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JB books awards for the MileValue Award Booking Service. He was an expert on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Awards and had been planning to book one for himself. With that option gone, he improvised this solution to the problem of how to book a round-the-world trip in a world without Explorer Awards.

By combining the strengths of American Airlines’ zone-based award chart and British Airways’ distance-based award chart, you can actually improve on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Award for only a few extra miles.

I was banking American Airlines miles for two years for my wife and me, so I was upset when American eliminated Explorer Awards several weeks ago with no notice as part of the 17 changes to the American Airlines and US Airways loyalty programs.

I wanted to book the trip of a lifetime, and Explorer Awards were perfect for that.

Explorer Awards allowed 16 segment/15 stop around-the-world trips using all of American’s oneworld partners.

After a sufficient grieving period, I started thinking about what to do with all those American Airlines miles I had saved. I ended up putting a trip together with eight stops and 35,879 miles flown. I booked it as a series of American Airlines and British Airways awards.

When I priced it all out, I realized it was not much more expensive than an Explorer Award and had a lot more flexibility.

Planning My Trip

Here is my trip.

final with ewr

This itinerary has stops in Berlin, Paris, London, Cape Town, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, and Hong Kong–AKA the 5 continents tour.

Here is how I went about constructing the itinerary, and some of the choices I made to maximize routes, keep taxes/fees low, and pick cities compatible with the oneworld network.

Searching

All mileage is listed as economy/business.

Scott’s post about how and where to search for oneworld space came in handy here. I used the British Airways, American Airlines, and Qantas sites to search, verify availability, and determine taxes.

JFK to Helsinki to Berlin
20K (offseason) or 30K AA miles and $18 in economy / 50K AA miles and $18 in business on Finnair

I searched the American Airlines site for this award, since it shows Finnair and Air Berlin award space.

There was plenty of award space via London, but by avoiding British Airways’ fuel surcharges and the United Kingdom aviation taxes, I saved $317 in economy / $482 business! Per person!

Berlin to Paris
4.5K British Airways Avios and $38 in economy on airberlin. There are no fuel surcharges on airberlin flights.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Paris to London
4.5K British Airways miles and $27 economy in British Airways economy. On intra-Europe flights, British Airways collects a flat cash payment instead of taxes and fuel surcharges.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

London to Johannesburg to Cape Town
30K AA miles and $500 economy / 37.5K AA miles and $750 business on British Airways.

This represents both high departure taxes from the United Kingdom and high fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. Sometimes you just have to pay those if you want to enjoy time in London and want to fly somewhere that British Airways flies most conveniently and comfortably.

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

My Gamble

I had planned on a London to South Africa leg in business or first class, but I could not find any business/first space to Johannesburg or Cape Town further than 2 months out from today. Nothing. Clearly they are keeping a tight leash on that premium space (economy was widely available).

I looked at the Johannesburg airport Wikipedia page for other American Airlines-partner airlines I could take.

Etihad connects via Abu Dhabi, but that would break the American Airlines award into two award tickets because I am transiting the Middle East region. Flying Qatar Airlines has the same issue.

So I skipped this leg for now. I feel fairly confident that I will find business class space closer to the date, and worst case I fly economy. This is also a good time to point out two benefits of booking multiple AA and BA awards compared to the old Explorer Award: I can book a leg later, and if I want to book First Class for just this leg, I can do that without increasing the price of the entire set of awards.

minus lhr-jnb
So far, with the big hole from London to South Africa

Cape Town to Johannesburg to Sydney
37.5K AA miles and $160 economy / 50K AA miles and $190 business on British Airways then Qantas.

I searched the American Airlines site, since British Airways and Qantas are searchable there.

Award space for this route is scarce. Unlike London to South Africa on British Airways, which has good availability closer to the date of departure, the Qantas flight from Johannesburg to Sydney is uniformly spread thin. I found some space close to the dates I wanted, so I decided to go back and change my other flight legs to accommodate the direct flight I found on Qantas. Always work backwards from the most difficult segment.

Sydney to Auckland
10K Avios and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Auckland to Sydney
10K BA and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Sydney to Singapore
25K AA miles and $74 economy / 35K AA miles and $74 business on Qantas

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Singapore to Hong Kong
10K BA miles and $54 economy on Cathay Pacific
This is a 4 hour flight so I will do it in economy

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Hong Kong to Newark
35K AA miles and $33 economy / 55K AA miles and $33 business on Cathay Pacific

There was plenty of direct Cathay Pacific space that you can search on the Qantas website. I called American Airlines to confirm they could see it, and to get the taxes.

Here’s the final routing again.

final with ewr

Comparison Between American Airlines Award and Multiple AA/BA Awards

Now, let’s compare how much the old Explorer award would have cost versus the AA/BA mix of awards I used. I’m including the economy/business mileage numbers.

The Explorer Award was based on total mileage. For a 35,879 mile trip it would have been:

Total Countable Trip Miles = 35,001 – 50,000
Economy: costs 160,000 AA miles plus taxes
Business: costs 220,000 AA miles plus taxes

The final tally of AA/BA miles and taxes on my actual trip broke down to this:

AA: 167,500 miles and $863 economy / 227,500 miles and $1143 business
BA: miles: 39,000 and $219 all in economy

The grand total is 206,500 miles and $1007 economy / 266,500 miles and $1257 business.

The mostly business class award I booked will use 266,500 miles while an all business class Explorer Award would have cost 220,000 miles. I paid 46,500 miles extra. But for paying extra, I got some important advantages:

1) unlimited number of segments (the Explorer Award was limited to 16)
2) unlimited routing and date changes with some change fees (the Explorer Award allowed only date and cabin changes, not routing or airline changes)
3) you can backtrack, transit cities multiple times, and have unlimited open jaws (Explorer Awards had strict rules on these)
4) you can tinker with the itinerary before and during travel

I don’t know if that completely mitigates having to pay extra miles, but it certainly lessens the sting quite a bit.

And importantly, my stash of American Airlines miles didn’t become useless with the abolition of Explorer Awards. I was still able to book the trip of a lifetime for just a few more miles.

Recap

With some British Airways Avios and the same amount of AAdvantage miles as a comparable Explorer award would have required, I am to able to book my around the world trip and have a lot of flexibility to make changes before and during travel.

Are the BA miles worth it for the extra flexibility? What do you think?

If this kind of trip gets you excited, and simultaneously bewildered about how to book it, consider hiring our Award Booking Service.



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