Expert Advice: Buying Round the World (RTW) Tickets

Air, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Travel Products & Services — By on August 20, 2007 at 11:38 am

by Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor

One of the questions we’re asked most frequently is, “Do you think I should book a round-the-world airline ticket for my journey, or just purchase tickets as I go?” While you might get a bit more flexibility when buying a string of one-ways, as a general rule, The Lost Girls do recommend booking an RTW ticket for more complicated, multi-country itineraries. Here’s why:

1. Guaranteed flights: Realistically, most of us aren’t going to change our itinerary too many times during a round-the-world trip. The Lost Girls think its better to lock in a really cheap fare before you go then trying book a last minute ticket—only to discover the prices have skyrocketed or the seats you want are sold out. When you book an RTW with a ticket consolidator or airline alliance, you can almost always change the date of your flights (just not the destination).

2. Customer Service: We cannot overstate how frustrating it is to deal with customer service agents at an overseas airline–especially when you don’t speak the native language! Booking an RTW ticket with a US- or UK-based company guarantees that you’ll deal directly with an English speaking representative; he or she can help you make changes to your flights, deal with problems that arise and act as an intermediary between you and your foreign carrier.

3. Savings: Backpackers love to believe they have the inside track on cheap flights, but unless you’re a travel agent yourself, you probably don’t have access to the unpublished fares and blocks of cheap seats that airline consolidators are privy to. They know about great budget airlines you’ve never heard of, and can recommend ways to save money that might not have occured to you.

When we did our around-the-world journey, our friend and fellow Lost Boy John Buckley recommended Airtreks –one of the oldest and most respected RTW travel agencies in the Americas. Since we were very impressed with the low cost of our ticket and the excellent service we received, we decided to ask Tom Michelson, Vice President of Operations for the company, to chat with us a bit about the whole RTW booking process. Here’s what he had to say….

Q. Why should Lost Girls readers considering booking their RTW or multi-city journey with Airtreks?

A. Airtreks provides expert consultation to customize every trip to meet the traveler’s needs in terms of routing, pricing, airlines and stopovers Our travel consultants have traveled extensively themselves, so in addition to getting the best prices and routings, they can offer advice about where to go and when to go.

Q. How does Airtreks work to support the traveler before and during her trip?
A. Our online tool, TripPlanner, allows the traveler to price out a variety of options by adding and substituting cities so she can get an estimate of what her proposed trip would cost long before she’s ready to book and purchase.
During the trip, Airtreks provides customer service to help deal with the myriad issues that occur when traveling great distances and/or over long periods of time (e.g., schedule and routing changes by the airline, date and routing changes and by the passengers, missed flights, lost or stolen tickets, denied boarding, airline default, medical emergencies on the road and at home).
Our customers usually work with one travel consultant during the booking process. As these trips are fairly complex, this process takes 2-3 weeks. Once their tickets have been purchased, our travelers work with our customer service department. They are better suited to dealing with the kind of issues travelers encounter on the road.
Q. What’s the most popular RTW ticket route? Why do you think this is?
A. There is no usual, standard, or typical route or price around the world. We customize each and every trip for our travelers. The only time that we see any kind of trip duplication is when a traveler is accompanying another traveler on a trip. We offer a number of sample trips on our website, so that travelers who want inspiration, can get some ideas for their trips.
Q. What’s are the best ways for Lost Girls to save money on their RTW tickets?
A. Here are a few methods for minimizing costs:
1. Keep the Seasons and Holidays in Mind: Generally speaking, traveling in the summer and at Christmas-time is more expensive. Many airfares have three seasons: low, shoulder and high. Low season is November-March (except from the beginning of Dec to the middle of January); Shoulder season is April/May and Sept/Oct and High season is June/July/August/December-mid January. Then there are additional high seasons for various parts of the world: Chinese New Years for Asia; Haj for the Middle East; Trekking season for Nepal; etc.
When traveling for a few months, it will be difficult to avoid the high season (and the high season may be the most desirable time to visit a destination). The best way to keep the costs down is to avoid the high season for your long haul flights (traveling trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic).
2. Decide if flying is really necessary: Traveling overland between two cities can save money on airfare, but it may not save you money when you consider the cost of the land transportation between the two points. The major reason to consider overland travel between two points is to see all that there is between those two points without having to return to your original starting point. Time permitting, it is usually better to take the train between Singapore and Bangkok, if you wish to see Malaysia and Southern Thailand, rather taking a flight between the two points.
3. Stick to the Beaten Track (at least, when it comes to your flights!): Flying between the major travel hubs near the equator will offer the most affordable airfares for travelers. Airfare prices are reflected in competition and not necessarily miles flown. Just as it is cheaper for someone within the US to fly from New York to Los Angeles than it is from Santa Fe to Vail, it is far cheaper to fly New York – London -Delhi – Bangkok – Hong Kong – New York than to fly New York – Helsinki – Johannesburg – Bali – Lhasa – New York.
Q. Which regions and countries are most expensive to add onto a RTW ticket route and why?
A. The most expensive places to add on to an RTW ticket are ones that are off the beaten path. Places like Easter Island or the Seychelles can be expensive additions to a trip, but if the traveler is already in that part of the world, then the additional cost of the flight may not be too significant. In addition, while it may add $700-$800 to the cost of an RTW trip to add a stop in a remote island; compare that cost with the thousands of dollars that a separate roundtrip to that remote island would cost if the traveler were to go to that island on a separate trip.
Q. We’ve noticed that RTW ticket prices seem to be cheaper when started from a major RTW hub like London, rather than the US. What’s the reason for this?

A. The reason that some cities are cheaper to start and end your trip is the same for around-the-world tickets as it is for roundtrips-competition. People who live in London travel around the world more than US citizens and therefore their price may be cheaper. (With the current state of the dollar relative to the British pound, this is no longer necessarily true.)
The UK market also has restrictions that we do not. The tickets they sell MUST begin and end in London. Between the additional costs for the roundtrip to London and the additional stops the travel must endure, even when the dollar was strong, there would be little to gain by buying an RTW from/to London and a roundtrip flight to/from London.
Q. Are RTW tickets ever less expensive for students and those under 26 years of age? What discounts, if any, are your clients eligible for?
A. Some legs of a typical RTW ticket do allow student, youth and teacher discounts, so it is always advisable to inform your travel consultant of your status. Airtreks customers also receive a $100 discount coupon for their next Airtreks trip.
Q. Once the traveler has purchased her RTW ticket, can those individual flights be changed?

A. In general, the dates of most flights can be changed, either directly with the airlines or through Airtreks, at little or no charge (as long as flights operate and space is available). Usually, only date of the initial departure from the US (first flight) is fixed.

Unfortunately, almost no ticket for a reasonable price will let you choose your route as you go, or change it once your ticket is issued. Tickets can be issued with “open” dates (although we recommend strongly against buying such tickets) but not with “open” places. Re-routable tickets, where they exist, are rarely the cheapest. To put it another way, you pay a premium for flexibility.

Q. Will most customers have to travel with paper tickets, or are most of your clients ticketed electronically?

A. Both. We issue e-tickets whenever it is possible, but there are still some airlines, countries and combination of airlines that require paper tickets.

***
Thanks, Tom! For more information on RTW tickets or to use Airtrek’s TripPlanner to estimate the cost your next international journey, visit www.airtreks.com.

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