Last night’s episode wrapped up the twenty-fourth installment of The Amazing Race television series – quite possibly the most brilliant reality show ever made and my personal favorite. This season was the All-Stars version, meaning there was a collection of fan-favorites from past shows that were lucky enough to be afforded a second (or even third!) chance at the million-dollar prize.
More important than the money though, these teams of two were able to travel 23,000 miles in eight countries across three continents…all in three weeks. While I’d recommend taking longer than three weeks to make the trek, here’s the twenty-four-season-long question: how can I do it too? Start here.
Leg 1 – Los Angeles, USA to Guangzhou, China
Our journey begins in the sunny western coast of the United States in a trans-pacific flight to Guangzhou, China. Korean Air, which offers flights in conjunction with Delta Airlines, offers both non-stop and one-stop itineraries to Guangzhou – the latter is portrayed below. While our example shows 70,000 miles, this is actually for a round-trip journey and Delta will begin offering one-way awards on January 1, 2015.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume the time it takes you to earn the miles, plan the time off and actually redeem will be in 2015 – so 35,000 miles and just under $50 will get you leg one. Don’t forget to go to Jiangnan Avenue and look in bridal shops, make it to the observation deck at Canton Tower and do some mid-air somersaults atop Haixinsha Stadium if you want to keep your journey Amazing Race-approved.
Leg 2 – Guangzhou, China to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
While technically in “Leg 3” of the actual show, our legs are based on flights and not every stop in between - so this is the next leg up. Luckily, Malaysia Air has this flight (and next) that is again shared with Delta Airlines. 22,500 miles will get you this leg of the journey and it is well worth it for the natural beauty of Malaysia.
Take a rappel down the Kiansom Waterfall (ten stories tall!) or float down the river to the town of Kampung Tombung to keep things realistic to the TV show. Or, make your way to any number of natural parks or islands throughout the region to add an individual flair to the journey.
One note: you have to call Delta to be able to book the flight, so use 1-800-323-2323 to make the reservation.
Leg 3 – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The next flight is a short one and also on Malaysia Air. For that reason, I would recommend paying for the intra-country flight as it retails for as low as $100 on Malaysia Air or others. If you choose to keep things all-miles, then more power to you – it’ll be another 22,500 Delta Airlines miles from your mileage wallet to get you there.
This was probably my least favorite challenge of this season (it didn’t help the Brenchels stuck around in a non-elimination leg, to everyone’s displeasure), but, as always, to keep along the exact same route check out the Petronas Twin Towers or the Skybar at the Traders Hotel.
My recommendation: take a look at the Batu Caves and stay a few nights at the JW Marriott, the latter can be had for five nights with the Chase Marriott card bonus points. Also, to book this reservation follow the same advice as above - call 1-800-323-2323 to secure the flight with an agent.
Leg 4 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Colombo, Sri Lanka
Our fourth flight of this 23,000-mile journey takes us into Sri Lanka, an island to the southeast of the Indian sub-continent. This is also the first flight not using Delta miles (unless you choose to, since Malaysia Air offers the route for another 22,500 miles), as Sri Lankan Air has been added to the Oneworld alliance at the beginning of May 2014.
As such, American Airlines miles are the easiest to obtain and are able to be used for Oneworld flights. 22,500 American miles will get you to Sri Lanka – take in some fishing atop a pole in Koggala, make a stop at the Colombo Rowing Club and help fill up taxis in Alawwa to fulfill your amazing needs. Stay at the Mount Lavinia Hotel (where the racers ended their Sri Lanka challenge) for as little as $100 USD a night.
Leg 5 – Colombo, Sri Lanka to Rome, Italy
Tired yet? Well, you’re in luck – this next flight is 10 hours and offers a welcomed break from the race. Sri Lankan Air offers a direct flight for as little as 20,000 miles one-way. To be safe, I budgeted in 40,000 American Airlines miles for this leg, which is sometimes enough for a first class seat. Either way, by morning you will be roaming the streets of the eternal city.
