Using Air Travel Passes to Maximize International Travel

by on July 9, 2014 · 10 comments

in Airline Industry, Oneworld, skyteam, star alliance

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Today, TPG Contributor Jason Steele introduces us to the Air Travel Pass, a great way to get around for travelers with multiple regional destinations in mind.

The most efficient way to use your points and miles is to see as much as you can with one major international award flight, rather than travel back and forth between home and abroad. When you’re trying to put together a large trip, rather than pay for individual flights (or trains, or other modes of transportation) around the region you’re exploring, you might consider the little known option of air travel passes.

What are air travel passes?

Air travel passes are akin to rail passes (like those commonly used in Europe); they’re special fares that allow you to visit multiple destinations in a particular region at a discounted rate. Each of the three major airline alliances offers air travel passes that are sold in conjunction with an international ticket. Travelers can purchase the pass directly from a member of one of the alliances, which tickets them on flights within a particular region. For example, the Skyteam alliance offers a Go Europe pass that includes between 3 and 16 different flights, on which you can visit the same city twice (but no more).

Air travel passes can help you explore a region of the world for less than the cost of purchasing individual tickets.

Air travel passes can help you explore a region of the world for less than the cost of purchasing individual tickets.

The biggest restriction is that you can only purchase an air travel pass in conjunction with an international ticket to the region. For example, if United issues you a ticket to Japan on flights operated by United or its partners, United will sell you the air pass; you couldn’t buy a ticket to Japan on Delta and then buy the United air pass around North Asia.  Also, you cannot be a citizen of the region where the pass is valid, so while there are North American and USA air passes that offer tremendous value, US residents can’t purchase them. Although, I suppose a foreign national could book a trip originating in his or her home country and purchase an air pass, providing that the address in the frequent flier program is also foreign.

The advantages of air travel passes

Travelers can book flights on several different carriers within the respective alliance by contacting a single company, which simplifies the booking process. In addition, pricing is based on the number of legs and distance flown, so this is a great option when you want to visit destinations that might otherwise be unaffordable. In fact, the flat-fee pricing structure means that there’s no penalty for purchasing a ticket with little advanced notice. Another nice feature of air travel passes from all three alliances is that children from 2 to 12 years old pay a discounted fare of 75%, although lap child infants still have to pay the standard 10%.

Furthermore, I confirmed that you can always earn frequent flier miles on the carrier of your choice within the alliance, and that members of all three of the alliances will sell you an air pass in conjunction with an award ticket.

The downsides of travel passes

To book an air pass, travelers should contact the members of the alliance they’re flying on to the destination region, and ticketing representatives are supposed to price and ticket these passes. But as you might imagine, most representatives haven’t heard about air travel passes or have never ticketed one before, and they’ll have to spend some time reading and learning to apply the rules.

I contacted a member of each of the airline alliances to request information about pricing, and each said they couldn’t offer any specifics, except to say that the price would vary based on the destination and the taxes and fees. Nevertheless, I was able to find some details (below).

Finally, airline alliances are largely composed of legacy carriers, and it may be the case that lower fares are available from discount carriers. So in each case, travelers should price out their itineraries separately on the most affordable and convenient airlines, and then compare the result to the price of a comparable air travel pass from the alliance they’re arriving on.


Air Travel Passes offer good prices on legacy airlines, but be sure to compare your itinerary with the cost of using discount carriers (Image courtesy of Shutterstock).

What the three major airline alliances offer

Star Alliance
The Star Alliance offers air passes within Africa, Asia, China, Europe, Japan, and North America. Again, you can’t purchase the last one unless you’re flying into the United States from a foreign country that you are a citizen or resident of, so don’t get too excited about the North America pass.

Thankfully, the Star Alliance website includes some fantastic tools to plan and even price an air travel pass, so you can learn and compare the costs before booking. For example, here’s an itinerary that I priced out, starting in London and visiting Oslo, Iceland, Dusseldorf, and Zurich for under $1,000.

