We wrote on Wednesday this week about our upcoming round-the-world First Class trip and in doing so mentioned one key thing – we’re not using KrisFlyer’s excellent value ‘Star Alliance Round The World Award’ ticket (RTW award) for this trip.
In that article we touched on a few of the reasons why it didn’t work for us on this occasion but we thought this would be a good time to give an overview of exactly what the RTW award looks like and how you can go about planning and booking one to make the most from a large pot of KrisFlyer miles.
Possibly the ‘holy grail’ of KrisFlyer miles value, a ‘Star Alliance Round The World Award’ ticket lets you make a trip of a lifetime with up to 7 stopovers along the way for a significant saving on the regular KrisFlyer miles rates payable for those flights as individual sectors.
You can book these awards as soon as redemption flights become available for the airlines you’re choosing to fly with. Realistically that means up to 330 days before for all Star Alliance carriers, however some will let you book close to a month further in advance than that (355 days before travel). The whole RTW trip can span a maximum 12-month period from start to finish (oh to be retired… and swimming in KrisFlyer miles).
Like anything to do with KrisFlyer miles which represents good or excellent value though, such as the $100 stopover trick for example, it’s not that straightforward to arrange nor that well advertised. In fact this is the only page on the Singapore Airlines website mentioning the option (and don’t even bother with the reservation request form link there, it’s not going to help!).
Star Alliance airlines
Star Alliance RTW award flights can involve flight segments on any of the 27 full Star Alliance member airlines.
|Star Alliance Airlines|
Remember that SIA’s partner airlines (like Alaska and Virgin Australia) are not Star Alliance members and so their flights can’t be included on a RTW award itinerary. Flights operated by SilkAir (not a Star Alliance member) also can’t be included. You must stick to the Star Alliance group.
One exception is ‘surface sectors’, where you take a break from the ticket and pick it up later on in a different city at your own expense. These can involve any combination of cars, trains, buses or flights on any airline you like. You can even redeem your miles or points in the process, though that would be totally separate (and additional) to the RTW award.
A few basic rules apply and a host of more complex ones too.
- Travel must take place in one continuous direction at all times, the ‘no backtracking’ rule. That means you can choose from the outset to go either west or east from your starting point but must continue to do so until you make it back to the starting point again.
- The journey must begin and end in the same country. Not a big issue for most of our readers planning to start and end an RTW trip in Singapore, however if you started the trip in Australia for example it’s fine to start in Brisbane and end in Sydney.
- A maximum of 7 stopovers are permitted in total.
- A maximum of 2 stopovers are permitted in each country. Note the exception that up to 5 stopovers are permitted in the USA which applies to Star Alliance round the world fares (i.e. cash tickets) is not extended to the KrisFlyer RTW award ticket.
- Maximum total travel distance is 35,000 miles (i.e. the sum of all sectors flown must not exceed this).
- Maximum number of flight segments is 16. That includes segments flown on routes purely flown in transit, for example Mumbai to Istanbul to Thessaloniki on Turkish Airlines is 2 segments (sectors) even if you are only changing planes in Istanbul. It is not a stopover though in that case (don’t mix up the two!).
- ‘Surface sectors’ are permitted. You’ll make your own travel arrangements for these, which can be by air if you wish (how would they know?!) but each counts towards your stopover allowance. For example on a westbound itinerary flying to Boston then making a surface sector to New York and departing from there is 2 stopovers (one in Boston, one in New York). Since that’s the limit in a single country your next flight would have to depart the USA altogether (via another US airport if necessary, but only in transit if that’s the case).
- All sectors must have award availability in the chosen cabin at the time of booking. That means Saver awards both on Singapore Airlines and Star Alliance airlines (Advantage awards are not applicable for RTW tickets).
- You can change flights / dates prior to departure (a fee applies), however once the trip has started you can no longer make any changes.
An RTW award ticket using your KrisFlyer miles will set you back:
- 180,000 miles in Economy Class
- 240,000 miles in Business Class
- 360,000 miles in First Class
Given the sharp disparity in cash fares between Economy Class and premium cabins, it only really makes sense to redeem an RTW award in Business or First Class. You’re paying a 33% miles premium to redeem in Business Class over Economy on one of these trips, however the cash fares would easily come to double or even triple the cost.
With a further 50% increase in miles required for a First Class RTW award, the deal in Business Class actually stands out as arguably the best value option here.
Planning a trip
You’ll need a few tools to help you plan a trip like this. Not least a map (or a globe!), a vague idea of the places you want to visit will also help, then once you’ve got a plan with some dates in mind you’ll most certainly need a pen and paper as it’s time to start searching award availability and you’ll soon lose track if you don’t record what you find.
Before you get to the award searching stage a good resource to check whether your plan meets the requirements is the Great Circle Mapper. Here you’ll build your route (just start typing with hyphens between the city / airport codes until you’re back to the start point again) and you’ll be presented with the map and the distance for each sector.
