Embarking on a yearlong journey around the world is a dream scenario for many travelers. However, the logistics of making it happen can be challenging, not least because of the sheer number of flights you would need to book. One way to make the journey a reality is by purchasing an around-the-world flight ticket.
Here are the basics of what you need to know about around-the-world flights, including which airlines and companies offer them and tips for navigating this travel option.
What is an around-the-world ticket?
An around-the-world (often referred to as RTW for “round the world”) ticket allows travelers to hopscotch across the globe and visit multiple destinations on one ticket, usually at a lower cost than individually bought tickets. RTW trips typically need to be in a continuous forward direction, either eastward or westward; for example, an eastward itinerary could include flights from New York to Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Berlin to New Delhi to Bali to Honolulu to New York again.
With RTW tickets, changes are typically allowed, so extending or shortening your stay at each destination doesn’t cost extra. Travelers either choose their own unique itinerary or follow one of the sample itineraries provided.
Which airlines offer around-the-world tickets?
Around-the-world tickets are typically offered by airline alliance networks and travel agencies—not by single airlines. Both Oneworld Alliance and Star Alliance offer around-the-world flights, but SkyTeam (which includes Delta Air Lines, Air France, and KLM) no longer has an around-the-world program. The rules around the tickets vary based on the provider.
Oneworld Alliance around-the-world tickets
The Oneworld Alliance (which includes U.S. carriers Alaska Airlines and American Airlines as well as international carriers British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar, and seven others) offers travelers two options for RTW tickets, including:
- Oneworld Explorer, which sets prices based on the number of continents you visit
- Global Explorer, which bases the fee on the distance traveled
There are a few restrictions for each. For one, trips must start and end in the same city within 12 months. Also, travelers need to visit at least three continents and cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in no more than 16 flights, without backtracking (meaning you need to continue in the same direction of travel).
Oneworld RTW prices for itineraries starting stateside begin at roughly $3,500 for an economy ticket to three continents. However, that price climbs to about $7,000 for travelers planning to visit six continents. Those seeking to travel in business or first class should expect rates to start at more than $10,000.
Star Alliance around-the-world tickets
There are few places you can’t get to on a Star Alliance RTW ticket—the network reaches more than 1,300 destinations in 190 countries. It includes 26 airlines, some of which are United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, and Air New Zealand.
Travelers have two options when booking: to pick their destinations or to select one of Star Alliance’s themed RTW tickets. The themed itinerary Architecture Hotspots Round the World, for example, starts in Athens, from where you fly to Cairo, Beijing, Miami, Chicago, Brasilia (Brazil), Barcelona, and Florence and then return to Athens.
Like Oneworld, Star Alliance RTW tickets demand travelers make both a transpacific and transatlantic flight in no more than 16 flights, flown within one year. However, Star Alliance doesn’t require fliers to start and end at the same airport. They just need to get back to the same country—so users could feasibly start in San Francisco and wrap up in New York if they’re running short on allotted miles (the maximum allowed for the entire journey is 39,000). Additionally, each stop must last at least 24 hours.
For Star Alliance, prices are determined by total mileage flown and class of service. On the low end, expect to pay about $4,000.
Other companies that offer around-the-world tickets
If you’d rather not use one of the airline alliances, another option is to consult a travel agency that specializes in around-the-world tickets.
One of the oldest is AirTreks, which has been assembling RTW tickets for travelers since 1987.
Because AirTreks works with multiple airline alliances (including SkyTeam, even though it no longer sells RTW tickets), it can offer greater ticket flexibility, often at a lower price. It also provides overland options from one airport to another (meaning you could fly into London, take the train to France, and fly out of Paris), whereas Oneworld and Star Alliances require travelers to fly in and out of the same airports.
One sample itinerary titled the Off The Beaten Path starts in Los Angeles and has you fly to Melbourne and Catania, Italy, where you travel overland to Palermo to catch forward flights to Porto, Portugal; Florianópolis, Brazil; Medellín, Colombia; and Los Angeles. The price starts at $3,000, which is slightly cheaper than booking a similar trip with one of the airline alliances.
AirTreks doesn’t have mileage or segment restrictions, so it allows travelers to embark on and conclude their journey wherever they choose. However, because flights are spread across multiple alliances, tickets can be subject to change fees.
Can you pay for an around-the-world ticket using miles?
Yes, it’s possible to fund your around-the-world ticket with select airline miles. However, you’re going to need a treasure trove of loyalty points to make it happen, and you’ll be tasked with finding flights with award availability for each flight segment, which can be challenging.
Some of the mileage programs that currently offer RTW tickets are Aeromexico, Air Canada, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines.
Are around-the-world tickets worth it?
“RTW tickets can be a pretty seamless way to bundle that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Katy Nastro, a travel expert at flight deal tracking service Going.com.
There are some distinct advantages to booking a RTW ticket, chief among them are having some flexibility and a set price. Because the price is determined by the number of places you visit, it can be cheaper for travelers who are keen on flying during more expensive peak travel periods such as summer, versus during the off-season.
However, some travelers may find it easier to book individual tickets as they go rather than the whole itinerary upfront. Booking outside of an airline alliance also allows for the mixing and matching of airlines. Similarly, going the DIY route would also allow travelers to use a combination of points and cash.
“While they can make the planning process a lot simpler, be aware of the restrictions and costs,” Nastro said. “Someone who is considering a RTW ticket should consider all of their options and not be afraid to price out a similar itinerary one flight at a time.”