Planning a round the world trip can be a daunting task, but doing it with miles and points can be even more challenging, since you’re subject to limited availability and different routing rules. Here are 15 things you can do to ensure that you have a smooth experience when booking an aspirational around the world trip flying business class and first class.
1) Plan and book as far ahead as possible
This should come as a given but you’ll have the best success planning your RTW trip about a year in advance. When it comes to premium cabins like the Etihad Apartment and Singapore Suites, you’ll often need to grab these seats out very far. I’ve booked both of these cabins multiple times and it’s always been pretty easy to book them around 10 months out or longer.
If you’re planning on flying on multiple segments with some of these premium cabins then you’ll probably find it necessary to book that far out in advance.
Planning and booking this far out will also give you plenty of time to monitor availability if you weren’t able to book all of your segments in your desired class. I recently booked a flight on Qatar with one first class segment and one economy segment. After a couple of weeks of monitoring the availability, I was able to find open business class availability and book it. If you don’t want to monitor availability yourself you can look into sites like ExpertFlyer or AwardNexus.
Keep in mind that some availability only comes last minute. For example, Virgin Australia often doesn’t release business class seats to partners like Delta until a week or two away from departure and Lufthansa first class tickets often have to be booked last minute. So for those, you just need to have a back up plan in case availability doesn’t open up the way you’d want to.
Hotels often don’t have to be booked so far in advance but if you’re trying to get a night at a highly sought property like the Hilton Conrad Bora Bora Nui then you need to book that room as far out in advance as possible.
2) Use a calendar when planning your flights
It’s really easy to get confused or tripped up when booking tons of segments. With all of the time zone differences and overnight flights, it could be easy to overlook something. That’s why I write out my flights on a hard copy of a calendar when planning so that I can more easily see the scheduling of the flights.
This really helps when you are arriving on a different day. I usually handwrite the departure time and flight number on a calendar with an arrow showing the progression but the image below should give you an idea of how it looks (the times are completely hypothetical).
This can also help you strategically plan your flights so that you’re flying overnight and thus cutting down on hotel stays for a few nights.
3) Give yourself plenty of time with layovers
Don’t try to cut things close with connecting flights, especially when these flights are not on the same itinerary. I like to give myself at least 2 to 3 hours for layovers because I don’t like risking missing a flight and the layovers aren’t usually bad at all with Priority Pass (more on that below).
I like to give myself ample time with layovers even when my flight is on the same itinerary, Last December my SAS flight out of EWR was delayed and this caused me to miss a connecting flight that had a short layover of only one hour and ten minutes. Although I was able to get on board the next flight, it was stressful getting it all sorted out and could’ve been avoided if I’d picked a flight with a longer layover.
Make sure to also entertain stopovers. A stopover is essentially a layover over 24 hours but they are only allowed on certain routings with certain airlines. Always check to see if your airline allows a stopover since it can be a great way to break up a long flight and give you the chance to explore another area.
4) Try to avoid getting stuck on dates
Try to avoid getting stuck on specific dates for planning your RTW trip. I know sometimes you want to take off on your honeymoon at a certain time or there may be events taking place at certain locations, but not planning your RTW trip for specific dates is going to make finding award seats much easier and way less stressful.
5) Get familiar with availability
You need to get familiar with the award availability of specific airlines when planning this kind of trip so that you’ll know the urgency needed to secure a seat. Availability is known to change so you can’t always be 100% sure what it will look like when it’s time for you to book but you should be able to get an idea of the trends.
For example, I was planning a trip to Norway for a while and saw that SAS business class availability was pretty hard to come by, so I knew that if I saw a seat open up, I’d need to jump on it pronto.
Don’t be afraid to try out waitlists, either. Some airlines like Singapore often wont take you off of the waitlist until a few days before your flight but as long as you have a back-up plan in place you should be good to go.
6) Wait until you have enough points to book
You don’t always have to do this but I recommend waiting until you’ve accumulated enough miles to book all of your flights for your RTW. If you book some segments before then, you’ll feel pressure to earn those miles to cover those segments and even worse they might no be available when you finally earn those miles.
Sometimes this isn’t a huge issue for some airlines. For example, Korean Air has great first class availability and you can put those rewards on hold for long periods of time even with no miles in your account. Other airlines may require you to have some miles in your account before you can book them.
By waiting to book until you have all of the necessary points, you can save yourself a lot of stress and worry.
7) Download the airline apps
Download the apps for the different airlines that you’re flying with so you have a quick and easy way to locate your booking reference numbers and travel dates. Also, allow push notifications because sometimes that’s the only way that you’ll receive important updates about changes to your flights.
