How We Made It Happen

Washington, DC to Dubai to the Maldives in Emirates Airlines Business Class

Miles needed: 82,500 Alaska Airlines miles each

  • Jameson: Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card (30,000 Alaska miles)
  • Jameson: American Express SPG credit card (30,000 Starpoints)
  • Taryn: Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card (30,000 Alaska miles)
  • Taryn: American Express SPG credit card (30,000 Starpoints)

I had a balance of roughly 8,000 Starpoints already, so after meeting the minimum spending requirement for the AMEX SPG card, I was able to transfer 40,000 Starpoints into 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles.  After a earning the bonus on the Alaska card and a bit more spending, I was quickly able to earn the 82,500 miles. However, since Taryn didn’t already have Starpoints, we had to put a bit more spending on her SPG credit card before we could transfer the 40,000 Starpoints into 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles.  Still, these miles were relatively easy to earn through only two credit card sign-ups.

Emirates Airlines and Alaska Airlines aren’t members of any airline alliance; however, they are airline partners with each other and allow award ticket redemptions on one another’s aircraft. Even better, Alaska Airlines allows one free stopover on all one-way award tickets, so we were essentially able to book two tickets in Emirates business class (Washington to Dubai and Dubai to the Maldives) for the price of one. To be honest, the idea of this free flight to the Maldives is what made us interested in collecting credit card points in the first place.  A bar in the sky on the way to the most idyllic place on the planet?  Count me in.

  • Total airline miles: 165,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $50.80
  • Cost of actual airfare: $8,098 x 2 = $16,196 (!!!)
  • Monetary value of miles: 9.8 cents/mile
Pictures will never do the Maldives justice.

Maldives to Colombo, Sri Lanka in SriLanka Airlines Economy Class

Miles needed: 4,500 British Airways Avios (BA’s frequent flyer miles) each

  • Jameson: Chase British Airways credit card (100,000 British Airways Avios) *Redemption #1*

Yes… we did end up flying in economy class. (eye roll) We tried finding non-stop business class flights from the Maldives to Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, etc., but no dice.  However, business class award availability was wide open from Sri Lanka to SE Asia, so we opted to go to Colombo for a quick one-night visit.

SriLankan Airlines was consistently only releasing one business class award seat on their flights from the Maldives to Colombo, so we bit the bullet and booked the economy flight.  British Airways has a mileage-based award chart, so this short flight only cost 4,500 miles to redeem on SriLankan Airways, which is a OneWorld alliance member.  A buzzkill about the British Airways frequent flyer program are the taxes and fuel surcharges.  Each airline charges a different amount for award tickets, and the fees cost $55 each for this particular redemption.  We would normally just pay outright for a cheap economy airfare.  But we wanted a late evening flight out of the Maldives to maximize our time on the island (seriously heaven), so we opted to use our British Airways Avios.

  • Total airline miles: 9,000 British Airways Avios
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $110
  • Cost of actual airfare: $213 x 2 = $426
  • Monetary value of Avios:  3.5 cents/mile
Tuk Tuk tour in Colombo, Sri Lanka


Colombo, Sri Lanka to Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia  in Singapore Airlines Business Class

Miles needed: 35,000 Singapore Airlines miles each

  • Jameson: Citi Premier credit card (50,000 Citi ThankYou Points)

As I have mentioned before, Singapore Airlines is transfer partners with all four credit card currencies.  Since I transferred my SPG Starpoints to Alaska Airlines, I could transfer my stash of 70,000 Citi ThankYou Points  to Singapore Airlines to cover four separate business class flights.  On award ticket redemptions, Singapore Airlines gives the options to include a stopover for an additional $100 each ticket.  Singapore was on our shortlist of dream destinations and since the stopover would save us tens of thousands of credit card points, we opted to pay for the stopover rather than booking two separate tickets for each of us.  Unfortunately, Singapore Airlines does tack on additional taxes and surcharges on its awards ticket, so those fees in addition the stopover charge meant we had to pay quite a bit out of pocket for this redemption and cut into the overall value.  But business class seats of an overnight flight (Colombo-Singapore) made it well worth it.

  • Total airline miles:  70,000
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $469.56 (including $100/each for the stopover)
  • Cost of actual airfare: $1,400 x 2 = $2,800
  • Monetary value of miles: 3.3 cents/mile
Rooftop swim at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
Sunrise at the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia to Hong Kong in Cathay Dragon Business Class

Miles needed: 15,000 British Airways Avios each

  • Jameson: Chase British Airways credit card (100,000 British Airways Avios) *Redemption #2*

Another great use of those British Airways Avios.  While long-haul business class redemptions cost a lot of Avios, short-haul flights are more much reasonable.  And while British Airways passes along many of the additional taxes and surcharges when redeeming Avios, the fees on Cathay Dragon are very reasonable.  Cathay Dragon is the regional airline under Cathay Pacific, which is a OneWorld alliance member.  That basically means that the bigger, fancier aircraft are branded as Cathay Pacific and fly the long-haul routes, while Cathay Dragon has the shorter flights.  A business class seat on Cathay Dragon is roughly equivalent to a nice business class seat on a domestic flight in the United States, though the rest of the business class experience (check-in, security, lounges, overall customer service) is hard to beat at Hong Kong International Airport.