Check out the Pantheon, Roman Forum (which is right next to the Parco del Celio, where racers fought gladiators and raced mini-chariots) and the Spanish Steps before finishing at the famous Piazza del Popolo. Rent a car and take a drive to Orvieto to check out the second-half of the Rome leg – it is worth the trip, as Orvieto is built on top of a hill with the only access being cable car, zigzagging up the hillside.
Leg 6 – Rome, Italy to Zurich, Switzerland
This route comes with an asterisk, as in the TV show racers actually took a train straight to Chiasso (and we came oh-so-close to losing the country singers). I’d actually recommend taking the train as it is quite beautiful and, in my opinion, no amount of miles will make flying more manageable than a train ride.
If you choose to stick to your miles budget, this one will cost you as little as 15,000 United Airlines miles and $40 to book the one-and-a-half hour Swiss Air flight. Make your way to Lucerne to the Swiss Museum of Transport, take the cable car up to Bannalpsee (carrying milk to and from is optional this time) and all the way to the top of Mount Titlis to complete your Swiss journey.
And, if you fit in some "extra" time, make sure to ski or snowboard the Swiss Alps - it has remained one of my favorite travel experiences to date and one I easily recommend to you. Interlaken is a good town to do this and is a short train or car ride away.
Leg 7 – Zurich, Switzerland to Seville, Spain
Another intra-Europe flight and another 15,000 United Airlines miles (and $60 this time) – either way, this one-stop flight will allow you to continue your European adventure in Seville, Spain. This country is perhaps most famous for the running with the bulls, to be held in Seville for the fourth time this July.
If you choose to run with the bulls (either real or inflatable – although the latter seemed just as vicious on the show) make sure to also take a look at the statue of Hercules and Julius Caesar at La Almeda or soak in the beauty of the Plaza de Espana, where racers ended their journey. Also, a moment should be held at the plaza to remember our fallen heroes – the cowboys. Perhaps the next All-Stars will finally give them the long-elusive victory.
Leg 8 – Seville, Spain to London, United Kingdom
Okay, so this isn’t exactly North Wales – but since the show didn’t specify transportation for this leg (and it required three or more stops to get there), I threw a curveball in your journey and decided on London for our eighth leg.
This makes the travel not only shorter (about three hours), but also cheaper – only $40 is needed and you get to keep your hard-earned miles. From there, rent a car, take a train or buy another cheap flight to Liverpool or Wales if you want to stay the course of the reality show.
Leg 9 – London, United Kingdom to Las Vegas, USA
The final leg of the journey is also our longest, as a one-stop route to Las Vegas takes over 18 hours. The good part though: only 20,000 American Airlines miles are needed for the journey, an easy sum to accumulate and why I recommend this over a non-stop (still roughly a dozen hours or so) using Delta miles - for comparisons sake, you could book a first class on American for less Delta miles.
Once in Las Vegas, check out the Mirage hotel, neon graveyard (“where neon signs go to die” as the country singers would say), and the Motor Speedway to see where Dave and Connor took home the million-dollar prize. There are a ton of options to stay on points in Las Vegas as well, so if you feel like wagering for your own million (not recommended), you can do so here.
So there you have it – nine legs that can be had for your own amazing race. While miles can’t get you the challenges or the nationwide audience, it can get you the places that, for true travelers, are all that is needed anyway. Here’s the breakdown of what it will take you to make it happen:
- 82,500 American Airlines miles
- 80,000 Delta Airlines miles
- 30,000 United Airlines miles
- ~$200 for airline fees and other one-way flights
To achieve the above mileage totals, you need to apply for four cards – not a bad sum and all can be applied for at once, if you are able to hit the combined spend. The four cards: Citibank Executive, American Express Delta Gold, American Express Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
And voila – four cards, nearly 200,000 miles and your very own amazing race is yours by following the above script. Race safely, my friends.
Disclaimer: Photos credit to CBS, Google, and the respective airlines mentioned.