If you’ve noticed a lack in posts recently, it’s because Alyssa and I have been doing a lot of flying. In twelve days we clocked nearly 23,000 miles flying around the world.
In this post I’ll highlight the flights we took around the world and in the coming days I’ll give details on how you can find similar redemptions to book a trip like this using points.
I am still recovering from one of the most enjoyable trips of my life. Six countries in twelve days is certainly pushing it even for twenty-somethings, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Here was our world itinerary from Start to Finish;
• Tel Aviv/Jerusalem
• Hong Kong
1st Stop: London
This was our second visit to London, both times we flew into London Heathrow airport. London has five airports with Heathrow being the primary for long-haul international flights. We flew American Airlines from Dallas to London-LHR for 22,500 miles one-way during off-peak. (Off-Peak to Europe on American: January 10 – March 14 & November 1 – December 14)
We had to position from Phoenix to Dallas on Southwest Airlines for 3,000 points (thanks to Companion Pass, I fly free) since AA has crappy domestic award space. Also, select American Airlines credit cards offer a 10% redemption rebate when you cash-in your points for free travel. That made our flight to London just 20,000 AA miles per person, plus $5.60 in fees.
London was more-or-less a stopover for us, an obvious gateway city to head east. Plus there was decent AA award availability to London and we needed a late flight out, so a 10:15PM departure from Dallas worked perfectly.
If you’ve never been to London, it is a must for any “Euro Trip”. It is easy to get around on the “Tube” (subway) and there is no communication barrier for English speakers. On our short stop we walked around Westminster and visited Abbey Road (From The Beatles cover). Do keep in mind that food, taxis and lodging are still on the expensive side, even with the devaluation of the Pound.
2nd Stop: Rome
Roma, as the Italians know it, is a magnificent city. I could not believe how many buildings and landmarks I easily recognized from movies. Weather was pretty moderate and the number of tourists was rather minimal (which isn’t saying a ton).
Rome has two airports, Fiumicino-FCO being the primary hub for international travelers. Ciampino airport is a smaller secondary airport serving Wizz Air and Ryan Air. Ciampino is closer to downtown so it makes a good option if you don’t mind flying on an intra-Europe budget carrier.
We flew from London-Gatwick to Rome-Fiumicino on British Airways for $49 per person. One of the biggest things I preach is to not be scared of cash fares. Sometimes it just makes sense (and cents) to pay cash and save your points for later. At $49 there was simply no “points” option that made more sense, so we paid cash and called it a day.
I recommend visiting Rome outside of the peak summer months as things can get crazy. If you do go in the Summer, don’t expect to get a decent photo with a clear background. (Unless you can halt a crowd)
In every tourist area there are people shoving selfie sticks and bracelets in your face. The bracelet-guys will ask you where you are from, put a small fabric bracelet on your wrist as a “gift”, and then ask for a donation once it is tied. They are very pushy so make sure to kindly stand your ground if you don’t like “free” bracelets.
3rd Stop: Israel
I truly loved Israel. I must say, I was surprised by how little English was spoken in the tourist areas. This, however, is not exactly a bad thing when experiencing a culture shock. Locals were extremely friendly and seemed honored to have us visiting.
We spent 1.5 days in Jerusalem and 1.5 days in Tel Aviv. The two cities are nothing alike even though they are less than 50 miles apart. If you find yourself in Jerusalem for a few days, a visit to “Old City” is a must. Tel Aviv has beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean as well as their own “old city”, known as Jaffa.
Oldie but goodie
The Old City in Jerusalem feels frozen in time with stone streets and buildings. We paid a visit to The Western Wall, The Temple Mount, and King David’s tomb. For a taste of local eats in Jerusalem, visit the Yehudah Market for an array of local nuts, dried fruits and yummy pastries like rugelach.
Israel is served by a single airport for international traffic, Ben Gurion-TLV. Buses can get you between the airport and two cities for $5 one-way. Tourism in Israel is growing rapidly so flight availability is ever-increasing. Cathay Pacific will soon be launching an Airbus A350 4x-weekly flight from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv.
We flew from Rome to Tel Aviv on a Vueling flight which was marketed as Iberia. I used 6,300 Amex Membership Rewards points per person for the flight. I normally advise against redeeming points as “cash”, but in this instance Amex had the best price on the flight.
Additionally, this flight was marketed as Iberia by Amex so we had our standard carry-on allowance rather than Vueling’s restricted allowance. The seats were very tight but we had an empty middle seat which helped on the 3hr flight.
We see ourselves going back to Israel in the next 12 months, we liked it that much.
4th Stop: Bangkok
Oh, Bangkok, you are such a mixed bag. I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed myself there. First of all, Bangkok is a HUGE city, roughly 8 million residents. Traffic was insane and it took a while to get anywhere in an Uber. Most Ubers took about 15 minutes to arrive, and one of them never did. (I think he got lost because they drive on the wrong side of the road, hehe).
Things are incredibly inexpensive compared to Northern Asia and Europe. Our Ubers, which were all lengthy rides, averaged $3-4 USD. Our longest ride of 42 minutes was just a tick over $5, that was in an Uber Black car. We had a late dinner at Cloud 47, naturally 47 floors above the city. Dinner after tax and tip was $29 USD total. Try eating at a roof-top restaurant in the US for under $50 a person.
