Complete Guide to Round the World Airline Tickets


If you are planning long-term travel as a digital nomad, retiree, perpetual traveler, or remote worker, you have probably considered round-the-world (RTW) tickets.  These are essentially airline ticket packages or passes that come in a few variations.  There are many benefits as well as rules and restrictions to understand before you book.  This article will help you figure out if these tickets are the best choice for your travel goals and your wallet.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer

What is a round-the-world ticket and how does it work?

Round-the-world tickets (RTW) are international flight packages for flights on an airline alliance to several destinations around the world or around the Pacific Ocean region.  The packages are made up of a set number of flights to a set number of destinations.  You must start and finish in the same country but you don’t need to end in the same city.  RTW tickets are valid for one year for a standard RTW package (6 months for the Star Alliance Circle Pacific).

When you purchase a ticket, you must choose your first flight departure date but some airlines allow you to choose your subsequent flight dates later.  You must choose your destinations before you leave for your trip.  You can change your flight dates mid-trip for free however changing destinations will cost a fee and fare difference.  You can travel overland between some airports rather than flying so you do not always need to arrive and depart from the same airport. 

Which airlines offer round-the-world tickets?

All three of the major airline alliances offer round-the-world ticket packages. 

Star Alliance has 26 member airlines including United Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines, among others.  Star Alliance RTW tickets can reach over 1,300 destinations in over 190 countries and territories.  They have three RTW ticket options discussed below.  

Oneworld alliance has 14 member airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, Alaska Airlines, Qantas, and Qatar Airways, among others.  Oneworld alliance RTW tickets can reach over 1000 destinations in 170 countries and territories.  They have three RTW ticket options discussed below.

SkyTeam has 20 member airlines including Delta, Air France, Aeromexico, and Korean Air, among others.  SkyTeam has one RTW ticket option that can reach 1150 destinations in 175 countries and territories.  Skyteam’s RTW ticket product is discussed below.

How can you create a do-it-yourself round-the-world ticket?

Besides the formal RTW tickets, you can create and compare prices for your own do-it-yourself round-the-world trip with sites like Momondo, Expedia, Skyscanner, or Kayak by using the multi-city search function. 

Airline aggregator sites are not restricted by the formal rules of airline alliance RTW tickets so you can travel in any direction, have as many overland segments as you want, travel any distance, and travel only in one region of the world rather than having to cross both the Pacific and Atlantic.  Airline aggregator sites mix and match airlines to find the best flight prices for each segment and can save you money. 

The downside is that if you book ahead and need to change your itinerary, you may have to pay fees, fair differences, or lose the cost of non-refundable tickets for each segment impacted.

Some budget airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, Allegiant, Vueling, RyanAir, Jetstar, Scoot, Tiger, Air Asia, etc may not appear on certain search engines so you may want to check these individual sites as well when planning your own RTW trip. 

Another do-it-yourself option is to use google flights to research the cheapest options and then purchase each ticket portion directly from the airlines. Keep in mind that purchasing individual tickets from multiple airlines means that if you need to change multiple segments you may be stuck with multiple change fees in addition to fare differences.  You’ll also want to make sure that you have proof of onward travel as you enter any country.  Read more about the pros and cons of one-way tickets and how to avoid problems.

Where else can you find assistance with DIY around-the-world flight itineraries?

One of the best ways to research the cost of a mix-and-match around-the-world flight itinerary is with Airtreks, a travel company that focuses on round-the-world travel.  Their search engine makes the research process super easy.  As you choose your destinations, they show you a world map so you can see where your trip will take you. 

One of the great perks of using their travel planning tool is they tell you when you can add additional destinations to your journey at no additional cost (presumably using open-jaw flights).

Airtreks also offers round-the-world specials on their website with inspiring itineraries like “The Grand Escape” which goes to New York City, Milan, Dubai, Johannesburg, Mahe, Mumbai, Bangkok, and back to New York City for between $2599 and $3459 (depending on travel dates, availability, and taxes).  I created an itinerary that included Los Angeles, New Zealand, three cities in Australia, Bali, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Bhutan, Nepal, and Japan for around $3,200 for economy class. 

