If you’re planning the trip of a lifetime – one that will take you to various cities and countries over an extended period of time, you will likely want to consider a Round the World ticket.
Rather than buying separate flights from one destination to another, a Round the World ticket offers a more flexible and often cheaper way to travel. One Round the World ticket is generally valid for an entire year, and for up to twenty stops at different airports. They’re also a great way to rack up frequent flyer miles – so make sure you sign up for an airline rewards program before you travel!
Since no individual airline offers truly global service, each round the world ticket is usually associated with an airline alliance, which allows you to travel on any airline that is part of the alliance. The three major alliances for Round the World tickets are:
The Star Alliance is made up of 21 airlines that cover 162 countries and almost 1000 destinations – it’s the champion of Round the World tickets for sheer number of destinations and easy routing. They have tickets available in 29,000, 34,000, and 39,000 mile versions – in either Economy, Business, or First Class – each with up to 15 stop overs.
There is also a special “Starlite” Economy-only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers.
As in most of these fares, Star’s rules require passengers start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city. Some backtracking is allowed, though not over oceans. Backtracking, surface sectors, and transits/connections all count against the mileage total.
The One World alliance offers two types of Round the World tickets:
OneWorld Explorer is based on the number of continents visited (from three to six) and has no maximum mileage limit. Up to 16 flights, as opposed to stopovers, can be included — in any class of service. However, because of that flight (or “segment”) ceiling, this fare can be more limiting than it first seems. (Also, only two stopovers are permitted in the continent of origin.)
On the other hand, routings that require major backtracking (ie: from Europe to Africa) are more easily accommodated here, than they are in mile-centric fares. Travelers are free to change the dates on their ticket at no extra charge.
Global Explorer is Oneworld’s more conventional, mileage-based RTW (26,000, 29,000 or 39,000 in Economy class only; 34,000 in Economy, Business or First class). While the OneWorld Explorer is limited to the full members of Oneworld, several non-Oneworld alliance airlines (including Aer Lingus, Air Pacific, Alaska Airlines and its affiliate Horizon Air, Gulf Air, S7 Airlines and Kingfisher and affiliate Kingfisher Red (for its domestic Indian flights only). Qantas code share flights operated by Air Tahiti Nui, Jetstar, South African Airways and Vietnam Airlines can also be used.) can be used with the Global Explorer. For this reason, travel to certain regions — e.g. many South Pacific islands — is easier with Global Explorer than with Oneworld Explorer. Surface segment rules are particularly rigid and constraining on the Global Explorer, and the 16-segment restriction applies.
As with the Star Alliance mileage-based RTWs, all miles are counted, including surface segments. Each surface segment also consumes one of the 16 permitted ticket segments.
The Sky Team alliance runs a distant third, and has lost even more ground after Continental defected to Star. Regardless, SkyTeam has singular strengths in Russia and central Africa, and the addition of China Southern Airlines provides vast new options in China and around some of Asia’s more interesting nooks. Mileage and rules are similar to Star Alliance’s RTW.
If you book now, Sky Team is offering between 5% and 30% off its Round the World ticket in honor of their 10th anniversary! However, to take advantage of the savings, you’ll need to book before September 30, 2010.