Round-the-World Tickets: An Amazing Deal or Just Really Complicated?

If you enjoy visiting multiple cities and countries on the same trip, a round-the-world ticket could make sense for you. Find out how these unique bookings work.
Last updated Jul 21, 2021 | By Ben Walker | Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
Round-the-World Tickets

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Round-the-world tickets aren’t typically talked about by your average traveler, but frequent fliers know these types of bookings can be well worth the price in certain situations. But first you have to know how they work and why you might consider getting one.

In this round-the-world tickets guide, you’ll learn about how much these tickets cost, which airline alliances offer them, and what their benefits are. This will help you understand whether a round-the-world ticket would make sense for your next global adventure.

In this article

What are round-the-world tickets?

Round-the-world tickets, often called RTW tickets or around-the-world tickets, are a unique offering from popular airline alliances and other organizations. They offer a convenient way to visit multiple locations worldwide without having to book individual airline tickets for each flight in your itinerary. Rather, you plan your route and book one round-the-world ticket and that’s typically it.

RTW tickets are customizable, though it’s according to the rules and guidelines of whichever organization you’re booking through. However, you often have more than enough leeway to build a custom world trip that shouldn’t feel too restrictive.

If you like to earn points and miles with credit cards to travel the world, it’s possible to put certain credit card rewards toward round-the-world tickets. We explain more on this below.

How do round-the-world tickets work?

Round-the-world tickets are typically booked through an airline alliance. This gives you access to all the airlines within the alliance and their destinations when making your itinerary. But if you book an RTW ticket through one airline alliance, your ticket is valid only for airlines in that alliance.

For example, an RTW ticket with the oneworld alliance won’t have access to flights with airlines in the Star Alliance. But because each of the major alliances — oneworld, Star, and SkyTeam — has more than a dozen airline members each, you will always have numerous worldwide destinations to choose from. Just remember to align your trip destinations with the alliance that serves your preferred locations.

Your round-the-world ticket can typically be booked as an economy class or business class fare, though some tickets have options for premium economy and first class as well. The type of class you choose often determines what type of free baggage allowance you receive on your flights.

For example, an RTW economy ticket with Star Alliance provides one free piece of luggage up to a maximum weight of 44 pounds. But an RTW business class ticket offers two free pieces of luggage with a total maximum weight of 66 pounds.

Keep in mind that RTW tickets are typically valid for one year, don’t often allow backtracking (you have to travel in one direction), and may have limitations on the number of stops you can have in your itinerary. For example, the number of stops on an RTW itinerary often ranges from five to 15 stops, depending on the airline or airline alliance.

Certain limitations may also apply for the number of stops per continent and how many times you can cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. You may also be required to start and end your trip in the same country.

You could be charged for changes to your itinerary if the change involves adding or deleting a stopover. If the ticketed points (origin destination and outgoing destination) remain the same, you likely wouldn’t be charged anything unless your fare class has increased.

How much do round-the-world tickets cost?

The cost of a round-the-world ticket will vary depending on a number of factors, including the alliance or airline you book through, which airfare class you choose, and what kind of itinerary you build. It’s not uncommon for RTW tickets to cost between $2,000 and $10,000, though the price could be lower or higher.

Certain airlines might require you to pay fuel surcharges, including if you’re booking your RTW ticket with points or miles instead of cash. Not all rewards programs will cover fuel surcharges. This is a potential additional cash cost to keep in mind, but you won’t often know how much the fuel surcharges are until you build your itinerary and see how much each airline charges.

Some round-the-world itineraries can be booked directly with certain major airlines, which opens up the possibility of using points or miles instead of cash for your ticket. Other RTW tickets can be booked through airline alliances or third-party organizations that specialize in RTW itineraries.

Here are a few sample itineraries to give you an idea of what a round-the-world ticket might cost.

Who offers round-the-world tickets?

