In a few days from now we will embark on a 21-day trip that will take us the complete circumference of the earth (plus a little bit more). In total, we will make 7 city stops along the way, 6 of which we’ll be spending some time in. Each leg is First Class or Suites Class and almost all of it has been booked using miles and points.
The purpose of this epic trip, aside from an awesome holiday for us, is to demonstrate the power of the frequent flyer mile and how when used carefully it can yield truly great value.
Here’s how the itinerary looks.
- Singapore to Hong Kong
- Singapore Airlines A380-800
- 2017 Suites Class
- Hong Kong to London
- Cathay Pacific 777-300ER
- First Class
- London to Washington DC
- British Airways 747-400
- First Class
- Washington DC to New York City
- Amtrak First Class
- New York City to Boston MA
- Amtrak First Class
- Boston MA to San Francisco CA
- JetBlue A321-200
- Mint Class
- San Francisco CA to Singapore via Hong Kong
- Singapore Airlines 777-300ER
- 2013 First Class
The keen eye will notice two exceptions to the First Class principle in the above itinerary. Firstly – Amtrak does not operate aircraft. True enough – but considering the flight options available on this route, we decided to go with something completely different. Plus Amtrak’s First Class product comes highly recommended so we are looking forward to the comparison.
Secondly – JetBlue do not operate First Class. Also true. However, when their “Mint” product is considered in a side-by-side comparison with the competitor’s domestic First Class offerings on trans-continental flights, it’s hard to argue that a fully enclosed suite configured in an alternating 2-2, 1-1 layout is anything other than First Class. Therefore, we’ve decided to ‘mint’ it with the First Class seal of approval on this occasion!
The two most commonly asked questions by our friends, colleagues and readers:
- How did you get so many points / miles?
- How did you get the booking in First Class?
Regarding points and miles – we have written extensively about optimising your spending to improve your earning from credit cards. In fact, quite a small proportion of the miles we used on this trip were accrued by actually flying revenue tickets with airlines. Most of them have been saved by strategically putting normal spending on the correct credit card. That includes paying rent, insurance, taxes, groceries, shopping, hotels and even the upkeep of this website.
We’ve reviewed a number of the leading miles earning credit cards in Singapore – see our summary page. Credit card sign-up bonuses can also be a great way to top up your miles balance – see here for the top deals running right now.
The Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Amex, for example, has no annual fee in the first year and currently boasts a 25,000 KrisFlyer mile bonus if you have S$5,000 spending to do in the first 3 months – our top pick at the moment for a fee-free card.
Let’s address another common question from our fellow miles hackers. “How come you didn’t opt for a Round The World (RTW) Star Alliance ticket?”
There’s no doubt that a KrisFlyer RTW ticket is one of the best value redemptions going, at 240,000 miles in Business Class and 360,000 miles in First Class.
Well, the answer is simple – flexibility. Whilst it would have saved us a small number of miles overall (and removed the necessity for the cash JetBlue flight we booked), you must first ensure there is reward availability on every flight you intend to travel on, and comply with the rules for these tickets.
It works well for people with a lot of time flexibility and who don’t mind about the exact destination. We sadly weren’t able to be flexible and July is peak holiday season, whilst that doesn’t impact premium cabins as much as economy, it’s was likely to scupper our precision plans somewhere along the way.
Booking individual tickets also allowed us to be flexible with the airline / alliance we chose to fly on to suit what we think our readers would find most interesting. Notice how on this trip we’ll be covering the flagship lounges and First Class products of two oneworld airlines.
Here are the flights in chronological order of when they were first booked.
Hong Kong to London
Cathay Pacific First Class
Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER First Class is one of our all-time favourite products. It’s a little difficult to explain why. It’s not a fully enclosed suite, it doesn’t have a separate bed and it’s not particularly new. However, it is the best example of what we would call “previous generation” first class seats. The product is mature and as such has been perfected over its life cycle. The soft product is always excellent and the lounges in Hong Kong are incredibly special.
For the above reasons and because we needed to travel via London, we decided from the outset that the trip would include this leg, having enjoyed it so much last time we flew it to London a couple of years ago.
