With Aeroplan, "It's NOT that easy"
A key reason that we can afford to travel during our year-off is that we've been collecting Aeroplan points for the past five years.
Tricia travels internationally for her work and thus has collected quite a few frequent flier miles. We've also found ways to collect points via credit card loyalty programs and other tricks -- although we've not gone as far as that George Clooney character in "Up in the Air" (e.g. ordering extra meals in a restaurant just to earn more frequent flier points).
Our plan all along was to book what's called a "mini-RTW" or "mini-Round-the-World" trip in which you fly say from Toronto West over the Pacific to Singapore on a return ticket; however, instead of flying back the way you came (i.e. East), you keep going west until you get back home. This actually requires the same number of Aeroplan points as a simple return ticket, and you can have a stop-over on the way there (e.g. Hawaii) and one on the way home (e.g. Berlin) at no extra charge.
It's NOT that easy
When it finally came time to cash in these points last Fall, however, we realized that unlike what Aeroplan's slogan claims, it's actually not that easy. Tricia must have called 10 times, spending up to 2 hours on the phone each time, trying to find a way to fly to New Zealand on points. Getting there was straight-forward, but there always seemed to be a reason that they couldn't route the ticket out of New Zealand via Europe. This was probably due to some Byzantine rule about the maximum variation of mini-RTW distance vs. a simple return ticket, or perhaps they just didn't want us to squeeze out every last penny of value from our points.
After call number 10, we realized that a mini-RTW including New Zealand just wasn't going to happen, so we dropped a visit to Middle Earth from our list of "pillars". But once we scaled our plans back, booking our actual ticket was fairly straight-forward. After two more calls, we managed to secure the following itinerary (see the Prezi below), and we're thrilled to be able to do this for a fraction of the cost of paying regular fare.