Round the world plane tickets : what you need to know
Buying a plane ticket for a round the world trip is likely to be an important part of your budget, so it requires a bit of research on what is available. Here are a few options and some tips I’ve learnt along the road.
You can buy each ticket on your own, and even as you go. The risk is that you’ll be tied to price changes which are very frequent and not always easy to predict. But if you’re planning to visit a specific zone, like “Latin America” or “South East Asia”, it can make much sense.
Travel agencies specialized in round the world trips
Just google “round the world ticket” and you’ll find the main ones. Here is how it works : they get special discount on some tickets that they buy as “bulk”, they assemble those in a “round the world” product and get a good price for you (and a good commission for them). If your itinerary is very mainstream, like London, Tokyo, Sydney, New York, this option can be interesting.
Airline alliances fares
Airlines are grouped into three major alliances : Oneworld , Star Alliance, and Skyteam. Each of this alliance proposes a round the world type of ticket. And some regional tickets too.
Each alliance has an extensive set of rules determining if an itinerary is applicable for this fare. The general rules are :
_ you have to go really “around” all the way
_ you have to choose which way you want to go
_ each part between two airports that you’ll do on land will count as a plane ticket anyway
_ you can’t do the same section several times
_ you can change the dates for free but not the destinations
_ the ticket is valid for 12 months maximum
has two systems : per miles and per zone. Within this quota or zones you can get as much as 16 flights). The alliance encompasses 15 companies, 149 countries, 915 destinations.
You can try out your itinerary in their online tool (it works only for the “zone” type of ticket though.
works with miles quotas, and a maximum of 16 flights. The alliance encompasses 27 companies, 181 countries, 1160 destinations.
They have an online tool too, which enables you to see if your itinerary fits in the countless rules the fare has.
theoretically has a round the world ticket too, yet when I tried to buy it it was impossible to find any agent able to sell it (I even tried several of their airlines), and they have no online tool yet. Good luck with that one.
What about the price ?
It’s not as expensive as you think
. Actually it’s precisely because it’s a good deal that you may be ready to sacrifice the freedom of ”book as you go” for a round the world fare. It can start around 2,000 $ which is quite reasonable compared to the price of a single return ticket to across the planet.
Yet the piece can vary a lot, and depends on :
_ your starting point :
It is for example cheaper to start from London than from Paris (so it makes sense to take a train ticket to get to London to start the trip)
_ the taxes
Their amount will depend on the destinations you pick. Some airports have famously steep taxes, you may save a few hundred dollars by picking your airports wisely.
How to choose ?
Make your “dream itinerary” and keep in mind that you have to be flexible with it. Set a list of “must” and a list of ”nice”, and work around that with each alliance’s tool to see how their options could fit your dream and your budget. Going for the alliance with the most airlines doesn’t always make sense.
Also consider which are their “hubs” by checking their network’s map : are they convenient or do they force you to have transfers all the time and big detours.
How to maximize the outcome ?
It looks simple on the web, but it actually does take much time to plan the ticket, work on it, then re-work it, then optimize it, etc …
Get direct flights.
Transfer flights are counted as 2 flights, so get direct ones as much as possible.
Get long flights.
It doesn’t make sense to “spend” a flight to go from Vientiane to Bangkok whereas you can use a comfortable overnight train for that.
Consider other options.
There are a lot of regional low cost airlines, so sometimes it makes more sense to book regional flights outside of your round the world ticket.
Take advantage of stopovers.
In most cases it doesn’t cost more to stop in a city for a few days rather than simply wait in the airport lounge for your transferring flight. It may be an opportunity to visit some place you hadn’t thought about, and have some good surprises
Choose good companies.
If you have the choice between several flights operated by different companies (and actual different flights, not codeshare), it can be worth it to make a bit of research on each airline and which one offers the most comfort ; you’d be surprised of the discrepancy is service range from one airline to the other within the same alliance.
Be careful with “land segments”.
That’s how they call travel by land from one airport to another : although you arrange and pay it yourself, it’s still counted in your quota of flights. But the tricky part is that if you land in New York JFK for example, and the leave for your next flight from La Guardia, then they’ll count “JFK>LaGuardia” as a land segment.
Take a frequent flyer card.
Round the world fares enable you to collect miles … a nice way to stretch a bit longer your wanderlust.
Beware of visas :
sometimes if your transfer time is long you may have to buy a transit visa : more fees and more paperwork …check if you can choose an alternative itinerary.
How to book ?
You can book online on the alliances’ websites, or you can book through any of the airlines part of the alliance (some booking fees may apply in this case). If you consider booking through an airline, check how their system works, and how you’ll be able tom make changes : can you check in online ? Can you change dates online ? Do you need to call every time ? Do they have many offices abroad ?
Any question ? Any tips you’d like to add ? Don’t hesitate to comment
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