Thailand was hot
It was pretty toasty when we arrived, that is to be expected in Thailand. We flew into Suvarnabhumi BKK airport, the main port for long-haul international passengers. Don Mueang DMK airport is used for regional flights, and has many inexpensive options via Air Asia, a budget carrier. If you need to transit between the airports, you can catch a free AOT “Airport Shuttle” bus, which takes a little under an hour in good traffic.
You can take the airport train from BKK directly into the city, which ends at the Phaya Thai station in about 20 minutes. Hold onto your wallets, a one-way will run you $1.30 USD… (45 Baht)
We redeemed 40,000 American Airline miles for a business class trip from Tel Aviv all the way over to Seoul, South Korea. We were able to plug-in Bangkok and Hong Kong as stops for no extra charge. With a 10% AA points rebate, you are looking at only 36,000 points plus $70 in fees from Israel to Korea in business class. (Thanks to Zach at Mad For Miles for the tip)
From Amman to Bangkok, we flew Royal Jordanian 787 Royal Crown business class for about 8 hours. I must say, Royal Crown business class on the RJ 787 Dreamliner was outstanding. The service was incredible and I found the lie-flat leather seats very comfortable. If you are a solo traveler, I would recommend grabbing a seat in the middle row for aisle access. (Seats D & G)
5th Stop: Hong Kong
Hong Kong requires no visa for US travelers, a huge benefit compared to the rest of China. Cathay Pacific is the main carrier at Hong Kong airport – HKG. We flew into HKG from BKK on Cathay’s brand-new Airbus a350 in lie-flat business. The aircraft was squeaky clean and even had that new-plane-smell.
We took an Uber from the HKG airport to our hotel in Kowloon, it ran us about $29 for a 24 minute ride, this isn’t Bangkok, Dorothy (or Kansas). You can take the A22 bus to/from the airport for about $4 each way, but give yourself about an hour for transit.
Any visitor to Hong Kong should definitely take the tram to Victoria Peak. It costs about $7 a person round-trip and takes 8 minutes to go up and 4 on the way down. Lines can be long in the afternoon, so plan accordingly. The views are stunning to say the least. Try to go in the afternoon so the marine-layer can burn off improving visibility.
Hotels and taxis are rather expensive but you are rewarded with a clean and modern city. I was amazed at the number of pedestrian walkways over the streets. If you like to get around on foot, this a great city for you. Alyssa got a small americano and croissant at Pacific Coffee on our way to the Victoria Peak tram, $7.35. Yep, more than the tram ride up a mountain.
6th Stop: Seoul
I didn’t know much about Seoul prior to our arrival. I knew that it was the home of LG, Samsung, and Hyundai Motors, but that was about it. Oh, and Gangnam Style. Neither of us realized it was so close the border of North Korea, that was a bit of a shock.
We REALLY really liked it in Seoul, we spent about 72 hours there. The people were so friendly and well-dressed. (Psy was right) Alyssa and I were kicking ourselves at how stylish the little kids were, not to mention adorable.
It was pretty chilly but fortunately their metro system eliminates the need to walk far distances. You can take almost any subway line for roughly $1 one-way (1,250 WON). The airport to Seoul Station is roughly $4 one-way via the “all stop train”. The express train will cost you a few bucks more but shaves off 15-20 minutes of travel time.
Things are relatively inexpensive for a city of 10 million, yea Seoul is huge. I could not get over how many buildings could be seen in every direction. We took the cable car up to Namsan Park which gives you a 360 view of the city. You are looking at a $7 round-trip to ride the cable car, or you could opt to make the hike.
We missed our flight home
So yea, we missed our Korean Air flight home. We used Delta miles to book an award ticket home for 35,000 miles + $40 in fees P/P. Korean Air is a Delta partner so they’d handle the first leg to Seattle and Alaska Air (also a Delta partner until April) would handle the flight home to Phoenix.
We were departing on Sunday so our train connections to the airport were less frequent and our train made an unexpected stop just before the airport sealing our fate. In hindsight, we should have allowed for more time being that Seoul is massive and it was the weekend.
Fortunately, Delta put us on a flight the next morning via Detroit for NO charge. Yep, Delta would typically charge a massive change fee plus the additional points needed for the new flight. I was able to have them provide a waiver code so it cost nothing to change our flight. It did suck having to fly on Delta metal all the way to Detroit (13 hrs), but it beat paying fees and burning points.
I’ve always liked Delta and this incident cemented my stance. Keep in mind, this was an award ticket and I have NO status with Delta. Very generous of them to rebook us at no charge. I was persistent and very friendly with the phone agent, I didn’t even have to call back in.
A ton of fun
Alyssa and I had so much fun on this trip. We stayed at a mix of hotels and AirBNB’s (total out-of-pocket was around $175 for lodging), to which I will give more details in the future. For many, visiting 6 countries in 12 days would be overwhelming, fortunately we love flying and we love every bit of “travel”. (I even stayed calm when we missed our flight)
Our three long-haul flights were overnight so that saved us daylight and saved money on hotels. Again, maybe that isn’t for you but we were bitten by the travel-bug, so it changes things.
97,000 points plus $164 in airfare per person to fly around the world, in a mix of economy and business class. If you wanted to do this strictly in economy, you could get out for only 81,000 miles. Stay tuned for a post on how you can fly a similar “world” itinerary by signing up for just two credit cards. (plus about $175-$200 in cash)