Round-the-world and multi-continent airfares

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Nov 18th, 2018, 11:54 AM
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Round-the-world and multi-continent airfares

The topic of RTW and similar airfare products has been raised (usually be me – guilty as charged) on a number of threads that sometimes sends them far off-topic, or prompts others to piggy-back questions that distract from the original poster’s questions or comments. So I’m taking the liberty to start this thread as something of a general resource that can be referred to independent of specific trip itineraries or concerns. Hope that makes sense.

Let’s start by defining terms. “Round the world” (typically shortened to RTW) tickets are specific airfare products sold by various airlines, most often in the context of the three big airline alliances, Oneworld, Star Alliance, and Skyteam. There are a couple of “true” RTW products sold by airlines that aren’t in alliances, or combinations of airlines from different alliances, but these are rare (and shrinking in number.)

The same airlines and alliances often offer multi-continent ticket products that differ from RTWs in that they don’t involve circling the globe. Examples include “Circle Pacific” fares that limit travel to areas surrounding the Pacific basin, or “Circle Atlantic” fares that do the same with that ocean, and one or two that involve Africa, Asia, Australasia and Europe, in essence crossing neither the Atlantic nor the Pacific. For the time being, however, I’m not going to talk too much about these variations on the RTW theme.

With these alliance-based products, travel is limited (generally, with a few exceptions) to airlines that are members in those alliances, and therefore to destinations served by those airlines.

There are, of course, many ways to travel around the world without using these products, in which case the alliances and limits on destinations are unimportant. There are pros and cons to these approaches which I’ll touch on later.

“Round the world” means just that. Using these tickets, one must travel around the world, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in the process. And both must be crossed in the same direction – west to east or east to west.

With a few specific exceptions, you have to end in the same country where you started. Now that could mean starting in Boston and ending in Hawaii, but it has to be the same country. And once you arrive back in the “country of origin,” you can’t leave it again.

The tickets all have a time limit, typically 12 months to complete all travel from the date of the first flight, but a couple of budget RTW products have a shorter limit, like six months. Any RTW ticket has a maximum number of flights that are included, sixteen or fewer. (Sixteen is a limit imposed by electronic ticketing systems’ architecture.) Some budget tickets allow fewer flights, but sixteen is the norm. Of course you don’t have to use all 16.

The “east-to-west or west-to-east” rule is frequently misinterpreted to make people think that all the flights have to be consistent with that rule, and that “doubling back” or zigzagging is somehow prohibited. This is not the case; the directional rule has to do with travel only between the airline “regions” of which there are three – Travel Conference (TC) regions 1 (North and South America), TC2 (Europe east to the Urals, the Middle East east to the Persian Gulf and Africa), and TC3 (Asia and the “Southwest Pacific” including Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific islands.) Except for travel between the TC zones, the flights can be in any direction – you can fly from Hong Kong to New York, then west to California, south to Mexico, and back to New York, without breaking the directional rule.



But this is an example of one of the other main features of these ticket products: they’re very rule-intensive. Now in reality most air tickets are, but most of us ignore the rules until some problem arises, and then, usually, we regret not having known the rules in the first place. With RTW tickets, however, some of the rules are important enough to merit learning about them first. It can make for a more rewarding or economical experience, and don’t forget we’re talking about a fair amount of money on the line.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 11:57 AM
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Part 2 - More basics

There are two types of RTW tickets, those with mileage limits (the majority) and one with no mileage limit, the Oneworld Explorer. Both types are sold for economy class, business class, and first class travel. A couple of tickets now are also sold for “premium economy” class, but for the time being these are rare, since PE is not offered by all airlines in all routes.

The mileage-limited products include all those sold by Star Alliance and Skyteam members, and one of the two sold by Oneworld members (the “Global Explorer.”) The Oneworld Explorer, sold by Oneworld airlines, doesn’t have a mileage limit but instead is priced according to how many continents one touches in the course of the trip, from three to six.

The mileage limits on those ticket that use that metric are sold in several mileage “tiers,” ranging from 26,000 flown miles to around 40,000 miles. The more miles flown (or the more continents touched) the higher the cost. It’s important to note that more miles allowed doesn’t mean more flights are allowed – 16 is still the limit.

All flights have to be booked when you purchase the ticket. This prompts several frequent questions or issues among travelers, such as, “what if I change my mind?” or “the ticket is good for 12 months but I can’t book flights farther out than 11 months.” The answer is that this requirement – another one imposed by “e-ticketing” – is where one of the big strengths of RTW tickets emerges: they’re easily modified.

