Going Round the World with Star Alliance!

How I redeemed an United Mileage Plus RTW award ticket

What do you do when miles are burning a hole in your mileage bank?  You go straight to the bottom of the award chart and pick an award that costs the most miles, of course – the Round the World (RTW) award!

Cash them all in!

Actually, the RTW award is pretty good value.  Considering it costs 135,000 miles to redeem a round-trip Business Class ticket between the U.S. and Australia, 260,000 miles by comparison for an around the world Business Class tickets is a bargain.  Here is the award table – RTW Economy Class costs 180,000 miles and 350,000 miles are needed for RTW First Class on three-class aircraft.

NoteOn February 1, 2014, United will increase the mileage required to redeem a RTW award ticket.  It will be 200,000 miles for Economy, 350,000 miles for Business, and 450,000 miles for First.  Redeem before February 1st before the mileage goes up!

While rules to buy an RTW ticket are clearly stated on the Star Alliance (*A) website, there is unfortunately nothing on the United website documenting rules or restrictions on their RTW award ticket.  Save yourself multiple phone calls and frustration, here are my lessons learned that I hope my readers will find useful. 

United RTW Award Basics

Some United RTW award rules are the same as the *A RTW ticket, while others differ.  It might be helpful to read through the *A RTW ticket FAQ and the Rules and Conditions just to get familiar (links can be found on this page).

Similarities with the *A RTW ticket:
  • The world is divided into three zones:
    • Americas
    • Europe/Africa
    • Asia/Oceania
  • Travel in one direction and cross each zone only once.  While you are within a zone, however, you may travel freely whichever direction you want.
  • Complete the trip in 16 segments/flights
Differences with the *A RTW ticket:
  • You have only six (6) stopovers!  This is a huge distinction with the *A RTW ticket – so you need choose your stops wisely. 
    • A stopover is defined as a stop over 24-hours.  
    • You are not constrained to non-stop flights.  You can still book a multi-segment flight to your destination, just don't stop over 24 hours at your connection city. 
  • You do NOT need to complete your RTW trip in 39,000 miles or less.  Once again, this is a distinction with the *A RTW ticket, but to your benefit. 

Darn that Inventory Control!

If you think you will get to enjoy the famous Singapore Girl service on board the Singapore Airlines all-Business Class A340-500, think again.  Singapore does not make Business or First Class award seats available on their long haul products (i.e. A380, A340-500, and 777-300ER).  Other airlines are hit and miss.  From my experience, Thai seems generous, Air Canada has more seats available on weekend dates, and Air New Zealand is very stingy.

Luckily, United made it relatively easy to check for award seat availability on their website.  *A RTW award is the same inventory as the Saver (not Standard) award.

Log into your United Mileage Plus account, go to the Award Booking page (Mileage Plus -> Book With Award Miles, click One Way and ensure Award Travel is clicked at the bottom of the page), perform an one-way city pair search for the date you are interested in, and look for flights with available Saver Seats.  If you are familiar with your fare booking codes, for Business Class, this is fare code “I”.

Here is an example of the search result from Sydney to Singapore:

Note - You do not actually select any flights here – you just need to see which flights have award seats available.

It also shows you a handy color-coded calendar where you can change dates to find other available flights.  Seat and flight availability vary greatly between days of the same week, so it might be helpful to click around the days you are interested to see what other flights comes up.

Once you have settled on a flight (you can ignore the mileage requirement – but do take a note of the taxes/fees – you have to pay them), write down the date and flight number(s) and move your search on to the next city pair.

Be Flexible

For each city pair, I kept track on a spreadsheet of all of the potential flights that I might want to take – spanning multiple days over an one-week period.  There is no telling whether you will encounter difficulties in getting desirable dates on your next segment(s) which will ultimately requiring you to tweak dates on your previous segment(s) so your itinerary will fit your schedule. 

Be Knowledgeable

It will be helpful to know where each Star Alliance member airline has their hub.  Given you only have six stopovers, it will behoove you to work your routing around those hubs. 

