Unless you’re a very frequent traveler, the post-vacation
blues only get exacerbated when you log into your frequent flyer
accounts and realize you don’t have enough miles for another
trip. While it’s pure euphoria to earn
100,000 points or more from a single welcome bonus on a new
rewards credit card, it can be equally deflating to blow them
all on a single trip and only get to experience one new
One way to get around this is to take advantage of
a free stopover on your award ticket (and
even some cash tickets as well), but there aren’t many
loyalty programs that offer this feature, and it often requires you
to either book with certain miles or route through a specific city.
For flexible travelers looking to take extended trips and see as
much of the world as possible, there’s another option: Several
airline loyalty programs offer round-the-world (RTW) awards, where
for a fixed price you can see 10 or more different destinations in
all different corners of the globe.
These complex itineraries are generally made possible by
leveraging alliance route networks (or individual partnerships,
depending on the airline). In fact, all three major alliances (Star
Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam) offer the ability to build a cash
RTW ticket. Given the high cost though, we’ll focus instead on
award redemption options here. The beauty of RTW awards is that
creativity is encouraged, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t
see your favorite city in any of these examples.
One last note before we get started. Almost every airline that
offers RTW awards requires you to fly in a single direction (east
to west or west to east) without backtracking. However, many will
make a slight exception and let you backtrack to connect in an
alliance hub city in route to your next destination.
With 28 member airlines serving over 1,300 destinations
worldwide, Star Alliance remains the biggest of the three major
alliances. Wherever you’re traveling, odds are there’s a Star
Alliance carrier that can get you there.
ANA RTW awards offer a combination of reasonable terms and
- Flights must be used to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific
- You must fly east to west or west to east and can’t
- Up to 8 stopovers are permitted, up to 3 in Europe and up to 4
- You can book a maximum of 12 flight segments.
And fair pricing …
While first class looks very enticing for a long RTW trip, Star
Alliance makes it rather challenging to book. Singapore and Swiss
don’t release first class award space to partners and Lufthansa
only does within 15 days of departure, leaving ANA as one of the
only Star Alliance carriers that would actually let you book first
class. Thankfully, Star Alliance has some pretty fine business
class options for you to choose from.
Take the following example, which covers just over 21,000 flight
miles and includes 7 stopovers. This ticket would only cost you
125,000 miles, which is equal to (or less than) most carriers would
charge for a simple round-trip business class ticket to Asia!
Earning ANA miles: If you’re short on ANA
miles, the carrier is a 1:1 transfer partner of
American Express Membership Rewards points (from cards like
The Platinum Card® from American Express) and a 3:1 transfer
partner of Marriott
Rewards (earned from cards like the
Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card).
Remember that the latter of these programs two offers a 5,000-mile
bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.
You can find Aeroplan’s RTW redemption option buried in a
corner of the award chart website. The description is short enough
to fit into a single screen shot from the program’s website:
Given that you’re capped at 5 stopovers this might not be your
best bet, but Aeroplan miles are some of the
easiest to earn if you don’t have enough transferable points
in any one single program.
Earning Aeroplan miles: Aeroplan is a 1:1
transfer partner of Amex, a 2:1.5 transfer partner of
Capital One (from cards like the
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card) and a 3:1 transfer
partner of Marriott.
Singapore’s RTW award is poorly advertised and relatively
confusing, but if you’re looking to include a premium cabin
segment on Singapore, you have a compelling reason to book through
KrisFlyer, as the carrier generally doesn’t release premium cabin
award space to partners.
Singapore RTW awards:
- Travel must continue in the same direction (east or west) with
- You must begin and end in the same country.
- You can have a maximum of seven total stopovers, with a maximum
of two in each country.
- Your maximum flight distance is 35,000 miles, and you can’t
have more than 16 flight segments.
35,000 miles is a very low ceiling to place on the RTW awards.
If you wanted to try
the world’s longest flight from Newark (EWR) to Singapore
(SIN), you’d eat up almost 30% of your mileage allowance on a
single flight. And the pricing is mediocre at best:
- Economy: 180,000 miles
- Business: 240,000 miles
- First: 360,000 miles
Lufthansa’s Miles & More program allows you to book up to
seven stopovers and ten flight segments on
RTW awards, though it does pass on
fuel surcharges which can be thousands of dollars for a trip
like this. RTW awards cost the following amounts:
- Economy: 180,000 miles
- Business: 325,000 miles
- First: 480,000 miles
Earning Miles & More miles: Lufthansa is a
3:1 transfer partner of Marriott Rewards.
