How to Buy a Cheap Round-the-World (RTW) Ticket

Air, Featured, Planning — By on November 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

by The Lost Girls Staff Editors

Earlier this  week, we shared the top four questions you need to ask yourself when deciding if you should by a string of one-way flights for a big trip abroad or go for a round-the-world ticket. If you’re like us, you’ll find that an RTW is the most effective way to go if you’re planning to visit three or more destinations—and you’re trying to squeeze in as much as possible on a single trip.

So, with that in mind, we put together our Ultimate RTW Ticket Buying Guide…advice we’ve culled from experts and our own experiences. If you have specific questions about RTWs, leave them in the comments below and we’ll try to answer them!


So, you wanna get a cheap round-the-world ticket?

Here’s how to do it…

1. Shop around, and plan ahead

Round-the-world tickets are available through a number of airline alliances—OneWorld; Star Alliance, and SkyTeam—as well as numerous specialized ticket companies, such as AirTreks, World Traveler’s Club, Air Brokers. Of those two options, non-airline affiliated companies usually have the best prices since they’re able to broker deals that aren’t available as published fares.

“RTW ticket companies deal with airlines and consolidators who give us lower fares than they can give to the public,” says Susi Sen, Manager at World Traveler’s Club, a company specializing in individualized itineraries for round-the-world travel. “We string one-ways together and, in most cases, can offer them cheaper than the alliance’s RTW fares.” Clicking through her computer for some quick research, she finds a basic, prefixed-itinerary RTW fare for $5,600 on Star Alliance. World Traveler’s Club can offer a comparable itinerary for $3,500.

As tempting as it is to just jump right in and book, do your research, and don’t buy until you’ve gotten a couple of estimates. “Shop around and decide who you want to go with,” said Tom Michelson, corporate VP of Airtreks, a user-friendly company that specializes in booking cheap round-the-world tickets. “But you don’t want to begin the booking process until you’re ready to buy.” If multiple reservations are held under the same name, airlines will cancel all of them—even if payment has been made.

When you call or email for your quote, have two important things in mind: where you want to go and what your budget is. “In terms of saving money on airfare, the best way to do that is to customize a trip,” said Michelson. “The more certain you can be of your routing, (the more) you’ll be able to save. If you have no interest in Chiang Mai or someplace in Laos,” let the agent know so you’re not routed through there,

Be explicit when listing where you’d like to go, so you’ll be sure to get and pay for exactly what you want.

2. Time your takeoff

The world’s high season for travel is generally the North American summer—June, July, and August—with a second surge for the winter holidays in December and early January. If at all possible, avoid traveling during these times when ticket prices are at their peak, said Sen.

Try to start your trip in the winter low season or neither-here-nor-there shoulder seasons of fall and spring, which will have much lower ticket prices—and the additional benefits of smaller crowds and cheaper accommodations.

If you’re planning on circling the globe for an extended period of time, “at some point you will be in peak season,” said Sen. “You can’t help it; you have to budget for that.”

Michelson points out that it’s the long-haul flights, like North America to Europe or North America to Asia, the prices of which are most affected by timing. “Fares from Asia to Europe might be the same all year round,” he said. If possible, stick to shorter, local flights to avoid the long-haul fares, or lay low in an area with easy overland transport.

Keep in mind that holidays and peak season are times when you should be locking in tickets and dates so your transport is guaranteed. Check out the calendar in the area where you’re headed and make sure you’re planning around local events like Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year, or Nepal trekking season, which will affect prices and ticket availability.

3. Travel in a single direction

Pick your route—east or west—but don’t plan on backtracking. To keep it cheap, continue on in one direction.

Think of it like this, said Sen: Say you travel from the U.S. and you want to go to the South Pacific, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and then Australia. You leave from L.A. and, on the way to Australia, all those other stops are included on your ticket. If you suddenly decide you want to go back to New Zealand, it’s no longer on the way, and you would have to buy a separate ticket. Because itineraries are built from one-ways, your original ticket, from L.A. to Australia, allowed you all those free stopovers.

“Airline geography and real geography are somewhat different,” said Michelson. “Bali isn’t far from Fiji, so you think, ‘I want to go to Fiji and Bali and then do this.’ Airlines don’t do that. They go (from) Fiji to Australia and then to New Zealand. It has to do with the airline routing system.”

Similarly, crossing the equator can increase the price of your ticket. With an abundance of amazing places to explore and several major hub cities lined up close to the equator, the further you go north or south, back and forth, the more flying miles are added to your ticket, which will raise the price.

4. Fly only into hub cities and travel over land

Max out on new sights and save money on airfare by flying into one hub city, out of another, and traveling overland by train, bus, boat, etc., in between. Hubs are big cities—like New Delhi, Cape Town, Paris, Buenos Aires, Rio—with more flights coming and going than in your smaller cities, the competition between airlines drives ticket prices down.

Not only will you save money going this route than if you were to travel through more out-of-the-way destinations, but you’ll see as much as possible between distant points and cut out the need to retrace your tracks.

A word of caution: While overland travel keeps the initial costs of the RTW ticket down, occasionally it may cost as much as airfare. “Transport from Bangkok to Singapore is probably the same amount of money as a flight if you take train down,” said Michelson. “You get to see everything that’s in between—the only difference is the time is takes.”

