Everyone has heard of the rail passes that tourists typically purchase on their visits to Europe so that they can travel through multiple countries without buying new train tickets at every stop.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could do the same thing for air travel – buy one ticket and visit multiple destinations? Well, you can! Behold the air pass.
Air passes are products sold by the three major global airline alliances, SkyTeam, One World, and the Star Alliance. Occasionally, a single airline may have an air pass as well. Unlike a rail pass that offers unlimited train trips, air passes are purchased based on the number legs that will be flown and the distance of each leg. Additionally, your flight reservations and your selected itinerary must be finalized in advance of travel except in the case of the Round the World pass described below. Nevertheless, with prices per flight as little as $100, these passes can offer a substantial savings off of the cost of purchasing multiple individual one-way tickets.
3 Types of Air Passes
1. Regional Passes
These are the most common passes encompassing travel within a single continent or a defined geographic region. They can only be purchased by residents from outside the region, and then only in combination with an international ticket purchased from an affiliated carrier. For example, you could fly to Tokyo on American Airlines and then purchase a Visit Asia air pass from the One World Alliance. The pass would be valid for flights on other One World partners such as Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific. In this program, each fare is priced according to predefined travel zones. Ultimately, the fare paid will be significantly lower than it would be if you purchased each flight individually.
2. Circle Passes
One World carriers offer a few different multi-continent passes that combine multiple continents. These tickets are purchased for a fixed price, and include a specified number of stops over a large section of the globe. These passes make sense as a way to see a large part of the world without having to piece together an itinerary with many different carriers.
3. Round The World Fares
This is the ultimate air pass. It allows circumnavigation in any one direction, with a large, but limited number of stops. Unlike Regional and Circle passes, you can even redeem frequent flier miles for this kind of ticket. With that said, the rules can be very complicated. For example, there is a maximum number of stops per continent, and no backtracking is allowed. There are also penalties for changing your flights once you book them. However, there is a lot of money to be saved by touring the world with this pass. One other key advantage is that you don’t need to book your entire travel plans before you begin traveling; you can reserve tickets as you go.
Advantages of Air Passes
You will be saving money by booking all at once, instead of buying multiple, individual, one-way flights.
You can book these tickets with a single point of contact, saving you hours of work shopping prices and schedules across many different airlines.
Since each carrier is a member of a common alliance, you should be able to change planes and have your luggage follow you. If one of your flights is delayed or canceled, you can be rebooked or re-routed to your destination without penalties. This would not be possible if you booked travel with unaffiliated carriers.
- Access to Remote Destinations
Air passes are great when you are trying to visit an out-of-the-way destination that does not have frequent competitive service. When you visit a remote village or a distant island that only has a few flights a week by a single airline, you would normally pay an exorbitant amount to add it to your itinerary. With an air pass however, the airline makes no distinction between its hub in a major city and its most inaccessible destination.
Disadvantages of Air Passes
- Limited Number of Carriers
While each alliance has partners that serve each continent (except Antarctica, of course), each group of airlines has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the One World alliance has Qantas as a member, but neither of the other two alliances have an Australian carrier. And unlike SkyTeam and the Star Alliance, One World has yet to add an African carrier to its group. You have to choose your air pass carefully to ensure that you can reach all of the destinations on your itinerary.
While regional air passes are breathtakingly simple, multi-continent and around the world passes can have confusing terms and conditions. You will need to spend some time learning the rules and planning your trip carefully before you attempt to book your flights.
- Limited Flexibility
As mentioned earlier, the passes, including your selected itinerary, need to be purchased before you travel. As a result, if your travel plans unexpectedly change or you decide you want to spend more time at a certain destination, you may need to pay out-of-pocket. The one exception to this rule is the Round the World pass.
Who Should Purchase an Air Pass?
An air pass are not for people who wish to make a quick stopover on their way back from a longer trip. The ideal candidate will be traveling for at least two weeks, but ideally a month or more. With the longer trips, you can utilize the pass by visiting as many destinations as possible while also saving money. In addition, flying will generally save you a lot of time and fatigue as compared to traveling by train.
We live on a huge planet that is incredibly fun to explore. When you can find the time off of work, the only thing stopping you from seeing it all is usually the price of airfare. By combining your airline travel into a single air pass, you can more easily get off the beaten path and begin to discover more than just the major international gateways.
Have you ever tried using an air pass from one of the three major global airline alliances? What was the experience like and how much money did you save by using it?