Should I Buy a Round-the-World Ticket? 4 Questions to Help You Decide

Air, Featured — By on November 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

By  Amanda Pressner

LG Section Editor, LG Executive Editor

Congrats! You’ve resolved to take back your time—maybe a few months, maybe a full year, or even more—and use it to see the world. Go on with your bad self!

With that tough decision made—eerily simple now that you’ve actually done it, no?—you’ll no doubt be faced with a dilemma far more complicated and stymieing: Should you wing it around the planet on cheapo-depot, one-way tickets—or buy a round-the-world ticket to cover all your flights at once?

If there were a simple answer to that question, well then, you wouldn’t need to Google around and read this post to figure it out. And while every Lost Girl has to make the RTW ticket decision for herself, we can tell you this much from personal experience:

The faster you want to travel and the more ground you want to cover, the more you’ll find that a RTW suits your needs.

Oversimplifying, sure, but generally that holds true. After fussing with one-way tickets (purchased on from South America through Kenya on our trip, Jen, Holly, and I eventually decided to use San-Fran-based ticket consolidator Airtreks to book the remaining flights. Working with our own dedicated travel agent (It was the same person every time!) we put together a string of nine one-way tickets, which were mailed to us in Kenya (Some airlines abroad still use paper versions!) by the company.

To make the process of deciding a bit easier, we’ve put together some advice on booking—and we listed the four toughest questions you’ll need to ask yourself before throwing down that credit card. Once you’re done answering, you’ll have a better idea of which way you’re headed—and how to get there.

1. Where am I going again?

“If you’re planning to hit several different countries on the same trip, and you have a pretty good sense of what they are ahead of time, then you’ll ultimately be more satisfied with a RTW,” said Susi Sen, manager at World Traveler’s Club, a company specializing in individualized itineraries for round-the-world travel.

The idea, said Sen, is to select regions of the world that you’d like to visit—Southeast Asia, India, Europe, Australia—rather than countless cities that will make the price of your ticket skyrocket.

It’s important to choose a major hub, or entry point, from which to start your travels. You’ll be able to take advantage of the best possible rates on popular (read: cheaper) routes and use budget airlines, buses, trains, or even slow boats to get you where you want to go within those areas of the world. By choosing major entry points—and flying into and out of different cities in that region to avoid backtracking—you can maximize both your time and the value of your RTW ticket.

2. Do I want to spend travel time researching fares?

If the answer is “ummm, no,” go with the RTW. You may save a few bucks by hitting up Internet cafes and stringing together one-ways on your own (and we do mean may), but you’ll be absolutely killing valuable hours of your precious time abroad trying to sort through fares and terminology on airline websites that, in most cases, weren’t written for English speakers.

Once you have your first few experiences dealing with slow computers; credit cards that won’t go through because of your foreign home address; or customer service reps who can’t be reached at this time, you’ll wish you’d avoided the hassle and just planned ahead. That said, if you’ve got monk-like patience, wicked foreign language skills, or if you just like chillin’ with the Internet-café crowd, then by all means—go for the one-ways.

3. Do I change my mind—a lot?

So you’ve got some commitment issues. Sometimes we do, too. We know that RTW tickets can scare travelers because they seem so, well, final. After all, once you’ve locked into a destination, it can be tough to reroute—even if your new Kiwi dorm-mate tells you that you simply cannot miss Torres de Paines in Chile. But really, was that on your must-do list anyway?

Most likely, even if you could, you’re not going to re-route to another continent because you heard an incredible travel story. The good news: You can change the dates on a RTW ticket fairly easily, so if you’re having fun in a particular destination—or want to flee as fast as you can—you can do it without incurring major penalties. You might have to pay a change fee or a service change, but you won’t need to buy a brand new RTW ticket.

Bottom line: If you need to stay 100 percent flexible, no string attached, then a RTW ticket might make you feel all itchy and constricted. If you have absolutely no idea where you’d like to go after your first country, a RTW isn’t going to do you any favors either. But if you’ve got a general route in your head—particularly one that moves around the world in a single direction—then the RTW is probably the way to go.

4. Do I want advice and support before and throughout my trip?

RTW ticketing companies like Airtreks will connect you with a real human being who will work with you for as long as it takes, at no additional cost, to nail down the perfect itinerary—and they’ll continue to represent you while you’re on the road.

We know you may be under the impression that using a travel agent is a big, fat waste of dough. After all, these middlemen and women make commissions that just get tacked onto your bottom line…right? Well, that might be true to some degree, but in a complex travel situation that involves multiple airlines, countries, paper and e-ticketing, and route planning, these professionals can save you hundreds of dollars by finding you free stopovers, cheaper rates, and overland routing that you might not have discovered on your own.

Plus, the initial price quote that you may get from an RTW site is likely not what you’ll end up paying—once you work with your agent to tweak your cities and timing, you may end up paying a lot less. Having someone on your side to deal with airline hassles—so you don’t have to—may just be the most invaluable part of the experience.

Log on tomorrow to check out our comprehensive RTW buying guide.

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  • Adam says:

    Great advice on a tough issue. We decided to buy as you go, and I think we ended up paying less overall than had we gone with a RTW ticket (this was in 08-09 though, and airfare was really low at the time of our travels). I would probably do the same again, but it is so true that you have to be willing to spend a bunch of time researching while on the road. We took a year-long trip, so time was on our side, and researching flights and whatnot is something I actually enjoy doing most of the time, so it didn’t bother me, and it was worth it to have the flexibility.

    THis is a fantastic guide to the decision making process that goes into whether or not a RTW flight is for you.

  • Joszef says:

    You can’t “purchase” tickets on sites such as Sidestep or Kayak. They’re simply search sites that eventually lead you directly to the airlines or online travel agencies to buy your tickets. Saying that you bought tickets on Sidestep or Kayak is like saying that you bought shoes on Google. No, you used Google to search for shoes, and then you bought them on an actual retail site like Amazon or Zappos.

  • I opted to buy individual one-way tickets for the trip I’m currently on, and although it does get frustrating having to search online for airfares (and even more frustrating when the price goes up!) it has left me with so much more flexibility to go where I want.