How to Book A Round the World (RTW) Trip Using Points and Miles

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If you’re a points and miles junkie, you probably have a bucket list. Perhaps you dream of taking a flight in Singapore Airlines Suites, or maybe your fantasy is redeeming for a trip to Fiji or the Maldives. The round the world trip, or RTW, is the ultimate points and miles redemption. In this post we’ll examine the available options and give you a how-to guide.

Thinking of Buying Your Round the World Trip?

You could shell out cold cash for it, but that wouldn’t be much fun. The price depends on how many continents you want to visit and how many stopovers you’ll have, but here’s the breakdown:

Economy

It’s possible to put together a basic RTW trip with two or three stops on major airlines for as little as $1,500 or include more stopovers on budget carriers for the same price. Generally, though, an Economy RTW will run between $2,500-6,000 depending on the itinerary. Premium Economy would cost $3,500-7,500, but not all airlines will offer it.

Business

Figure $10,000-14,000 to fly in comfort. If you’re willing to use budget airlines, it could be as little as $5,000-7,000 (just don’t expect lie-flat seats).

First

This would cost $15,000 and up, but it’s a waste of money. Very few carriers have First Class cabins anymore, so most of the time you’ll be downgraded to Business.

Regardless of what class you fly, using some of the best credit cards for international travel will help save you money on foreign transaction fees.

General Round the World Trip Rules

Rules can be complex and may vary from carrier to carrier, but here are the basics:

  • You must travel in either an easterly or westerly direction;
  • Your journey must begin and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city;
  • A paid RTW will come with a minimum of three stopovers and a maximum of 15; when redeeming, the cost in miles will likely be determined by the total distance traveled. Each carrier will have their own restrictions.
  • You must cross the Atlantic and Pacific once, and only once;
  • Tickets are usually valid for one year after the issue date.

There are three main zones, or Traffic Conferences, for an RTW ticket:

  • TC1, Americas (including the Caribbean, Greenland and the Hawaiian Islands);
  • TC2, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa);
  • TC3, Asia and Oceania.

You can cross each zone only once, but you’re allowed to backtrack within a zone.

Tip: Before booking your RTW with points and miles, use the Star Alliance RTW Booking Tool or SkyTeam’s RTW Ticket Planner to scope out your trip.

Redeeming for a Round The World Trip: The Basics

You have three main options. If you have miles in several different programs as well as a few point currencies, you can book individual segments in various programs and string them together into an RTW trip. This will probably be the costliest option.

Another possibility is to book the long-haul segments of your RTW trip as awards and fill in the gaps with travel by train, bus or regional carrier. Within both Europe and Asia, you can find some extremely cheap point-to-point fares, especially when you utilize budget airlines.

The third option (and the most exciting one) is to book your entire itinerary with a carrier that offers RTW trip mile redemptions. This is the one we’ll look at in detail.

Before we do, remember this key axiom:

The sweet spot for RTW redemptions is Business Class. It hardly makes sense to burn a pile of miles for a ticket you could buy for $3,000. Saving $10,000-12,000 is another story, particularly when you can be pampered with good food and sleep in lie-flat seats.

ANA Mileage Club RTW Trip

Japanese carrier ANA (All Nippon Airways) offers RTW awards at reasonable prices. Even better, ANA is a Star Alliance member, which gives travelers an unprecedented 26 partner airlines to choose from. Here’s their RTW award chart:

As you can see, it’s possible to design a Business Class itinerary for as little as 105,000 miles, and even the most extensive RTW trip won’t top 200,000. The good news is that ANA is a transfer partner of both American Express and Marriott Bonvoy, so it’s easy to slide points over to get your reward.

This means you can use the Platinum Card® from American Express, one of the best miles credit cards, to transfer points.

A total of eight stopovers are permitted, with three in Europe and four in Japan. You can book a maximum of 12 flight segments and four ground transfers. A minimum of 10 days must elapse between the departure segment and the final segment.

Note that you must call ANA to book these awards.

Aeromexico RTW Trip

Given the hefty price (352,000 miles for a Business class RTW), this isn’t the most attractive option. As a SkyTeam member, however, Aeromexico gives you the choice of 18 airline partners. Another plus is that you’re allowed 15 stopovers, so you can devise a complex RTW of your dreams.

Aeromexico is a transfer partner of both Marriott Bonvoy and American Express. Amex Membership Rewards points transfer at an attractive ratio of 1:1.6, which means you’d need 220,000 points to book this award. To do so, call the airline directly.