Cathay Pacific release award availability at 360 days before departure to Asia Miles members and 355 days before to British Airways Executive Club and typically release a small amount of availability in both First and Business Class.
Then in our experience, another ‘window’ tends to open at about 9 months before (this is when we locked in this flight). Finally, in the last few days leading up to the flight, they will often release a glut of unsold seats meaning Cathay can be perfect for a last minute unplanned trip.
In fact, Andrew has taken advantage of this recently for SIN-HKG-MAN, booked less than 24 hours before the flight when 3 seats suddenly became available in Business Class.
Having locked in this flight we set about booking our ‘private aisle’. Cathay’s First Class cabin has 6 seats in a 1-1-1 configuration. Seats 1A and 2A are the only seats with access to the left aisle as the middle pair are angled towards the right aisle, shared with the right side window pair.
This means the only foot traffic to use this aisle is the crew serving you and your travel companion. Plus, with a toilet on each side of the forward galley for First Class passengers, generally middle and right seat passengers will use the right side toilet, leaving the left toilet just for you.
Pro Tip: Seat 2A is always blocked from online allocation due being the sole bassinet position in First Class. However, with a quick call to the Cathay Pacific contact centre it can be allocated to any First Class passenger, with the usual caveat that you may be re-seated if a booking including an infant is made in this cabin on the same flight.
San Francisco to Singapore
Singapore Airlines First Class (2013 F)
This leg was locked in early on to facilitate our timely arrival back to Singapore. In fact, we had originally booked SFO-SIN direct on the A350-900 in Business Class. It’s the quickest and most convenient way to get home from San Francisco, but we were slightly dismayed to find that the seats in row 11 and 19 had already been taken.
This meant settling for in-between rows which are a squeeze as we highlighted in our comprehensive A350 Business Class review here. When you are stuck in a seat for 16 hours and 40 minutes, you need to make sure it will be a comfortable journey.
So we started searching for alternatives. Luckily, some 3 months before our travel date, nobody had yet booked into the 4 First class seats on the 777-300ER SQ1 service to Singapore via Hong Kong and even more fortunately, Singapore Airlines were now offering 2 saver award seats on the day we needed.
Problem: The flights cost 60,000 more miles for both of us.
While we both normally keep a healthy KrisFlyer balance in case of last-minute bookings or opportunities, we keep the majority of our miles as credit card points for as long as possible. The reason is twofold, firstly they don’t expire there (once transferred to KrisFlyer you have 3 years to use them), and secondly for the primary cards we use it gives us the option to transfer into another scheme like Asia Miles or Avios if we see a redemption there we prefer.
This time though we were caught a bit short – so we had to transfer the miles from Standard Chartered in this case. It meant we couldn’t immediately lock in the flight. We called Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer hotline and explained the situation. The very helpful officer immediately transferred us to the First Class flight and put the ticket “on-hold” until our miles had transferred which we expected from previous experience, to be within 5 working days.
5 days of expectantly checking my KrisFlyer account later, still no miles credited. As it turns out Standard Chartered had made several mistakes with the transfer and the process was yet to even begin. Disaster, we had foregone our long booked seats on the A350 and now our 777-300ER First Class seats would soon be surrendered as we’d failed to ticket the booking in the agreed period.
We called the KrisFlyer hotline again. I explained the situation to another officer who was again very understanding. They spent some time trying to see what they could do to help. In fact, they asked to call me back. At this point, it seemed bleak.
30 minutes later, the officer rang back explained that there were some issues with the booking system but they had managed to confirm our flight and we had up to 48 hours before departure to credit the miles. Disaster averted.
Since Standard Chartered had caused this mess – we had lodged a complaint with the regional CEO. After all, we been falsely promised the transfer would happen in time on several separate occasions (it’s a long story…). Credit where it is due – they have now amended the system to be fully automated which should prevent future ‘human error’. They also credited my account with 50,000 reward points (20,000 miles) to apologise for the mistake. Good service recovery on their part.
The booking hassles aside, highlights from this part of the trip will be the Singapore Airlines 2013 First Class product, which is a new experience for both of us, and the new United Polaris lounge in San Francisco, which opened in April. Look out for reviews on both of those.
