flickr/Lukasz Porwold
flickr/Lukasz Porwold

There’s a certain mystique to flying around the world, particularly in one go. Round-the-World (RTW) tickets are designed to do precisely that — and check a key item off of your bucket list.

These days, U.S.-based flyers have two primary options for acquiring a RTW ticket: Star Alliance and Oneworld. Here’s what to expect from each.

Star Alliance


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The Round-the-World fare is determined by the total number of miles of your planned trip, the number of stopovers included in your itinerary, and the country where your journey begins. You don’t have to end your trip in the same city you began, but it must be in the same country. Also, you can travel over countries in reverse direction mid-trip, but not over oceans. Generally speaking, if you start your trip heading east, you have to continue flying east until you’ve gone around the globe.


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You can buy segments in 29,000-; 34,000-; or 39,000-mile increments, with a minimum of three stopovers per ticket and a maximum of 15. A stopover is considered 24-plus hours in a single destination, and fares are available in First, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy Class.

For travel originating worldwide — except in Europe — you only have to confirm your flight dates up to the first international flight. After that, you can leave the dates open (though you have to pick the cities). For example, if you’re going from the U.S. to Madrid, the date of that flight has to be booked. But you can book the dates for Madrid to Brussels and Brussels to Abu Dhabi after you arrive in Madrid.

If you start in Europe, the same is true — except you only have to confirm the dates for your first intercontinental flight. All remaining flights may be left open, i.e. without confirmed flight numbers, and dates and can be booked at any time prior to their departure. (Read the full list of rules and stipulations here.)

Oneworld

Oneworld’s RTW ticket serves to accomplish roughly the same goal as that of Star Alliance, but the intricacies are a bit different. For starters, you’ll have two options to choose from: Global Explorer, which is similar to Star Alliance’s plan, and the Oneworld Explorer — the one you’ll really want to pay attention to.

The second program simplifies things by limiting you to Oneworld’s roster of airlines to crisscross the globe (including American Airlines, Air Berlin, Iberia, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, LATAM Airlines, Qantas, British Airways, and S7 Airlines). Rather than basing the trip on mileage, Oneworld counts a flight as a flight. A RTW ticket here gets you up to 16 flights, which should make your planning a lot easier. Every segment is counted the same, regardless of whether it’s an hour-long hop from London to Glasgow or a 12-hour haul across continents. (Read the full list of rules and stipulations here.)

Tips before you book

It’s worth noting that for all tickets, you’re able to change your dates and times at no cost as long as the destinations don’t change. This is perhaps the best perk of a RTW ticket. Standard tickets charge obscene fees for each minor change, so if it’s flexibility you’re after, RTW is the way to go.

Also note that trips originating and ending in North America tend to be the most expensive. You’ll typically save a lot if you can begin and end in South Korea, South Africa, or Indonesia. These cheaper spots tend to change from time to time, which is why it’s worth having a few different options lined up before you request a price.

Finally, we’d recommend scheduling an hour or two to speak with a reservation agent before you book. Airtreks has a great reputation for piecing together complex RTW itineraries and can occasionally save you money versus dealing directly with the airlines. That said, it can’t hurt to call around and get a few quotes. The cost could vary from $1,500 for a simple three-stop trip to well over $30,000 for a complex itinerary and first-class seats. But an agent can test different dates and locales and, oftentimes, suggest a nearby airport that can save you a few connections (and a few hundred bucks).

Have any tips to share from your own Round-the-World experience? Let us know.

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