Crucially though as you can see you’ll get the total distance (remember it must be less than 35,000 miles), the total number of flight segments (16 is your limit) and of course the direction of travel between each city pair.
Ok so direction is fairly obvious if you have a pair of eyes and can ascertain left from right, but to be clear for a westbound routing each sector must be between 180o and 359o, while for an eastbound one you’re looking for 000o to 179o. Any leg that falls outside that basic rule may require a re-think.
Don’t be too put off by having to use 3-letter IATA airport codes on the GCmap site as the World Airport Codes website will help you find those if necessary. Most people know New York is JFK or EWR (Newark) and that Los Angeles is LAX, but if you’re struggling to work out what Santorini is this site will quickly tell you (it’s JTR, by the way, and Star Alliance carrier Aegean will help you fly there).
The Wikipedia page for most airports in the world also usually contains this information and the Great Circle Mapper site itself even has a search function.
Searching the awards
Here’s where things have improved in the last six months or so – most Star Alliance award flights can now be searched through the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer online search facility.
It’s not quite as user friendly as the United MileagePlus site, which doesn’t even require a login and allows you to view a whole month of availability on a route in Business Class for example.
You also need to remember the exclusions in the KrisFlyer system. As we noted in our latest update you still can’t search Air India, Asiana, TAP Portugal and most Avianca flights (the latter being several carriers in one). You also can’t search domestic flights in New Zealand, while you can search (but not book) domestic flights in Brazil and Japan.
For these airlines and routings the United MileagePlus site is our recommendation for searching availability.
Remember to be flexible – you’ll probably need to be to make a trip like this work in the class required on your selected routings.
For example if your last leg of a round-the-world routing is from Paris to Singapore you would no doubt be looking at a non-stop Singapore Airlines flight. If the only available award seats on the date of your choice however are for Thai Airways via Bangkok, we’d recommend locking that in.
There’s nothing to stop you swapping onto the Singapore Airlines option if it becomes available later, provided your trip hasn’t commenced. In our view it’s not worth procrastinating for a single sector being unavailable on an RTW award, as all the other award availability you have searched is subject to constant change until the booking is made!
The moment of reckoning.
At the very end, armed with all the dates and details, it’ll be a long call to the KrisFlyer team at Singapore Airlines to (hopefully) make the booking. Don’t expect that to be a walk in the park – some of the award availability you found may not be visible to the phone agent (especially for Star Alliance airlines if searched on another website), and you may have inadvertently broken one of the many rules like backtracking, maximum stops or distance.
Be prepared to be flexible and patient. Most importantly remember what you’re gaining here – a significant miles saving over paying sector-by-sector on such a huge trip.
Everyone’s requirements and priorities on a RTW award are different. In fact we’d dare to say almost no two RTW trips booked with KrisFlyer miles are exactly the same.
Here’s a westbound example in Business Class starting and ending in Singapore with 13 flight segments and 7 stopovers. I didn’t include the distance of each sector but the total distance is well within the limit at 23,846 miles.
|Singapore – Male||SQ||35,000||S$34.00|
|Male – Istanbul – Vienna||TK||47,500||S$395.90|
|Vienna – Frankfurt – Manchester||LH||27,500||S$218.30|
|Manchester – Houston||SQ||65,000||S$360.44|
|Houston – Los Angeles||UA||20,000||S$7.60|
|Los Angeles – Seoul||SQ / OZ||85,000||S$32.60|
|Seoul – Taipei – Bali||BR||43,000||S$72.30|
|Bali – Singapore||SQ||17,500||S$21.40|
|Total (as individual bookings)||340,500||S$1,142.54|
Note: Taxes are converted to SGD where necessary at XE.com rates on 28th June 2018.
As you can see this itinerary, booked as an RTW award, offers a 30% KrisFlyer miles saving (100,500 miles) over booking the redemptions segment-by-segment.
Let’s take a look at an eastbound example, again in Business Class. This time the total distance is higher at just over 28,000 miles but the number of stopovers is still 7 with 10 flight segments.
|Singapore – Hong Kong||SQ||27,500||S$34.00|
|Hong Kong – Osaka||NH||22,500||S$44.40|
|Osaka – Tokyo – Honolulu||NH||105,000||S$155.70|
|Honolulu – Chicago||UA||30,000||S$7.60|
|Chicago – New York||UA||20,000||S$7.60|
|New York – Frankfurt||SQ / UA / LH||65,000||S$32.70|
|Frankfurt – Cape Town||LH||45,000||S$418.80|
|Cape Town – Johannesburg – Singapore||SQ||45,000||S$47.10|
|Total (as individual bookings)||360,000||S$747.90|
Note: Taxes are converted to SGD where necessary at XE.com rates on 28th June 2018.
