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Turn your around-the-world dream into reality with cheap January flights

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: December 28, 2019
  • Published December 28, 2019

Wildlife at a temple in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. (Scott McMurren)

In our family, if you do something once during the holidays, it’s a tradition. That goes for food, Christmas Day activities, the works.

This latest “tradition” has a travel twist — so I’m going to run with it. A couple of years ago, I sat down on Christmas night and booked a trip around the world.

Mind you, I had stewed over this for a while. There were countless options, numerous concerns and problems. But I only had a month to do this trip, and January was the month.

Here we are again. January is around the corner. Fares are low. Why not make planning your round-the-world trip a holiday tradition? Remember, Santa does it every year. Let’s take a moment and sketch out a prospective trip that you can start in just a couple of weeks. What’s holding you back?

First, you need to get from Anchorage to the Lower 48. That’s good news, since prices are low. You might be tempted to hit Seattle first, since it’s just $88 one way (on Alaska or Delta). I love Seattle, but it’s not the best place to catch flights across the pond. San Francisco or Los Angeles are much better options. You can fly there one-way on Alaska Air for $140-$150 one-way.

Last time, I picked San Francisco. From there, you can choose several European destinations for under $200 one-way. I love London. Fly Norwegian for $145 one-way. Mind you, it costs extra to check a bag, but that’s a really cheap flight. London also is a great place to launch your other travels.

A wintertime shot from the top of the London Eye. (Scott McMurren)

If you want to go to Barcelona instead, you can fly nonstop from San Francisco for as little as $132 one-way on “Level,” which is part of Iberia. I don’t like them as much as Norwegian, because their seats are packed in tighter. Norwegian is $150 one-way.

Once you’re in Europe, it’s easy to get around using a selection of cheap airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir.

The last time I passed through Europe, I was on my way to Africa. You can fly from London to Nairobi for as little as $408 one-way on Etihad Air via Abu Dhabi. Or, you can fly from Barcelona to Cape Town for as little as $482 one-way on Qatar Airways. Both of these airlines are top-notch.

Keep in mind there are lots of variables for each itinerary. Maybe there’s a friend you’d like to see, a concert you don’t want to miss or long-lost relatives you want to meet. Just talking about this makes me want to go again!

On my last trip to Cape Town, I spent more time there instead of going to India. Then I flew directly to Kuala Lumpur. You can choose Singapore, Bali or Ho Chi Minh City. I chose Kuala Lumpur because it’s a hub for Air Asia, a low-cost regional carrier. Fly from Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur for $471 one-way on Emirates (an Alaska Air mileage partner).

If you want to start your trip in Nairobi, fly to Kuala Lumpur for as little as $439 one-way on Air Arabia. I’ve never heard of them, so if you want to stick with a top-notch carrier like Etihad, the cost is just a little more: $483 one-way.

From Kuala Lumpur, Air Asia offers all sorts of cheap tickets to Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. You can decide how long you want to spend in Southeast Asia and plan accordingly.

Streetside espresso in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood. (Scott McMurren)

When it’s time to head north, you can fly from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei for just $99 one-way with Scoot, a low-cost carrier owned by Singapore Air.

If you’d rather make the jump to Seoul, fly on Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur for as little as $161 one-way.

Last time I passed through this region, I stopped in Hong Kong. I’m still waiting for things to settle down a little bit before returning.

If you want to go through Japan, fly Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Osaka for just $171 one-way.

Are you ready to book your last leg back to the U.S.? Fly from Osaka back to Honolulu on Air Asia for $365 one-way. From there, go ahead and book your Alaska Airlines ticket home using cash or miles.

Booking a ticket from Asia back home to Anchorage will be about $500 one-way from Taipei or Seoul.

So, just daydreaming with you for a little while, I came up with a round-the-world ticket from Anchorage to San Francisco, to London, to Nairobi, then to Kuala Lumpur, to Taipei and back to Anchorage. The cost? About $1,731, not including charges for checked bags. That gives you lots of extra money to ponder side trips to South America, to the South Pacific, to India or to other parts of Africa and Europe.

For these tickets, no changes are permitted. That means it’s a good idea to get travel insurance, in case you need to change your plans.

There are specialized round-the-world travel agencies to help you plan your trip, including in London. I stopped at their office when I was in town. They have many different itineraries, including stops in Australia, Latin America and the South Pacific. They also offer itineraries in business class, as well as “gap year” itineraries for extended stays.

There are many different variables on a round-the-world itinerary. For me, the biggest step was just booking the first leg of the journey. That meant coordinating with my cousin in London and sweetening the pot with a couple of bottles of wine that I picked up in Sonoma County. Of course, that meant I had to check my bag (an extra $60) between San Francisco and London. But it was worth it. It was the right way to start off the new year — and start a new tradition in the process.

Bon voyage!