How Round-the-World Tickets Really Work

What Are Round the World Tickets?

If you’ve been bitten by the adventure travel bug, you might find yourself wanting to travel around the world – in one trip. Fortunately, there are several airline alliances that offer round-the-world fares for those with a big case of wanderlust. Here’s how they work.

What is a Round-the-World fare? Round-the-world fares are airline tickets offered by airlines and airline alliances designed specifically for travel around the globe.

How does it work? If you book through an airline alliance like Star Alliance, OneWorld or Sky Team, you’ll be able to travel to any destination a member airline services. Each program has their own guidelines for booking. Star Alliance, for instance, offers passes for 29,000, 34,000 and 39,000 miles in Economy, Business and First Class, each offering up to 15 stop-overs (a Starlite option offers 26,000 miles in Economy with 5 stopovers). OneWorld’s program is based on the number of continents visited, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6, and up to 16 segments (rather than stopovers). Since these programs rely on member airlines, make sure to research which has the best coverage in the areas of the world you most want to travel to. Booking these trips is complicated; so call a travel agent or one of the member airlines to help you navigate.

How much does it cost? Costs vary by program, but they’re generally less than purchasing one-way tickets on a worldwide adventure. Most programs determine the cost by mileage, class and origin of travel, plus applicable taxes, fees and surcharges. Fees for OneWorld’s Explorer program are determined by the number of continents you travel to or pass through and the class you fly in. Costs range from $3,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on your itinerary.

How much time do you have? You generally have one year to complete your travel. There’s also a minimum amount of time required between your first intercontinental flight and your last intercontinental flight (generally 7 to 10 days). These vary by airline and by your starting point.

What you can you bring? You’re allotted two bags per person. Weight can vary, depending on which class you book your flight (first and business classes are allowed heavier bags).

What are the conditions? Terms and conditions vary by program, but in general:

  • Travelers must go around the world in one direction — either east or west.
  • Travel must be via the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and only one crossing of each is permitted.
  • Only one intercontinental departure and one intercontinental arrival are permitted in each continent (with some exclusions).
  • There’s a minimum of 3 stopovers required for a round-the-world fare. The maximum number of stopovers depends on the type of ticket you purchase and which alliance or airline you purchase from. Some tickets offer as many as 16 stopovers.
  • Round-the-world fares must start and end in the same country (although not necessarily in the same city).
  • You must have your itinerary planned when you purchase your ticket. You can make changes to your travel dates at no cost after buying the ticket; however, you’ll be charged a fee for any changes to your route.
  • A stopover is defined as a stay of more than 24 hours.

What are the alternatives? You can, of course, create your own globe-trotting itinerary, simply purchasing one-way tickets from destination to destination across the globe. However, this can be more expensive, and might get you hung up in security lines (officials find one-way tickets more suspicious). If you go this route, enlist the help of a travel agent or FareCompare’s planning tools.

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan on Flickr.

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Published: May 26, 2011