Round The World Tickets
If you’re thinking of going to places on the other side of the planet to your house then it may be worth considering whether a Round The World (RTW) airline ticket might work for you.
There’s a lot of confusion and wrong ideas out there about RTW tickets, so hopefully we can fix some of that with this page.
First we’ll briefly explain what they are and why you might consider one, then we’ll look at the main ones available, and then we’ll check out some of the possible alternatives to RTW tickets that are better suited for certain types of trips. Then finally we'll have a giant table that summarises the RTW Tickets available from the main airline alliances. You're gonna love it.
What Are They?
A RTW ticket surprisingly enough is an airline ticket that lets you fly around the world, hopefully for a much lower price than it would cost if you had bought each of your flights separately.
There are two main types of RTW ticket. Ones that are issued by groups of airlines working together, and ones that are special combinations of individual flights put together by someone else. Plus there are other things that aren’t quite RTW tickets, some of which may be better options for some people.
RTW Tickets Issued By Groups Of Airlines
The main RTW tickets are issued by airline alliances such as One World, Star Alliance or Sky Team. If you buy a RTW ticket from one of these alliances it lets you take a bunch of flights that take you around the world using any of their member airlines. We’ll spend most of this page dealing with these tickets.
If you’re in the UK you might also like to check out the Great Escapade 29,000 mile ticket offered by Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic: www.thegreatescapade.com/ As far as we can tell this is only offered from the UK.
You may also hear of the World Journey fare which used to be offered by a collection of airlines that weren’t in a formal alliance. This was a good ticket but it is no longer available.
Other Types Of RTW Tickets
There are other things out there that come under the RTW Ticket label, some of which are quite different to the alliance offered tickets. These may vary from specific routings offered at a special deal by a travel agent, or they may be fully customised routings priced up by round-the-world specialist companies. The main limitation with most of these is that they tend to be more difficult or costly to change plans once you’re travelling. Here are some of the better options out there that might be worth a look depending on what you’re after:
STA Travel. You don’t have to be a student or under 26 to use STA Travel, although if you are then you may be able to get a better price so definitely check them out if that's you. STA have set routing RTW tickets and they can create customised RTW itineraries just for you. STA have specific websites for a bunch of different countries. To find the right branch for you check out their link below: www.statravel.com/worldwide.htm
Student Flights. Similar to STA Travel, anyone can use them. Student Flights also have set routing RTW tickets and can create customised itineraries just for you. Student Flights have websites specifically for South Africa, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The New Zealand one isn’t listed on their main website, but its just the same as the others except ending in .co.nz, and it doesn’t have as many set itineraries listed. www.studentflights.com/
Air Treks. Air Treks are specialists at putting together fully customised multi-stop or RTW airfares, plus they reckon they can get "unique international air tickets at substantial discounts compared to the typical published fares that are offered by airlines, and other travel agencies and airfare Web sites." They also have a very useful website tool that lets you quickly get a price estimate on any routing you want. As far as I can tell you don't have to live in the US or Canada to use them. www.airtreks.com/
Boots n All. Boots n All are good buddies with Air Treks, but they also have lots of information on RTW travel, advertise
special deals on set itineraries and put out occasional reports about the different RTW ticket options available. Check them out at: www.bootsnall.com/
Other Things That Aren’t Quite RTW Tickets
Lots of airlines and all three of the main airline alliances offer regional passes that give you discounted rates for multiple flights within certain regions. The main condition you’ll often find attached to some of these is that you have to take a long-haul flight with them as well to get there.
My parents got a fantastic deal from Emirates to fly from NZ to Europe and the Middle East using a long haul return flight and special pricing they gave them for regional flights around the Middle East. These can be a great option if you’re not planning on a full RTW trip.
We won’t go into these any further except to say to check out the alliance websites below plus any specific airlines that you think might fly roughly where you’re wanting to go.
