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Lately, Delta Air Lines has been on a tear of negative announcements, including limiting points transfers from American Express Membership Rewards, raising Medallion Qualifying Dollar amounts for elite status qualification in 2015, and ending Round-the-World SkyMiles award tickets starting January 1, 2015.
American Airlines also nixed its Oneworld Explorer round-the-world awards back in April. With options becoming more and more limited, today TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen looks at current options for booking round-the-world awards (while you still can).
Why Book a Round-The-World Award in the First Place?
This is the big question. Many frequent flyer programs (including American AAdvantage, British Airways Avios, and United MileagePlus) allow you to book one-way awards, meaning you can piece together itineraries leg by leg if you want to. Or, you can play with flexible routing rules and mileage restrictions on round-trip awards to get farther than a simple outbound and return flight on a set route and airline.
So why bother booking a ticket that ropes you into flying around the world – especially when it costs around 200,000 miles even in economy? The short answer is that round-the-world tickets generally let you include about 5-6 stopovers along with a final destination, and allow many (the norm seems to be about 16) individual flight segments. If you play your cards right, you can visit around half a dozen cities on one itinerary.
On the downside, there are many restrictions apart from the number of segments and stopovers, including no-backtracking clauses and requirements to fly in a single direction. Most round-the-world tickets also require you to call the airline directly for booking, since award search engines aren’t equipped to price out such complex itineraries.
That said, if you have a trip in mind that involves several stops, and if circumnavigating the globe makes sense, a round-the-world award could save you tons of miles while letting you experience more destinations.
In this post I’ll describe some of the best RTW award ticket options out there. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just some good examples, so please feel free to share other suggestions in the comments section below.
As I mentioned above, American ended its RTW Explorer awards earlier this year. While you can still get “round the world” using American miles, you’d have to do so by pricing out individual one-way segments, which can drive the price way up. Airline partner British Airways isn’t a good candidate for a round-the-world award because of its distance-based award chart, since the more flights you book and the farther you fly, the more Avios you spend. However, there are a few other options if you’re creative.
Now that US Airways has joined Oneworld, you can take advantage of the airline’s lax routing rules to fly around the world for the price of a single round-trip flight – you’re just limited to one stopover and one destination.
One of my favorite examples from the US Airways Oneworld partner award chart is flying from North America to North Asia via Europe. Here’s the mileage requirement to fly from North America to Europe alone:
- 60,000 miles in Economy
- 100,000 miles in Business Class
- 125,000 miles in First Class
Here’s how much it costs to fly to North Asia (which includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan):
- 60,000 miles in Economy
- 110,000 miles in Business Class
- 120,000 miles in First Class
The trick here is that you can actually route through Europe on the outbound or return, thus making two trips out of a single itinerary.
The airline has no maximum permitted mileage rules, but your stopovers must be in Oneworld hubs, and you must fly on the carrier whose hub it is – for example, if you go to Hong Kong, you’ve got to fly on Cathay Pacific.
As a quick example, you could book an American Airlines award ticket to Dallas in order to catch its flagship 777-300ER first class from DFW to Hong Kong and spend a few days there. You could then continue on Cathay Pacific business class to one of the airline’s European destinations like London, Paris, Amsterdam or Zurich, and then fly back to the US – perhaps routing through London on British Airways or Helsinki on Finnair. For more routing rules and ideas, check out this post about my round the world trip on US Airways earlier this year.
In this particular instance, since your hub stopover would be Hong Kong and you’d be stopping in a non-hub European city, your ticket might price out at the lower 100,000-mile mark for an award to Europe, saving you even more miles!
The specifics can get a bit confusing, but the key to this kind of ticket is to familiarize yourself with the Oneworld partner airlines and their route maps, as well as which hubs to avoid because of fuel surcharges, and then plot out your route from there.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
While Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program doesn’t technically offer a RTW award, the airline has some interesting and unheralded rules that let travelers essentially fly around the world, though in a more limited fashion than your typical RTW award.
Asia Miles is a complicated program because it offers distance-based awards that are calculated not only on the routes you fly, but also on whether you fly with Cathay Pacific itself or one of its partners (or both). For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus on those multi-airline awards. You can find the program’s redemption schedule and award rules here.
There are several rules you must follow in order to book these specific awards:
- You must redeem a roundtrip award ticket.
- Your itinerary must include two Oneworld airlines not including Cathay Pacific or Dragonair, or three or more Oneworld airlines including Cathay Pacific or Dragonair.
- The maximum distance range is up to 50,000 miles.
