FareCompare helps you make sure you’re getting the best airfare by displaying all available, published fares. In some instances, however, you still might not be able to find the price you need.
When you travel abroad, you can work around high ticket prices by purchasing a regional airpass. Airpasses allow you to travel by air at prices that are set based on distance traveled, usually with the requirement that you purchase a minimum number of one-way segments.
Once you’ve confirmed that the country or region where you want to travel has an airpass option available, booking the airpass is as simple as contacting the airline’s reservations department. In some cases, you can even book your airpass online.
Types of Airpasses
Roughly speaking, airpasses fall into two categories: Those offered by airlines that are part of large, global airline alliances; and those from regional airlines that are not part of alliances. When researching prospective destinations, determine the primary airlines that serve the country or region, then peruse the website of each carrier for mention of membership in an airline alliance, the largest three of which are oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance.
No matter which airpass you purchase, the price you pay for each leg of the journey is fixed. For alliance airpasses, such as oneworld’s Visit South America airpass, prices are set based on your zone of travel, which is determined by the distance you fly outward from the origin airport of each flight. For individual airline airpasses, such as the Virgin Australia airpass, prices between specific city pairs, rather than distances, are pre-set.
If you book an airpass offered by the member of an airline alliance, you can usually book through your local alliance member. Although ANA provides flights for the Star Alliance Japan airpass, for instance, you can book the airpass over the phone with American Star Alliance member airlines United or US Airways. Book airpasses from non-alliance airlines such as Dubai-based Emirates directly through the carrier, either online or over the phone.
Airpass Fine Print
You must purchase a minimum number of segments (usually three) in order to qualify for airpass pricing. Airline alliances further require that you purchase intercontinental travel through an alliance member. With SkyTeam’s Visit Asia airpass, for example, you must fly to Asia on a SkyTeam member like Delta or Korean Air. In most cases, you must commit to a set itinerary at the time of booking and pay for changes made after booking.
Airpass Travel vs. Low-Cost Airline Travel
Travelers who aren’t aware of airpasses often book inter-regional travel via low-cost carriers like RyanAir or AirAsia. Although fares on such carriers may be lower on paper, low-fare airlines charge for extras that other airlines offer for free, like checked baggage, advance seat assignment and even quotidian items like boarding pass printing and bathroom usage. Additionally, low-cost carriers often fly to distant, inconvenient airports.
About the author
Robert Schrader is a travel writer/photographer and editor of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, your source for destination information, travel photos, practical travel advice and inspirational travel essays. Robert’s writing and photography has been published on websites such as CNNGo, Tripping and Shanghaiist and in print publications like That’s Shanghai and East & West magazines. Robert’s travels have thus far taken him to more than 40 countries and to all six inhabited continents. Follow the Twitter feed, “Like” the Facebook page or add Robert to one of your Google+ circles.