If you’ve dreamed of backpacking around South America, exploring multiple countries in Asia or island-hopping in the South Pacific, you may be a good candidate for an air pass. Primarily offered by national airlines and international airline alliances, air passes are special fare programs that allow you to fly to multiple cities in a designated region at discounted rates, creating your own personalized itinerary. If you’re planning extensive travel within a large country like Australia or a region like Europe, an air pass could save you money over buying point-to-point tickets.
Is an air pass right for you? Read on for some basic facts about air passes and a summary of regional passes around the globe.
How do air passes work?
The price of your pass is generally determined by the number of flight segments on your itinerary, the distance you’re flying and how long you plan to travel. A few air pass programs also include the price of your international airfare to the region. (For passes that require you to pay for coupons or segments, read the terms carefully; connecting flights may require multiple coupons.)
Some air passes are more flexible than others. Certain providers require you to purchase and reserve every leg of your trip before you leave home, while others let you change your flight dates or add segments while you’re on the road. Be sure to check what rules apply to your air pass before purchasing.
Who offers air passes?
Air passes are offered by the three major airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam), by individual airlines and occasionally by third-party agencies. The alliances may be your best bet if you’re interested in doing extensive travel over a large region such as Africa or Asia; if you’re looking to focus on only one country or a smaller region (such as Australia or Southeast Asia), you may do better to purchase a pass from an individual airline serving that area.
When choosing your air pass, keep in mind any frequent flier programs that you may already belong to. If you you’re a member of a loyalty program for another airline within the same alliance as the provider of your air pass, you may be able to apply the miles accrued on your air pass toward that program. Be sure to ask what restrictions may apply.
Who can purchase an air pass?
Air passes are generally available only to travelers who live outside the region in question — so while North America air passes do exist, most of them cannot be purchased by U.S. or Canadian citizens.
What other restrictions apply?
Many air passes must be purchased in conjunction with an international flight to the region on the same airline (or a codeshare partner) as the airline providing the pass. To prevent hassles, either purchase your international ticket and your air pass at the same time or, if purchasing separately, make sure to have the confirmation code for your international ticket handy when you’re booking your air pass — that way the agent can easily look up your existing reservation.
How do I book my air pass?
Due to the complicated nature of ticketing and routing, most air passes can’t be booked online. You’ll either have to call the provider directly or work with a travel agent.
Will an air pass always save me money?
Don’t assume that an air pass is your most affordable option. Before you book, check out alternatives such as regular point-to-point tickets, airfares on discount airlines in the region, and even local train or bus services.
About the Air Passes Below
We have gathered air passes for a variety of regions, but there are a number of single-country passes out there too. Where appropriate, we have given links to websites where you can find more information about those. It may also be worth calling any airlines based in the country where you’re headed to see whether they offer air passes, as these programs are not always easily accessible on airline websites.
The information below is for guidance only. Prices, terms and conditions can change at any time.
Africa and Middle East Air Passes
The Star Alliance Africa Airpass serves more than 55 cities in 23 African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. You must purchase at least three but no more than 10 flight coupons. Travel is good in economy class on South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, EGYPTAIR and Brussels Airlines, and the pass must be booked in conjunction with an intercontinental ticket to/from Africa on a Star Alliance member airline. The pass is good for a minimum of three days and a maximum of three months, and may be booked through a travel agent or any Star Alliance member airline.
Oneworld’s Visit Africa pass is best for travelers looking to concentrate on southern Africa, with its focus on destinations like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Victoria Falls. You must book a minimum of two sectors, but you need only confirm the first sector at the time of booking, giving you flexibility with the rest of your trip as long as you ask for your flights to be “open dated.” The Visit Africa pass flies with British Airways and its affiliate Comair, and can be booked through a travel agent or by calling any airline in the Oneworld alliance.
Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to travel only in North Africa, you may be better served by a Europe air pass (see below).
Asia Air Passes
You may travel throughout Asia for up to three months with the Asia Airpass from Star Alliance. Coupon prices vary by length of segment; you must purchase at least three and no more than 10. All segments must be planned in advance. The pass must be purchased in conjunction with a flight to Asia from outside the region on a Star Alliance carrier. Book the pass through a travel agent or any Star Alliance member airline.
Editor’s Note: Star Alliance also offers an air pass for China.
SkyTeam’s offering is good in 26 countries for up to 12 months, for a range of 3 to 10 stops. The pass includes various Asian countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. The pass may be purchased through a travel agent or by calling any SkyTeam member airline.
Oneworld’s Visit Asia pass covers 50 different cities in 18 countries, including Delhi, Seoul, Bangkok and Tokyo. As long as you book a minimum of two flights, you can travel as long as you like within the validity of your qualifying international ticket on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines or their affiliates. Flights between each city pairing are priced at flat rates based on geographic zones. You must make confirmed reservations for your first flight, but other flights may be booked later as long as you ask for these segments to be “open dated.” You may purchase the pass through a travel agent or a Oneworld member airline.
Editor’s Note: Oneworld also offers a Visit Japan pass.