Oneworld Cathay Pacific
Asia Miles program offers a quasi-RTW award option, though you
might not notice it at first since it’s called “Oneworld
multi-carrier awards.” You’re required to fly at least two
Oneworld carriers (excluding Cathay Pacific, or three if you
include Cathay Pacific), are permitted up to five stopovers and
can’t fly more than 50,000 miles. These are round-trip tickets,
so you must return to your origin. Other than that, there aren’t
many restrictions to worry about. Prices are as follows:
Oneworld is also much better about releasing first class award
availability to partners, allowing you to concoct some pretty fancy
trips. The following itinerary covers just over 33,000 flight
miles, with stops in Tokyo-Narita (NRT), London-Heathrow (LHR),
Sydney (SYD, via Singapore) and Hong Kong (HKG). It would cost
300,000 miles which is by no means cheap, but in exchange you would
get almost 70 hours of first class flying time with
Cathay Pacific and Qantas, and well over $40,000 worth of
Of course, you’d need to find award availability (that’s
actually bookable) on these routes, but one can dream,
Earning Asia Miles: Cathay Pacific is a 1:1
transfer partner of Amex and Citi and a 2:1.5 transfer partner of
Qantas’ RTW award program can be difficult to find, since like
Cathay Pacific, it’s named “Oneworld classic flight reward.”
You can only fly on Oneworld airlines (i.e. not other Qantas
partners like Emirates), and you’re required to fly at least two
non-Qantas Oneworld airlines.
If your destination city is different than your origin, you will
be charged based on the distance to return directly from your
destination to your origin. You are allowed up to five stopovers
and can cover up to 35,000 total flight miles. Pricing is as
This obviously isn’t as generous as Cathay Pacific, but there
are some decent values to be had here, especially in business
class. If you max out the five stopovers, you’d likely end up
paying 240,000 – 280,000 miles for a business class
round-the-world award. That means you’re effectively
‘purchasing’ each flight for 40,000 – 45,000 miles each.
Earning Qantas miles: Qantas is a 1:1 transfer
partner of Citi ThankYou Points and a 2:1.5 transfer partner of
While Aeromexico’s award chart for flights on its own metal is
hardly worth writing home about, its SkyTeam RTW pass is an
incredibly attractive deal. Aeromexico uses an oddly priced mileage
currency, so make sure you consider your transfer ratio when
looking at these prices. RTW awards cost 224,000 points in economy
or 352,000 in business class, which would require you to transfer
either 140,000 or 220,000 Membership Rewards points (see below for
other transfer options). In addition, the following terms
- Travel must continue in the same direction, east or west
(although there are some reports that Aeromexico is flexible on
this if you’re backtracking to connect through a SkyTeam hub
- Travel must begin and end in the same country.
- You can have a minimum of three or a maximum of 15 stopovers,
with no more than five per continent. A stopover is defined as any
city where you remain for 24 hours before continuing your
- All flights must be booked in the same class of service.
- Pass is valid for one year from the date of issue.
Allowing 15 stopovers is among the most generous of any RTW
program, and with no mileage limits to worry about, you can really
squeeze in some long-haul flights as long as you don’t backtrack.
This 18,000-mile, seven-stop trip is just one of the many
possibilities that comes to mind, bringing you from New York-JFK to
Seoul (ICN), Shanghai (PVG), Guangzhou (CAN), Moscow (SVO),
Amsterdam (AMS), Paris (CDG) and Madrid (MAD) before you head back
to New York.
Just note that China
Southern’s departure from SkyTeam as of Jan. 1, 2019 would
make this particular routing (at least the flights through
It’s worth mentioning that SkyTeam RTWs booked through
Alitalia’s MilleMiglia program are priced identically (once
you factor in the Amex transfer ratio), but you’re limited to six
stopovers, and Alitalia appears to have difficulty accessing some
SkyTeam award space. Plus, with more ways than ever to transfer
points to Aeromexico, there isn’t a good reason to use Alitalia
Earning Premier Points: Aeromexico is a 1:1.6
transfer partner of Amex, a 2:1.5 transfer partner of Capital One
and a 3:1 transfer partner of Marriott.
Korean Air allows up to six stopovers (four per award region) on
RTW tickets. These cost 140,000 miles in economy or 220,000 miles
in business class. Given how hard SkyPass miles are to earn and
this low cap on stopovers, you’d probably be better off booking
with Aeromexico instead (for the same cost, once you factor in the
Amex transfer ratio). For more details on Korean’s RTW pass and
some sample itineraries, you can check out this
Earning SkyPass miles: Since Chase dropped
Korean Air as a transfer partner, the only easy way to earn SkyPass
miles is by transferring Marriott points at a 3:1 ratio.
Round-the-world awards are not for the faint of heart, nor are
they even an option for every traveler. They often require multiple
weeks (or even months) to actually enjoy the stops, which is a
commitment in itself. That doesn’t even take into account the
time needed to research and then book the flights to make it work.
That being said, if you’re able to embark on a multi-stop trip,
these awards can let you do it for just a fraction of the cost.
Even “shorter” trips of only 3-4 destinations can benefit from
this booking option in the right circumstances, so hopefully this
guide has inspired you to start planning your own jaunt!
Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
Your Guide to Round-the-World Award Tickets