I was recently on an American Airlines flight from Santiago to DFW when the women next to me started telling me all about her and her husband’s flight around the world in March – 10 destinations in 1 month paid for with frequent flyer miles, and for what seemed to be an incredibly low mileage. So I called AA, checked out the websites, and here’s the scoop (at least as of August 20, 2008).

There are two programs that the oneworld alliance offers:

oneworld Explorer: Determined by the number of continents you visit, not the mileage you fly, allowing a little more flexibility if you want to explore around in a given continent. You also don’t have to plan your trip out in advance, just the first flight. There are some class restrictions, however.

Global Explorer: Determined by the number of miles flown, with 4 tiers: < 26k miles, 26k-29k miles and 29k-39k miles in economy, or up to 34k miles in any class. This option includes Aer Lingus, Air Pacific and Gulf Air, so you get some more destinations especially in the South Pacific. You have to plan out your trip in advance, so this is a little less flexible; however, you purchase tickets in all three classes of service (economy, business and first).

There are of course some rules:

  • You have to travel in one direction only (either eastward or westward) and must cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, only once. However, you can backtrack within a continent.
  • There are some constraints on whether you can travel by surface transport between destinations; e.g., if you want to take a train across Canada or a drive through France. The direct flight mileage will count toward your total flown mileage and maximum number of stops.
  • For oneworld Explorer, you can use American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, JAL Japan Airlines, LAN, Malév Hungarian Airlines, Qantas, and Royal Jordanian Airlines. You can also use affiliates such as Aer Lingus, Air Pacific and Gulf Air for the Global Explorer. Codeshares count too, so if you are on an Air Tahiti Nui flight codeshared with Quantas, no problem.
  • For the Globlal Explorer, the number of stops allowed depends on the Tier you sign up for, with a maximum of 16 segments for both programs (which includes any ground transportation from one city to another).
  • Total trip times can be between 10 days and 12 months (yes, a full year of travel!).
  • For the Global Explorer, you have to decide on all your stops in advance and make every booking. For the oneworld Explorer, the first flight must be booked at least 7 days in advance (if leaving from the Americas); after that you can book as you go.
  • You get two stopovers in your continent of origin and up to 4 in another continent (or six if the North America is not your country of origin).
  • For purchased round-the-world flights, you do get mileage credit. I’m not sure, however, if you can apply upgrades.
  • You can include Cuba on your itinerary! Just not on an American-based carrier…

This is a just a brief summary of the rules, be sure to check out the oneworld around-the world travel page for detailed rules (and the inevitable changes).

Buying Around the World Tickets

The costs are pretty reasonable for the amount of travel that is available. The following numbers are from the oneworld site, for travel from the United States. For the oneworld Explorer it scales by the number of continents:

Number of continents Economy Business First
3 $3,900 $8,600 $11,600
4 4,400 9,100 12,500
5 5,100 10,400 14,400
6 6,000 12,000 16,900

For Global Explorer the costs are broken down by mileage tier, and business/first is only available for Tier 3. Again for travel from the United States (note that no Tier 1 cost was listed on the oneworld site):

Tier Economy Business First
2 (26-29k miles) $4,499 not available not available
3 (29-34k miles) 5,199 $9,199 $12,599
4 (34-39k miles) 6,099 not available not available

Around the World Tickets with Frequent Flyer Miles

I was more interested in using my AA frequent flyer miles for this, so I called AA and got these numbers:

Miles flown Economy Business
4k-9k 60k 80k
9k-10k 70k 90k
10k-14k 90k 115k
14k-20k 100k 130k
20k-25k 120k 150k
25k-35k 140k 190k
35k-50k 160k 220k

I’m not sure how you manage to go around the world in less than 25k, but there you go. I think these flights probably fall under the Global Explorer program as well. For comparison, my wife recently flew from Hawaii to Scotland on a (very last minute) frequent flyer business class ticket for 180k – for 10k more she could have visited 16 cities around the world flying business class! Overall, seems like a good use of miles if you got ’em.

I’m curious to hear form anyone who’s taken advantage of this.