In certain regions, like Australia, Southeast Asia, and more recently, Europe, local bargain carriers are a smart way to fly around between locations. Buy the tickets when you’re there in-country: No need to tack them onto your main RTW ticket price—where they’d certainly be pricier—since some of these flights are as cheap as $40. “Within Australia, many people fly into Sydney, and want to leave out of Melbourne,” said Sen. “A ticket from Sydney to Melbourne you can get for as little as $50 or $60, but a rental car, for example (would be expensive). And then you’d have (to pay for) two nights stopping on the way.”

5. Wait for the right time to buy

Ticket brokers are able to work with you as quickly as needed. “We’ve booked people one day, and they’ve been able to fly out the next,” said Michelson. Ideal timing, however, is something more like at least four to eight months out. Around Christmastime, when people travel to be with loved ones, allow for even a bit longer since holiday fares will book up faster and earlier than other times of the year.

Anyone who’s ever set their alarm to all hours of the night to keep on top of changing ticket prices for a dream trip knows each airline has a different pricing structure—and there’s no way for a mere mortal to predict any of it. For well-seasoned travelers, it may go against instinct to turn over the job of ticket procurement to an agent, but as experts, “We take all that headache out,” said Sen. They can help you plot your perfect plan and save money in the end.

To take full advantage of the ticket company’s resources, contact them as early as possible and have them walk you through trends in pricing before you buy.

6. Be as flexible as possible

The more rigid your schedule, the pricier it’s going to be. You want to retain flexibility as you go, in the dates of travel and order of destinations, said Michelson. You should request a quote with your must-see list in mind, but allow for some play in dates and the order of stops.

If there are legs of the trip that need to play out in a certain order, let your agent know, as well as those segments where you’re willing to keep things less structured.

Make sure you find out about how to change your ticket from the road. Although it will be an additional fee, if you find you are physically unable to remove yourself from the beaches of Bali, the dates of your travel can be manipulated much more easily than can the order of destinations. Be sure you’re clear on the policy of the company you use before you set off for distant shores.

7. Narrow Down Your (Budget-Friendly) Destinations

Some of the customers Michelson has worked with “have been planning their dream getaways for maybe the last five years.” They have loads of guidebooks, six months off, and anywhere from 20 to 30 destinations in mind, he says.

Depending on what you’re hoping to get out of your round-the-world adventure, it helps to make a list of places you absolutely must see and others that would be nice to see. “If, on a month-long trip, you try to go to 15 places, the only thing you’re going to see is airports,” said Michelson. Are you looking to immerse yourself in another culture or are you just touring through? Make your list, and plan accordingly. Be smart about choosing destinations—base it on budget. If there’s a place you’re dying to go, go ahead and spend the money rather than save a few bucks and route to somewhere your feeling iffy about.

Depending on the itinerary you had in mind, it’s not unusual to have extra stopovers you might not have considered made available to you as you book. Sometimes you have to pay a fee, sometimes they’re free, so look into which ones are possibilities and if you choose to take advantage, budget it in.

Eager as you are to be on your way, before you shove off, take some time to familiarize yourself with your destinations. Certain countries may require visas—and getting those can be both time-consuming and costly. Consider where you’ll stay and how much money you’ll need to make that happen. Even if you decide to grab cash from ATMs on the ground, it’s helpful to look into currency exchanges.

“Some people have the notion (that the prep is finished) after just buying a cheap ticket. That’s all well and good,” Sen said, but you may end up paying a lot more in details.

For more on round-the-world tickets—and whether they’re right for you—take our four question RTW ticket quiz.

Or, learn more about RTW Tickets from our partners at Airtreks by clicking here.

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  • brian says:

    The word ‘cheap’ is entirely relative but so true for round the world tickets. The biggest factor will be the destinations you pick and the number of stops along the way. Hit major cities and airline hubs and the ticket will be less than picking out of way places. But entirely affordable for EVERYONE who wants to travel. Just do your research, compare prices and get ready to fill your passport with stamps and stickers.

  • Sophie says:

    Travel ticket is indeed very expensive and if their are discounts it is only a few cases or limited offer… so the best thing to do to protect out travel investment or budget is to apply for a travel insurance where in case of travel cancellation or any unavoidable circumstances comes on our way before travel we get our reservations covered.

  • Jennifer says:

    I booked my rtw flights with because they gave us a cheaper quote than BA and were a wealth of useful information. James was excellent! Having said that, the best tip that I was given (unfortunately after booking my tickets) was to always finalise the booking with the cheapest airline that you will fly with on your trip. This can save you a lot if you are comparing BA with an Asian or South American Airline.

  • Lost Girls says:

    Thanks for your responses @jennifer @sophie and @brian
    We also think that you don’t have to do an RTW ticket to really feel like you’re traveling and seeing the world. You get get a bargain fare to Central or South America for $500 r/t and bus it around for months on very little $$!

  • Can we get some more responses from guys looking at this post….I Do like the write-up,but i have had various views on the matter and i would love to know what others think.

  • tim says:

    Book Your Around The World Trip, Round The World Tickets with with Dedicated to Round The World travelers. Round the world tickets is the cheapest way to travel around the world and you can also book open or flexible tickets. just play around with all the combinations in terms of Destinations , segments, pricing the segments from a particular origin , playing around with the routing options to make the ticket very cost effective at amazingly lowest prices.