You can change dates or your choice of airlines for free as long as the “city pair” (e.g. New York to London) remains the same. If you want to change the itinerary (e.g. fly to Paris instead of London) then those kind of changes carry a flat fee of US$125, and you can make as many itinerary changes as you want at one time for that fee. (If you want to change things again later, it’s another $125.) Anybody knows that changing “ordinary” tickets is way more expensive. Obviously, however, if your changes result in you exceeding the limit of the mileage “tier” you’ve paid for, or increase the number of continents touched in the case of the Oneworld Explorer, you’ll be charged for the difference in base fare (using the fare that was published when you bought the ticket, not the current one) but any decrease in mileage tier or continents touched won’t draw a refund. Sorry, Charlie.

If flights aren’t available at the time of booking (many airlines don’t release their schedules for booking until 11 months prior to the flights, but the ticket’s good for 12) the typical solution is to book “dummy” dates when you purchase the ticket, then change them for free when your preferred dates open.

Stopovers: Generally the tickets allow a stopover (meaning in most cases 24h or longer) at any and all points along the route. The Oneworld Explorer (continent-based) limits the number of stopovers per continent to four, except in the case of North America – which includes the Caribbean and Central America – where up to six are allowed. However, the Oneworld Explorer limits stopovers in the continent of origin to two.

Frequent flyer programs: All the RTW ticket products offer full frequent flyer benefits – earning miles, advancement to elite status in your chosen scheme, etc. In premium cabins a well-constructed RTW can generate lots of benefits in this regard.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 11:59 AM
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Part 3 – Costs and benefits

A key feature of RTW tickets is that the costs vary greatly depending on the country where travel begins and ends. Say you have an itinerary that includes stops in North America, Europe and Asia – say San Francisco, New York, London, Rome, Hong Kong and Tokyo. And let’s say you want to travel in business class. What you’re going to find is that the price of the ticket can be more than 50% more expensive if you start and end in the US compared to if you start and end in Japan. Now the same cities will be visited, but just in a slightly different order.

Sometimes even a very short flight can make a big difference. For example business class RTWs starting in Canada are often 30% (or more) cheaper than those starting in the US. So if you live in, say, Seattle, a $40 train ride to Vancouver can save you thousands of dollars in airfare. Similarly, if you’re able to travel cheaply to Europe, starting a Oneworld Explorer ticket in Norway costs thousands of dollars (or pounds or Euros) less than starting one in Switzerland. Hop on a cheap flight to Oslo and bingo. These differences don’t have anything to do with currency exchange (although that can make a big difference if things change quickly) but instead with the arcane supply-and-demand characteristics of specific markets. As with all things regarding airfare, don’t try to second-guess the airlines unless you have an advanced degree from Hogwarts.

This feature can pose real benefits to would-be RTW travelers, particularly those who don’t want to travel all around the world in one go, but instead to spread things out a little. Take someone who lives in the US. By starting the RTW ticket in, say, Europe or Asia, you can travel around and then fly home, making your “stopover” at home one where you return to work, the kids to school, etc. Then, before the year has passed, finish the trip by continuing east or west until you get back where you started.

While you’re at home between intercontinental flights, you can use the ticket for domestic or regional travel, again, returning home after that weekend in California or the Caribbean cruise or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

So many leisure users of RTW tickets (the majority are sold to people for business use – imagine someone needing to visit operations in London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney, Vancouver and New York) this start-and-stop plan can be a real time- and money saver, and leverage excellent value. Many people can’t be gone for months at a time, and by using home as a “stopover” you can utilize the 12-month lifespan of the ticket to good benefit. When you consider the cost differential in purchasing the ticket in some “cheaper” origin country than your own, the “positioning” costs to get to the origin point (and home after the trip) become reasonable in comparison.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 12:05 PM
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Part 4 – Where do you want to go?

One big feature of RTW tickets is the ability to get to places that would be too expensive or too difficult to reach through conventional means. My “go to” example of this is Easter Island, the remote Chilean Pacific island famous for its giant carved heads. By itself, Easter Island is a long way from anywhere; the only scheduled air service, provided by Latam, the big South American consortium that’s grown from Lan Chile, is from Santiago, or, once or twice a week, from Tahiti. Flying there is expensive if for no other reason than it requires getting to Chile in the first place.

With an RTW ticket (in this case only one sold by a Oneworld airline because Latam is in Oneworld) Easter Island is just one stop out of 16. If you’re really keen on remote islands, and want to include, say, Lord Howe Island off the Australian coast, or Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, you can hit all three using the same ticket that will get you to London or to Tel Aviv or to Cape Town.

