Welcome to the last installment in this feature on "mini-round-the-world" trips with Aeroplan. Part 1 introduced you to the basics of planning this epic trip, while Part 2 was all about stretching your mini-RTW ticket to its maximum value. However, I left out one important topic for Part 3 – what I believe to be the most powerful trick to have up your sleeve: long layovers.
If the two stopovers of your mini-RTW allow you to stay in a city for any length of time, then long layovers can also be thought of as "mini-stops": you're allowed to stay in as many places as you'd like for up to 24 hours.
As far as I know, there's no limit on how many segments or connections you're allowed to have in total. (There used to be a limit of 10 segments, but it wasn't too hard to find an Aeroplan call centre agent who was willing to go above that if necessary.)
Is a 23-hour layover enough to see everything a city has to offer? Probably not. But it's plenty of time to get a taste for things and decide on whether or not you'd like to return. Plus, getting to spend a day in a whole new place for the paltry price of some additional airport taxes is an incredible deal in my books.
I'm going to walk you through the step-by-step process of piecing together an epic trip like this. While the example may seem extreme (and unrealistic), it's meant to illustrate just how outrageously creative you can get!
Our first limitation is maximum permitted mileage (MPM): the higher the MPM for your overall trip (origin to destination), the more flying you're allowed to do, so the more mini-stops you'd be allowed to make.
Let's use the example from last week's installment: Vancouver (YVR) to Johannesburg (JNB). As we know, the MPM for this city pair is 16,362 miles.
For ease of illustration, suppose I wanted to make Tokyo and Singapore your stopovers, both on the outbound leg. The "bones" of the trip might therefore be as follows:
1. ANA / NH115 / Vancouver to Tokyo Haneda / Aug 1 / 1615 1820 (stopover) 2. ANA / NH843 / Tokyo Haneda to Singapore / Sep 8 / 1220 0630 (stopover) 3. Singapore / SQ478 / Singapore to Johannesburg / Nov 3 / 0125 0610
As you can see, we have about 3,000 miles to spare until we reach the MPM. So we can get a little creative with the portion of our trip between Tokyo and Singapore – why not do a multi-stop tour of Asia?
There are two primary obstacles when constructing a trip like this:
- Airline schedules
- Award availability
Let's worry about the former first. You have to find Star Alliance flights between your desired layover cities whose schedules line up such that you get as close to a 24-hour layover as possible, without going over 24 hours (since it would count as a stopover).
An easy way to look up scheduled routes between two cities is to type "AAA-BBB flight schedule" into Google Search:
Scroll through the list and look for Star Alliance flights. For my first hop from Tokyo to Sapporo, I'll choose the following ANA flight:
I love Japan, so I'd feel like hopping on over to Osaka next. I arrived in Sapporo at 6:25pm, so I'll try to catch a flight that departs as close to 6:25pm as possible the next day. Searching for "CTS-OSA flight schedule"...
[side note: TYO and OSA are IATA city codes, representing Tokyo and Osaka respectively. They are distinct from IATA airport codes like HND for Tokyo Haneda and ITM for Osaka Itami. You can use the city codes in your searches to capture all airports within a city.]
The 6:25pm arrival and 6pm departure means that I have a total of 23 hours and 35 minutes in Sapporo. That's plenty of time to consume plenty of Hokkaido's specialty ramen and Sapporo beer.
Carrying on from Osaka, keeping in mind my 7:55pm arrival the previous day. Last stop in Japan: Fukuoka, for its famous shrines and castle. And yes, its airport code is FUK. Don't snigger!
Can you see where this is headed? You "build up" the trip by searching for cities you want to add, and you look for scheduled routes that allow you to spend as close to 24 hours as possible in the preceding city.
We've spent a few days hopping around Japan. Let's move on to the rest of Asia, starting with a taste of South Korea (ICN is Seoul Incheon Airport)...
...and followed by a jaunt over to Shanghai (PVG)...
...and why not throw in Taipei (TPE) as well?
Let's see how we're doing so far on a map. I've had to hide the city names to make it (barely) readable.
Our total mileage is still only 14,807 miles, well short of the MPM of 16,362. So we can still take this even further. I'll go ahead and add Hong Kong (HKG), Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam (SGN). Keeping in mind that we had arrived in Taipei at 10pm...
(It's an especially sweet feeling when the stars align to give you a 23h55m layover somewhere.)
Thai 607 is the latest Star Alliance flight of the day between Hong Kong and Bangkok, so I have to accept a shorter layover in Hong Kong (only 21 hours) – still plenty of time for a day of sightseeing though.
Similarly, I'd only have about 20 hours in Bangkok (arrive at 10:25pm, depart at 6:15pm). But that'll give me enough time to form a first impression. Perhaps if you've visited Bangkok before, 20 hours would be enough for a quick dose of nostalgia?
