What does a near nonstop business traveler do when he hangs up his briefcase? If his name is Charles Veley, he keeps trotting the planet and aims for the title of World's Most Traveled Man.
Veley is no grizzled wanderer with a long white beard, walking stick and a scruffy dog tagging along. He's a good-looking, well-groomed 43-year-old who has personally visited 709 of the "757 Parts of the World." Those are the places Veley and the travelers he competes with agree they must set foot on -- not the 190 countries the United Nations recognizes.
To date, Veley has logged 3 million miles in all modes of transportation, including feet, in his relentless quest to reach his goal (for more info on the competition visit www.charlesveley.com).
These days, Veley isn't bunking in Ritz-Carltons and glitzy hotels like he did when he was a founding member of Microstrategies, a business intelligence software company in Washington D.C. Veley, a Harvard grad, estimates he was on the road between 50 percent and 70 percent of the last five years he worked at Microstrategies. He crisscrossed the U.S., visiting Microstrategies 110 offices, as well as heading an expansion into Europe.
In those days, Veley was "1K" with United, second highest elite status in its Mileage Plus program, and "platinum for life" in American's AAdvantage frequent flyer plan. But when Veley switched careers from technology exec to professional traveler, he also shifted his allegiance to JetBlue and now Virgin America for flights inside the U.S. Veley likes the in-seat personal televisions on both airlines, the friendly flight attendants and other passenger perks.
But Veley doesn't give away the frequent flyer miles he's accumulated. He couples them with cash and buys round-the-world business-class tickets at prices lower than most carriers charge for economy class going one way.
His secret? Veley is airline savvy and shops like he was spending his last dime. He takes advantage of airline alliances to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of long- and short-haul journeys that touch down at the different destinations on his itinerary. He was using the 23 member airlines of Star (www.staralliance.com) and the 10 airlines of One World (www.oneworld.com) and flying first class when he found a deal with SkyTeam (www.skyteam.com) that flies under the radar.
"Essentially, this all-business-class round-the-world ticket uses a number of the 15 SkyTeam members, such as Northwest, Continental, Emirates, Delta, Malaysian, Malev, Air Europe and seven different South Pacific airlines," he said.
(A Northwest staffer on its round-the-world desk confirmed the fare is published but not really promoted. The staffer said the ticket price is determined by distance flown. A 29,000-mile trip is $8,800 plus $500 to $600 in taxes; a 34,000-mile round-the-world ticket is $10,000 plus tax. The staffer suggested travelers have their itineraries planned, but warned they might have to be flexible. And expect to spend 45 minutes to two hours with a round-the-world agent.)
Veley has a different strategy. He books his itinerary with a U.S.-based SkyTeam member airline, but pays for the ticket in India, Malaysia, or Thailand. In those countries fares are often sharply lower than in the States to attract locals to fly the U.S. airline. "I don't buy the ticket at 'bucket shop' travel agencies in those countries because it's too risky," Veley said. "By purchasing direct through the airline, the partner airline is obligated to reissue your tickets if there is a problem."
The savings can add up to 50 percent. Pay the U.S. airline in India and you can circle the globe for $5,000 in business class, he said. The same ticket in the U.S can be $9,000 to $10,000, he added.
Veley, who has three children under the age of 6, originally traveled with his wife to remote locations in his quest to visit the "757 parts of the world," but now he flies and treks solo. He finds time to maintain another website (www.mosttraveledpeople.com), which is an extensive listing of all agencies, sources and other websites offering last-minute deals. It's informational only. Veley doesn't collect referral fees or commissions, and it has no search engine for selling tickets or rooms or camel rides. Think of it as a digital guidebook.
As the self-proclaimed World's Most Traveled Man, Charles Veley has amassed a steamer trunk full of travel tips, anecdotes, near-death experiences and indelible memories of journeys and people.
Next column: the good, bad and ugliest moments in almost 10 years of roaming the world.