Global alliances round the world offers increase and provide some good deals. But not all are equal

Global alliances continue to grow and expand their networks, as well as the products available to consumers. Star alliance, perhaps the most advanced in terms of IT platform communication, recently made its Round-the–World (RTW) and regional fares bookable online. While these alliance fares, offered by all three, are not cheap, they do represent good value for those wishing to circle the globe or travel extensively within a region.

Products differ between regions

The fare packages have much in common, yet they provide different options and ease of travel based on the airlines which are represented in each alliance. As an example, if Australia and the South Pacific is your targeted destination, Qantasoneworld affiliation allows that alliance to dominate.

Star, with Air New Zealand, provides lots of access to the region but is unable to move you around inside Australia. And Skyteam can get you to/from cities in the region but travel within the area is virtually impossible.

However, if Russia is your destination of choice, Aeroflot’s SkyTeam membership presents travelers with a veritable buffet of choice, with the other two far less able to assist.

And, if South America is the target, oneworld’s extraordinary reach makes it an immediate winner.

In other words, while they have competing programmess, they are not necessarily competitive for all users, nor are they directly comparable across the world.

RTW and many other options to choose from

In addition to RTW fares offered by all three, there are regional and/or country-specific fare products that allow for various amounts of travel within designated areas as shown in the following chart.

Country or Regional Fares




















North America


Middle East

Mexico/Central Am.


North America

South America


South Pacific




Circle Fares




Circle Asia

Circle Atlantic


Circle N. Asia

Circle Pacific


Circle Pacific

Circle Explorer*


Circle Asia/S Pacific^


These packages are far more definitive, based on the make-up of the alliance. Star, with a much larger membership base, offers the greatest variety but not to everywhere. For instance, Star has a Brazil airpass available thanks to TAM’s membership, but no programme for broader travel across South America.

Star and oneworld both offer products in Japan, but SkyTeam, lacking a domestic partner, does not.

Different parameters of use and a broader appeal

Since it is not necessary to have miles or membership in the programme that is chosen for travel, these plans can be chosen to supplement benefits like award travel with the traveller’s primary alliance. As an example, a SkyTeam devotee can purchase a plan from oneworld that allows for extensive travel in the South Pacific, which SkyTeam is unable to offer.

Unlike mileage awards and status recognition that are alliance linked, these programmes are available to anyone wishing to use them and are limited only by the scope of the alliance member’s coverage.

Circle fares for those not wanting to go all the way around

Circle fares differ from regional or country fares in that they require the traveller to return to the point of origin after traveling within the specified region. SkyTeam, at present, does not offer this option.

Sort of the same, but not really

Round-the-World fares have been available since the 1990’s, when airlines began to affiliate in ways that integrated service and route networks. But they became codified and far more structured after the current global alliances emerged. A decade later, each alliance provides RTW offers that have similar, but not identical, parameters.

All three alliances offer plans that allow for either 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles of travel. Star and SkyTeam allow bookings in F/C/Y at each level while oneworld restricts all but the 34,000 mile level to economy only. Generally speaking, travel on these fares musy continue in the same direction, but backtracking rules differ considerably as well.

Each alliance also offers an economy-only 26,000 mile plan that often carries additional restrictions. And oneworld offers a second programme, called oneworld Explorer that is based not on miles but on the number of continents visited. This programme is offered in all classes.

Benefits are varied

In many cases, due to a membership that is nearing 30 airlines, Star itineraries usually require the least backtracking and have the most direct flights between the largest number of cities. However, as previously noted, there are some regions in which either SkyTeam or oneworld will provide equal or better coverage.

And there are differences in the application of the programmes. Both Star and oneworld provide the possibility of online transactions for the entire process of searching, booking and payment while SkyTeam, at present, does not.

Certain airlines in Star, because the premium class bookings are assigned lower fare-bucket inventories, require surcharges on segments flown on their aircraft.

They are often a good deal, especially in premium classes

The joint fares provide significant savings for travellers with extensive itineraries, especially in premium classes. They also can equal or undercut normal round-trip fares. Some examples:

  • A SkyTeam RTW fare originating in Korea and passing through Atlanta costs the equivalent of USD5989 while Delta prices a normal Business class round-trip between Seoul and Atlanta at USD9008 for dates randomly selected;
  • A three-continent oneworld Explorer is USD10,199 in Business, while a roundtrip between San Francisco and Johannesburg alone is minimally USD10,303 using alliance member flights according to Kayak.com;
  • A 19,356 mile itinerary on Star, beginning in San Francisco and transiting Istanbul prices at USD11,575 for the RTW routing. Kayak shows that round-trip between San Francisco and Istanbul on Star members costs between USD7654 (LX) to USD9038 (LH) on a random date.

While sometimes offering fare benefits, not every US traveller to South Africa is willing to return via Hong Kong (with a stopover) in order to save some cash. Furthermore, since the seats are usually drawn from reduced fare categories, there is a greater possibility that seats for a given segment may be unavailable.

Offering an additional competitive layer to global travel

Nonetheless, with more convenient online access as well as an expanded choice of carriers and routings available between city pairs, these special offers may find wider usage and acceptance as their applicability becomes more transparent and simplified. This has been the trend so far and, as long as there is roughly similar product available on each of the major alliances, the prospects of continuing good deals for long haul travel remains high. For the airlines involved, as the combined programmes utilise low price bucket seats, they are usually effective use of space, especially at present, with still-sluggish premium sales and plenty of available capacity.

Similar but less comprehensive packages are also becoming more readily available for carriers (whether or not they are alliance members) which join to establish them on a bilateral and multilateral basis. As IT platforms and intermediary websites become more flexible and powerful, the potential for piecing together multiple programmes should also grow - a distinct plus for long haul travellers. One part of that competitive jigsaw puzzle includes the accompanying frequent flyer programmes, common lounges and other attractions that regular travellers demand. Here again, improving technology and the role of third party providers - such as premium lounges - will progressively level this playing field for airlines outside the main "clubs".

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