What kinds of round-the-world tickets do airlines offer?

Star Alliance Round the World Ticket

A standard Star Alliance RTW ticket package consists of a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 15 stops (16 flight segments total).  All of your flights must be on Star Alliance airlines.  Each stop lasts 24 hours or more while a free “transfer” is considered less than 24 hours.  

There are 4 possible maximum permitted mileage levels of 26,000, 29,000, 34,000, and 39,000 miles.  You can have 5 overland segments (traveling by train, car, bus, budget airlines, etc) but the mileage of those overland segments counts towards your total miles.  

You can’t have more than 3 stopovers in any one country except for the USA.  If your ticket does not start in the USA or Canada, you can have 5 stopovers in the USA.  

You can begin and end your trip in any country served by any Star Alliance member airline. You must follow one global direction (east or west).  You can backtrack within the zones of North/Central/South America, Europe/Middle East/Africa, or Asia/South Pacific.  Your itinerary must include exactly one transatlantic and transpacific ocean crossing each.

The total trip duration can be from 3 days to 1 year.  

The economy and premium economy baggage limit is 1, and for business and first-class the limit is 2.  Seating requests are handled directly by the operating carriers of each flight so you must sign in to each website or contact each airline for seating requests. 

Star Alliance Circle Pacific Ticket

Similar to the RTW ticket, this ticket allows for a route around the countries that border the Pacific Ocean (excluding Central and South America).  There are 85 destinations in 25 countries and regions including Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Philippines, Western Samoa, Singapore, South Korea, Tahiti, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, USA, and Vietnam.  

Just like the Standard RTW, you must begin and end your journey in the same country.  Your trip can have from 3 to 15 stopovers and must include at least one stopover in each of the three areas (Asia, North America, southwest Pacific).

There are only two mileage tiers (22,000, and 26,000).  You can have overland (or overseas) segments but these count against your mileage.  

The trip duration differs from the standard RTW.  Your trip must be a minimum of 7 days and a maximum of 6 months.  

Star Alliance Round the World Special Economy Fare

This ticket type has a lower fare but also fewer allowed stops for each mileage tier.  The other rules for the standard RTW ticket generally apply.

Oneworld Explorer Ticket

This is a continent-based ticket allowing you to choose 3, 4, or 6 continents with a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 15 stopovers.  The more continents you add, the more the ticket costs.  All of your flights must be on Oneworld alliance airlines.

Each overland travel segment (at your own expense) is counted as a flight segment and you are allowed a maximum of 4 flight segments per continent (6 for North America).  Transoceanic segments (at your own cost and booked outside of ticket) are not allowed between North/South America and Europe/Middle East or between North/South America and Asia/South Pacific (unless travel originates in the South Pacific).  This means you can only cross the Atlantic or Pacific on a Oneworld alliance flight that is part of your package.

You can generally only arrive in and depart from an individual continent once.  Two arrivals and departures are permitted in North America, two between Southwest Pacific and Europe/Middle East, and two between Africa and Europe/Middle East.  

You must travel in an easterly direction between continents.  Backtracking within a continent is permitted (except between Hawaii and North America).  You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans exactly once each.

The trip duration is from 10 days to one year.

Two pieces of luggage are allowed compared to the one piece allowed by Star Alliance.

Oneworld Global Explorer Ticket

The global explorer ticket package consists of a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 15 stopovers (16 segments total).  All of your flights must be on Oneworld alliance airlines.  This is a mileage-based ticket with choices of 26,000, 29,000, 34,000, or 39,000-mile trips.  You can only have 4 stopovers in any one region (only 2 for the 26,000 mileage tier).

You must travel in an easterly direction but backtracking within a continent is permitted.  You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans exactly once each. 

Each overland travel segment (at your own expense and booked outside of the ticket) is counted against your maximum flight segments. Transoceanic segments (booked outside of ticket) are not allowed between North/South America and Europe/Middle East or between North/South America and Asia/South Pacific (unless travel originates in the South Pacific).  This means you can only cross the Atlantic or Pacific on a Oneworld flight that is part of your package.

The trip duration is from 10 days to one year.

