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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To go straight to the region that interests you, click on the appropriate link below: