Around The World In 21 Days: Introduction


  1. Introduction
  2. Delta Comfort+ ECP-ATL-JNB
  3. Hilton Sandton
  4. British Airways Economy JNB-PLZ
  5. Conrad Pezula
  6. Knysna and the Garden Route
  7. Westin Cape Town
  8. Exploring Cape Town + Penguins!
  9. British Airways Economy CPT-JNB
  10. Protea Hotel OR Tambo Airport
  11. Kenya Airways Economy JNB-NBO-DXB
  12. DoubleTree Hotel Jumeirah Beach
  13. Exploring Dubai
  14. Kenya Airways Economy DXB-NBO-SEZ
  15. Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort
  16. Exploring Mahe Island
  17. Kenya Airways Economy SEZ-NBO-BKK
  18. W Bangkok Hotel
  19. Exploring Bangkok
  20. Vietnam Airlines Economy BKK-HAN-NRT
  21. Back In Tokyo!
  22. Delta Air Lines Main Cabin NRT-DTW-ATL
  23. DoubleTree Atlanta Airport
  24. Delta Air Lines Comfort+ ATL-ECP
  25. Conclusion

I think it is the goal of every person who is really into the points and miles hobby to try to maximize the redemption for amazing experiences that otherwise they couldn’t afford. For most people this seems to be in the form of redeeming Business and First Class awards; and to be honest that this has been my primary motivator. Sure I’ve used miles for award tickets in Economy Class, but primarily for domestic routes where I know that either I will get upgraded or have a good chance. There’s nothing better than booking a trip to NYC or Montreal and winding up in First Class for each segment thanks to Complimentary Medallion Upgrades, and only paying 25,000 SkyMiles after all!

One other type of award that people definitely like to try to take advantage of are the Around The World (RTW) Awards. Most programs offered this up until recently, however it appears that these are mostly on the way out. American Airlines got rid of them in 2014 with no notice, while Delta sunsetted the award and thankfully giving flyers a few months notice (although it was buried deep on to make some redemptions. The theory is that these awards are generous and that they are likely expensive for the ticketing carrier.

Unlike the paid SkyTeam RTW Tickets, which have defined number of miles that you can fly for various price points, the Delta RTW Award allowed you to pretty much travel over as much distance as you possibly could, as long as you kept flying in the same direction (not even backtracking for a destination by a hair!) and kept it to 16 segments or fewer. The 16 segment part is due to the limitations that an airline ticket can only have 16 segments on it and this is common across, I believe, most carriers. When you look at the number of flights you can take and the distances involved along with the number of airlines that can be involved on a single ticket it has to be an expensive award for Delta. On top of this, one would assume that the redemptions were low due to it being a “hidden award” (you really had to get into the fine print on to realize it existed), and this is part of why Delta claims they were ending the award type as they had to maintain a special desk to handle these.

You see, these awards are typically so complex that Delta’s ticketing system can’t process the ticket automatically. It takes an agent to find all the flights manually, build up the itinerary, manually price and add all of the taxes and then ticket. It’s a long process – for my itinerary it took roughly two hours on the phone (and that was with me having found all the available segments in advance!). As such, Delta maintained (well still does until 12/31/15 to service remaining tickets) the “Delta Multi-City Award Desk” which had some of the best and knowledgeable agents about routes, pricing, and all the ins and outs of these awards. They also did double duty as the rates desk, which involves helping other agents solve complex ticketing issues.

Booking the Ticket
I’ll be honest, booking this ticket tested my patience, my ability to find award seats, and my resisting the desire to book it in Business Class. On that last point, you might be surprised – here’s the thing, I did this all in Economy Class (we won’t count the ECP-ATL/ATL-ECP legs that I got upgraded on). I had wanted to do this in Business Class, but that would have meant draining my account all the way to 0 – I had essentially the exact amount of miles required, 280k SkyMiles, but as much as where the SkyMiles program is headed I wanted to be able to still have enough to redeem for a Business Class award to Europe or Asia as well as have a few in the bank if an emergency popped up and I needed to be somewhere.

When I found out the award type was ending, I found myself spending more time than is healthy using tools like, KVS Tool,, and so and so on trying to find every possible seat and routing out there…and then putting it into one of too many Excel spreadsheets as I tried to find those elusive routings that would work! This is always the tricky phase of finding awards, and to put it in perspective, when I went to South America in May 2014, it took an estimated 40 hours of work to find flights that would work for that simple six-segment award with a stopover. Honestly, that is just how it is with Delta SkyMiles.

But back to this. I knew of where I wanted to go – after South America I had just two continents left that I had not step foot on: Africa and Antarctica. Seeing as Aerolineas Argentinas doesn’t have flights to Antarctica (although they show it in their inflight magazine route map as Argentine Territory!), I knew Africa was going to have be a part of this. Additionally, twice I’ve almost gone to South Africa for a trip, in both cases it lost out to Hong Kong and South America. Now was the time to cross off that country and that continent. Additionally, I knew that I really wanted to go to Dubai, as the only place in the Middle East that I’ve been to is Bahrain, and it hardly captures the imagination.

And then you have the fact that being in some tropical paradise is always great, so I kept jumping around the idea of Zanzibar, the Seychelles, the Maldives and even Palau. That became what had to be the hardest decision of my trip (although Palau was removed pretty quickly as there are very few flight options). Zanzibar would allow me to visit prior to Dubai, the Seychelles would require a lot of backtracking through Nairobi a few times, and the Maldives, while having a few options, was just going to be crazy expensive even on points. Ultimately I decided on the Seychelles, as being out in the middle of nowhere of the Indian Ocean just seemed like a better idea. Plus, I really got to know Kenya Airways…

The Asia legs were also difficult decisions. I had really wanted to visit South Korea and was trying to find away to make Shanghai or Beijing work so I could say that I had been to mainland China. I was even looking at Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. There are a number of options, but Bangkok seemed to work best thanks to Kenya Airways NBO-BKK service (on a 787). It was the leg after Bangkok though that proved difficult. My last destination would need to be somewhere that would allow me to get all the way back to Panama City. Unfortunately domestic flights from the gateway cities in the US tended to be the issue. LAX, SEA, JFK, PDX, SFO….you name it. The flights over the ocean were there, just not to get me back to Atlanta to then catch a flight to Panama City. Heck, I even tried for Aeromexico though MEX! What I did find though was NRT-DTW-ATL and ATL-ECP the next morning. I knew that I would be able to change my flights down the road, so I would keep looking. Unfortunately, I was also dropping from Platinum to Gold and thus not wanting to have to pay change fees once I dropped in status on March 1st, I put that as a self-imposed deadline to find alternate flights. In case you’re wondering, I never was able to find anything else. It’s part of the reasons I wish Delta would offer service, even once or twice a day to another hub out of ECP, but I digress.

The actual ticketing of this award was quite the experience. Unfortunately, for me I was on travel for work during much of December which, as the Delta RTW Desk is only open limited hours and being three hours behind on the West Coast made it difficult to call in. Plus being gone during that time killed my free time for searching for flights as well. Just means that when I got back home I had a lot of legwork to do and it really got down to the last minute.

With ticketing ending on December 31, 2014 and in true procrastinating fashion, I called in for my first attempt on December 30th. I tried calling right after work, figuring that there wouldn’t be that many people calling in to book tickets, but after 2.5 hours on hold, and it being past the time they were supposed to be closed, I gave up. The next morning though I dialed in a minute after they opened for business. Unfortunately due to the building I work in, my call dropped after an hour on hold. It probably would have not happened if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was running around with an earbud in my ear trying to get everything ready for a major milestone. This actually resulted in me being disconnected a few times and me getting a few odd looks. Eventually though my phone call at 10AM held on all throughout the day and as the day kept on going I started getting comments about my determination. That was better than the odd looks!