An even better saving of 120,000 KrisFlyer miles here. I’m sure some of you can come up with itineraries which achieve an even better deal than that.
Don’t think that a routing has to be long and complex to make a saving either, even relatively simple routings can save you miles, provided they still fall into the RTW category (keep going east or west back to the start point, with no backtracking). Take this Business Class route for example.
|Singapore – San Francisco||SQ / UA||88,000||S$81.70|
|San Francisco – Washington||UA||20,000||S$7.60|
|Washington – Paris||UA||65,000||S$257.40|
|Paris – Singapore||SQ||85,000||S$149.00|
|Total (as individual bookings)||258,000||S$495.70|
Note: Taxes are converted to SGD where necessary at XE.com rates on 28th June 2018.
Clearly the difference here is not as attractive, but 18,000 miles saved is still enough for a Business Class redemption to Bali, or a return Economy Class flight on that route, so it’s not to be sniffed at.
Remember though that you’re losing flexibility by booking this an RTW award (once you set off on that SIN-SFO flight at the start nothing else can be changed about your subsequent sectors). It’s therefore only worth the smaller saving in our opinion if you’re 100% sure about your travel plans.
The start / end point can be anywhere
Remember your KrisFlyer RTW award flight doesn’t have to begin and end in Singapore. It doesn’t even have to involve Singapore or Singapore Airlines at all if you don’t want it to. Not all of our readers are based in the ‘Lion City’ so don’t be worried that this only applies to those who are – it doesn’t.
Absolutely no backtracking?
We’ve heard reports that the ‘no backtracking’ rule applies strictly and includes transit legs. For example if you’re planning a westbound RTW trip including a leg from Istanbul to Pisa with Lufthansa you can’t change in Frankfurt because Frankfurt to Pisa is then an eastbound routing (slightly). You can however change in Munich as you’re then still flying westbound to Pisa.
This is of course a bit silly and we can’t see what difference it makes to them provided your origin and destination city on a transit journey are ultimately in the correct direction.
Though SIA supposedly apply this rule strictly for all sectors, we have also heard of some cases where they are willing to make an exception. For example on an eastbound RTW routing a stopover in London followed by a ‘surface sector’ to Edinburgh then continuing east from there (London to Edinburgh, technically, is a westbound routing).
Please do let us know if you’ve had any success doing this and we’ll update the article, it appears to be at the discretion of the call centre agent assisting you with the booking, or there may be a more specific rule we’re not aware of.
Although you have a full suite of flights on 27 Star Alliance airlines to choose from for Economy Class and Business Class RTW awards it’s not so simple if you want to fly a First Class RTW itinerary. That’s because only 9 of the Star Alliance airlines actually offer a First Class cabin:
- Air China
- Air India
- Singapore Airlines
Swiss First Class award seats are not available to KrisFlyer members and that includes RTW awards, so sadly that’s out straight away.
Lufthansa tend to open up their First Class award availability to partners around 14 days prior to departure date. Let’s say the start of your chosen First Class RTW award itinerary is SIN-FRA (SQ First Class) then the next leg a few days later is FRA-ORD.
Obviously you want to be flying Lufthansa First Class on that second sector, however there’s little chance of securing an award seat on that flight outside the 14-day window.
There is nothing to stop you booking this RTW award in First Class and accepting a Business Class award seat on the FRA-ORD sector. You won’t get any miles deducted for accepting the lower cabin on any sector, however if the First Class award seat then becomes available you can change into First Class.
The only problem here is that once you’ve commenced your RTW journey no changes are possible, so this change would have to be locked in prior to your first flight departure. We’d therefore recommend if you’re looking for an RTW award including Lufthansa First Class that you plan that sector as close as possible to the beginning of your itinerary, giving you the best chance to ‘upgrade’ it to First as you’ll almost certainly have to accept Business Class on that flight initially just to achieve a valid RTW award to start with.
Possibly one of the best ‘cents per mile’ valuations you can ever get when redeeming KrisFlyer miles is surely achieved with an RTW award ticket in Business Class or First Class.
The main downsides though are flexibility and the realistic prospect of having enough time to do them justice. While the shorter itinerary example shown could probably be completed in about 2 weeks if necessary, the longer ones with the most significant miles saving couldn’t realistically be achieved in less than a month.
Sadly two more downsides are the lack of flexibility once the trip has commenced, which could potentially lock you in to specific flights on specific dates up to a year in advance, and the limited supply of First Class products and routes across the Star Alliance network for those wanting to enjoy the trip in the ultimate luxury.
If you can make one of these itineraries work for you however the deal usually translates to an excellent saving, and perhaps a few flights with some lesser-known airlines you may not have considered flying with before.
Have you done a KrisFlyer Star Alliance Round The World Award before, or are you planning to do one? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.
(Cover Image: Supplied / MainlyMiles)