Even if you have the apps downloaded, still monitor the status of your flights every so often and check them everyday the week leading up to your flight. I once had American Airlines cancel a partner booking on me and I never received any notice! If I hadn’t randomly checked on the status of the flight, I would have lost the booking.
8) Consider creative routings
It really helps when you can be as flexible and creative as you can be with your routings.
It’s possible that you might want to take a straight path around the world like we did for our round the world trip. However, if you can remain open to flying in the opposite direction around the world that could help with finding open awards seats. This is especially true for many premium routes. For example, I’ve also found it easier to find awards seats in Etihad First Class from AUH to JFK rather than from JFK to AUH.
Or if you want to be really creative you can look into figure eight routes or routes that incorporate some kind of loop. These will open up even more flexibility since you have so many different types of combinations that you can utilize for your routing.
One thing that can also help your planning is choosing the first or final segments of your trip to be on airlines with great availability. This will allow you take care of the harder to book segments first that will make up the middle portions of your journey and then throw on your final leg or first leg at a time when you have enough points to book or when availability opens up.
9) Research partnerships
It’s a tremendous help to have a solid understanding of the major three alliances and how you’re able to book airline partners. Knowing how to utilize partners will open up many more routing opportunities and help you find a way to put together your routes. Don’t forget that there are great partnerships outside of the major alliances like Etihad and American or ANA and Virgin Atlantic.
10) Research new cabins and expected routes
Airlines are constantly rolling out with new aircrafts, retrofits, and cabin designs. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out on what products will be rolling out when your flight is planned to depart. Keep in mind that flights between two locations may have different aircrafts that serve those routes. For example, Singapore Airlines flies both the A380 and the 777 between Sydney and Singapore.
This could be a potential drawback of booking a flight very far out — it’s possible that the flights you book could be on different aircrafts or otherwise different. Still, I think these happenings are rare enough that it still makes sense to book far in advance.
11) Research lounges
Lounges can make a huge difference for your RTW experience. While Priority Pass doesn’t get a lot of positive talk domestically, it can be tremendous overseas.
Do some research beforehand (using an app like Loungebuddy) to see what lounges you’ll be able to access and be sure to look into arrival lounges. We arrived into SIN airport at around 3am after our Singapore Suites flight but luckily SIN had an arrivals lounge for passengers where we were able to take advantage of nap rooms, breakfast, free wifi, etc.
So I highly recommend investing in a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve so that you can have Priority Pass as you make your way around the globe.
12) Incorporate a base
Before your first RTW extravaganza, It’s difficult to judge how much you’ll enjoy or not enjoy taking so many flights in such a short amount of time. Some people are fine with only spending two or three days at one location and then jetting off to the next while some think people like me who do that are bat s–t crazy or only traveling “superficially” (I couldn’t care less about that).
Personally, I recommend choosing a “base” location (one or more) for your RTW trip. This will be a place where you spend most of your nights, preferably at the same hotel. This will give you time to relax, re-charge, and enjoy your destination, and I recommend putting this base in the middle of your trip.
This is also a great time to use the Citi Prestige’s 4th night free or utilize the 5th night free in a loyalty program like Hilton or SPG.
13) Currency converter App
Get yourself a currency converter app that works offline. These are vital and will help you make better decisions when buying things and trading in currency.
14) Make a cheat sheet
Finally, I think it’s a good idea to make a master cheat sheet for your trip. This cheat sheet may consist of the following for each flight:
- Date of departure and arrival
- Departure Time/Arrival Time
- Flight number
- Airport (full name and code since some taxi drivers go by either one)
- Lounge/lounge locations (if applicable)
- Hotel name, address/neighborhood, and local phone number
- Estimated taxi fare and travel time from airport to hotel (or detailed public transport directions)
Having these basic bits of information for each destination will help ensure that you will smoothly arrive at your destination and it’s very helpful to always have all of your flight details organized and consolidated in one document.
15) Don’t sweat everything
With so many moving parts to a large round the world trip, there’s a good chance that something is going to go wrong at some point. You might lose something, break something, a flight gets canceled, you get sick, etc. Try not to obsess over making your trip perfect and learn to just roll with the punches. I can’t tell you how many memories Brad and I have of moments that seemed like the end of the world when they happened but now we just (mostly) crack up when we talk about them.
The key to having a great RTW trip is planning and organizing from far out in advance. This will make booking flights and hotels much easier and will open up opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available if you waited until the last minute. If you stay organized and do enough research, your trip will mostly be smooth sailing but even if it’s not, don’t forget to enjoy the experience because chances are that your troubles aren’t so serious.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.