Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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A lifelong fantasy for many travelers is to leave their everyday existence behind and take a trip around the world. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have an extended amount of free time to circumnavigate the world, putting together a round-the-world itinerary can be complicated and potentially expensive.
But let’s say you do have the time, the money, the miles, or the points to make this epic adventure a reality. Where do you even start? Is it currently possible to purchase such a ticket?
Today you’ll discover that it’s not only possible, but it’s probably less expensive than you thought — and of course, there are even ways to pay for it with miles or points.
As usual, we’re up for the challenge of providing you with the information you need to begin exploring the option and book an around-the-world ticket (we’ll use the common “RTW“ for short).
In today’s article, we’ll cover RTW ticket options available with each airline alliance, an affordable third-party RTW provider, using points or miles for an RTW ticket, and some creative ways to build your own around-the-world itinerary.
We won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of every possible RTW booking option, but we’ll provide a basic roadmap for you to start looking for RTW tickets and tips for booking your around-the-world experience.
An around-the-world plane ticket is generally a series of flights that start and end in 1 country after circling the globe in 1 direction and stopping at several cities en route.
You could think of this ticket as a “world airline pass” that allows you to build a custom itinerary of your choice within the guidelines of the airline alliance or another provider selling you a single ticket.
Changes are usually allowed, and you should have the ability to schedule enough time between destination cities to visit the surrounding areas. Most RTW tickets are valid for up to 1 year.
You’ll understand more about whether an RTW ticket is right for you once we’ve explored the possibilities for purchasing an RTW ticket and some of the pros and cons of doing so.
Airline alliances are groups of individual airlines with formal agreements in place that allow cooperation with each other. These alliances facilitate global travel for their customers by utilizing these partnerships to create a worldwide network that connects destinations.
Purchasing an RTW ticket from an airline alliance allows you to leverage the network of partner airlines to visit just about any part of the world, all on 1 ticket.
Another advantage of buying an RTW ticket with an airline alliance is that when changes need to be made, the airline making those changes for you has access to view/change your entire ticket.
The Star Alliance network reaches 1,300 destinations in 190 countries, with 50 hub cities, allowing you to reach every corner of the globe with its RTW ticket. You’ll start building your journey at its Round-the-World website.
The price of a Star Alliance RTW ticket is determined by the total mileage and class of service.
Here are the additional requirements for an RTW with Star Alliance:
The Star Alliance Book and Fly planning tool is user-friendly, but it’s easy to make mistakes, go against the rules, and default to trial and error. The tool won’t let you continue with an itinerary that is invalid but it’s not always easy to determine why it’s invalid. You might want to start by reviewing some sample itineraries to become familiar with the process.
For example, starting out with an RTW itinerary of New York – Madrid – Cape Town – Hong Kong – Sydney – New York, I used the Star Alliance Book and Fly tool to build a sample ticket. The tool was easy to use but quickly priced out an economy ticket at $7,542.
With some practice, and after reviewing some sample itineraries, pricing 2 additional RTW itineraries proved much more productive:
You can book the RTW ticket online once you’ve completed an itinerary with which you’re satisfied. Changes are allowed but change fees can apply.
Hot Tip: The Star Alliance suggested itineraries are worth reviewing because they automatically apply the maximum mileage and stopover limitations that keep pricing under control. Maximizing these restrictions when building your own itinerary from scratch, even using the Book and Fly tool, is more challenging. Customizing the suggested itineraries may serve as a better starting point.
Oneworld Alliance has 2 options for purchasing an RTW ticket:
Either way, the cost of your RTW ticket will vary significantly depending on where you begin your trip, the number of cities visited, and the class of service you select.
Here are the general rules for a Oneworld RTW itinerary:
The base prices for an RTW Oneworld Explorer ticket depend on the number of continents you visit. Pricing for stops on 3 continents in economy class is $3,599, 4 continents is $4,999, 5 continents is $5,699, and 6 continents is $6,899, plus taxes and fees.
A sample itinerary in business class originating in Chicago and visiting Los Angeles, Auckland, Adelaide, Johannesburg, Cape Town, London, Bordeaux, and ending in Chicago prices out with a fare of $6,506 in economy class and $11,403 in business class.
Booking your RTW ticket through the alternative Global Explorer option requires working with a Oneworld representative and then booking the itinerary with a member airline.
Hot Tip: The Oneworld Explorer RTW ticket allows you 16 total flights. Since it counts them all equally (whether 1 hour or 12 hours in length), you could purchase inexpensive short flights as needed and utilize the RTW ticket for just the long-haul flights to maximize its value.
Unfortunately, SkyTeam no longer sells RTW tickets. However, it may possible to book an RTW with Aeromexico using points or miles. We’ll cover that option shortly.
The best is yet to come in our quest to find an around-the-world ticket. Now, we’re looking outside of the airline alliances to a popular third-party company known for its expertise in putting together affordable and creative RTW tickets.