If you want to break up the RTW by taking independent “spur” trips during a long stopover someplace, fine. Use the ticket to get to Anchorage, then hop around Alaska in a rental car or bush plane before heading home or on to the next stop. The point being, they can be great devices to tick off bucket list destinations or activities, or they can be vehicles with which one discovers places that merit returning again and again and again. On my first RTW we visited Kruger National Park in South Africa, and it changed our lives forever.

The limitations are generally those relating to how much time you have and how deep your wallet is. Of course these are limiting factors to all things, but with RTW tickets the issue of distance is one that, for the most part, vanishes. If you can get there in a plane, or at least close, you can get there.

One note worth making is that the airline alliances have their geographic strengths and weaknesses. Oneworld (British Airways, American, Qantas, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Japan, Latam, others) is very strong in Australia, North and Latin America, but quite weak in mainland China and most of Africa. Star Alliance (United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Singapore, Thai…) is strong in Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and North America, but less so in South America and nonexistent in Australia. Skyteam (Delta, Air France/KLM, Korean…) is strong in North America, Europe and northern Asia, but also very limited or nonexistent in Australia and South America. These factors are worth bearing in mind as one puts plans together.

Here are some sample RTW itineraries showing the different alliances' products and capabilities. Note these are completely imaginary and only supplied to show how they might work. All of the itineraries start and end in Japan, because for the time being, Japan is among the cheaper (in USD) origin points for business-class RTWs for each of the alliances. (Note the "cheap" starting places can and do change as the airlines review their performance, and a "cheap" place for business class RTWs won't necessarily be a "cheap" one for economy class tickets.

Star Alliance 29,000 mile RTW - Great Circle Mapper

Skyteam 34,000 mile RTW - Great Circle Mapper

Oneworld 4-contintent Oneworld Explorer - Great Circle Mapper

Last edited by Gardyloo; Nov 18th, 2018 at 12:38 PM.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 12:10 PM
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Part 5 – Resources.

I’m going to conclude these initial posts by listing some resources to consult for those who have more interest.

Alliances: Here are the RTW web pages for the three alliances

Oneworld - https://www.oneworld.com/flights/round-the-world-fares
Star Alliance - https://www.staralliance.com/en/round-the-world
Skyteam - https://www.skyteam.com/en/round-the-world-planner/

Costs: Most countries and the EU have banned airlines from advertising airfares unless they show prices including fees and taxes. Because each RTW ticket is going to be different in this regard – different country or airport taxes, different carrier fees, etc. – it’s impossible to list these fares on public media without violating local laws, so they don’t. Instead, the “base” fares – before taxes and fees – are listed on the airlines’ global distribution systems – GDSs – that travel agents can access, but which can be accessed via a couple of services available to the public, albeit with a fee. The main one of these is Expert Flyer - https://www.expertflyer.com/ - which is also useful for those wanting to see availability of flights for mileage awards, or numerous other things.

Mapping: Use the Great Circle Mapper - Great Circle Mapper - to determine mileage. When planning RTW miles, be sure to count all flights, whether they’re connecting ones or not. For example, if you need to change planes in, say, London between Toronto and Prague, be sure to include both the Toronto-London and the London-Prague flights.

Discussion boards: While they can be arcane and wonky, the airline alliance boards on Flyertalk can provide a wealth of information and guidance on using these products. Just dive in - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/glob...alliances-391/

Here's a longer (if that's possible) treatise on the same subject I posted on TripAdvisor a few years ago. Most of the details are still fairly current. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopi...ir_Travel.html

More questions? Have at.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 01:03 PM
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This is great! So nice of to take the time to post this. We're still reading and reading and trying to figure out what we would like to do.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 01:40 PM
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Wow, Gardyloo you've outdone yourself! Fantastic information.

We've purchased RTW tickets a few times, but not in recent memory. Now I know where to look should we ever do it again.
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Nov 18th, 2018, 02:39 PM
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thank you!! I learned quite a few things today!
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Nov 18th, 2018, 03:50 PM
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>>Oneworld 4-contintent Oneworld Explorer - Great Circle Mapper <<

Amazing - that is almost exactly what I want to do but was confused how to lay it out. Wouldn't need the Tel Aviv nor probably the Helsinki legs and need to figure how to fit SMF (home) into the routings. Guess I could ditch the ANC legs to fit in a couple of SMF stops

(Question: You said one does earn EQMs - do you earn EQD's at full $ spent [w/o taxes/fees]? I'll miss making Platinum for next year because my upcoming R-T to LHR is on an AAVacations package so only getting partial credit -- not complaining since the package saved me nearly $2000 but will be a lowly Gold in 2019 . . . )
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Nov 18th, 2018, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
>>Oneworld 4-contintent Oneworld Explorer - Great Circle Mapper <<