Australia/Pacific Air Passes
The Qantas Explorer is a multi-city flight option that must be purchased in conjunction with a trans-Pacific flight between the U.S. and Australia on Qantas or American Airlines. Fares on Australia domestic flights are based on the distance you travel. There is no minimum stay, but a maximum stay of 330 to 350 days from the date of reservation applies. This is one of the few air passes that can be booked online; alternatively, you may call Qantas directly to make your reservation, but it’s an additional $30.
Air New Zealand’s Explorer Pass is a flexible fare option that’s ideal for travelers looking to explore New Zealand, travel the Australian coast, or hop-skip around South Pacific islands such as Tahiti, Fiji and Western Samoa. You may purchase up to 10 flight coupons, with fares varying by geographical zone. The pass must be purchased in conjunction with an Air New Zealand trans-Pacific flight to one of the destinations covered by the pass. Valid on Air New Zealand operated aircraft only. To purchase, call your travel agent or Air New Zealand.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in a wider region, try the Star Alliance Circle Pacific Fare, which includes North America, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Oneworld’s Visit Australia and New Zealand pass covers more than 60 destinations, and is a particularly good choice if you want to concentrate your travels in Australia; thanks to Qantas, a Oneworld member airline, this pass serves more Australian cities than the competing pass from Star Alliance. However, this pass does not include South Pacific island destinations. Segment prices are based on geographic zone, and you must purchase a minimum of two. There is no maximum stay beyond the validity of your international ticket (which must be booked on a Oneworld carrier). To purchase, contact a travel agent or a Oneworld alliance member.
Editor’s Note: Oneworld also offers a Circle Pacific fare, covering Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America.
Europe Air Passes
The Europe Airpass from the Star Alliance covers 40 countries and offers three to 10 coupons for travel within Europe and North Africa. Your first flight segment must be confirmed ahead of time, but later segments can be confirmed after your trip begins. Travel is good for up to three months, and the pass must be purchased in conjunction with an intercontinental ticket to Europe on a Star Alliance airline or a Star Alliance Round the World Fare. To book, contact a travel agent or a Star Alliance member airline.
Serving 44 countries, the SkyTeam alliance offers a Go Europe Pass with no minimum or maximum stay. You do not have to reserve any flight segments ahead of time except for your first one, which allows you a great deal of freedom as you travel. You must purchase at least three coupons, which are priced based on geographical zone, up to a maximum of 16. The pass must be used in conjunction with a roundtrip intercontinental flight on any of the SkyTeam airlines or with a SkyTeam Round the World ticket. Flights are operated by Aeroflot, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and TAROM in 44 countries. To purchase, contact your travel agent or call a SkyTeam member airline.
Editor’s Note: SkyTeam also offers Go Russia passes.
Oneworld’s Visit Europe air pass offers flights to 220 cities in more than 50 countries across Europe and North Africa. You must purchase a minimum of two flight coupons, but there’s no maximum for the number of flights you can take — and the pass is good for as long as your international ticket is valid. You must confirm the first sector of your trip in advance. The pass is available in conjunction with an international flight to Europe on a Oneworld member airline or affiliate. To book, call your travel agent or a Oneworld member airline.
North America Air Passes
As its name suggests, this SkyTeam pass is good for travel within the U.S. and Canada. (Unlike the two passes below, it does not include Mexican or Caribbean destinations.) You may purchase three to 16 coupons; prices vary based on your country of origin, the number of coupons you purchase and the time of year you travel. The maximum stay is subject to the flight date of your intercontinental ticket. Simply book a seat on a Delta Air Lines flight at least 14 days before your transatlantic, transpacific or intercontinental departure; book remaining flights at your discretion. The pass is available in conjunction with a SkyTeam Round the World Pass or an international flight to North America on a SkyTeam member airline (or associate airline). To purchase, contact any SkyTeam airline or your travel agent.
The Star Alliance North America Airpass covers more than 300 destinations in 18 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico and a number of Caribbean islands. With a few exceptions, it is not available to residents of any country covered by the pass. You may purchase three to 10 flight coupons and travel for up to three months. The pass is available in conjunction with a Star Alliance Round the World Fare, Circle Fare or intercontinental ticket to the U.S., Canada or Mexico on a Star Alliance member airline. Your first flight must be reserved in advance; for later flights, you may change your reservations up to two hours before departure. To purchase, contact any Star Alliance member airline or your travel agent.
Oneworld’s Visit North America pass covers more than 250 destinations in countries across North America, including the Caribbean and Central America. There is no minimum stay, though you must book at least two flights; you may take up to 10 flights over a maximum period of 60 days. Pricing is based on geographical zone. All sectors of your itinerary must be confirmed at the time of booking, though changes may be made later for an additional fee. The pass is available in conjunction with a roundtrip international ticket to North America on a Oneworld member airline. To purchase, contact any Oneworld airline or your travel agent.
South America Air Passes
Oneworld’s Visit South America pass serves 65 cities in 10 countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Peru. You must book at least three flights, and travel is valid up to 12 months. You must specify which destinations you plan to visit at time of purchase, but you do not need to reserve your flights (except the first one) until the day before you wish to fly. A great pass to visit Easter Island, the Galapagos or the Amazon. To book, contact a travel agent or a Oneworld member airline.
Christina Liva and Brittany Chrusciel contributed to this story.
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