- You can have a maximum of five stopovers, two transfers, and two open jaws either at the origin, en-route, or the turnaround point.
To book one of these awards, you would need to calculate the total mileage of the routing you want to fly, making sure that your routing follows the rules outlined above. While Asia Miles says your award must be round-trip, there is anecdotal evidence that the routing rules are actually more relaxed.
Let’s say you really wanted to book a big blowout RTW trip. You could fly from Los Angeles to Sydney on Qantas and stopover, then continue on to Melbourne (also on Qantas) and stopover there as well. Then head up to Japan on JAL and stopover in Tokyo. Catch a flight down to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and continue on to Europe without stopping, maybe to Zurich so you can go hiking in the Alps and have some raclette. Finally, you could catch American’s newly refurbished 767 on the Zurich-New York JFK route, and then either end your trip there or stop over and continue on to Los Angeles on the airline’s flagship A321T.
That equals 5 stopovers and possibly an open jaw if you end your trip in New York. The total mileage for the full RTW itinerary would be 27,011 miles. That falls within Asia Miles’ 25,000-35,000-mile band, which would require 130,000 miles in economy, 190,000 miles in business or 275,000 miles in first class. If you find first class awards on Qantas, JAL and Cathay, I say pay that extra 85,000 miles to experience some of the nicest service in the sky. However, I think that on a route this massive, where you’d be visiting three continents with several stopovers, a business class award for 190,000 miles would also be a pretty phenomenal value. Just beware of fuel surcharges and taxes on tickets, and try to avoid hubs where those added costs are steepest, like London and even Tokyo in certain circumstances.
Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and now Citi ThankYou Rewards.
RTW options are getting more limited in this alliance, but they haven’t dried up just yet.
Though Delta is eliminating RTW awards starting in 2015, you still have time to book one if you want, and it should still be honored in 2015 (including changes and reissues).
Delta RTW awards are 180,000 SkyMiles in economy, or 280,000 SkyMiles in business class. As usual for SkyMiles, there are no first class awards.
The rules of a Delta round-the-world ticket are as follows:
- Travel must terminate in the country of origin without extending beyond the point of origin.
- Flights must continue in one direction.
- Backtracking is not permitted.
- Flights operated by codeshare partners must permit local traffic between the stopover point and the destination.
- The most direct routing applies.
- A maximum of three stopovers per continent is allowed.
- A maximum of six stopovers and 16 segments is allowed for a round-the-world award.
So, your flights must be in one direction (east to west or west to east), meaning you can’t fly from New York to Chicago and then to Paris, for example.
Your stopovers per continent and overall are limited, so pay special attention to the stopovers you plot.
Though your east-west direction is limited, you can maximize your travel by considering the north-south axis as well. For instance, you can head from Asia to Africa before Europe (after all, Kenya Airways is a SkyTeam member), or hit South America (perhaps on Aerolineas Argentinas) once you cross the Atlantic before a stopover in Mexico (Aeromexico) and a return to the US.
Personally, I would consider flying from the US to Seoul on Korean Air or Guangzhou on China Southern, then hopping down to Bali on relatively new SkyTeam member Garuda before continuing to Kenya, up to Europe on Air France or KLM, across the Atlantic on Aerolineas, and finally back to the US on Delta.
Korean Air SkyPass
While redeeming Korean Air SkyPass miles can be a bit of a chore, the program can be highly valuable for a number of reasons. Not only is the airline one of Asia’s premier carriers (with a new fleet of planes and a great in-flight product), but also its reach is rapidly expanding, making it useful for travel beyond Asia as well.
The rules for redeeming on Korean’s SkyTeam partners are complicated. You can typically only book round-trip awards (with a limit of two stopovers, one in each direction), and your origin and destination must be in the same country. However, the airline has introduced RTW awards that ease up on these limits and give travelers a bit more flexibility.
According to the airline’s RTW award page, you can book them for the following mileage amounts:
- 140,000 miles in economy
- 220,000 miles in business class
That represents a big savings over using Delta SkyMiles. Here are the other rules:
- Tickets are valid for one year from the date of issue, and you cannot extend them.
- The original departure city cannot be used as a stopover to a final destination in the same country (so if you fly out of New York but want to end in LA, you can’t stop over in NYC on your way back).
- You can only cross the Pacific and Atlantic once each, and no backtracking is allowed.
- Up to 3 transfers and stopovers are allowed during the entire journey.
- One additional stopover is permitted in each “area” (zone), for a total of 6 possible stopovers.
