A Simple Investigation into Round The World Airfares

I was looking at some flights the other day for business trip where I might have to visit several countries in Asia.  The odds of the trip happening are less than 50%, but, given the multiple countries, it got me thinking about round the world fares.  Would it be cheaper to just continue going west from Asia through Europe and across the Atlantic to get home compared to booking a complex multiple-city routing that brings me over the Pacific and then back again?

I started investigating, knowing nothing about these fares.  I learned that the three major airline alliances (Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and OneWorld) offer round the world fares that are very similar in their rules and complexity:

  • Fares are based on mileage.  The longer your travel, the more it costs.  I should note that One World has two types of RTW fares:  based on mileage or based on # of continents visited, either four or six.
  • You can buy fares in all classes.
  • You can continue traveling on the same “ticket” for as long as 12 months, but you also can’t return home in fewer than 10 days.
  • There are minimum and maximum stop-overs (more than 24 hours), typically a minimum or 3 or 5 and a maximum of 15.
  • You can only cross the Pacific and the Atlantic once, but you can double-back within continents.  For example, you can travel east from New York to Frankfurt, back west to London (still within Europe) and then onward east to Tel-Aviv or Mumbai.  The only restriction is that you can’t ever backtrack to your point of origin.
  • The ticket has to be purchased in advance.  You can’t start out on a trip and then convert to an around-the-world ticket.  You don’t have to book all segments, just purchase the ticket and the first international leg.

There are, of course, all sorts of rules and limits.  The One World rules sheet take up 11 pages!!

In addition to round the world fares, each alliance also offers variants on intra-continental fares or discounts for residents of other continents.  For example, Europeans traveling to North America may be able to save money on travel by buying a North American pass or something equivalent.

The pricing is interesting and can create some options.  At a certain point,  it may be cheaper to continue around the world after completing business, rather than double back.  Your only limitation might be the requirements to spend a few days somewhere on the way back to qualify for the fare.  But, after two weeks in Asia, would you be opposed to spending two days in Rome, Paris or London on your way home?

I tried to price out a business class trip online for each of the three alliances.  In the end, I wasn’t completely successful.

The itinerary I used starts here in St. Louis on October 24, and goes to Tokyo, Manila, Beijing, Mumbai, Singapore, and then home via Geneva, arriving in St. Louis on November 7.   To compare with the three round the world fares, I used Kayak to price out the same itinerary and an itinerary without Geneva, selecting low-cost, reasonable length, business class itineraries.  Here’s what I found:

  1. Star Alliance = $11,316 (estimated without selecting flights)
  2. OneWorld = $10,685 (selected flights, but excluded Mumbai and Singapore, as I hit limits on stops within one continent)
  3. SkyTeam = $5,800 (based only on estimate on the SkyTeam web site – they do not have an online booking tool I could find)
  4. Kayak throug Geneva (series on one-way fares on any airline) = $12,772
  5. Kayak with return from Singapore direct to St. Louis = $10,702

The bottom line is that it would seem worthwhile, if you are traveling across either the Atlantic or Pacific to multiple cities on another continent to at least consider round the world fares.  The OneWorld limit on intra-continental stops was a limiting factor for me on this sample itinerary and could be for you.  No doubt adding back Mumbai and Singapore would have carried the OneWorld cost far above the Kayak estimate.

For reference:

OneWorld Round The World Fares

SkyTeam Round The World Fares

Star Alliance Round The World Fares

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