If you’ve been collecting and redeeming frequent flyer miles for at least a few years, you’ve probably heard of “round the world” (or RTW) tickets. You can purchase these itineraries using either cash or frequent flyer miles, but you’ll need to be able to find award seats on the flights you need months in advance and lock yourself into a long list of international flights before you even begin traveling.
There are many restrictions in place, regardless of the program you use to make the redemption, but if you manage to find award seats on the flights you need and you build out an itinerary that meets the airline's redemption requirements (typically you can only travel around the world in one direction, and you must cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans), RTW tickets can end up being a very good deal.
So, the latest SkyMiles program adjustment will definitely be disappointing to some. Delta is the industry leader when it comes to sky-high redemption rates and poor low-level award seat availability, and with round-the-world awards previously impossible or at least very difficult to redeem, the program’s elimination isn’t going to have a big effect on the majority of frequent flyers. It’s still a notable setback to an already restrictive frequent-flyer program, however, and for some members working to build up their balances over many years in order to reach the astronomical round-the-world ticket redemption levels of 180,000 miles for Coach Class or 280,000 for Business Class (like other redemptions, you can’t use Delta SkyMiles to travel in international First Class, even on partner airlines), it's a major setback indeed.
Delta discontinued the all round-the-world ticket redemptions on January 1, 2015, though the airline allowed one-way award redemptions on the same date, making a round-the-world trip still possible, albeit for a far greater number of miles. Delta previously required frequent flyers to book roundtrip tickets when redeeming miles from the SkyMiles program, but like competitors American Airlines and United Airlines, Delta will soon allow one-way bookings, as well as miles + cash awards as United once offered.
The one-way option allowed travelers to pair Delta awards with those from other carriers’ programs, enabling access to many more destinations through a far larger network of airlines. You can redeem Delta miles to fly KLM to Amsterdam, United miles to travel on to South Africa and American miles to move on to Asia, for example. One-way awards provide far more flexibility than round-the-world tickets, which are difficult to change once you begin to travel. Additionally, with one-way awards, you can begin a lengthy round-the-world adventure without having all of your flights booked, letting you extend your stay at certain destinations and plan out your routing as you go.
Ultimately, more award redemption options are beneficial to travelers, and even if few members took advantage of round-the-world bookings, as Delta claims, it’s still better to have the option to travel on a RTW ticket if you’d like.