Two pieces of luggage are allowed compared to the one piece allowed by Star Alliance and Skyteam.

Oneworld Circle Pacific Ticket

This is limited to countries that border the Pacific Ocean and allows up to 16 segments (including surface segments).  Unlike the StarAlliance Circle Pacific, the Oneworld package allows travel to South America (but not Central America).  Surface segments are allowed at your own expense and are counted against your maximum segments.

The 3 mileage tiers are 22,000 (4 stopovers), 26,000 (5 stopovers), and 29,000 (6 stopovers).  The 29,000 mileage tier must include travel to/from South America via Chile.

Just like the Oneworld Explorer, you must begin and end your journey in the same country.

You can travel clockwise or counterclockwise around the Pacific but can only cross the north and south Pacific exactly once each.

The trip duration is from 10 days to one year.

SkyTeam Round the World Ticket

The Skyteam RTW ticket also has 4 mileage tiers of up to 26,000, 29,000, 33,000, and 38,000 miles.  The package has a maximum of 15 stopovers (only 5 for the 26,00 mileage tier) with 3 maximum stopovers in Scandinavia, 5 in Europe, and 3 in any one country.  

You can travel east or west and backtrack within a continent.  You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans exactly once each.  You are permitted 2 overland segments but they count against your stopovers. 

The trip duration is from 10 days to 1 year.  

One piece of luggage is allowed for economy fares.  

Round the World Ticket Comparison

Table comparing RTW tickets. See a larger version at the bottom of this article.

What are the rules for round-the-world tickets?

There are complex rules that apply to RTW tickets.  Make sure to read the terms and conditions since the terms may have changed.  The general rules are as follows:

  • They are valid for a year (with the exception of the Star Alliance Circle Pacific which is valid for 6 months).
  • Flights are limited to airlines within the alliance you select.
  • You must travel in the same direction around the globe. 
  • You can travel east or west with Star Alliance and Skyteam but must travel east with Oneworld.
  • You must start and end in the same country (but not necessarily the same city).
  • You have to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean exactly once each.  With the Circle Pacific you must cross the North Pacific and South Pacific exactly once each. 
  • You can travel overland between flights but this may count against your flight segments and/or total mileage.
  • You can change departure dates and flight times for the same destination for free.  
  • The fee for changing a destination is $125 plus any fare difference.  
  • Cancellation fees vary from $150 to 10% of the total ticket.

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

The price of an RTW ticket depends on the fare class (economy, business, or first), distance traveled, number of stops, where you begin the trip, and the route taken.  Economy class RTW tickets typically range from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the details of your trip.  

You will want to know the baggage allowance for your tickets before booking.  The Oneworld packages include 2 pieces of luggage for economy fares and the Skyteam and Star Alliance packages include 1 piece of luggage.  If you plan to take multiple bags and have an award status with a particular airline or airline alliance that gives you extra baggage allowances, booking an RTW package with that alliance may actually save you money. 

A DIY approach with budget airlines or an alliance with whom you don’t have status can result in extra baggage fees for each leg of your trip.  This can quickly add up and negate any potential savings. You may also prefer to book with an airline alliance if your frequent flyer status gets you seat upgrades or lounge access.

Booking an RTW ticket online at least 7 days before your departure will also allow you to take advantage of certain short-term promotional fares.

There are also additional surcharges for certain routes.  For example, Star Alliance adds surcharges from $700 to $2700 for routes between Singapore and a number of destinations around the world.  You’ll want to read the terms and conditions to see if it is worth altering your itinerary to avoid routes that incur additional fees.

The price will be lower if your trip starts from outside of North America or Europe.  To find the best fare, price out various itineraries with different origin cities (plus the flight to get you to and from the origin city).  For example, a Circle Pacific business class package costs almost twice as much originating from the US compared to a similar route originating from Bangkok. 