Round-the-world tickets are offered by these airline alliances:

  • Oneworld alliance offers three different round-the-world options, each with its own guidelines and rules. They’re called oneworld Explorer, Global Explorer, and Circle Pacific.
  • Star Alliance offers two RTW options, including Round the World and Circle Pacific.
  • SkyTeam Alliance offers one customizable itinerary that’s called Round the World.

In addition to booking through an airline alliance, you also have the option to book an RTW ticket through a third-party organization such as AirTreks. This company and its travel agents can help you build a world travel itinerary and then book the trip for you. You can choose from a pre-made itinerary or customize your own travels with the AirTreks trip planner.

If you want to book an RTW ticket using rewards, as opposed to paying cash, you have to check with specific airlines to see whether it’s an option. But many airlines offer round-the-world tickets that can be booked using rewards from their loyalty programs. This includes airlines such as Qantas, All Nippon Airways (ANA), Cathay Pacific Airways, AeroMexico, Singapore Airlines, and more

To illustrate how all this can work, here are a few sample itineraries, including how to book them and how your rewards miles can play into things.

Oneworld Explorer — Booking directly through an alliance

Oneworld Explorer RTW Flight

Itinerary: Los Angeles, U.S. - Honolulu, U.S. - Auckland, New Zealand - Sydney, Australia - Tokyo, Japan - Seoul, Korea - London, United Kingdom - New York, U.S.

Cost: $5,941.70

Fare class: Economy

How to book: You can book through the oneworld alliance website with the oneworld Explorer option.

Earning rewards: You can’t purchase an RTW ticket with points or miles if it’s booked directly through an alliance, but you’re still able to earn miles on the eligible flights you take. In fact, you get to choose which alliance member airline you want to earn rewards with. So you could choose American Airlines because it’s a oneworld member and earn AAdvantage award miles for flights on this itinerary.

ANA (Star Alliance) — Booking through an airline

ANA (Star Alliance) RTW Flight

Itinerary: Chicago, U.S. - Berlin, Germany - Istanbul, Turkey - Singapore - San Francisco, U.S. - Chicago, U.S.

Cost: 125,000 miles (ANA Mileage Club) because it’s business class and falls into the 20,001 to 22,000 mileage range

Fare class: Business

How to book: Because ANA round-the-world award ticket pricing is based on total mileage flown, it makes sense to calculate your mileage with a tool like Great Circle Mapper. Plug in your destinations to find the total mileage of your itinerary, check for Star Alliance award flight availability on your preferred dates, and then refer to the ANA mileage chart to see how much your RTW ticket will cost. Once you’re ready, call ANA to make your booking.

Earning rewards: You can purchase this trip using rewards if you have points or miles that can be transferred to ANA Mileage Club. American Express Membership Rewards transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio and Marriott Bonvoy points transfer to ANA at a 3:1 ratio. Consider The Platinum Card® from American Express if you want to earn Membership Rewards for this type of RTW ticket as well as enjoy other travel-related benefits. Keep in mind, you wouldn’t earn rewards on this itinerary because it’s booked with rewards directly through the airline.

AeroMexico (SkyTeam Alliance) — Booking through an airline

AeroMexico (SkyTeam Alliance) RTW Route

Itinerary: San Diego, U.S. - Mexico City, Mexico - Bogota, Colombia - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Lisbon, Portugal - Barcelona, Spain - Rome, Italy - Athens, Greece - Bangkok, Thailand - Tokyo, Japan - Honolulu, U.S. - Los Angeles, U.S.

Cost: 224,000 miles (AeroMexico Club Premier)

Fare class: Economy

How to book: Use a SkyTeam Alliance airline website, such as KLM or Delta, to find award booking availability for your route and then call AeroMexico to book your round-the-world ticket.

Earning rewards: Amex Membership Rewards transfer to AeroMexico at a 1:1.6 ratio, Capital One rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and Marriott Bonvoy rewards transfer at a 3:1 ratio. Consider the American Express® Gold Card if you want to earn Membership Rewards for this type of RTW ticket and you also enjoy dining out.

