It’s been a few months since my last international trip, so my travel itch has been simmering for quite a while. Thankfully, there’s nothing quite like a satisfyingly constructed Aeroplan Mini-RTW – quite possibly the penultimate three-stop Mini-RTW I’ll ever take – to scratch that itch, and that’s exactly what I’ll be embarking on over the next three weeks or so.
Like most of my trips, this one was designed with multiple purposes in mind. As I had mentioned when I booked this trip (and you can check out that article for my detailed thought process on the booking process), my tripartite goals when weaving together this itinerary were to visit a few new interesting destinations where I had never been before, try out a handful of brand-new premium airline products, and visit a couple of friends in various cities around the world.
Almost every stop on the Aeroplan Mini-RTW was therefore included to serve one of the three purposes, so let’s walk through the trip and talk about each leg of the journey in detail.
I’ll begin with a 21-hour layover in Cancún, which will allow me to catch the Cancún–Istanbul flight on one of Turkish Airlines’s new Boeing 787s.
I had originally thought of visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá during my short layover; however, an airline schedule change meant that I’d be arriving at 12:45pm instead of 11am, and that really cuts into my travel day given the two-hour drive from Cancún over to the ruins.
For that reason, I’ve decided to simply treat myself to a day on the beach instead, catching a few rays of sunlight before I fly over to freezing-cold Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
(Since I’m flying with Turkish Airlines along the way, I’ll be entitled to a free layover hotel in Istanbul for my 13-hour layover, which should be enough time to take a stroll around Sultanahmet and enjoy some more of that delightful Turkish ice cream that I remember fondly from my trip to Istanbul earlier this year.)
Why Kazakhstan? As many of you know, the farther removed a place is from the global consciousness, the more interesting I find it to visit, and Central Asia in general seems like a relatively off-the-grid part of the world that I’m sure nonetheless has so many things to offer to the curious traveller.
Nur-Sultan, the capital formerly known as Astana, seems like an easy enough introduction to the region, so I’ll be spending two days there getting to know the city, which I hear has some incredibly futuristic buildings to marvel at.
Then I’ll be going to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and leading commercial and cultural centre, for another two days, where I’m looking forward to seeing the Soviet-era buildings and hopefully going up the scenic mountains that surround the city and taking in the views from above.
After that, the eastbound journey continues to Shanghai, where I’ll get to catch up with a friend over another 23-hour layover. From there, a couple of Singapore Airlines flights will bring me down to Perth, Australia, a place that’s just about the farthest-away from Montreal that I could’ve reached.
Because Perth serves as such a natural endpoint for East Coast folks looking to maximize their Aeroplan Mini-RTWs, I actually happen to have already visited it on my last Mini-RTW in February, so I’ve decided to spend only half a day in Perth this time, before flying out to Melbourne for the next three days.
As an ardent coffee drinker, it’s about time that I pay a proper visit to the world’s coffee capital and see what flavours I’ve been missing out on. I’ll also be looking to stroll through Melbourne’s markets and museums as well, and probably catch up on some work at the WeWork offices.
I tend to think of Australia as basically an upside-down Canada in many ways, so I don’t necessarily expect Melbourne to be an eye-opening experience in a foreign place, but rather the focus will be on sampling the daily life “down under” that’s probably not too dissimilar from my own.
Then, 53 hours and six flights later (more on that below), I find myself in Geneva for two days, followed by London for another four days, both of which will give me the opportunity to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while.
I’ve got tickets to a match at my beloved Arsenal Football Club that weekend, and as always it’ll be a pleasure to spend some time in one of my favourite cities in the world and recapture the memories from living there during my study abroad many years ago.
I had built the trip with one eye on the aforementioned places and another eye on the new airline products I’d want to fly, so in many ways this trip is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination.
The majority of the journey takes the form of an Aeroplan Mini-RTW redemption between Montreal and Perth, which I had booked for 160,000 Aeroplan miles in business class.
The maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between these two cities is a whopping 18,204 miles, which is what gives me license to fly south to Cancún first, before flying east to Nur-Sultan via Istanbul, continuing further east to Shanghai, and then turning south in the direction of Perth.
The trip begins in a rather uninspiring fashion: Air Canada Premium Rouge from Montreal to Cancún. Honestly, if someone wants to read a review of Premium Rouge then please do pipe up in the comments; otherwise, I’m not sure I’ll be spending the time to review what amounts to a glorified premium economy seat on Air Canada’s excuse for a low-cost subsidiary.
As I touched upon in my post last week on the 14 premium products I’m looking forward to flying, things get a lot more exciting with 12 hours of Turkish Airlines 787 business class on the way to Istanbul. On paper, the hard product seems like a massive upgrade on Turkish’s forward-facing seats on their Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, but many travellers have also reported that the seats are more restrictive and less comfortable as a result, so I’m curious to see how the experience plays out.