To illustrate another example of the savings when originating from Bangkok I researched the following itinerary :

Los Angeles – San Jose, Costa Rica – Sydney – Bangkok – Istanbul – Barcelona – London – Los Angeles

On StarAlliance this ticket costs $6,929 for my selected dates.  If I booked a round trip ticket on Star Alliance from Los Angeles to Bangkok ($766) and then took the same general route but the RTW ticket originates in Bangkok (Bangkok – Istanbul – Barcelona – London – LAX – San Jose – Sydney – Bangkok), the price is only $4,807.  The combined total of $5,573 ($4807+$766) means a savings of $1356 for originating the trip from Bangkok.

The same itinerary originating in Los Angeles is only $3219 on Airtreks.

Can you buy a round-the-world ticket with points or miles?

Yes. You’ll want to read The Points Guy discussion of how to book around the world award tickets with miles and points directly from individual airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Qantas, AeroMexico, Korean Air, ANA, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, and Lufthansa.  The amount of points needed depends on the award program, where you will go, the number of stops, and the fare class. 

Is it worth buying a round-the-world ticket with an airline alliance?

If your main priority is to find the most cost-effective option, multiple one-way tickets may be better because you can mix in budget airlines. Beyond cost, the answer to this question will vary for each person and depend on factors such as:

  • When and where you want to go
  • Your travel style and goals
  • Your desire for a fully planned trip versus on-the-go spontaneity
  • The number of bags you will check and if your frequent flyer status gets you free checked bags 
  • If you want to accumulate frequent flyer miles on one airline alliance
  • If you want to use your frequent flyer status to upgrade or get consistent access to lounges 
  • The amount of time you want to invest to get the best deal (multiple one ways will require plenty of time to research)
  • How often you think you will want to change dates (free with RTW tickets)
  • How often you think you may change destinations (with RTW tickets there is a fee associated with this type of change but you won’t lose out on the cost of the entire ticket as you might with non-refundable one way tickets)
  • If you want to be able to do more than the number of overland segments allowed by standard RTW tickets
  • If you want to be able to backtrack between continents or regions and not always travel in one direction (not allowed with RTW tickets)
  • If you want to travel around the world vs explore only one continent or region (you can explore parts of the Pacific region with Circle Pacific tickets but there are no similar options for other areas like Europe, Africa, or Latin America)

What are the pros of round-the-world tickets?

  • Redeem miles to pay for the ticket and use far fewer miles than if you redeemed miles for each individual segment 
  • Earn miles and points in your preferred frequent flyer program (some segments may be exempted)
  • Experience less stress because your travel routes are pre-planned
  • Provide proof of onward travel to avoid problems at immigration
  • Know the price before you go
  • Free date and times changes as long as the destination doesn’t change
  • Visit destinations like Easter Island, North Africa, or the Middle East that may be cost-prohibitive when using regular tickets since RTW tickets are priced by overall mileage and/or number of segments rather than supply and demand

What are the cons of round-the-world tickets?

  • You are limited to the airlines within the alliance you choose.
  • You can’t backtrack from the direction (east or west) you are traveling.
  • You must complete your travel on the ticket within one year.
  • You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
  • You have to pay for all of your airline travel up front.
  • There is less flexibility to adapt your itinerary as you go.  
  • If your selected cabin class is not available, you will be offered a lower-class cabin but you still pay the full price of the selected cabin class for the whole trip.
  • They may be more expensive than multiple one-way tickets (but not always!)

What are the pros of booking as you go with multiple one-way tickets?

Flexibility and cost.  You can fly on budget airlines to save money.  You can travel on any airline, in any direction, to any destination.  You can be spontaneous and adapt your itinerary as you travel, exploring a new destination on a whim or taking suggestions from people you meet along the way.

What are the cons of booking as you go with multiple one-way tickets?

Booking as you go can add the stress of planning your upcoming flights mid-trip and constantly watching for cheap fare alerts.  You run the risk that prices will increase in the future and overrun your budget, especially if you end up booking last minute. 

Airline prices fluctuate based on factors like the time of year, the day of the week you travel, supply and demand, the price of oil, and promotions.  You’ll also want to make sure you have proof of onward travel as you enter any country to avoid problems with immigration.  Make sure to read about the pros and cons of one-way tickets.