Pro Tip: We have had mixed experiences with the Singapore Airlines call centre over the years. Our readers have also reported some negative experiences. It appears that this has been taken into account by SIA and they have made a concerted effort to make it more useful recently. Be polite, patient and realistic (no they can’t clear the waitlist for you!). Anyway, well done Singapore Airlines.
London to Washington
British Airways First Class
Again this wasn’t our original plan here, we first used our Avios to redeem two business class seats on the flagship ‘BA1’ Airbus A318 from London City to New York JFK. We’ve read mixed reviews about the product and service but we thought it would have great novelty value, despite the lack of a dedicated lounge in London City.
Later though some First Class seats became available from London Heathrow to New York, Boston and Washington. As we hadn’t yet locked bookings in at the USA side we were flexible about which US city we could start in and after much deliberation, we decided to cancel the London City plan and book London Heathrow to Washington DC on the Boeing 747-400 in First Class.
This also gives us the opportunity to review BA’s ‘The Concorde Room’, their flagship lounge at London Heathrow. It’s also hard to pass up the opportunity to sit in the nose of the 747, a fast diminishing option globally as more fuel-efficient jets resign these older birds to roles as freighter aircraft.
Andrew’s first ever ‘First’ experience in fact was on a British Airways 747-400 from Singapore to Sydney in 2012. BA even had their own First Class lounge at Changi at the time! The on-board product hasn’t significantly changed since then, so it will be interesting to see how it’s holding up 6 years later.
Boston to San Francisco
JetBlue Mint Class
When we looked at trans-continental options, it was pretty obvious what we should do. The young, innovative company with an enclosed suite flat-bed single seat on a narrow-body aircraft (almost unheard of), or the old US dinosaur airlines who are largely just peddling a now slightly out of date business class seat as “domestic First Class”.
JetBlue are trailblazers and have been largely responsible for shaking up the US domestic aviation industry with their cutting-edge products, quality service and rock-bottom prices. For that, they have earned our respect, dragging airlines like American and Delta kicking and screaming into the transcontinental flat-bed business category.
We’re also excited about this product because, as we mentioned in our SilkAir merger article – we will soon be seeing flat-bed business class products much closer to home, with both Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines promising them on their 737 MAX aircraft. So this is a taster of how good it could potentially be.
This is the only flight leg of our trip that we paid cash for. There are mile options through their own scheme TrueBlue, and you can even redeem Emirates Skywards miles for JetBlue flights, but cash was simply very good value because we jumped on it when tickets were first released.
We set a reminder, as JetBlue release tickets in batches every 3 months so typically you can see availability anything from 9-12 months in advance. This meant getting in on the day the ticket was released and therefore, likely the cheapest non-sale cost. Including all taxes, we each paid US$548.20, which for 6 hours in an enclosed flatbed single seat across the US – is extremely good value.
As the first two to book we also each secured a single ‘suite’ by the window with the closing doors. Only 4 of the 16 seats in this cabin are the enclosed suites so you have to get in early to book these.
Singapore to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines 2017 Suites Class
We had left this leg till late to book, since there are plenty options for getting to Hong Kong. None of the products currently operating this route was of particular interest to us. We’ve flown Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class a number of times already and reviewed it here. We’ve also flown on the Singapore Airlines 2006 Business and Suites product that was operating the route.
Back in January 2018, we were on another trip to South Africa, having just posted our article about Hong Kong being the next new A380 route – about to head out on an afternoon safari drive when the penny finally dropped… “Why don’t we go new Suites?”
Cue some frantic searching with the Singapore Airlines app. It was available, but only at Advantage rates for two on our day of departure. Excellent. So I went through the booking process, only to find the app crashed on the last page. When I started the process again, the same flight was showed the dreaded status WAITLIST.
Too late – we had to go and some take pictures of lions and zebras for the next few hours and hope that the system would drop our un-ticketed request back into the system.
On return, to my surprise – Singapore Airlines had sent me an email saying that my booking hadn’t been completed and that the flights were on hold pending confirmation. So over a nice glass of Pinotage on the terrace, we confirmed one of the most exciting new products on the market this decade.
