Around-the-world (RTW) award fares, and why they may not work for you.

This is a really long post, so if you just want the summary, jump directly to TL; DR.

I spent nearly two weeks planning our route, figuring out dates and determining how long we plan to stay abroad, but one call to United Airlines and everything changed. The call to United Airline deserves a post all to itself, but the short story is: we called three times, and by our third call, we finally knew the questions to ask and got someone on the line who knew what she was doing. After just a few minutes, it was obvious that we needed to do more planning after hearing the restrictions on the RTW fare. Restrictions that are not clearly posted on their website.

RTW Rules and Regs

There are a myriad of rules for the RTW airfare. One of the rules is that our direction of travel must remain in one general direction, east or west. The airline divides the world into three regions for the RTW fare: Americas, Europe/Africa/Middle East, and Asia/Oceania. We must start and end in the same country. We can cross into each region only once. The crossing between regions cannot be via a surface route, i.e., we must travel between regions by air. We can travel in any direction within the regions. We cannot go through our starting country on the way to another one. We are limited to 16 segments, 15 stopovers, and 39,000 total miles. Segments using surface transport count as one segment even though we’re not flying, which seems unfair. Separate legs of a flight—connecting flights—count as multiple segments. Stopovers are any place we stay more than 24 hours. We are limited to 5 legs that use surface transportation. All travel must be completed in one year.

This all sounds fairly straightforward until you get on the phone with someone from United. Then you find out the rules are a bit different for award travel and all your best laid plans turn to, well, you know what. With over 430,000 airline award miles saved in preparation for this trip, what we didn’t count on was that the RTW award fare was damn near impossible to use for a long trip. Continue reading

Travel photo gear

When I’m shooting for a client locally, I’m not really concerned with the same things as when I’m traveling and taking photos along the way. These are different situations and they call for different equipment. When looking for travel cameras and photo gear, here’s what I consider important:

Quality is paramount

There’s not much point in taking photos if they’re not the best quality available today. Photo quality isn’t determined by the resolution or the camera processor, but by the glass that you shoot through. Good quality lenses make better photos, so I stick with well-respected German or Japanese brands. I explain this in much more detail at Choosing photo equipment.

Resolution is important

Medium format equipment these days can produce 50 megapixel images. Most digital SLRs are between 24 and 36 megapixels now. Even point and shoot cameras can capture 18 megapixels or more. Even though I just said in the previous paragraph that resolution does equate to quality, it is important, because a higher resolution image allows more flexibility for cropping and manipulation. So if that art director doesn’t want all that foreground that you’ve included in the shot, they can simply crop the photo and not sacrifice too much resolution to get only what they need. A low resolution image can’t be cropped much without some pixelation occurring. For what I’m doing, 20 megapixels is the minimum. Continue reading

A date has been set

It’s been nearly 14 years in the planning, but we’ve finally decided we are going on our around-the-world trip. We have set a date, but I don’t want to reveal the exact date just yet. No need to alarm our employers and clients. Some may ask: why now? All the signs seem to point in the same direction: the road. Here are a few of the reasons:

1. Airline Policies Change

Originally, we were going to purchase two around-the-world (RTW) tickets, but since my wife traveled so much for work, we decided to start saving up her airline miles for those tickets. Using reward miles would save us over $10,000. That was over 10 years ago, and since then we’ve used some of those miles for trips to Africa, Italy, and the Middle East. I had some miles also and we used some of those for our trip to the U.K. and France last year. Even after all those other trips, we still have enough airline miles for two RTW tickets.

Last month, my wife received an email with some policy changes from one of the larger airlines where she has accumulated some miles. It indicated that they would no longer be offering an RTW ticket. Since it wasn’t the airline with which we had the majority of our miles, it didn’t affect us directly. However, airlines tend to follow the lead of other airlines, especially the larger ones. In the past, we saw that when a couple of the airlines started to charge extra for checked baggage, it wasn’t long before all the other airlines charged for checked baggage. So if one of the major airlines discontinued their RTW offering, we figure it won’t be long before the other two airlines also stop offering it. Time to use those accumulated miles. Continue reading