If you want to lock in cheaper fares, buying a year’s worth of flights through a flight aggregator site can be impractical depending on how many destinations you plan to visit and if you expect your plans to change.  With multiple one-way tickets, any changes to your travel plans will result in fees for each ticket impacted.  This can really add up depending on how many flights you need to change.

How can you make economy air travel around the world more comfortable without upgrading?

Several airlines allow you to block adjacent seats at a steep discount. Depending on the airline you can do this at the time of reservation, in the 72 hours before departure, or at the check-in desk. You can block the seat next to you or even an entire row so you can lie down to sleep. These options are surprisingly affordable so make sure to check them out.

There are also plenty of tips and tricks to survive long-haul flights, make economy feel *almost* like first class, or to sleep well in the middle seat (or any seat).

Table Comparing Round-the-World Tickets


Star Alliance RTWStar Alliance Circle PacificOneWorld Continent ExplorerOneWorld Global ExplorerOneWorld Circle PacificSkyTeam RTW
Stops (>24 hours)Min 2
Max 15
Min 3
Max 15
Min 2
Max 15
Min 2
Max 15
Min 2
Max 15
Min 2
Max 15
Max stops in one country or continent 3 per country (5 in the USA if the journey doesn’t start in the USA or Canada)3 per country4 per continent
(6 for North America)
4 per region4 per region3 in Scandinavia, 5 in Europe, 3 in any one country
Mileage or continent tiers29,000
34,000
39,000
22,000
26,000
3, 4, 5, or 6 continents26,000
(5 stops)
29,000
34,000
39,000
(15 stops each, 4 stops in any one region)
22,000
26,000
29,000 (for travel including South America)
26,000 (5 stops)
29,000
33,000
38,000
Duration of trip3 days to
1 year
7 days to
6 months
10 days to
1 year
10 days to
1 year
10 days to
1 year
10 days to
1 year
Overland segments allowed5 maxYesYesYesYes2 max
Overland segments count towards mileage totalYesYesNo, but count against flight segmentsNo, but count against flight segmentsNo, but count against flight segmentsYes
Backtracking permittedYes, within zones of North/Central/ South America, Europe/Middle East/Africa, or Asia/S. Pacific NoYes, within a continent (except between Hawaii and N. America)Yes, within a continentYes, within a continentYes, within a continent
Need a transatlantic and a transpacific flightYes, must have exactly one eachExactly one North Pacific and one South Pacific crossingYes, must have exactly one eachYes, must have exactly one eachExactly one North Pacific and one South Pacific crossingYes, must have exactly one each
Travel directionEast or WestEither direction around the Pacific OceanEast onlyEast onlyEither direction around the Pacific OceanEast or West
Luggage included in the economy fare1 (20kg)1 (20kg)2 (23kg each)2 (23kg each)2 (23kg each)1 (23kg)
Member Airlines261214141420
Major airline members include (but are not limited to)United, Air Canada, Air China, Lufthansa, Singapore AirlinesUnited, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Singapore, ThaiAmerican, British Airways, Alaska Airways, Qantas,
Qatar
American, British Airways, Alaska Airways, Qantas, QatarAmerican, British Airways, Alaska Airways, Qantas, QatarDelta, Air France, Aeromexico, Korean Air
Destinations1,300 in over 190 countries and territories85 in 25 countries that border the Pacific Ocean (not including Central or South America)Choose 3, 4, or 6 continents, 1000 destinations in over 70 countries and territories1000 in over 170 countries and territoriesCountries that border the Pacific Ocean (including South America, excluding Central America)1150 in over 175 countries and territories
Rerouting fee to a new destination$125 per segment plus fare changes$75 per segment plus any fare changes$125 per segment plus fare changes$125 per segment plus fare changes$125 per segment plus fare changes$125 per segment plus fare changes
Date and time change fees from the same destinationFreeFreeFreeFreeFreeFree
Cancellation fee after ticketing but before departure$150.0010% of fare10% of fare (5% of business fare)10% of fare
(5% of business fare)
10% of fare (5% of business fare)$150.00
Table Comparing Round-the-World Tickets

Jamie Dubois

I am a freelance writer, wanderer, kayaker, rock climber, and adventurer exploring the world on my own terms.

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