Round the world (RTW) tickets are a big thing within the travel community. Ideally, they help people to travel large distances for relatively low costs compared with booking a series of individual flights.
The only reason that I chose to write an article on this subject, is that when I was 18, I purchased an around the world ticket for a relatively low cost which took me to many places that I might not have ever seen. It is many years since this happened and because of this, things have changed. With four young brothers who want to travel the world, it is something that I update myself on from time to time and it is on this page that I would like to pass on my knowledge.
The first question people normally ask when hearing about RTW tickets, is what is an RTW (round the world) flight / ticket? Simply put, an RTW ticket is a series of flights that allow a person to start and finish in the same destination after traversing the globe. However, in recent years there are also companies that sell RTW tickets that do not actually circumnavigate the globe, although they do cover great distances that are often equal to a circumnavigation of the globe. Round the world tickets involve a varying number of stops (dependent upon booking itinerary) at predefined destinations along the way. Currently they are provided by airline alliances (such as Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam) or by specialist travel agencies. Each trip is fully customisable and customers can purchase a ticket that stops at their choice of destinations as they traverse the globe.
You might then wonder why is an RTW ticket better than booking individual flights? In general, it is because (theoretically) it is cheaper. Back in 2003, my RTW ticket followed the itinerary UK – USA – Cook Islands – Fiji – New Zealand – Australia – Malaysia – Thailand – Hong Kong – UK and cost only £890, plus taxes. Nowadays however, things are a little bit different, and that cost is somewhat more in line with the cost of flights and Thailand Tour Packages, rather than a whole series of RTW flights. If you are wondering how much RTW tickets cost at the moment, the answer is a tricky one. As a ball park figure, round the world tickets typically cost between £1,300 and £4,000 as long as your route is not too complicated (too far from a predefined route). Ultimately, the intention (despite costs being higher than several years ago), is that you should still be saving yourself money. It is still possible to find the occasional RTW ticket that falls below the £1,000 mark, but it might only include two or three stops along the way.
There are four main criteria that affect the cost of an RTW ticket:
- Total number of stops. Higher number of stops = higher cost.
- Location of stops. ‘Typical’ stops (hubs) such as San Francisco or New York are cheaper than less typical stops, such as Vanuatu.
- Total distance. A higher distance = higher cost.
- The date that you start your journey.
When booking an RTW flight, you can also do overland sections. This is where you fly into one airport and out of another. For example, you might choose to fly into Auckland and out of Christchurch (both New Zealand) so that you may traverse the country by land. On some alliances this distance counts towards your total mileage, whereas on others, it does not.
Typical money saving routes involve stops in the UK (London), USA (coasts), Australia (east coast) / New Zealand, and Asia (hub airports). You might also be able to stop at one of the Pacific Isles without large increases in cost, but if you start planning South America or (especially) Africa into your itinerary, the costs head skywards as flights to these locations are less frequent. It is also entirely feasible that the air alliance that you wish to fly with, does not actually fly to some of the locations that you wish to visit.
In short, if you are flexible about when you can travel and do not mind being assigned the dates and locations that a RTW agency assigns you, getting an RTW ticket is a great option for saving money. If however, you have certain destinations and time periods in mind, it may not suit you so well. All of the airlines who are members of the three big air alliances are premium airlines (no Ryan Air or EasyJet) and as a result, flight prices will not be comparable with flights on budget carriers.
The best way to access your suitability to a round the world ticket is to draft out a rough plan and then begin contacting RTW agencies. A simple Google search will turn up many. If there is an office near you, go in person to talk over the different opportunities. Discuss your options, make adjustments, and then look at the total cost. Ask them how to make it cheaper and they will try to help you. This is one of those things for which there is no magic formula.
Around ten years ago, RTW tickets looked like they were becoming the next big thing. Sadly this has not happened although they may still be suitable for some people.