My last mini-stop is Ho Chi Minh City, where I'd get to spend another full 23h55m (7:45pm to 7:40pm) before flying to Singapore and getting some well-deserved rest!
Our final itinerary from Vancouver to Johannesburg looks like this:
1. ANA / NH115 / Vancouver to Tokyo Haneda / Aug 1 / 1615 1820 (stopover) 2. ANA / NH4731 / Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo / Sep 8 / 1650 1825 (23h35m layover) 3. ANA / NH780 / Sapporo to Osaka Itami / Sep 9 / 1800 1955 (23h30m layover) 4. ANA / NH1709 / Osaka Kansai to Fukuoka / Sep 10 / 1925 2040 (23h40m layover) 5. Asiana / OZ135 / Fukuoka to Seoul Incheon / Sep 11 / 2020 2145 (22h15m layover) 6. Asiana / OZ367 / Seoul Incheon to Shanghai / Sep 12 / 2000 2055 (23h10m layover) 7. EVA Air / BR721 / Shanghai to Taipei / Sep 13 / 2005 2200 (23h55m layover) 8. EVA Air / BR827 / Taipei to Hong Kong / Sep 14 / 2155 2345 (21h layover) 9. Thai / TG607 / Hong Kong to Bangkok / Sep 15 / 2045 2225 (19h50m layover) 10. Thai / TG556 / Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City / Sep 16 / 1815 1945 (23h55m layover) 11. Singapore / SQ185 / Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore / Sep 17 / 1940 2240 (stopover) 12. Singapore / SQ478 / Singapore to Johannesburg / Nov 3 / 0125 0610
I'm going to stop here, but we technically still have room to run until we reach the MPM. If you want, you can give it a try and see if we can squeeze in an eleventh mini-stop somewhere!
Now, once you've constructed the ideal version of your trip as above, you've completed half the work. The next step is to verify that there's availability on all these flights by searching for them segment-by-segment. If you're booking early enough, this shouldn't be a problem, but be wary that one flight with no availability can force you to go back and re-jig your entire schedule. Just something to keep in mind.
Once you've verified that there's availability, call in to the Aeroplan call centre to book your trip. Say something like "I've found space on my desired flights, can I feed you the flight numbers?"
Be persistent if the agent says something like "this is impossible!" As long as your trip fulfills the MPM requirement, doesn't have more than two stopovers, and doesn't backtrack through the same city twice (unless once before and once after the destination), you're golden.
Pros & Cons
Am I suggesting that everyone should book this exact trip? Of course not. For many people, ten flights in ten days is completely absurd.
And yet, for many others, visiting ten cities in ten days for little additional cost is an irresistible travel deal.
As always, the point is to show you what's possible – you can then scale these ideas as you see fit. For example, if you don't quite have enough time off to squeeze a crazy 10-day hop around Asia into your vacation, you can leverage the techniques described above to get one or two mini-stops out of your mini-RTW, which is still incredible value.
I chose Asia for the example since I believe it's the best place to construct something like this. For one, all the daily flights are relatively short hops, and you don't cross any major time zones, which means that jetlag won't be an issue. After all, you could theoretically use the same 23-hour layover trick between long-haul flights, but after a few of those you'd be absolutely exhausted.
Secondly, there are many good airline choices that can get you from place to place:
- EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, Air China, and Shenzhen Airlines do not levy fuel surcharges
- ANA does not levy fuel surcharges on flights to, from, or within Japan
- Asiana does not levy fuel surcharges on flights from or within Korea (a recent change)
- Thai does not levy fuel surcharges on flights to, from, or within Thailand (a recent change)
But remember, the example we did above only illustrates the one-way portion of your round-trip itinerary (if it were just a one-way booking, you wouldn't be allowed the two stopovers in Tokyo and Singapore). That means that on your return trip from Johannesburg to Vancouver, you could do the exact same thing in Asia if you wanted, or you could apply the principles we covered today to get a couple of mini-stops in Europe, or South America, or Africa, or the Middle East, or North America... the possibilities are endless.
One of the most underrated features of Aeroplan and simultaneously one of the most powerful, long layovers or mini-stops can stretch your mini-RTW trip to unbelievably extreme lengths. Even just adding one or two mini-stops to your trip can allow you to expand your horizons in a new place and get a genuine taste of the local vibe. And good luck calculating a "value" for your points, since no airline or travel agency would allow you to book such a trip on a regular cash ticket.
Best of all, the walkthrough I provided in this article represents just one of near endless possibilities – now it's your turn to see what you can come up with. Comment below if you're trying to plan a mini-stop somewhere!