AirTreks has been constructing RTW tickets since 1987, so it’s an established company with a wealth of RTW knowledge.
This is one of those sites you should visit when you want to daydream about travel because it allows you to play with different RTW itineraries and see the pricing immediately. It’s also possible you’ll start imagining yourself traveling on one of its sample itineraries!
Let’s look at some of these RTW economy itineraries and see how pricing and restrictions stack up against the airline alliances.
As you can see, the prices for RTW tickets booked with AirTreks are much lower than those booked through airline alliances. One reason is that AirTreks can use a combination of airlines and alliances and isn’t restricted to certain partner airlines.
On the flip side, because you select your fixed dates and flights up front, changes to your AirTreks RTW tickets can be subject to change fees. That said, you’ll pay much less for the ticket, so there’s certainly a trade-off here.
In addition to the price, AirTreks tickets allow you to begin and end your journey anywhere, travel in any direction, and fly on any airline without mileage restrictions. You’ll find the most competitive pricing for itineraries with more than 3 stops.
AirTreks will also help you build a custom itinerary if you desire, and support you after you depart on your RTW ticket, should you run into any transit problems along the way.
Hot Tip: Selecting a sample itinerary and tweaking it to your liking can save you money over building an itinerary from scratch on your own. This is because the airline alliance or third-party seller has factored in all the rules that need to be followed to keep the cost down while maximizing the length and number of destinations allowed.
While none of the domestic carriers currently offer the option to purchase an around-the-world ticket with miles, there are a few international carriers who do.
Booking RTW award tickets is not for the faint of heart. Finding award availability to complete an entire RTW itinerary can be daunting. Also, keep in mind you’ll be paying taxes and fees in addition to using your frequent flyer miles, some of which can be significant.
With those caveats as a foundation, let’s look at some options for booking RTW tickets using points or miles.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) has, arguably, the best value when using miles for an RTW ticket. Pricing is based on the distance flown and the class of service and it’s possible (but time-consuming) to book the ticket online.
To give you an idea of fare pricing, a 35,000-mile itinerary will cost 160,000 miles in economy, 240,000 miles in business class, and 320,000 miles in first class. An itinerary ranging from 44,001 to 50,000 miles will cost 200,000 miles in economy, 300,000 in business class, and 450,000 in first class.
You can learn more about the rules for the ANA RTW tickets, review the award pricing chart, and find out how to accumulate ANA Mileage Club miles in our guide to the best ways to redeem ANA Mileage Club miles.
One of the most popular award redemptions for an RTW ticket is using Singapore KrisFlyer miles. The RTW ticket utilizes Star Alliance partner airlines and includes visits to 7 cities serviced by these airlines. You’ll need 200,000 miles for economy, 280,000 miles for business class, and 405,000 miles for first class.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to call Singapore Airlines (833-727-0118) or complete a form to book the ticket. A reservation fee of $250 has recently been added in order to book the RTW ticket. You’ll also want to consider any additional taxes and fees which can be significant when purchasing an RTW via KrisFlyer.
Accumulating Singapore KrisFlyer miles is made easier thanks to the number of transfer partners, including American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy.
Lufthansa is another Star Alliance carrier that offers an RTW ticket you can purchase with Miles & More miles.
You’ll need 180,000 miles for economy, 335,000 miles for business class, and 500,000 miles for first class.
The RTW ticket with Lufthansa utilizes Star Alliance partner airlines and includes 1 Atlantic crossing, 1 Pacific crossing, a maximum of 10 flight segments, and 7 stopovers. There is also a requirement that beginning and ending intercontinental flights must have at least 10 days in between. You can book the RTW ticket by contacting Lufthansa Miles & More customer service.
There are plenty of ways to earn Miles and More frequent flyer miles.
If you happen to have a healthy stash of Qantas frequent flyer points, you can use them to book a Classic Flight Reward itinerary and travel up to 35,000 miles when you combine 2 or more Oneworld partners. You’ll pay 132,400 points for the itinerary in economy or 318,000 points for business class, plus the cost of taxes and fees.
For a Qantas reward itinerary (and other RTW tickets that are distance-based) you can use the Great Circle Mapper tool to plot your course and estimate mileage.
Use the multi-city search tool on the Qantas website to search for availability and even attempt to purchase the ticket online. You may end up having to call Qantas (800-227-4220) to have your ticket issued as reports indicate there can be problems issuing the ticket online.
Aeromexico offers an RTW ticket beginning at 244,000 miles (actually, kilometers) in economy class and 352,000 in business class, but you must call (800-237-6639) to book it. And, while it may be possible to book such a ticket, it is not a popular option due to the potential difficulty of booking a complex itinerary with its customer service.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to do your research in advance and have your specific flight numbers, dates, and alternative options ready when calling.
Don’t have Aeromexico Premier Points? American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to the program at a ratio of 1:1.6. Don’t do this unless you’ve called and confirmed an itinerary with Aeromexico in advance.