Since we reported from the November 2017 product launch here we have been keen to try the new Suites, but with one key requirement if possible – it should be the double bed Suite i.e. 1A & 2A or 1F & 2F. Now we finally had the booking confirmed and as the first two passengers to book at the time – suites 1A and 2A are locked in this weekend.
Arguably, of the entire trip, this is the poorest KrisFlyer miles value as we had to pay the Advantage rate (32,500 miles more each) to lock the tickets in. To most, this is not a very sensible redemption. To us though, given how aspirational the product is and how it gave us an opportunity to incorporate the new Suites double-bed review into our planned trip, it’s worth every mile.
Washington DC to New York City to Boston MA
Amtrak First Class
As mentioned above – obviously not a flight. When we looked at the potential flight options between the three cities we are visiting on the east coast of the USA nothing seemed very exciting or something that would be worth writing about.
At a little over an hour on each leg, there also wasn’t going to be much in-flight service to speak of. Plus the chore of having to plan to arrive at the airport at least 1.5 hours before, face the TSA twice more and go through the rigmarole of collecting bags and then getting from remote airport locations to downtown hotels (OK Boston airport is close) – no thanks.
Thankfully there is a better way. Amtrak train stations are centrally located, offer lounges and a First Class cabin that is reportedly quite a treat including complimentary alcoholic beverages and food.
When you cater for the travel time to the airport, the 1.5 hours minimum before to check-in and post-flight activities, taking the train is actually a similar timing. It helps that we’re taking the east coast cities ‘in sequence’ from Washington to New York then New York to Boston, meaning the train journey in each case is only about 3 hours.
Plus, the view is likely more entertaining. We’ll have seen enough clouds by this point anyway and a break from the air will be welcome.
Andrew took the 3-hour train journey from New York to Washington many years ago and was impressed with the ease of the experience, so he immediately suggested this would be a good way hop between these eastern seaboard cities. Plus it’s a slightly ‘alternative’ review for our readers.
Total Cost vs. Total Value
It’s very easy to come up with extremely high ‘valuations’ when miles are used to redeem into First Class or Suites products. These almost always command somewhat ridiculous sums of money to purchase in their own right.
We took a look at the cash purchase rates in First Class for the flights we’re flying but for fairness we also did a comparison based on the Business Class rates – realistically we’d probably pay for Business here and there where necessary as it also guarantees a flat-bed product on all of the flights we’re taking. It’s probably a better representation of the true miles ‘value’.
For Singapore Airlines redemptions we used KrisFlyer miles, for Cathay Pacific and British Airways redemptions we used Avios points. For our cash ticket from Boston to San Francisco on JetBlue we are crediting the miles to KrisFlyer (earning 3,372 miles each).
Where necessary amounts paid in non-SGD were converted to SGD at the XE.com rate on 26th June 2018.
|Route / Airline||Miles + Cash||Cash Fare (F)||Cash Fare (J)|
|70,000 + S$34.00||S$2,914||S$1,924|
|120,000 + S$60.10||S$11,386||S$8,419|
|68,000 + S$669.50||S$16,004||S$8,178|
|0 + S$746.60||S$747|
|118,000 + S$91.30||S$11,185||S$3,819|
|Total||376,000 + S$1,601.50||S$42,236||S$23,087|
|Implied value per Mile >||10.8¢||5.7¢|
“So hang on, you always say KrisFlyer miles are worth 2 cents each, now they’re worth at least 5.7 cents?!”
No, not at all. It’s just an illustration and the last thing we’re going to do is attempt to join the ‘travel hacker snags $20,000 First Class seat for $36’ nonsense headline.
Truth is no one in their right mind would build an itinerary like this and pay for it in cash sector-by-sector, even in Business Class. There are much cheaper ways to achieve very nearly the same thing as we’re doing.
One item stands out significantly – the taxes and fees payable on the British Airways Avios redemption from London to Washington! At S$670 it largely stems from the ridiculously high Air Passenger Duty for flight departures from the UK. You can avoid this to some extent by positioning to Ireland or another European country before making a long-haul flight but we didn’t have time for that on this trip and London is a must for us.