The areas defined by Korean Air are:
- Area 1: North/South America
- Area 2: Europe/Africa/Middle East
- Area 3: Asia/Oceania
So you can have 2 stopovers in each of those areas – for instance, in both Africa and Europe, but not Africa, Europe and the Middle East. If you have two stopovers in North America, forget about heading to South America on the same itinerary.
RTW awards cannot be booked during blackout periods of each SkyTeam alliance airline, and Korean is notorious for imposing huge blackout periods on awards, so keep that in mind.
All in all, the terms of the RTW ticket on Korean Air seem fairly standard, but the mileage requirements are surprisingly low, so there’s great value to be had, especially considering SkyPass is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You would normally need 80,000 miles in economy and 140,000 miles in business class to go from North America just to South Korea and back. For an extra 60,000 miles in economy and 80,000 miles in business class, you can book a RTW ticket and visit several more continents with several more stops, all while mixing and matching the airlines that you want.
Star Alliance offers a pretty popular paid RTW ticket, but if you want to use miles for a RTW award, you’ll have to mind the rules of individual airline programs. Luckily, the published rules are easy to find, and are adhered to by those partner airlines that do offer RTW tickets.
Like much of the United Airlines award chart, the requirements for RTW awards have become pretty high:
- 200,000 miles for economy
- 350,000 miles for business
- 450,000 miles for first when both first and business are offered
As with Delta, you must continue your travel in a single east-west or west-east direction, and you cannot backtrack. You can have a maximum of 5 stopovers (6 stops total including your destination) and 16 segments.
Those mileage levels might seem high, but consider that flying round-trip from North America to Southeast Asia on United these days costs 80,000 miles in economy, 140,000 in business, or 160,000 in first. Flying a Star Alliance partner like Thai or Singapore Airlines costs 160,000 miles in business and 260,000 miles in first class. A round-trip award flight to Europe costs 60,000 miles in economy on United or Star Alliance partners, 140,000 miles round-trip in business class, and a whopping 220,000 miles round-trip in first class on Star Alliance partners. Suddenly those RTW mileage amounts aren’t looking so bad.
An example routing would be to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney on United and up to Tokyo on ANA before heading down to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. From there you could take South African Airways to Johannesburg before popping up to Europe on Lufthansa, and then head back to the US on Swiss (or maybe LOT to try out their 787) to New York, followed by United’s Premium Service transcontinental flight back to LA.
Flying in business class on all those airlines, you’d pay 350,000 miles instead of the 385,000 you’d need to book all those flights as one-way awards. If you play around with the routing and partner airlines, you can really end up saving big – especially by maximizing Star Alliance partner awards that went sky high after United’s most recent mileage devaluation.
Just beware, some Star Alliance partners (like Air Canada, SAS and Singapore) levy special surcharges on specific routes. You can find all the rules here.
Aeroplan (the mileage program of Air Canada) has some great values, and their round-the-world awards are among them.
Here are the award prices:
- Economy: 200,000 miles
- Business: 300,000 miles
- First: 400,000 miles
You can have a maximum of five stopovers and one open jaw, and you can only stop over once in a given city. Here are the rest of the rules from Aeroplan:
- You must include only one transatlantic and transpacific crossing.
- You must start and end in the same country, although not necessarily in the same city.
- Your travel must last at least 10 days (7 days for customers commencing travel in Australia) between the first and the last international flight segment.
- You may include only one crossing between Europe, Africa/Middle East and Asia.
- Your travel may last up to 12 months after departure.
A few things to keep in mind. First, Aeroplan levies fuel surcharges on award itineraries (sometimes quite high), so you could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the carriers and routings you choose.
Second, if you’re not going to max out the stopovers and segments, then consider just booking a creative round-trip award and planning what points and miles enthusiasts have dubbed the Aeroplan “Mini RTW.”
Per Aeroplan’s award rules, on international itineraries between different continents, Aeroplan will let you include two stopovers or one stopover and one open jaw, plus your point of turnaround. You can include up to 10 segments on such an itinerary; that’s incredibly generous at round-trip pricing! Just beware that Aeroplan does have maximum permitted mileage rules as well as other limitations on routing.
For example, you could fly from North America to Aeroplan’s Asia 1 zone – which includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and more – via Europe all for the same amount of mileage as just flying directly to Europe. However, you couldn’t route from Europe to Asia via North America, for instance, because that doesn’t make sense and would overshoot the maximum permitted mileage.