This Star Alliance itinerary priced out at under $1,000

This 5 city Star Alliance itinerary priced out at under $1,000.

The OneWorld alliance offers what they call single-continent fares to Africa, Asia, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, Malaysia, South America, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and the South Asian Sub-Continent.

OneWorld makes their pricing a little bit more transparent by disclosing the distances used in calculation, which vary based on the region. For example, here’s the chart for Europe.

OneWorld tells you how they price air travel passes, which is nice.

OneWorld tells you clearly how they price air travel passes, which is nice.

OneWorld also offers multi-continent fares including Circle Atlantic and Circle Pacific. You can actually piece together an itinerary including whichever continents you choose, and pay a fare based not on the mileage flown, but on the number of continents visited.

While OneWorld does not have a tool to construct and price itineraries, LAN’s website does offer a tool for South American Air travel passes.

LAN's web site allows you to construct, price, and purchase South America pass itineraries if you are traveling there on LAN or TAM.

LAN’s website allows you to construct, price, and purchase South America pass itineraries if you’re traveling there on LAN or TAM.

The Skyteam alliance allows the purchase of  3 – 16 coupons for their air travel passes, including Africa, Europe, Circle Asia and Southwest Pacific, Asia, China, Mexico, Europe, Russia, and USA/Canada.

There are no online pricing tools for Skyteam awards, but the price you pay will be based on the number of legs flown. Therefore, you’ll do best when flying non-stop to your destination, although another way to look at it is that you get free stopovers. Finally, those booking in conjunction with a Delta ticket should avoid calling the regular reservations number and instead contact SkyTeam Support at 800-830-7460.

Skyteam offers a Go Russia air travel pass.

Skyteam offers a Go Russia air travel pass.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • PhatMiles

    This is a killer post Jason. I would like to try this out more and more. For the time being I just did a North America segments.
    The whole trip is coming up for $1200.00. Based on the dates, I may be able to get better pricing but still is a nice option to explore.

  • Jason Steele

    Thanks! If you are foreign national, and can book a ticket originating overseas, it seems like you’ve got a check of a deal.

  • asdf

    Bangkok Airways has a travel pass deal:

    We used it to get around SE Asia in 2004, but it was a lot less expensive then than now.

  • Ivan Y


    (1) If you are using an award to get to/from another continent, do you have to book this at the same time through the same department or do you book an award and then can call later to price out this pass?

    (2) Do outbound & inbound flights have to be on the same airline/alliance/ticket or does everything depend on what airline you booked your outbound flight? For example, for my last trip to Europe I departed on SQ KF award and returned on LX M&M award (same alliance/different airlines); another example: my trip to Japan will be on UA award going there and AA award coming back (different alliances).
    Anyhow, airlines really need to advertise this better. I only knew of an Asia pass that SQ offers.

  • Jason Steele

    You can add the travel pass later. Not sure about how it works on mixed alliance travel. My hunch is that you can use the alliance of your inbound carrier.

  • Ivan Y

    Thank you, Jason! When I was filling out the *A form it asked me for the inbound airline only so it seems like that’s the way to go.
    This is another good option to use in addition to BA Avios for short flights and ANA’s distance-based awards.

  • Sean Hall

    That photo of the Ryanair boarding makes me want to buy some scratch-off tickets and knock off perfume and have them close the gate 40 minutes before my delayed flight.

  • Jason

    Thanks for letting us know about this! I had no idea! I am heading to Europe on Air France in August, and all the places I am planning to travel have non-stop flights between the different SkyTeam carriers. I look forward to calling them tonight to price this out!

  • shonuffharlem

    Great post for something most people don’t know exists. However, I’m not sure this compares well to train travel – not just in rate, but in the experience of seeing the countryside. At least for Europe (other continents, different story).

  • JackN

    Can you purchase these passes using points/miles?

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