Amazing - that is almost exactly what I want to do but was confused how to lay it out. Wouldn't need the Tel Aviv nor probably the Helsinki legs and need to figure how to fit SMF (home) into the routings. Guess I could ditch the ANC legs to fit in a couple of SMF stops

(Question: You said one does earn EQMs - do you earn EQD's at full $ spent [w/o taxes/fees]? I'll miss making Platinum for next year because my upcoming R-T to LHR is on an AAVacations package so only getting partial credit -- not complaining since the package saved me nearly $2000 but will be a lowly Gold in 2019 . . . )
The EQD calculation on RTW tickets can quickly send one off into the weeds, and I make no claims to be an expert in the matter. Here's my understanding based on others' reports, not my own as I haven't done an RTW since AA devalued the program last year.

There are two ways to compute EQD earnings, the spend method - applying to AA flights and partners booked with AA codes, and the "distance/fare class" system used on partner metal or partner-coded flights. Most RTW itineraries will have some of each. It also has to do with who issues the tickets, but getting practical examples of the results of this when booking RTW tickets through AA is hard to obtain. AA's website does nothing to help this, which to my suspicious mind probably means AA wouldn't like the results if they were more open with the method. (Editorial comment - this is another example of how AA has diminished the AAdvantage program over the past few years - from the Cadillac of programs to distinctly Delta-class, i.e. Yugo.)

But here's how it would go if (a) you ticket the RTW through, say, British Airways or some other airline in the allowance, or if (b) AA uses the distance/fare class method on RTW tickets it issues.

Go to AA's page showing partner mileage earning, for example https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/...sh-airways.jsp for BA. Scroll down and you'll see the EQM and EQD earning rates according to booking class. Economy RTWs book into "L" class, so you'd get 1 EQM and 0.1 EQD for every mile flown on BA metal, so, for example, a round trip from SFO to LHR in L would earn 10,734 EQM and 1073 EQD. On a D-class business RTW, the numbers would be 21,468 EQM and 2684 EQD. For Platinum you need 50K EQM and 6000 EQD, so in business you'd be almost halfway there. On a typical RTW of, say, 35,000 to 40,000 flown miles, you shouldn't have too much difficulty making Platinum, but using one RTW to get most of the way to Executive Platinum, which I did on several occasions under the old system, is going to be pretty difficult. But it would have a lot to do with your specific route and choice of carriers.

I'm not totally clear on how AA counts EQDs in cases where the ticket includes numerous AA- and non-AA flights and where everything's been booked on AA 001 ticket stock. I think it's the same, but could be wrong. There's a very lengthy and rather confusing thread on Flyertalk covering this - hope you understand it better than I do - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/amer...-miles-13.html

To be honest, and this might or might not apply to you, I've taken to burning through my AA miles and switching horses. Living in Seattle, I'm finding Alaska, even in its post-AA marriage life, is a better overall program than AAdvantage - for me. You might feel quite differently on the subject. I am LT Gold on AA, with no chance of getting to LT Plat at this point, but any future Oneworld RTW trips will almost certainly be credited to my (quite inactive) BA account. Why? Because earning Silver (OW Sapphire - AA Plat) or Gold (OW Emerald, AA EXP) is WAY easier when flying business class RTWs than it is with AA equivalents.

Take this RTW for example (modified to include SMF) - https://tinyurl.com/ydxxpdtb . In business class, you'd earn roughly 83K EQM and around 10,300 EQD, so more than enough to qualify for Platinum, but well short of making EXP. But using BA's tier point formula (in business class, 40 tier points for flights under 2000 miles, 140 for 2000 or more) you'd earn 1540 TP, more than the 1500 required for BA Gold. BA also requires 4 flights on BA metal, hence the EDI and TLV round trips. So you'd end up as Oneworld Emerald, able to go after BA's 2-4-1 or MFU upgrades, vs. playing roulette with AA.

Having BA status would get you into Admirals Clubs (and Flagship lounges where they exist) regardless of where you're flying, while as you know, AA Plat only gets you into the AC on intercontinental itineraries or if you're flying up front on LAX-JFK or SFO-JFK or similar transcons.

Now of course being a BA slave also means you'll be paying big surcharges on many award flights, and while you'll be earning Avios instead of AA miles, and Avios awards are not always generous, it's still basically comparable to AA's devalued program.

Anyway, you might think about it.
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