Still, if your routing works and you don’t need many stops, this mini-RTW can save you a ton of miles, since (in the example above) you would only need 75,000, 150,000, or 210,000 miles for economy, business, or first class, respectively.
While Aeroplan does have some limitations, its award chart is pretty generous, the routing rules are flexible, and it’s a good option for flyers looking to use Amex points, since the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards.
To learn more about the Aeroplan Mini RTW, check out this helpful FlyerTalk thread.
Lufthansa/Miles & More
Miles & More is the mileage program of Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian, LOT and Adria, among others. Here’s how many miles you need for their RTW awards:
- Economy: 180,000 miles
- Business: 325,000 miles
- First: 480,000 miles
Here are the rest of their conditions:
- A Round the World Flight Award ticket includes one Atlantic and one Pacific crossing.
- A maximum of ten flight segments (maximum of nine connecting flights) is allowed.
- There must be an interval of at least ten days between the start of the first intercontinental flight and the start of the last intercontinental flight.
- A Round the World Flight Award ticket remains valid for twelve months once issued.
- A maximum of seven stopovers is allowed.
All the rules are the same, but those numbers are pretty high, especially first class for 480,000. Business class might be worthwhile, but beware of the sometimes onerous fuel surcharges Lufthansa levies on its awards. You might be better off spending 25,000 more United miles, but saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on fees.
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer
One of the little-discussed aspects of the Singapore Airlines Krisflyer program is its Star Alliance Round The World Awards. The mileage requirements for Krisflyer are also high – 180,000 seems to be the best you can do for economy – but with business and first class, you might find a downright bargain. Here are the requirements:
- Economy: 180,000 miles
- Business: 240,000 miles
- First: 360,000 miles
As with the other Star Alliance RTW awards, you can have 6 stopovers plus a final destination for a total of 7 stops on your trip.
Apart from that, the rules don’t seem to be published anywhere, and a call to the Singapore Airlines award desk did not provide any more details. However, it’s probably safe to assume that the rest of the rules apply, such as only one transatlantic and transpacific flight per itinerary, a continuous flight direction, and a year to finish travel.
The great news here is that Krisflyer is now a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Citi ThankYou Rewards, so there are plenty of transfer options to top up your account.
ANA is the final Star Alliance carrier I’ll cover here. While the airline’s distance-based redemption schedule still applies to its RTW awards, the rules are a bit different than on the airline’s other award tickets.
Per the ANA mileage redemption information page, RTW itineraries permit up to 8 stopovers between the origin and final destination, though only 3 of those stopovers are permitted within Europe.
RTW flights must proceed in either a westerly or easterly direction and may not backtrack. The trip must include exactly one flight each over the Pacific and Atlantic, and you must board the final international flight returning to the country of departure at least 10 days after the date of your first international flight.
The point of departure and the final destination must also be within the same country – so no flying out of Los Angeles and returning to Vancouver, for instance.
Otherwise, the same Star Alliance RTW award rules seem to apply, but instead of setting fixed amounts for economy/business/first awards, you’ll need to consult the airline’s distance-based chart to determine the number of miles required.
The mileage amounts are for the total flight distance. So the maximum cost (for flying between 44,001-50,000 miles) is:
- 200,000 miles for Economy
- 300,000 miles for Business
- 450,000 miles for First
However, the mileage amounts can actually be much cheaper for shorter distances. I think the sweet spots are probably the 22,001-25,000 and 25,001-29,000 bands, which max out at 120,000 for economy, 170,000 for business, and a reasonable 260,000 for first class.
For example, let’s say you wanted to depart LAX to Sydney on United to try out the airline’s 787 with a stopover there, followed by a flight from Melbourne to Tokyo-Narita on ANA and a few days in Tokyo. You could then fly down to Taipei on EVA for a layover, and hop on one of the airline’s 777-300ER’s and take Royal Laurel business class from Taipei to Paris. Spend a few days there, pop over to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and stopover (or not), and then fly back to New York.
That whole itinerary weighs in at 24,564 miles – just under the 25,000-mile band. That would run you 100,000, 145,000, or 220,000 miles in economy, business, or first, respectively. While 220,000 miles might seem like a lot (even for first class), to put that in perspective, United would now charge you 220,000 miles simply for a round-trip first class award on Lufthansa from the US to Europe. Instead you could fly to several destinations around the world and try out several airlines for the same price!
Again, note that ANA is one of the airlines notorious for levying hefty fuel surcharges, so you should price out an itinerary before making a decision. You can get a sense of the charges on various routes in this post.
Have you booked your own RTW award? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.