I kept on holding and holding having been on the phone for around seven hours – at which at this point the desk should have been closed. I started thinking about hanging up, wondering if I was in a queue to nowhere. Thankfully, it wasn’t long after that point a voice finally came across from the other side…I had made it through!

The agent on the phone explained that they were incredibly swamped with calls and because schedules were set a long time before Delta had announced this change, they had a whopping four agents total working. Considering how long it can take to put one of these tickets together, you can easily see how with only four agents would create these long hold times. I was assured that everyone who was calling in was going to be taken care of, and I even heard stories where Delta was still ticketing the next day on Jan 1, 2015 if you called in and said that you were never able to get through. They didn’t exactly advertise that, but at least they were going to take care of those that had been trying to get through.

I started giving her the flights I wanted and she had almost no problem finding any of them. It was the BKK-NRT option that presented the first issue. I believe I had originally found flights on China Southern, but she could not see the flights at all (or it may have been a combination of Kenya Airways [BKK-CAN] and China Southern [CAN-NRT]). Sometimes though what you can find through other channels aren’t always available to Delta for whatever reason. She did however, find flights through Hanoi, Vietnam on Vietnam Airlines. Considering that I had not read really much at all about Vietnam Airlines I figured why not! With that issue solved, I was able to get the rest of my flights NRT-DTW-ATL-ECP without any issue. Of course with all the flights found, it became time to actually ticket, which involved calculating all of the taxes. This whole part of the transaction took about 45 minutes, but once it was done, I was booked! Success! And only $229 in taxes, which by any means is extremely affordable! I thanked the agent for hanging in there and for sticking around past the time they were all supposed to be off for the day and figured that this was the perfect opportunity to use some of the “thank you” awards that Delta would send me for being Platinum to hand out to employees. Since I had two sitting there right on my desk and that I had never given any of them out before, I figured I’d just give them both to the agent who helped me. It gets the employees points which they can use for little awards or other things, and this agent was either surprised or really thankful or both that I was going to give her two of them! But, hey it was the holiday season and she just made my dream trip possible.

The Final Result
So with all that relatively unnecessary backstory out of the way…Let’s go over the final itinerary. For the actual RTW ticket on Delta it wound up looking like:

The Final Itinerary

The Final Itinerary

On top of that, I had two flights that I booked on British Airways within South Africa to support my Garden Route road trip:

  1. British Airways JNB-PLZ
  2. British Airways CPT-JNB

These two flights were both paid flights as I do not have any miles in any Oneworld program. However, I did get a status match to my Delta Gold Medallion status with Air Berlin, which granted me Oneworld Sapphire status – this entitled me to lounge access, Business Class check in, advance seat selection and extra luggage allowance. I had originally considered just booking into Business Class as it wasn’t very expensive, but this route turned out to be best. Neither of my flights were packed and you get a meal in Economy/Traveller on British Airways so really there wasn’t much of a reason to with that newly acquired Oneworld status. The status match I got is good until next May, so I think I’m going to keep my options open in terms of traveling on some other Oneworld flights. Heck, I may even check out American…

As for hotels, thanks to spending several months in the months prior, I made use of my stash of Hilton HHonors and SPG points to book my hotels. Some were for regular awards and a few cash and points. I think I had only one non-award stay my entire trip and that was the Protea Hotel OR Tambo Airport; and consequently the only hotel that wasn’t part SPG or HHonors.

So with this all said – and likely this is going to be have been the most difficult post to write – it’s time to move on to the trip. I’ve broken it down in my usual fashion, with reviews of the flights, hotels, and my experiences in the places I visited. With so many different stops, and so many different legs, it’s definitely going to take a little bit of time to get through it all, and I’m still working my way through all my photos and videos!

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