Guide to Round The World (RTW) Tickets

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Round The World Tickets - How They Work

If you live in New York City and you want to visit Paris, booking an airline ticket is pretty straight forward. You can go on your airfare booking site of choice and compare the cost and convenience of various options. You would consider questions like when the flights leave, how many stops they make and what how long any layovers might be.

But, let’s say you want to do a longer trip and you want to visit Paris, Istanbul, Delhi, Tokyo and Honolulu all on one trip. You can of course just book 6 airline tickets separately but you could potentially save a lot of money by buying a Round The World (RTW) ticket. This is a special class of ticket with different benefits and different restrictions.

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How do Round The World Tickets Work?

The simplest explanation for a round the world tick is that you can get a discount ticket from one airline for booking all those flights together, but… you have to book that ticket through that airline and its partners and, as a rule, you need to travel around the world in one direction, east to west or west to east to use a Round The World ticket.

Restrictions of a Round The World Ticket

  • You must actually fly around the world:
    • You must end up in the same city ( or country on SkyTeam and Star Alliance) you start
    • All three airline alliances will let you make some number of segments via alternate transpiration (for example you fly to London and take the train to Paris) but will still count that as one of your segments and will count the miles towards your maximum.
  • Your direction of travel will be restricted. Typically:
    • You must fly east to west or west to east the whole route (except Sky team)
    • You must cross the Pacific Ocean once and only once
    • You must cross the Atlantic Ocean once and only once
  • You must book your ticket from one Airline Alliance and fly only on airlines that are part of that alliance.
  • There may be a minimum and a maximum on the number of flights and stopovers
  • There may be an extra charge to stop in particular destinations.
  • There will be a limit on the total number of miles for the flights in the ticket.

Airline Alliances  (What Airlines are in What Alliances)

There are 3 major alliances of airlines, when you book a round the world ticket you will be using carriers (airlines) from only one of these airlines.

Star Alliance

  • Adria Airways (Slovenia)
  • Aegean Airlines (Greece)
  • Air Canada (Canada)
  • Air China (China)
  • Air India (India)
  • Air New Zealand (New Zealand)
  • ANA (Japan)
  • Asiana Airlines (South Korea)
  • Austrian Airlines (Austria)
  • Avianca (Colombia)
  • Avianca Brasil (Brazil)
  • Brussels Airlines (Belgium)
  • Copa Airlines (Panama)
  • Croatia Airlines (Croatia)
  • EgyptAir (Egypt)
  • Ethiopian Airlines (Ethiopia)
  • EVA Air (Taiwan)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (Poland)
  • Lufthansa (Germany)
  • SAS (Sweden)
  • Shenzen Airlines (China)
  • Singapore Airlines (Singapore )
  • South African Airways (South Africa)
  • Swiss International (Swtzerland)
  • TAP Portugal (Portugal)
  • Thai Airways International (Thailand)
  • Turkish Airlines (Tutkey)
  • United (USA)

oneworld

  • American Airlines (USA)
  • British Airways (UK)
  • Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong)
  • Finnair (Finland)
  • Iberia (Spain)
  • Japan Airlines (Japan)
  • LATAM Airlines (South America)
  • Malaysia Airlines (Malaysia)
  • Qantas (Australia)
  • Qatar Airways (Qatar)
  • Royal Jordanian (Jordan)
  • S7 Airlines (Russia)
  • SriLankan Airlines (Sri Lanka)

SkyTeam

  • Aeroflot (Russia)
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas (Argentina)
  • Aeroméxico (Mexico)
  • Air Europa (Spain)
  • Air France (France)
  • Alitalia (Italy)
  • China Airlines (Taiwan)
  • China Eastern Airlines (China)
  • Czech Airlines (Czech Republic)
  • Delta Air Lines (United States )
  • Delta Shuttle (United States)
  • Garuda Indonesia (Indonesia)
  • Kenya Airways (Kenya )
  • KLM (Netherlands)
  • Korean Air (South Korea)
  • Middle East Airlines (Lebanon)
  • Saudia (Saudi Arabia)
  • TAROM (Romania)
  • Vietnam Airlines (Vietnam)
  • XiamenAir (China)

As you can see some alliances will have advantages if you plan to get to specific countries. Certainly not all flights to Turkey will need to be on Turkish airlines, for example, but… Turkish airlines is going to have better connection to Turkey than any other airline.

What about Other Airlines?

Not every airline in the world is in an alliance. Specifically missing are budget carriers like Ryanair, easyJet, Norwegian, WOW, Germanwings, Frontier, or even some larger airlines in the USA like Southwest and Alaska.

