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Monday, November 16, 2015

GAWA Day #61: How to Fly Around the World



Yes, there is Sam Huang and his incredible $60,000 around the world adventure in Emirates First Class, and only for $300.  Best as I can tell, he travelled approximately 45,000 (or maybe it was 21K, but I think there were two legs, plus he did not start and end at the same airport...but who's quibbling) miles, visiting 11 cities in 7 countries on 5 continents.  Apparently, he also only flew on the Emirates Airbus A380 (the biggest commercial plane today) in a first class suite on every flight.  That is some feat, for most airlines are shying away from first class. 

My initial reaction after reading about his exploit was that, sure, what he did was fantastic, but it is not the journey.  It is what you do at each stop that makes a trip grand or ultimate or whatever.  Looking at what he did just in one day on each stop (although he somehow found a away to stay 5 days in Dubai), however, was equally extraordinary, for he walked with lions, danced a lot, swam and skied and more.  Watch this video clip.

Two and a half years ago I flew around the world in First Class (My Ultimate Global Adventure, MUGA), and was successful in finding First Class seats.  Here on the left a Sydney to Bangkok flight on Thai Air, where real caviar was served.  I made an initial attempt of First Class for GAWA, and abandoned this level because it costs $22,000, compared to $11,000 for Business, and there were hardly any worthwhile first class legs available on any Star Alliance planes.

So how do you go about and make your first around the world trip? Go to Airtimetimetable com and compare the alliances.  However, my experience with Star Alliance is such that I question the dollars quoted...they are not even close to what I have paid.  You can also link to AirTreks or Ticketsroundtheworld, but no doubt if you're considering such a lengthy journey, you are probably loyal to some existing airline alliance.  There are three main ones:
There are a couple more, but the above three dominate.  However, as Sam Huang knows, Alaska Airlines remains an anomaly.  While they have plugged the "Huang" holes, they do still partner with a lot of the world, and they are a U.S. company.  If you want to pull a Huang coup, start with Alaska Airlines.  Sam, however, probably pulled off the greatest legal RTW scam, ever into the foreseeable future.   Here is how the top three compare:

                                    Star Alliance        Oneworld           SkyTeam

Daily Departures           17,808                     14,244                 15,189
Destinations                    1,348                          981                   1,024
Passengers/yr (million)      610                          475                      569
Aircraft                            3,927                       3,283                   2,853

In all of them:
  • the price depends on the travel class and miles flown
  • you earn frequent flyer miles
  • backtracking is usually not allowed, but some of this is tolerated, especially within a continent
  • the number of stops ranges from 5 to 16
  • you can go on a cruise, say, from Budapest to Amsterdam, and even though you won't fly between those two cities, that counts as a leg
  • If you need to transfer, that counts as two legs
  • you can change the date and time of any flight without penalty
  • don't think about changing your itinerary, for the penalty can be severe
I've used Star Alliance for, perhaps, a dozen such adventures, so let me focus on this partnership.  First, go to the Star Alliance web site and follow the instructions to complete the itinerary.  (Hate to say this, but when I checked on this site today, IT WAS NOT WORKING.  Oh well, I presume some day it will, according to the person I contacted at United.)  While easy to follow, if this is your first time, it could take an hour.  Once you get your full itinerary and price, DON'T click on what the computer wants you to do, which is to complete the transaction and link with Lufthansa.  Once you're hooked, it's hard to get out of that loop.  Instead, ONLY get a copy of your workable itinerary and CALL United to complete the transaction.  Otherwise, you will need to call Lufthansa for any dinky adjustment, and that will make your life very difficult.  I would think, though, that if you happen to be living Europe, go ahead and make that fatal click.

To summarize:
  • ALWAYS TRAVEL TO THE WEST...YOUR BODY ADJUSTS BETTER.   A Wall Street Journal article on round the world trips says always travel to the east because your jet will have a tailwind and you can save an hour or even two on long fights.  True, but that is NOT the problem.  Jet lag is terrifying when going around the world, and that person writing the article probably has not had this experience.
  • Cost (Airtimetable.com has these numbers--I don't understand why--something is wrong with their prices)
    • First  $20,000 to $22,000 ($9,800 to $13,200)
    • Business  $10,000 to $12,000 ($7,400 to $9,950)
    • Economy  $5,000 to $7,000 (($3,800 to $5,150)
  • Oneworld charges more for more continents visited.  
  • Watch out for surcharges, especially involving Singapore Airlines.  My advice?  Avoid Singapore.
  • Make sure you have a valid passport.
  • Ascertain the need of visas way ahead of time, like months.  On this Grand Around the World Adventure I avoided China, Vietnam and Brazil specifically because those countries make the process painful and expensive.  However, no one told me about Turkey, and that was not fun.  Also, Turkish Airline's computer system does to link well with Star Alliance, and they couldn't find my ticket on both flights.  There is enough stress as it is on these trips.  I will never fly Turkish Air again.
  • Some countries require medical proof of smallpox and other vaccinations.  Don't be forced to get them at the airport after you land.  Africa, in particular, is worrisome.  Thus, I avoided this continent.
  • If you change your mind after purchasing the ticket, the cost is $125 to drop the whole thing.
  • Insurance?  No.  The damage is above for your ticket, and hotels can easily be cancelled.
You all should have on your bucket list an around the world adventure.  Keep in mind, though, that unless you use Huang tactics, hotels end up costing more than the airline ticket.  Then again also, these trips are stressful.  Nothing like the cocoon known as 15 Craigside.

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