Prepare For Jet Lag, But You Might Not Get It
People often ask us about jet lag. It was no better or worse than any other trip. There are a lot of overnight flights involved, which are not comfortable in economy class. Plus, I can’t sleep on planes. However, we like to joke that if you fly enough, you can stay one step ahead of the jet lag. Between the adrenaline and all the walking we did, we slept soundly at each destination.
9. Love Light Luggage
We’re also asked about luggage. We wouldn’t dream of doing this kind of trip with checked bags. Ultra-tight schedules and multiple airlines are not your suitcase’s friends. So, yes, we did both trips with just one carry-on bag each. We explored while wearing our backpacks and we enjoyed bus tours. We scoped out museums and galleries with luggage storage. We even booked cheap airport hotel rooms for a day so we could securely leave our bags, go explore, and return for them (and a hot shower).
10. Embrace Every Moment
Sometimes the toughest question we get isn’t how we made a round-the-world trip happen on points, but rather the short amount of time we allocated for our trips. People question if such an intense trip can be enjoyable. After all, there is a lot of time spent in, around, and getting to airports. Can you really have a meaningful visit on a stopover of fewer than 24 hours? Is a trip to Australia worth it when you’re just there for a week? The answer is yes!
On a practical level, we’ve learned that if you have a stopover, focus on the one thing that is your priority and build everything around that. Book a hotel next to that dream art gallery or wine bar you can’t wait to see. Don’t spend your precious day crisscrossing the city to see the top ten sites, but instead explore everything you can around your one main priority. Embrace activities that do double or triple duty. Our cooking class at the Bangkok flower market combined an incredible meal of local cuisine with a chance to chat with local chefs, meet other travelers, tour the market itself, and grab some helpful transportation advice from the staff as we left. So, embrace the madness! After all, you can always return on your next round-the-world trip, right? What’s stopping you from planning another?
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