None of the flights between Istanbul and Shanghai are much to write home about, frankly – a Turkish 737, followed by an Air China A320 and then a 777, all with recliners rather than lie-flat seats – but after Shanghai, I’ll be continuing on to Singapore in Singapore Airlines A350 business class, which will be my first time on this product (and, if I’m not mistaken, my first time on an Airbus A350 of any kind).
Then, I had booked the Singapore–Perth flight in economy class to begin with, hoping that business class space would open up and I could upgrade without a change fee… except it never did. Things aren’t looking too favourable now, so I’m looking at the prospect of a five-hour flight in the back of the plane, which is never ideal but isn’t the end of the world either.
Normal service resumes with a Qantas business class vs. Virgin Australia business class double-header between Perth and Melbourne, booked using 22,000 Avios and 21,800 Etihad Guest miles, respectively. Both of these products look like excellent ways to fly intra-Australia (and certainly a step above what most North American carriers have to offer on domestic flights), so I’m excited to try both carriers out for the first time.
Depending on how you look at it, either the most gruelling or the most enjoyable part of the journey is between Melbourne and Geneva, where I’ll be flying more than 15,500 miles in distance over the span of 53 hours.
I didn’t plan for it to happen this way, but that’s kind of how the puzzle pieces just fell into place. You ready?
3.5 hours from Melbourne to Perth on Virgin Atlantic. 9.5 hours to Tokyo Narita on ANA business class. Then I couldn’t find any direct flights to Taipei, so I have two separate three-hour flights to Seoul and then to Taipei, on Asiana Airlines followed by Thai Airways.
That’s followed by long-awaited EVA Air 787 business class from Taipei to Vienna, which clocks in at a jaw-dropping 17 (seventeen!) hours because this flight makes a stop in Bangkok as well.
(And yet, only the Taipei–Vienna distance counted towards the Aeroplan MPM, so these one-stop flights are a great way to maximize your flying time on a luxurious premium cabin – and for business class, it doesn’t get much more luxurious than EVA Air!)
Finally, I’ve got a seven-hour layover during the day in Vienna, where I haven’t yet decided whether to head into the city or just chill in the lounge, before an afternoon Austrian Airlines flight that finally brings me over to Geneva.
I used 16,000 Avios to book an off-peak round-trip redemption on British Airways business class between Geneva and London, which also allows me to avoid the notorious UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) when flying long-haul out of the UK.
Instead, I’ll pop back to Geneva before resuming the final leg of my Aeroplan Mini-RTW, an Air Canada A330 business class flight straight back to Montreal, which I was able to book for no surcharges thanks to a schedule change on my previous itinerary.
The only thing left to book, after all this? Some little intra-Kazakhstan flights between Nur-Sultan and Almaty.
I decided to go with Air Astana, the national carrier, which had a better schedule and seemingly a better reputation than the other domestic carriers I had never heard of, like Bek Air, Qazaq Air, and Scat Air (seriously, it’s a thing). The round-trip ticket for the one-hour flights in economy class came to $155.
My overall routing therefore looks as follows:
Montreal to Cancún on Air Canada, departing 8am and arriving 12:45pm, Premium Rouge
Cancún to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, departing 9:55am and arriving 6am, business class
Istanbul to Nur-Sultan on Turkish Airlines, departing 7:35pm and arriving 3:40am, business class
Nur-Sultan to Almaty on Air Astana, departing 3:30pm and arriving 5:10pm, economy class
Almaty to Nur-Sultan on Air Astana, departing 5:45pm and arriving 7:30pm, economy class
Nur-Sultan to Beijing on Air China, departing 10:30pm and arriving 5:45am, business class
Beijing to Shanghai Hongqiao on Air China, departing 7:30am and arriving 9:35am, business class
Shanghai Pudong to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, departing 8:20am and arriving 2:10pm, business class
Singapore to Perth on Singapore Airlines, departing 6:40pm and arriving 11:55pm, economy class
Perth to Melbourne on Qantas, departing 3:15pm and arriving 9:50pm, business class
Melbourne to Perth on Virgin Australia, departing 5:35pm and arriving 6:50pm, business class
Perth to Tokyo Narita on ANA, departing 9:55pm and arriving 8:30am, business class
Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon on Asiana Airlines, departing 1:20pm and arriving 3:55pm, business class
Seoul Incheon to Taipei on Thai Airways, departing 5:30pm and arriving 7:10pm, business class
Taipei to Vienna (via Bangkok) on EVA Air, departing 10:30pm and arriving 8:25am, business class
Vienna to Geneva on Austrian Airlines, departing 3:10pm and arriving 4:50pm, business class
Geneva to London Heathrow on British Airways, departing 12:25pm and arriving 1:15pm, business class
London Heathrow to Geneva on British Airways, departing 7am and arriving 9:40am, business class
Geneva to Montreal on Air Canada, departing 12pm and arriving 2:20pm, business class
For this trip, I needed one night in Cancún, one night in Nur-Sultan, two nights in Almaty, one night in Shanghai, one night in Perth, and three nights in Melbourne.