Aeroplan RTW

The Canadian flag carrier offers RTW fares for 200,000 miles (Economy), 250,000 (Premium Economy), 300,000 (Business Class) and 400,000 (First Class). You get a maximum of five stopovers and one open jaw, with one stopover permitted per city. As usual, you must cross the Atlantic and Pacific once each.

Aeroplan is a transfer partner of American Express, Capital One, and Marriott Bonvoy.

Tip: The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a good travel option since it has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a credit, up to $100, for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. View our comparison of the Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Capital One Venture for more in-depth information on these two top travel cards.

The low amount of stopovers wouldn’t make this the first choice for many travelers, but it’s an option. Call the airline directly to book.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles RTW

Cathay Pacific is a member of OneWorld, which gives you 12 airline partners to draw from. Looking at the chart, you’ll see that Zones 11 and 12 cover a lot of distance for a reasonable amount of miles in Business Class. You can transfer points from American Express, Citi ThankYou and Capital One.

Tip: You can use your business credit card not only for their travel perks but also to earn major miles. For instance, the Business Platinum® Card from American Express currently has a welcome bonus of earning up to 100,000 miles. New cardholders earn 50,000 points after spending $10,000 and an extra 50,000 points after spending an additional $15,000 within their first 3 months of card membership.

However, if the spending threshold is too high for the Business Platinum, note that it is only one of the best business credit card for travel options.

These awards also aren’t bookable online, so give the airline a call.

Korean Air RTW

These awards cost 140,000 miles in Economy or 220,000 in Business class. You get the 18 SkyTeam member airlines to choose from when booking. You’re allowed six stopovers, with a maximum of four per award region.

Marriott Bonvoy is currently the only transfer partner for Korean Air, and their miles aren’t easy to earn, so this option ranks fairly low on the scale.

Lufthansa RTW

Another Star Alliance member, Lufthansa offers 26 partner airlines to help you construct your itinerary. The fare structure is simple, although the cost is on the steep side:

  • Economy: 180,000 miles
  • Business Class: 325,000 miles
  • First Class: 480,000 miles

The Lufthansa RTW trip includes one Atlantic crossing, one Pacific crossing, and a maximum of 10 flight segments and 7 stopovers. Beginning and ending intercontinental flights must have 10 days between them. You can transfer points from Hilton, IHG or Marriott.

Qantas RTW Trip

Qantas uses the Oneworld Classic Flight Rewards table. You’d probably have to be in Zone 9 or 10 to devise a full-blown itinerary, which would cost you either 218,000 or 249,600 miles in Business Class—more than either ANA or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. Qantas is also a transfer partner of American Express, Citi and Capital One, so you have lots of options to reach your desired total.

Tip: Check out some of the best American Express credit cards, the best Amex Business credit cards, the limited-time Citi ThankYou transfer bonus offer, and the best Capital One credit cards articles for further information on some of the best credit cards available.

To book a Oneworld Classic award, you must include at least two non-Qantas carriers.

Singapore Airlines RTW

Singapore charges 180,000 miles in Economy, 240,000 in Business and 360,000 in First. You have the greatest amount of flexibility here since Singapore accepts points from American Express, Citi, Chase and Marriott Bonvoy. Transferring your points to Krisflyer, their frequent flyer program, is the easiest way to book award flights since the airline tends to be stingy with partner availability.

You’re permitted seven stopovers, with no more than two in a single country. There’s a ceiling of 35,000 miles traveled, and you’re allowed 16 flight segments. Travel must begin and end in the same country, with no backtracking.

Should You Book An RTW Trip Ticket?

Now that you know how to do it, is an RTW flight for you? Consider these factors:

Time

Phineas Fogg did it in 80 days. You’ll probably need at least three or four weeks to do it right, and many people can’t take that amount of time off work. Even a month might not suffice to do the RTW of your dreams. You’ll need the flexibility and the funds to make it work.

Drawbacks

Speaking of flexibility, booking an RTW with an airline locks you into a rigid schedule. If you make changes to your itinerary, you’ll be hit with fees. And speaking of funds, there may be significant fuel charges on some routes. Even if you do book your RTW on miles, one month of staying in hotels and eating in restaurants can add up.

If you’re truly a free spirit and plan to travel for an extended period of time, you won’t want to be on a predetermined itinerary. A combination of budget airlines and standard one-way awards will likely suit you just fine.

Complexity of Booking a Round the World Trip

Simply put, it’s not easy to book one of these awards. You’ll have to do a great deal of research to find the flights you’re looking for and plan on spending at least one hour on the phone with the airline when you try to make your reservation. Don’t count on the agent to be proactive: you’ll need to have all the information at your fingertips.

Still, many of the best things in life aren’t easy. If a RTW trip is your dream, these are plenty of ways to make it happen.

Mark Spivak

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