Remember we paid an ‘Advantage Award’ rate for the Singapore to Hong Kong Suites redemption. That’s pretty much against our religion, but on this occasion we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try out and review the double bed with suites 1A and 2A available.
An added bonus
Better still the last flight in this itinerary is shown at the 118,000 miles rate, however we later voluntarily upped this to 138,000 miles each to achieve a Zone 11 (USA West Coast) to Zone 6 (Maldives) redemption with a 6-month stopover in Singapore, in anticipation for a trip early next year.
See our article about the KrisFlyer $100 stopover trick if you don’t know what we mean here – even though our onward sector from Singapore to the Maldives in January on the A330 is in Business Class and we’ve paid the First Class redemption rate all the way through, the additional miles cost is just 20,000 miles.
That’s far below the 35,000 miles normally needed for a Business saver redemption on that SIN-MLE flight next year. It’s actually close to the Economy Class saver rate (18,500 miles), but this way we’ll travel in the relative comfort of the ‘2009 RJ’ seat (unless they upgrade the route to the new regional Business Class before that).
Maximising miles on this trip
We’re strong advocates of the Standard Chartered Visa Infinite card (see our review) having held it for a few years. This card gives you 3 miles per dollar on overseas spending (subject to a transactions total of S$2,000+ per statement cycle in any currency).
People often point to the high forex fee associated with this card but it’s more than outweighed by the miles earned, as we showed in our article in February about whether these fees are worth bearing to earn miles overseas.
As you can see your effective cost per mile when making a foreign transaction on this card is 15% less than the next best alternative for foreign miles earning – the UOB PRVI Miles at 2.4 miles per S$1.
There’s a new kid on the block though for this trip – thanks to Citi’s 8 miles per dollar on Apple Pay offer running until 31st July 2018.
We’ve happily been earning 8mpd on Apple Pay transactions in Singapore using the Citi Prestige card, but the snag there is that overseas spending is not included. To get 8mpd on Apple Pay foreign spend you need the Citi Rewards card (see our recent review on that one).
We therefore both went ahead and got one solely to make the most of the Apple Pay promotion while we are overseas on this trip. Both the UK and the USA have plentiful contactless / Apple Pay options so it should work out well.
Note how we both went for the MasterCard not the Visa. That’s because MasterCard generally has a slightly better foreign exchange rate than Visa for overseas spend, so you should always aim to get this card if that’s your plan. You can still apply for the MasterCard version even though it’s not widely advertised on the Citi site – check out our review for the link.
We’re staying with friends and family on some parts of this trip, while other parts involve smaller independent boutique-style hotels, which are our general preference over big chains. We do plan to include a couple of reviews on the hotel side though – the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and the Intercontinental Boston, as we think these two are the ones likely to interest our readers the most.
We’re truly excited about our upcoming round-the-world trip. Stay tuned to the website for some reviews along the way, with more to come once we return to Singapore and have some downtime from all the travelling.
If you aren’t following us on Instagram, Facebook and our new Flipboard magazine do subscribe for the latest updates, pictures, and some tips and tricks along the way. We’re also expecting plenty of aviation industry news and new miles earning opportunities in July, which we’ll be keeping you updated on as much as we can from the other side of the world (watch out for those 3am articles Singapore time!).
Look out for the following reviews from this trip coming soon, which won’t necessarily appear in order:
- Singapore Airlines ‘The Private Room’ Changi T3
- Singapore Airlines SilverKris First Lounge Changi T2
- Singapore Airlines SilverKris First Lounge Changi T3
- Singapore Airlines A380 New Suites ‘Double Bed’
- The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific ‘The Wing’ First Class Lounge HKG
- Cathay Pacific ‘The Pier’ First Class Lounge HKG
- Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER
- British Airways ‘The Concorde Room’ LHR T5
- British Airways First Class 747-400
- Amtrak First Class
- Intercontinental Boston
- JetBlue ‘Mint’ Business Class A321
- United Polaris Lounge San Francisco
- Singapore Airlines First Class 777-300ER
If you’ve always dreamed of travelling around the world in a premium class – hopefully this goes some way to show you that it’s within relatively easy reach.
It all kicks off this weekend, so enjoy and stay tuned.
(Cover Photo: The Points Guy)