By now, you’re probably realizing how complicated it can be to build an around-the-world itinerary. But if you’re savvy at booking flights, it’s entirely possible to do it yourself. And, you may save some money when you do so.
If you select all the places you want to visit in advance, you may end up with an expensive adventure. But if you start by allotting a time slot for this journey and are flexible with your destinations, you can begin your trip with an affordable flight and build from there.
For example, let’s say you find an affordable one-way flight or award ticket to Sydney (or any major city) that fits your allotted time frame. With that flight booked, you can use Sydney as the departing airport and utilize Google Flights or Matrix/ITA software to find an affordable flight or use miles to secure an award ticket for your next destination.
The best part of building a free-form RTW ticket is that you can use any combination of:
Letting the price of the ticket (miles or cash) determine your next destination could be the most affordable way to build the RTW ticket. While not for everyone, those who have managed to accomplish booking an RTW adventure using this method truly earn their place as world explorers.
Building an RTW ticket can be supplemented with ground or water transport between major cities to keep costs down. A good tool for booking alternative transport between cities, including the cost to do so, is Rome2Rio. Just plug it in any 2 destinations and the site will give you all the available options (train, bus, ferry, Uber, taxi, etc.), the associated duration, and the estimated price for each option.
Another choice for affordable alternative transport is a repositioning cruise. Repositioning cruises can be priced at a fraction of retail cost and can transport you across the Atlantic or from Brazil to Europe, for example, for as little as a few hundred dollars (see the actual listing above).
Train travel can be a great alternative for transiting from 1 city to another during an RTW trip. Seat 61 is an awarding-winning site that helps you find the perfect route, provides reviews of seats/trains, and facilitates booking tickets, all in 1 spot.
Hot Tip: Consider beginning your RTW ticket from a different country than your residence as your bottom-line RTW fare could be much lower (even adding the cost of a positioning flight). Try pricing your trip from Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, or even Indonesia to determine how changing the starting country can affect your bottom line price.
One question that may enter your mind when building an RTW ticket is whether you’ll earn miles on your journey. The answer is generally yes, but it’s based on the airlines involved and fare classes within your itinerary.
There are several factors that determine the number of miles you earn on an RTW ticket or even whether you’ll earn any miles on a particular flight. Those factors include:
When booking the ticket (whether it’s with one of the airline alliances or with a third-party such as AirTreks), just let them know you want to earn miles and they’ll work with you to find flights that qualify.
You may have to purchase a slightly higher fare to earn the most miles from your trip, but that may be worth it.
No matter how you build and subsequently purchase your RTW ticket, there are a few tips to keep in mind that will help keep costs down, improve your experience, and assist if things go wrong.
Keep in mind that rules change, options become unavailable, and pricing will be dynamic and constantly changing. Booking an RTW ticket takes a lot of work and patience but the results can be more than worth it.
Paying the extra premium to purchase an RTW ticket from one of the airline alliances may or may not be worth it to you. You may be able to save money by purchasing through third-party AirTreks with minimal sacrifice.
With that said, making changes appears more flexible and less costly with the airline alliances’ RTW ticket, but you’ll still have to follow their rules when building your itinerary. For example, you must travel in 1 direction with no backtracking, there is a restrictive number of stopovers, etc.
AirTreks’ RTW tickets aren’t as flexible when it comes to making changes, but you may be able to afford a few change fees and still pay less overall.
Purchasing an around-the-world ticket with miles is becoming a disappearing option — domestic carriers do not even offer it anymore. This is most likely because you can use one-way award flights to duplicate the same itineraries with greater flexibility.
If you want to purchase an RTW ticket, consider using an AirTreks itinerary that is affordably priced and tweak it to your liking. Or go completely wild and build your own free-form RTW itinerary where your destinations are determined by the cost (in points/miles/money) of the ticket.
A round-the-world ticket is a series of one-way flights that circle the globe and are all booked on 1 ticket.
You can purchase an RTW ticket from the airline alliances or from other third-party sellers. RTW tickets usually have restrictions and rules you must follow such as traveling in 1 direction, no backtracking, and beginning/ending in the same country.
The cost of an RTW ticket can vary substantially but you can purchase an RTW economy ticket with just a few stops for as low as $1,500.
The number of stops you make and the fare class of the ticket can affect pricing. For example, you may want to fly business class and visit a dozen cities so your cost will be higher.
In some cases, extra stops do not increase the price. RTW ticket sellers usually have sample itineraries illustrating a large number of stops so you can compare prices.
You can purchase an RTW ticket from airline alliances such as Star Alliance and Oneworld, from some specific foreign airlines, or from third-party sellers such as AirTreks.
An RTW ticket issued by airline alliances, specific airlines, or AirTreks is generally good for 1 year from the date of purchase or from the first date of travel and cannot usually be extended.
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