I spent the better part of last week on the phone with the airlines creating our round the world itinerary and ticket which wasn’t all that easy given the fact that there were two of us traveling and we were using airline miles – 160,000 miles each to be exact. As a side note – the fact that I had so many miles piled up is one small thing that prompted this trip, and when Erin became a part of this – Tom gave her his miles so she could come. That should tell you something about Tom – that he would do that for his wife and daughter.
Our initial plan was to depart from the US in mid-June, heading first to Namibia to visit a friend and then on to Uganda for our first story. Our first hurdle was that the Star Alliance airline partner that went from the US to Africa was South African Air and there were no award seats into or out of Johannesburg for the entire month of June – Johannesburg is hosting the World Cup and everything is sold out. I was told that we couldn’t connect through Europe on another carrier like Lufthansa because that would mean going back thru Europe after leaving Uganda and the rules didn’t allow this. I’m broken hearted that we can’t get to Namibia because it means that another opportunity is lost in connecting with my friend while she is living there – but it wasn’t meant to be.
The airline agent could get us to Entebbe, Uganda but in order to make that work, we had to move up our departure date to May 25th giving me a slight panic attack knowing how much I still needed to do before leaving for this journey – vaccinations, visas, lodging arrangements, not to mention getting my gear ready for filming. I’ll talk about my gear in another blog, but essentially, since I want to shoot both stills and video – I’m opting to use a hybrid DSLR system because I need to pack light and can only bring one camera format. If it doesn’t fit on our backs – it’s not coming. But I digress.
Our next challenge in ticketing was going from Uganda to our next destination on the European continent. I was aiming for Warsaw or Moscow but we settled on flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Istanbul, Turkey. We’ll figure out how to go to Warsaw and Moscow on our own – that will be a piece of cake. Incidentally, there are a lot of rules on these round the world award tickets – you must keep going in the same direction (can’t backtrack) and you’re only allowed so many segments – I got answers anywhere from 12 to 16. And you can’t go back to a continent more than once – that came in handy going to Istanbul when the airline agent and I had a lively debate as to which continent Istanbul was on. I think the agent liked my creative way of solving the problem and gave me a little leeway.
In the end, after many hours on the phone – we created an itinerary: NY > Entebbe, Uganda > Entebbe connecting thru Cairo, Egypt to Istanbul, Turkey > Istanbul connecting thru Frankfurt, Germany to Delhi, India (somehow that was ok) > Delhi to Bangkok, Thailand > Bangkok to Melbourne, Australia > Melbourne to Sydney> Sydney connecting thru LAX to NY. The agent told me to call back the following day because all the carriers needed to make confirmations. She also told me our reservations would only be held for 48 hrs till they needed to be ticketed.
The next day, I called the airline and was told that there was a leg missing on Erin’s itinerary – Istanbul to Delhi – she corrected it and told me everything looked in order but to check back that afternoon. I did and found out that we were still waiting on Thai Air to confirm our flights from Delhi to Bangkok and then on to Australia. The agent said, “don’t worry – Thai Air is slow – so call back tomorrow.” Being the worrier I am, I knew that “tomorrow” was the day the tickets needed to be purchased or our reservations would be dropped, so if there was a problem I needed at least to know about a plan B. So I asked what other airlines flew that route – Delhi>Bangkok>Melbourne. I was told that Singapore Air flew that route but connected through Singapore.
The next morning – the day the tickets needed to be purchased – I called the airlines and was told that all my Thai Air flights had been canceled but Erin’s had been confirmed. I didn’t freak out – instead I suggested that the agent route us using Singapore Air – which he did. He put a rush on the confirmation process and told me to call back that evening.
To cut to the end of the story – I literally purchased the tickets right down to the deadline hour. I didn’t get everything I wanted – but I did get what I needed. We’ll be leaving May 25th and returning August 3rd. We’ll have to purchase separate tickets to get us to and from our destination in South America sometime in August and we are still trying to nail down those story ideas and dates.
People ask me why I didn’t use a travel agent. I have been handling my travel logistics for over 30 years and my answer is – I’m the one who will be doing the flying and I want to have control over that. Even if it looks doable on paper to have a one-hour connection in Frankfurt when flying from NY to Lagos, Nigeria – even for an optimist like me – I know better than to tempt fate like that.
In total – flying 7 different airlines, 12 flight segments and traveling across 5 continents, I managed to get us 2 tickets for $263.44 each – that’s for the taxes. Now I need to look into vaccinations and visas. Yesterday I discovered that my passport, which is still good for another 4 years, has only two pages left in it for visas – and India requires that you have two empty pages for their visa. Another thing to add to my “to do” list.