Note – Even though TAM is still listed as a member airline, I did not encounter any award inventories from TAM (probably due to their pending merger with LAN – they will be moving to oneWorld).  So you can forget about using Brazil as a connecting point in South America.

Use the *A RTW Tool to build your potential trip.  The tool is on the *A RTW page, under Book your Round The World trip now.

Here is my trip plotted in the tool: 

It will validate your itinerary, zone crossings, and count your stopovers (remember, you can only have six stopovers on your award!).  You can ignore warnings that you have exceeded 39,000 miles as your award ticket is not limited by distance.

Ready to Buy

Once your itinerary is all set up, if it has been a while since your initial check of award seat availability, I would go back to the United award search page to ensure awards are still available on your flight.

Call the United Star Alliance desk at 877-726-7282.  Press option 3, or the number that takes you to the Round the World desk (do NOT choose the award desk).

This phone number is not published anywhere, not sure why.  On my first call to the Mileage Plus Award desk, I was told they cannot do the RTW award and had to transfer me over to the Star Alliance desk anyway (and it took a while for the agent to find that phone number too).

You have your itinerary with all the dates and flights already picked out, right?  Read off your dates and flights to the agent, who will check award availability and reserve the flights for you.  Taxes and fees are calculated by a different department (pricing), so you will have to wait 24-hours for that to be done.  Your reservation will be held for 72 hours.

Call back after 24 hours to pay the taxes and fees on the reservation and you will be ticketed.  You will need your account PIN so the agent can deduct your miles.  The agent can reserve seat assignments for you only on United flights.  You will need to call the partner airlines directly to get your seat assignments.  Be sure to get your partner airline reservation numbers from the agent as well.

I kept a running tab on my spreadsheet of the taxes and fees on each segment as shown on the awards page.  The final total came to within $1 of my calculation – so it will be a good guideline of how much you would expect to pay.  There is also an additional $25 booking service charge. 

If you need to make changes to your RTW award ticket (either pre- or post-departure), you need to call the same United Star Alliance desk that made your reservation.  Re-ticketing requires a 24-hour wait again for re-pricing, so make sure you give yourself some time if you have to make a change while you are on your trip. 

Change fees are the same as the regular award ticket, which is shown on this page.

If I paid for my RTW Business Class ticket, it would have cost me $16,004 according to the *A RTW Tool.  Compare that with $450 plus 260,000 miles I paid for my trip!  As expected, my ticket has the longest fare calculation line I have ever seen on a ticket:

I can’t wait for my trip!

PostscriptSee my after-trip summary.


  1. All I can say is "WOW"..........How Cool!!!
    Happy New Year..!!

  2. Sounds like a fun trip.......hope you get lots of pix to show us!!!!

    When are you travelling?

    Liverpool, England

  3. Waiting to see your full coverage. Keep blogging.

  4. Really great info. I am just starting my plans and I am sure you have saved me gobs of aggravation! Hope you post more from the road!

  5. Thank you so much for the great info! Hoping to be doing this with my family in a couple years and your info is incredibly helpful. Hope you have wonderful travels!

  6. This is absolutely spot-on advice, and your legwork has been mega helpful!
    One thing I'd suggest as a very useful tool is the Star Alliance routemap, as it seems much more responsive and immensely more rich with right-clickable information than the rtw tool. http://routemap.staralliance.com/
    Thanks again!

  7. Thanks for sharing the info! We are in the very earliest stages of planning a family RTW trip and trying to determine if we want to use miles or piece flights together. This was really helpful. Cheers!

    1. Thanks! Glad to help. Hope you will have a memorable trip like I did!

  8. Hey Ben,

    This was super helpful in the planning stages, I called and got another nice tidbit of info. You're only allowed one land segment in the trip, good to know in planning, as you may need to utilize a hub-spoke strategy...


    1. Good tip - hopefully others can take advantage of this info. Thanks for your kind words!

  9. Ben! Thanks for this. I think I caught this way after your travels. I am a traveler myself and found myself close to a RTW ticket...I think? This was helpful to look at! Thanks so much!!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

My Flight on Concorde

Quickie Trip Report - A Dream Dashed