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Happy day after Christmas!

It strikes me today that we leave Seattle in just 3 days. Three days! It seems like we just got here. We’ve been so caught up in meeting friends and visiting family that we haven’t spent a ton of time putting together the final touches on our preperations. There are still a few things we need to get and a few decisions to make. I’m sure we’ll be taking a couple more trips to REI.

One decision we made several months ago was where to go and how to get around. Those two things are heavily connected because if your goal is mileage, then you either need a lot of money or some sort of special deal to help you out as flights can be expensive. A friend of mine told me about Round the World Tickets offered by some airline alliances (Star Alliance, OneWorld, SkyTeam) and pointed me to what would come one of my favorite websites: flyertalk.com.

I don’t know if it is because my father is a pilot and he spent hours and hours talking about planes, helicopters and the military in general or if it came from working at America West Airlines (now US Air) during college, but I do generally enjoy flying, even in the back of the cattle car airlines. While flyertalk.com caters to traveling in general, it seems to be more focused on flying. I like this site because you can learn a lot about how the system works and how to take the most advantage of it. Traveling a lot for work, this is particularly useful to me. I read a lot about RTW tickets.

RTWs are generally a good fit for the gap year traveler. They allow you to travel once around the world (in one direction only) and stop at multiple places along the way, for a lot less money. They also allow you to change dates of your travel along the way for no extra charge.

They are still quite expensive though. A RTW from the US, hitting 5 continents is easily $6k. Because the cost of the RTW is based on where you start, one way to cut the cost of this is to begin in Australia or New Zealand, where the cost is half of that. Even with a round-trip ticket to Oceania, you are saving significant money. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we could make it work for us. The whole concept is pretty exciting…stopping in 20 cities on 5 continents. You get caught up in how many places you can go.

But then we needed to re-evaluate our travel goals. The more we thought about this, the more we realized that our goal was not mileage or quantity of places visited. Nor was our goal to hit all the major cities. While we like city life (we did decide to live in NY), spending our year in a bunch of major cities did not hit the same travel nerve as roaming around the country side on trains and buses and the occasional tuk-tuk or motorcycle.

The other problems that I found with RTWs is that they do not work as well if you want to travel one-way (I don’t want to have to always return to the city, what could be wasting valuable resources and time) and also, traveling to and from an airport can be kind of expensive. That is usually where I splurge on travel, after a long flight. With a limited budget, we are all about saving the entire time.

Luckily, we went through this analysis almost two years ago and that allowed us to focus on another option: using frequent-flyer miles. Since then, we’ve amassed about 700k miles on United and Alaska airlines, mostly as the result of extensive work travel and NOT using those miles to buy domestic tickets to save a few hundred dollars here and there. While we could use that to buy RTW tickets in economy, we decided that our goals above were still intact and decided to buy a series of round-trip, open-jaw (meaning you arrive in one city and leave from another), long-haul tickets in business classthat would easily cost tens of thousands of dollars if we had to purchase them and supplement that with one-way tickets on low-cost carriers like Air Asia.

As I mentioned in the last post, our first ticket is to Bangkok and returns from Tokyo. This allows us an open timetable to do whatever we want for several months and a goal (making our way slowly across Asia). We leave on the 5th of Jan. A quick hop from Phoenix to Los Angeles in first class, followed by a 13 hour flight to Seoul on the top floor of an Asiana 747 in business class. After 23 hours in Seoul, we hop on a Thai Airways 777, again in biz class and fly through Taipei to arrive in Bangkok on Jan 7th.

Our return leaves Tokyo on an ANA 777 out of Tokyo (though after further review, we might never make it to Tokyo – We’ve already been there – and might add on a flight from Osaka to Tokyo to connect) back to the US. I do look forward to flying all these Asian carriers as they are well known for their in-flight comforts, food and hospitality.


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