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Our original winter 2018 plan was to head back together after our Thailand road trip. We had pondered going back via Korean Air as well as redeeming American or Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific, Hainan or Japan Airlines (JAL).
Here is how I came to fly around the world, because I go a tad nuts about maximizing points value. All kidding aside, utilizing points is a balancing act, and even more so than paying cash for a ticket, there are pros and cons to consider i.e. what do you value. I always ask myself if it is an opportunity to try a new product, reduce cash expenditure, avoid unpleasant routing, and/or add some additional experience — in this scenario, visit friends and family in Europe before returning home.
Ryan had suggested that we book Korean Air first or business class back which had plenty of availability. I wasn’t so keen on it, because we were already flying to Bangkok via Korean in first. I looked into using United miles, but Ryan wanted to avoid using them on non-roundtrips, because we want to be able to apply the excursionist benefit down the road. So we focused our search on airlines redeemable via American or Alaska programs.
We had never flown Hainan or JAL so they were initially our preferred options; however, they either had 2 stops and/or had economy as the long haul segment while still charging us the business class redemption level of miles. Additionally, Hainan had fees of ~$350. Cathay first class briefly appeared over the summer, but I was traveling around Europe and stupidly didn’t jump on it when Ryan told me.
When it became apparent that we could not fly home on the same flight, I got a bit more creative as I had a lot more time flexibility than Ryan. On a whim, I checked for availability from Bangkok to Milan, Brussels and Paris — of which all three had business class availability. I had already been thinking about going to Europe in February (purchasing economy fare as I don’t find premium class redemption to Europe a good value).
After a quick one-way fare search, I saw that I could get home for $200 Paris to Oakland flight via Norwegian Air. At this point, it was almost a no-brainer to combine my trips into an around-the-world; however, I didn’t jump right into it, because it would mean having to pack for the Thailand heat and the European winter. It wasn’t until I decided to just suck it up and take 2 carry-on bags that I was fully committed to the plan; it helped that Ryan had offered to carry a bag back.
So I then I had an interesting choice to make with all three European destinations having business class flights that interested me (Air Italy to Milan, Qatar to Paris and Cathay Pacific to Brussels). I could have started in any of these places as I was planning to visit all of them. After a bit of back and forth, I booked the Cathay Pacific to Brussels since I wanted to review its Pier Business Class Lounge and also the AMEX Centurion Lounge. I had almost picked Qatar because its new Qsuite has had glowing reviews, but I didn’t like the idea of having two medium length flights which were not really enough time to settle into sleep. Plus an overnight wait in Doha was not terribly enticing despite a renown lounge. If I had booked directly with Qatar instead of a reward ticket from American, I could have claimed a free hotel room; in that case, I would have gone with Qatar over Cathay. Air Italy’s was a non-stop; if I was traveling completely for leisure, that would have been my choice to get to the destination as quickly as possible. In this case, the journey was part of the work and play i.e. I also wanted to be able to include more lounge reviews.
The whole thing came together pretty nicely as I spent less cash out of pocket, got an amazing flight, visited multiple lounges and used up straggler American Aadvantage miles (75K for business by combining Ryan’s and my account).
Interestingly, Ryan had booked Korean first to go home, but a week beforehand, JAL released first class award seats so he switched. He lost 3000 Skypass miles in the process, but it was well worth it for him to finally experience JAL first class and have a tighter connection.