Round the world (RTW) tickets can be a convenient way to fly around the world. They get you where you want to go without you having to worry about booking flights along the way as you pre-book all your tickets in advance! Simple and convenient! Moreover, by purchasing them in one giant bulk package, you can save yourself money on the total price of the ticket.
While round the world tickets are frequently advocated by many travel writers, knowing if they are the best way to get around the world really depends on the kind of trip you are taking. Round the world tickets come with many rules and conditions that might not work for you.
How Do Round the World Tickets (RTW) Work?
First, what is an RTW ticket? RTW tickets are actually airline alliance flight passes. An airline alliance is a partnership in which airlines share seats on planes, passengers, and elite status benefits. You buy a ticket from one airline that can be used with them and their partners for one price that lets you travel around the world on that one ticket.
For example, if you book with United Airlines (Star Alliance), your ticket is only good for airlines United partners with in that alliance. If you book with American Airlines (Oneworld), you can only use their partners. Since American Airlines can’t fly everywhere in the world and you may need to get from New York City to Nairobi, Kenya, a destination American doesn’t serve, you may book with American Airlines for that route, you will actually fly one of its airline partners on the portions American doesn’t fly.
It’s important to remember that none of these alliances include the world’s budget airlines such as Ryanair (Europe), Southwest (US), Air Asia (Asia), or Tiger (Asia/Australia). These airlines offer fewer amenities (think cattle car) and cheaper fares than the “major” airlines of the world (i.e. large, international carriers that are part of an alliance).
RTW tickets come with a number of terms and condition. Generally speaking, a ticket is valid for 1 year from the start date and requires you to end in the same country you start in. You don’t need to end in the same city but you need to end in the same country.
Here is a breakdown of the rules for each major airline alliance’s round the world ticket:
Star Alliance Round the World Tickets
Star Alliance is based on how many miles you travel and they offer passes in 26,000, 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles increments. To put that in some context, 29,000 miles will get you roughly 3 continents (outside of North America), 34,000 miles will get you 4 continents, and 39,000 will get you 5 or 6 continents. The more miles you get, the more destinations you can see and vice versa. (There are also passes that are limited to geographic regions in the world.)
Each pass allows up to 15 stopovers (a stopover is considered 24 hours in one destination) and you can get the ticket in first, business, or economy class. The special “Starlite” economy only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stops. The more miles you want on your ticket, the more places you can visit – but it also means the more money you will pay. No more than 3 stopovers are permitted in any one country, except in the U.S. where 5 stopovers are allowed but only if the stopover wasn’t started in either the U.S. or Canada.
Star Alliance also requires passengers start and end in the same country, though not necessarily in the same city. You can also backtrack over continents but not over oceans. This means you could fly from Australia to New York and then New York to Los Angeles but couldn’t go from Los Angeles back to Australia. When you cross oceans, you would have to keep moving in your original direction. It should also be noted that backtracking, surface sectors (what they call the parts of your trip you take overland and not with an airplane), and transits/connections all count against the mileage total.
For example, if you fly from LA to London and then from Athens to Bangkok, the mileage from London to Athens is counted against your trip even though you might be doing it overland on a train or flying with a cheap budget airline like Ryanair.
Oneworld Round the World Tickets
Oneworld offers two different kinds of passes: one that is segment based and another that is mileage based. Global Explorer is Oneworld’s more conventional, mileage-based ticket. There are three levels – 26,000, 29,000 or 39,000 miles in economy class as well as a 34,000 in business and first class. Just like with the Star Alliance mileage-based RTWs, all miles are counted, including overland segments. This pass follows the same rules as above.
Oneworld’s other pass is much better and I like it the best. The OneWorld Explorer is based on the number of continents visited (from three to six), has no maximum mileage limit, and up to 16 segments. A flight segment counts as one flight so: 16 segments = 16 flights. If you want to go from London to Hong Kong but the ticket includes a stop in Dubai that counts as two segments. With the Oneworld Explorer, there are no overland penalties or mileage limits. You simply get 16 flights. Unlike other tickets, overland segments don’t count against you and there are no mileage requirements. One of the benefits of the segment system is that every segment is counted the same – whether 2 hours or 10 hours – so you can maximize long-haul flights.
SkyTeam Round the World Tickets
SkyTeam does offer a limited around the world ticket. They basically follow all of Star Alliance’s rules. However, the ticket and carriers are pretty limited and I wouldn’t even consider purchasing it. It’s so bad that it is not even worth discussing.
NOTE: You can buy around the world (RTW) tickets in economy, business, or first class.
How much do round the world tickets cost?
RTW tickets prices range between $2,700–$15,000 USD, depending on your mileage, route, class of fare, and number of stops, though a simple two- or three-stop RTW ticket might cost as little as $1,500 USD.
On all tickets, you can change the dates and times on their ticket at no extra charge so long as you don’t change the destinations. If you have a Tokyo to Los Angeles flight you want to change, you can change the date and time without a fee. However, if you decide to fly from Tokyo to San Francisco instead then you have to pay a fee (around $125 USD).
Where can you book an around the world ticket?
While you can book RTW tickets directly with the airlines by calling the reservations line listed on their websites, you can usually find a better deal on around the world tickets by booking through a third party such as:
Third party bookers don’t just deal with one alliance – they mix and match from all available airlines (excluding budget airlines) to find the lowest price, which saves you money. Moreover, you can fly anywhere and in any direction you want and the overland mileage doesn’t count against your flight because there is no mileage limit.
In short: Don’t book direct with the airlines, use a third party booking agency!
STA Travel great for students but, for everyone else, I go with Airtreks. They are the experts and operate differently than the airline alliances. Instead of creating an around the world ticket, Airtreks pieces together individual airline tickets based on the lowest available fares they find. They are one of the few companies I would trust planning my flights (and I don’t trust many!).
Are RTW tickets worth buying?
The short answer – it depends. RTW tickets are great for people with a set schedule. If you know your travel dates and destinations and don’t plan on changing your trip very much, an RTW ticket will save you a lot of time and a bit of money. RTW tickets cost a lot, but if you pick one of the popular travel routes, you will find that you will save money in the end. Buying a ticket on a route like this will most likely cost less than if you were to book all your flights separately.
You should buy a RTW ticket if…
- You’re happy to fly on a rigid schedule, follow the airline rules.
- You don’t plan to change your dates a lot.
- You’re buying tickets for a big group like a family.
- You don’t like budget airlines.
- You’re doing a lot of obscure destinations.
- You’re already a frequent flier and are looking to gain perks.
If you are any of the above, a round the world ticket will probably save you up to 30% off the price of point-to-point tickets.
You should NOT buy a RTW ticket if…
- You want to fly a lot of budget airlines.
- You don’t care about points or miles
- You have not set plan.
- You’ll be gone longer than a year.
Booking on your own, using budget carriers, and waiting for deals is going to work out a lot cheaper than buying an around the world ticket.
However, there is no definitive answer as to whether or not you should buy one of these tickets. It really depends a lot on your specific trip. A lot of people swear by around the world tickets and I believe that for the right trip, these tickets can be PERFECT. You just have to figure out if your trip is the right trip for this kind of ticket. It takes a bit of work
Book Your RTW Ticket
If you want to explore this option and don’t want to stick to one alliance, use Airtreks. They do a great job helping plan your itinerary, finding cheap flights, and walking you through the process. Their tickets also come with fewer rules and restrictions. I trust them with my planning trips and think you should trust them with yours too! (Plus it’s cheaper than booking directly with an airline!)
Still not sure what ticket option right for you? Keep reading on how to fly around the world with these other must-read articles on my website: