280,000 miles & $325.18
Wed 7 Jan 2015
So driving back from visiting the family in WNY on Monday 12.29.14 I kept thinking about using my 335,000 Delta Skymiles (in between episodes of Serial) and cashing them in for another RTW ticket. Following some travel blogs over the past few months I learned two things that were happening: that Delta had announced in October that the last RTW award tickets they'd issue would be on 12.31.14, and that my Skymiles were becoming worth less and less almost daily due to constant devaluations to the program. While doing this trip again was always in the back of my mind (as evidenced by my email folder "RTW @ 40??" going back to 2011), the looming 12.31.14 deadline to book brought it front and center.
Back in the office on 12.30.14 I kept thinking about booking something but for some reason was hesitant, as I guess I figured I could book something the next (& last) day. Deadline day came and around 11:00 AM I called the RTW Award Desk and was placed on hold. I had no clue what I would even book but I knew that simply booking anything would get me on the books with a confirmation number and would allow for date and city changes anytime in the future. Also comforting was the fact that anything I booked could be cancelled as long as it was done seventy-two hours before departure, I'd just have to pay a $150 fee to get my miles redeposited and they would refund me any and all taxes paid. So I waited and waited with the call on speakerphone. Two hours passed with nothing but hold music so I went out and grabbed lunch, leaving the phone on speaker. I got back an hour later and was still on hold. It was now 5:00 PM and time to head home so I took a photo of of my desk phone showing me on hold for just under six hours. Mad that no one answered nearly all day but knowing that it was entirely my fault as I had known about this since October, I sent Delta an email with the picture. You never know unless you try, right?!?
So I got an email response from Delta the very next day. They apologized for not being able to handle the volume of calls, but basically called me out on knowing since October about the discontinuation of the RTW award tickets. I was bummed but had no one to blame but myself. Then the unthinkable happened. On Saturday morning 01.03.15 I woke up to another email from Delta, and this one floored me. They wrote me back and said that because of the extremely high volume of calls and complaints received, they were extending the deadline to book to 01.07.15. WOO HOO !!!
So now motivated as ever I really kicked in my research and planning, studying my wall map to see how I could get the most out of this ticket. The ticket has some strict rules: you have to travel in one continuous direction either east or west (determined by the longitude of the airport down to degrees and minutes), you can't backtrack, you have to start and finish in the same country, you get a maximum of three stops on any one continent, and you can book a total of six stops around the world with a maximum of sixteen segments/flights. This was all just about the same as last time with one exception: this time open jaw/overland segments would count against me as one of the sixteen segments allowed. The main questions now were where do I go? When do I leave? Do I try and do this for an entire year again? And do I only burn 180,000 miles booking an economy ticket or do I use 280,000 and go business class? Can I see all seven continents in one trip ? The rough itinerary I came up with was to spend a month in New Zealand, a month in Australia, +/- three months in Asia, +/- three months in Africa, and +/- three months in South America.
Poring over schedules of the carriers I would most likely be using in the SkyTeam Alliance (Aero Mexico, Korean, Kenya Airways, Air France, KLM, Delta & China Southern) I cobbled an itinerary together. Knowing full well that flexibility was the key regarding dates and even cities I called the RTW Award Desk on Tuesday 01.06.15 (a day AHEAD of the deadline this time) and started booking. The call took nearly three hours, but the agent was so helpful and patient working with me to try so many different flights, cities and itineraries. In her experience she said that generally there's more business class availability, and with the devaluation of my miles I took the leap and opted for business class. Another factor that came into play was the fact that you can only book tickets eleven months in advance. That meant that the farthest ahead I could book anything was December of 2015. I picked my departure date to be 04.22.15, as twenty-two is my lucky number, and ironically, when I later looked at the calendar on my phone I saw that it was Earth Day. We put in a lot of "dummy dates" as placeholders, and by the end of the call I had an official confirmation number, had 280,000 miles taken out of my account, and my credit card was charged $325.18 for taxes and airport fees. Lastly she asked me if I had any interest in knowing how much the ticket would have cost if purchased. Doe she know who she's talking to, OF COURSE I wanted to know. $21,398.29, so I guess I got pretty good value out of those miles!! So here's what I booked utilizing all sixteen segments, with an open jaw meaning you fly into one country/city/airport and leave out of another, fending for yourself to fill in these parts of the itinerary:
DCA-JFK-ICN-AKL, open jaw, DPS-CAN-KTM-CAN-NBO-TNR-NBO-ADD, open jaw, JNB-ATL-EZE, open jaw, UIO-ATL
Happy with my booking I felt quite accomplished. And then later that night thinking about the flights I realized I made an amateur mistake. Why on earth did I choose to depart from DCA burning an entire segment just to go from DC to NYC? I called back on 01.07.15, got another super friendly agent and made the change, giving me back a segment to use somewhere down the road. What was also great was the fact the the agent waived the $150 change fee. She explained that it's completely up to the agent to assess the charge or not, but that in my case since I can't even book my return flights home yet for April of 2016 it was a no brainer for her. Going forward I'll be sure to put on the charm when calling again to try and avoid the fee! So now content (for the moment) with my ticket I started daydreaming of being anywhere but in brutally cold DC . . . only 105 days until departure!