Pros and cons of round-the-world tickets

Round-the-world tickets have both benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of the pros and cons of an RTW ticket:

Pros

  • Easy and convenient: Build an itinerary, book it, and then head out on your world travel. Not having to worry about booking a mountain of flights can be convenient.
  • Affordable: In some cases, a round-the-world ticket can be more affordable than separately booking all the flights on your trip. This is especially true if you can use rewards from a loyalty program to cover your RTW ticket costs.
  • Structured flexibility: You might enjoy having some structure on your travels, including knowing when your trip begins and ends and what destinations you’ll be traveling to. But keep in mind that an RTW ticket isn’t completely structured. You still get some flexibility with making changes to your travel dates, which can be helpful if you want to spend more time in a particular area.

Cons

  • Rules: The biggest con for round-the-world tickets is the presence of a large number of rules and limitations. Some tickets don’t allow you to backtrack on your route and most have a limited number of stopovers or segments. You also may be limited to a certain number of segments per continent or a number of miles flown. Unfortunately, having so many rules can be stifling for some people.
  • Limited flexibility: Because of the rules, you might find yourself lacking some spontaneity on your RTW travels. You’re allowed certain changes with your itinerary, but you’ll be charged if you want to change any destinations. This can make it difficult to feel like you’re free to go and explore wherever and whenever you want to during your trip.

How to get a free round-the-world ticket

Many airlines offer round-the-world tickets that can be booked using rewards from their loyalty programs. And because many of the best travel credit cards earn rewards that can be transferred to airline partners, it can make sense to use these cards to fuel your RTW travel.

Here are a few cards to consider using to earn rewards for round-the-world tickets:

Keep in mind that different credit card loyalty programs have different transfer partners. If you want to book an award RTW ticket with a specific airline, choose a credit card that earns rewards that can be transferred to that airline.

The quickest way to earn enough points for a round-the-world ticket is to sign up for a credit card when it has a large sign-up bonus or welcome offer. Then use it frequently for purchases you’re already making in its bonus categories to earn accelerated rewards. This makes it possible for you to earn the rewards you need even if you’re not a frequent flyer.

Certain cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points can combine their rewards together. For example, you could combine all the points you earn between the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Chase Ink Business Cash, and Chase Sapphire Reserve. This can make it easier to quickly earn the rewards you need for an RTW ticket, though it could still take months or even more than a year depending on how much spending you typically do and what kinds of offers are available.

It’s important to note that award flights, or flights booked with points or miles, don’t typically earn more points or miles. So you wouldn’t likely be able to earn elite status with an airline as you travel to different destinations with a round-the-world ticket booked with rewards.

But if you use a travel credit card to book your ticket, you’ll likely earn bonus rewards on the purchase and typically have the option to earn miles and progress toward elite status with an airline as you fly.

FAQs

How much does it cost for a round-the-world ticket?

Round-the-world tickets often range from $2,000 to $10,000, but the price could be higher or lower, depending on your itinerary and fare class. If you want to help reduce the cost, consider using travel credit cards to earn rewards and then transfer those rewards to an airline that offers round-the-world tickets.

How many stops is a round-the-world ticket?

The number of available stops on a round-the-world ticket depends on which airline or alliance you book the ticket through and what kind of ticket you book. For example, a oneworld Explorer ticket allows up to 16 segments while certain SkyTeam tickets range from three to 16 flights.

Does Emirates have a round-the-world ticket?

Emirates doesn’t necessarily offer a round-the-world ticket option, but you can build a round-the-world itinerary using multiple stops and partner airlines. If booking from the Emirates website, click on the “Advanced search option” and then “Add another city” to add more flight segments to your itinerary.


Bottom line

Do you dream of visiting Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe all in one trip? Round-the-world tickets often require loads of planning and research to figure out your itinerary, as well as enough actual time spent in your travel destinations so you can enjoy them. Because of these factors, it can seem like a massive undertaking to book an RTW ticket.

But if you have the time and determination, a round-the-world ticket can pay off handsomely in money saved and memories made on your world flight. The convenience of booking this type of ticket can’t be overstated enough, though it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth your time to plan this type of global mega trip.

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Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.