  • Total airline miles: 30,000 British Airways Avios
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $64.20
  • Actual cost of airfare: $855 x 2 = $1,710
  • Monetary value of miles: 5.5 cents/mile
On top of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong

Hong Kong to Yangon, Myanmar in Cathay Dragon Business Class

Miles needed: 20,000 British Airways Avios each

  • Jameson: Chase British Airways credit card (100,000 British Airways Avios) *Redemption #3*

Yet again, British Airways Avios for the win.  With this one credit card, we were able to book a total of six awards flight for our around-the-world trip.  We were able to take advantage of a limited-time offer for Chase British Airways credit card to earn 100,000 British Airways Avios at just the right time.  We still had 25,000 Avios leftover, which was a good start for redeeming cheap roundtrip tickets from Washington, DC to Dublin on Aer Lingus (which I’ll write about later).  Myanmar has been on our radar for awhile (blame Anthony Bourdain), and they started offering eVisas which makes traveling there much easier.  Plus, award space was wide open, so it was meant to be.

  • Total airline miles: 40,000 British Airways Avios
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $78.60
  • Actual cost of airfare: $1,405 x 2 = $2810
  • Monetary value of miles: 6.8 cents/mile
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Unfortunately, Jameson couldn’t keep the longyi.

Yangon, Myanmar to Chiang Mai, Thailand in Bangkok Airways Economy Class

I have a confession to make… we didn’t actually book all of our flights with credit card points or frequent flyer miles.  While I was on a mission to maximize our points and miles, I recognized that redeeming awards points for this particular flight would be a horrible value. And since this trip wasn’t all about just flying in business class, our desire to maximize our time at each destination outweighed the novelty of redeeming every single flight with points and miles.

We could have easily flown to Chiang Mai via Bangkok, but our bigger priority was to fly nonstop.  We had a whirlwind trip as it was, and spending even more time in airplanes and airports would have made it that more hectic.  Luckily, Bangkok Airways flew nonstop from Yangon to Chiang Mai for $140 each.  Bangkok Airways is an economy class-only regional airline (i.e., no long-haulflights) that isn’t part of any airline alliance.  However, they do partner with a number of airlines, including Air France and KLM.  I looked into transferring some of our credit card points into the joint Air France/KLM frequent flyer program, but each of the reward flights would have cost 10,000 miles and roughly $55 in fees.  That’s a value of less than 1 cent/mile, which is pitiful.  I swallowed my pride and purchased the flights outright, knowing those 20,000 points could be used for a future award flight.

Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Probably one of the best days of Taryn’s life.

Chiang Mai, Thailand to Bangkok, Thailand to Washington, DC in Thai Airways and ANA Airlines Business Class

Miles needed: 80,000 United Airlines miles each

  • Jameson: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card (55,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points; plus additional UR points through other dining/travel credit card spending)
  • Jameson: Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card (55,000 United Airlines miles; plus my own stash of about 30,000 United miles)

I already had a decent collection of United Airlines miles from previous travel, and I could easily earn 55,000 more by signing up for the United Airlines MileagePlus Explorer credit card and adding Taryn as an authorized user.  That made collecting about 85,000 United miles a breeze.  Since United is a transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards, I could then earn the rest of the needed miles via the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  Since the card give you double points on all dining and travel expenses, it was much more advantageous for us to put our additional spending on the Sapphire Preferred credit card rather than the United credit card.

We weren’t as particular with the flights home as we were with the other flights throughout the trip.  In general, Asian airlines are more generous with their award space, so it wasn’t too difficult to book our last flights back home to DC.  While we were hoping to schedule a long layover in Beijing, instead the award space provided a long layover in Bangkok instead.  But with that, we landed a business class seat with ANA Airlines flying through Tokyo.  ANA Airlines is rated five stars by Skytrax, a UK-based company that rates airlines and airports.  So while we were expecting to find award space via Beijing on Air China, we were perfectly happy flying via Tokyo on ANA Airlines.

Grand Total

  • Total credit card sign-ups: 8
  • Total miles redeemed: 474,000
  • Total cash spent: $1,163.58 (including paid tickets on Bangkok Airways)
  • Total value of redemption flights: $41,570
  • Overall monetary value of miles: 8.6 cents/mile

Yes, it was complicated.  And yes, it took a lot of time and effort to apply for the cards.  But it was all worth it to book a trip of a lifetime and pretend like we’re high-rolling jet setters.


Want to create your own trip of a lifetime?  Start here: Points for Beginners

Also, check out pictures and reviews from our around-the-world trip in Trip Highlights or Flight Reviews.

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