As a rule then, you cannot fly an airline as part of your round the world ticket. But, they might still make up part of your itinerary. For example, you could fly to London on a round the world ticket and then do a round trip flight to Spain on a low-cost European airline like Ryanair from there, but it would not be considered part of your round the world ticket. That is one of the things that makes booking a round the world ticket a bit more tricky.

Pros of a round the world ticket

  • Because you book all your flights at the same time you don’t have to worry about what happens if you can’t get one of the flights
  • Because you book all your flights at the same time a round the world ticket may save you money
  • Because you are booking through an airline alliance (Star Alliance, oneworld,  Sky Team) you can earn or spend your frequent flier miles in that program.

Cons of a round the world ticket

  • Restrictions on directions of travel: go east or go west
  • Like any ticket, if you miss a flight then the rest of your itinerary could be cancelled. When this happens with a round trip ticket, you are probably still at home. When this happens on the 3rd flight of 6… things can get very complicated very fast.
  • There will be charges to change your itinerary.
  • Because you are restricted to one airline alliance, you may not be able to take some flights on other airlines that would simplify your routing.
  • Low cost airlines are not included, so you need to be careful that the round the world ticket is the best option as far as price.

How Do I get Started?

Option 1 – Get Help

As you can see below the rules for booking can get complicated. If you want help booking I recommend AirTreks which has been in the business for years. I have known their CEO personally for over a decade. They have an easy trip builder. Add in where you want to go and they will give you a quick estimate of the price.

AirTreks also has example itineraries which has the advantage that some of them they have already figured out are relatively inexpensive. Click though one of these to get an idea of prices. Don’t worry, clicking won’t buy one 🙂

Option 2 – Book Your Own Round The World Ticket

Each of the airline alliances have a starting point and their own set of specific rules:

oneworld RTW ticket planner

  • Star alliance bases the ticket on 6 regions:
    • Europe/Middle East/North Africa/Greenland
    • Africa
    • Asia
    • Australia, New Zealand and the South West Pacific
    • North America including the Caribbean, Central America and Panama
    • South America
  • Star Alliance has 4 different tiers that determine price:
    • Tier 1
      • Up to 26,000 miles
      • economy class only
      • You can visit from 2-5 regions above
      • maximum of 2 stops in the same region
    • Tier 2
      • Up to 29,000 miles
      • economy class only
      • You must visit at least 2 regions
      • A maximum of 4 stops in the same region
      • A maximum of 2 stopovers are permitted in the region of origin
    • Tier 3
      • Up to 34,000 miles
      • economy, business or first class
      • You must visit at least 2 regions
      • maximum of 4 stops in the same region
      • A maximum of 2 stopovers are permitted in the region of origin
    • Tier 4
      • Up to 39,000 miles
      • economy class only
      • You must visit at least 2 regions
      • maximum of 4 stops in the same region
      • A maximum of 2 stopovers are permitted in the region of origin
  • Up to 16 flight segments, you can travel between two airports (like London/Paris above) via surface transportation but they will count that as a flight segment as if you flew.
  • Minimum trip duration 10 days
  • Total trip duration less than 1 year
  • Following your first flight between Continental Zones, all subsequent flights can be left open-dated, allowing you to schedule your trip as you go

Star Alliance rtw ticket planner

  • Up to 16 flight segments
  • At least 2 stopovers
  • Up to 15 stopovers
  • A stopover is a stay of more than 24 hours
  • Up to 39,000 miles
  • Total trip duration less than 1 year
  • If your journey starts in Australia or New Zealand, minimum trip duration of 7 days
  • If your journey starts in Europe, minimum trip duration of 10 days
  • You travel needs to end in the same country, although not the same city
  • Your itinerary may reflect travel greater than Round the World provided it is not via the point of origin and still terminates in the country of origin.
  • In the entire journey not more than one crossing is permitted between Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, Pacific.
  • Specific flights must be booked 24 hours in advance
  • Children (2-11years) are charged 75% of the available adult fare plus applicable fees, taxes and surcharges.
  • Up to 5 segments can be made via surface transportation, but will still count towards miles and number of segments

SkyTeam rtw ticket planner

  • SkyTeam has 4 different ticket levels
    • – Go Round The World Fare 1 up to 38,000 miles
    • – Go Round The World Fare 2 up to 33,000 miles
    • – Go Round The World Fare 3 up to 29,000 miles
    • – Go Round The World Fare 4 up to 26,000 miles
  • At least 3 stopovers
  • Up to 15 stopovers
  • A stopover is a stay of more than 24 hours
  • You can switch directions east to west and west to east
  • You can only pass through a specific city twice
  • Total trip duration less than 1 year
  • A lap infant without seat will be charged 10% of the fare
  • A child 11 years old or less will be charged 75% of the fare

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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