If in doubt it never hurts to talk to a travel agent as they may know of a sweet deal that might suit your circumstances.
RTW Tickets From The Airline Alliances
For the rest of this page we’ll be just looking at the RTW tickets offered by the big airline alliances.
But first a bit of a disclaimer…
If you hunt around on the web you’ll find plenty of people deriding the alliance issued RTW tickets as they say they are too expensive and have too many rules. I reckon most of these complaints are coming from Americans. Not because Americans complain lots, but because for some reason RTW tickets tend to cost more (heaps more!) if you start from North America.
If you start from New Zealand for example, the biggest RTW ticket from Star Alliance costs NZD 6,199. But the same ticket will cost you NZD 9,688 if you start from the USA, or NZD 10,554 if you start from Canada! At NZD 6,199 it can be excellent value, but at NZD 9,688 or NZD 10,554 you’re likely to find better options elsewhere.
In general it seems that starting from places like NZ, Australia, South Africa, Japan or South America costs the least, starting from the UK, Europe or Singapore costs a bit more, and starting from Canada, USA or Mexico costs truckloads. I have no idea why this is the case, but you can see why they might seem expensive to Americans!
The other complaint about there being too many rules is fairly valid. However, if you can be a bit flexible with your routing and maybe buy an extra flight here or there then you can usually work around the rules of either One World or Star Alliance to get a good solution.
In general, a RTW ticket is likely to work for you if:
- You want some flexibility in timing but don't mind having a bit of structure to your routing plans (structure you can change).
- Your trip doesn't start from North America.
- Your trip includes lots of flights scattered across the globe (up to 16 flights are possible if you work it right).
- Your trip doesn't include many overland segments that cause you to fly out from a different airport to where you last landed.
- Your trip covers big distances by plane, not by other means of transport (this doesn't apply to the One World Explorer which
can still be quite good even if you do want to do the Trans-Siberian Railway).
- You have a few specific places you really want to go but are open to suggestions for the rest.
Pros and Cons
RTW tickets usually have the following benefits:
- They are much lower cost than if you bought all the same flights individually (unless you’re starting from North America!).
- They are more flexible for making changes than normal cheap tickets are.
- All your flights can be handled together.
- You may be able to get airpoints or frequent flier miles for your trip on the alliance's rewards programme.
RTW tickets typically have the following limitations:
- You have to actually go around the World, starting and finishing in the same country.
- You can only include flights on your RTW ticket that are with the airlines that are members of the alliance you’re buying the RTW ticket from.
- You may have to have your routing and/or specific flights all booked before you depart on your first flight. This may mean
you have to change them later for a fee.
- You may have to pay a fee any time you change the time or routing of your flights, although you can often make as many
changes as you want for a one-off revalidation fee. Some people complain this limitation makes them too inflexible but to be
fair, it’s pretty unusual you’ll find “cheap flights” and “flexible” in the same sentence anyway, unless there is a “not”
- You are only allowed to take a certain maximum number of flight segments (usually 16).
- You may only be allowed to use a certain number of your flight segments in each region of the world.
- The total distance you fly for all your flights usually has to be less than a certain maximum number of air miles.
- If your next flight leaves from a different airport to the one you landed in then it will count as one of your flight segments
and the distance between airports will count against your total mileage limit, even though you’re not flying, and even if it’s a
different airport in the same city. This rule effectively encourages you to do circular overland segments that allow you to
leave from the same airport you landed in.
- If you leave a certain region of the world then you usually cannot go back there again for a second time on the same RTW
- The ticket will usually include rules that mean you have to travel vaguely in one direction around the world, although a certain
amount of backtracking within the same region is usually possible.
- There may be other miscellaneous rules you have to comply with for the specific RTW ticket you get.
Each ticket has its own specific rules, some of which can seem quite random so you need to do some research before choosing a RTW ticket. Sometimes you may need to buy a couple of extra flights separately to make your RTW ticket work best for your circumstances.