I’m fortunate to be staying with friends in Geneva and London, and for the rest of the nights along the journey, I’ll be resting my head in a metal tube somewhere in the air.
My thought process behind booking these hotels can be described as scattershot at best. There were a few places where I knew I wanted to try certain hotels, and other places where I didn’t even decide on a hotel, let alone make a booking, until late last week.
Let’s begin in Cancún. Originally my plan was to hit up the ancient ruins, so I just wanted a simple hotel by the airport with a free shuttle bus. However, once I decided to make a beach day out of it instead, I looked further afield to see if I could treat myself to a nicer hotel by the beach.
It turns out that the JW Marriott Cancún Resort & Spa had very recently completed a full round of renovations, so as a huge fan of the JW Marriott brand, a newly-renovated property, complete with private balconies, three pools, direct beach access, and a Club Lounge was naturally going to be my top choice.
The Category 6 property happened to be offering off-peak rates during early November, so I snatched up a night for 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, which was just about on the cusp of my 1 cent per point (cpp) valuation compared to the lowest cash rate.
Then, in Kazakhstan, I had my eye on two luxury hotels in Nur-Sultan and Almaty: the St. Regis Astana (they haven’t gotten around the renaming the hotel yet) and The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty. Both of these look like fantastic properties that are actually pretty cheap for these top-tier hotel brands, mainly owing to their location in relatively far-flung Kazakhstan.
I booked a night at the St. Regis Astana for $160, and then I redeemed 25,000 Bonvoy points per night at the Category 4 Ritz-Carlton in Almaty.
In Shanghai, I wanted to have a little fun by trying out the W Shanghai The Bund. W Hotels aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t deny that I find them something of a guilty pleasure from time to time, and I’ve heard excellent things about the Shanghai location.
The lowest cash rate I could find came to $220, which was a much better deal than redeeming 50,000 Bonvoy points, so I went ahead and paid cash for the one night.
In Perth, I would unfortunately be missing out on the grand opening of the new Ritz-Carlton on Elizabeth Quay by just one day (I depart for Melbourne on the day that the hotel opens), so instead I just booked a night at the Westin Perth, where I had stayed previously, for $190.
Finally, I needed three nights in Melbourne, but I have to say that I found the hotel scene to be quite disappointing for a city of Melbourne’s global calibre. The upscale Marriott Bonvoy properties included a Marriott, a Westin, and a Sheraton, but none of them struck me as particularly nice, nor did they seem to justify their relatively high price points. The W Melbourne, opening in 2020, and the St. Regis Melbourne, opening in 2022, cannot come soon enough.
I ended up choosing the Grand Hyatt Melbourne for one reason alone: whereas all the other hotels only had your standard “hotel fitness centres” with basic exercise equipment, the Grand Hyatt features a proper in-house gym that also provides memberships to local clientele as well.
I’ve been trying to hit the gym consistently since I haven’t been travelling the past few months, and while I’m unlikely to follow my routine to a tee when I’m on the road, I do hope to make proper use of the Grand Hyatt’s fitness facilities a few times during the three days I’ll be spending in Melbourne.
Since I don’t have elite status with Hyatt, I won’t be treated to complimentary breakfast or any of the usual elite perks, but in a place like Melbourne, I’d probably rather head out and have breakfast at one of the city’s outstanding cafes instead.
Plus, I made my booking via the American Express Hotel Collection (which is a designed for hotels that are in the tier below Fine Hotels & Resorts), and will receive a complimentary room upgrade, subject to availability, and a US$100 property credit as a result.
The rate came to US$205 a night, which was actually quite a bit cheaper than all of the Marriott Bonvoy options, and I paid with my Amex US Business Platinum Card to get 5x the points on a prepaid hotel booked through Amex.
My overall out-of-pocket cost for this trip was as follows:
Aeroplan taxes and fees, YUL–CUN–IST–TSE–PEK–PVG–SIN–PER–NRT–ICN–TPE–VIE–GVA–YUL: $580
Air Astana flight, TSE–ALA–TSE: $155
Avios taxes and fees, PER–MEL: $18
Etihad Guest taxes and fees, MEL–PER: $18
Avios taxes and fees, GVA–LHR–GVA: $80
St. Regis Astana: $160
W Shanghai The Bund: $220
Westin Perth: $190
Grand Hyatt Melbourne: $808
After spending the past few months hibernating in the northeastern slice of North America, it’s exciting to be back on the road again with a multi-faceted Aeroplan Mini-RTW journey that spices up my life with new destinations, old friends, and airlines both new and old. From Kazakh horse meat to Melburnian flat whites, from Turkish ice cream to Swiss fondue, there will be lots to savour along the way.
If you have any recommendations for any of these places, or anything you’d like me to pay particular attention to when reviewing the airlines and hotels, please do let me know in the comments!