So let’s take a look at the three alliances and what they each offer.
RTW Tickets Comparison
See below a giant table that summarises the main RTW tickets available from the airline alliances. I’ve also included a brief blurb about each one here as well to try to help you decide which one (if any) might suit you best. In general you’ll need a bit of patience and time to work with the planner tools described below, but if you’re willing to put in the effort it can be quite valuable.
One tip you may find helpful is to look out for the “hub” cities. These are the specific cities where an airline in the alliance is based. Most flights will usually have a hub city at the start or the end of them. The more hub cities you’re wanting to visit the less flight segments you’ll end up using as you’ll have more direct flights. This is why it can be worth looking at what airlines are in each alliance and comparing that with what countries you’re wanting to visit. Sometimes they may let you also fly on airlines that are partners of a member airline. These may not always show up on the route planner tools.
Right, lets start with my personal favourite...
One World offers two main RTW tickets in a range of sizes. A continent based fare called the One World Explorer, and a mileage based fare called the One World Global Explorer. You can find their planner tool, which is pretty straightforward to use, at:
The planning tool is set up for the continent based fare, so if you’re considering the mileage based fare it’s a bit more effort to work out if your itinerary follows the rules and how many miles it uses up.
In general One World would be my recommended first pick for RTW Tickets as they’re a bit cheaper than the Star Alliance and fairly easy to get a price estimate on. Plus with their continent based fare you can do some pretty massive routings and still meet all their rules. If you really want to you can even make all your bookings and purchase your ticket online using this tool, although it’s probably worth talking it all through with a travel agent first if you can.
One World offer flights to 800 destinations and are particularly good for travel around South America although they don’t offer as good coverage around Africa as the Star Alliance.
One World’s member airlines are as follows: Airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines
If you’re looking at using the One World planner tool then it may also be helpful to have this link handy to their interactive “where we fly” map. www.oneworld.com/flights/where-we-fly/
Tip: If you want to keep your ticket cost down with the One World Explorer then pay attention to continent boundaries and don’t stray into any extra continents that you don’t really want to visit.
Star Alliance offers mileage based RTW fares in the usual range of sizes. You can find their planner tool at:
The Star Alliance planning tool is particularly easy to check prices on as you don’t have to select the specific flights you want before you can get a price estimate. It is however a tad trickier to see where exactly you can fly direct to from any given city.
Be careful of relying too much on price estimates if you haven’t selected specific flights yet, as the price estimate will assume direct flights between each of your selected cities which may not always be possible. If you need to fly via somewhere else it will use up an extra segment and the mileage will also increase due to the less direct routing.
The main benefit with the Star Alliance is that they have more airlines in their alliance which tends to give them slightly better coverage in many places than One World. According to their website they offer flights to 1293 destinations.
Star Alliance’s member airlines are as follows: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, Thai, Turkish Airlines, United, US Airways.
Sky Team offers mileage based RTW fares in the usual range of sizes. You can find their planner tool at:
To use their planner you have to let the website install Microsoft Silverlight on your computer (whatever that is). Their planning tool itself is quite decent, however the big downer is that it doesn’t tell you how much your itinerary will cost. Instead you have to request a quote for your routing which they say they’ll reply to in 2-3 working days.
This nuisance factor combined with fairly patchy coverage especially around Oceania (NZ, Oz, South Pacific) and South America makes them my last choice out of the three alliances for RTW tickets. Plus, last I heard they were at least as expensive as the Star Alliance. But I can’t state that with any certainty until 2-3 working days when they call me back…
Sky Team’s member airlines are as follows: Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines.
RTW Tickets Comparison Table:
Note: All details in this table are valid as at April 2012 when exchange rates were:
1 NZD = 0.82 USD = 0.62 EUR = 0.51 GBP = 0.79 AUD = 6.4 ZAR
Have you used a Round the World Ticket? Are you interested in using one? Feel free to share any questions or comments below...