Planning a Round-the-World Adventure: Booking Flights
This is Part One of a Series dedicated to travel tips and lessons learned while planning for an extended Round-the-World (RTW) trip.
The RTW trip seems to be a growing trend amongst travelers and adventure seekers. Air travel has become much more accessible and affordable, and remote destinations are becoming more and more attainable, both geographically and financially.
One of the primary reasons we decided to do a RTW Adventure was because we wanted to see it all.
As a starting point, we each wrote down our top 5 destinations, the “must visit” locations that had to be included on this epic adventure. Not surprisingly, none of our top picks matched.
Cameron’s picks were based on outdoor adventures, such as Peru, New Zealand and Nepal. While Nicole’s revolved around beaches and islands, such as the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island and the Philippines.
The result was two very different views of the RTW trip, requiring us to book several flights (37 to be exact!). So the question became, “is it better to book individual flights or get a RTW flight package?”
Booking Round-the-World Flights
We spent months researching and planning the most cost effective way to make our itinerary a reality, a list that magically grew as we became more educated about the world. We quickly realized that RTW flight packages made better sense for us than flight booking separately.
After a lot of bouncing around from a variety of travel sites, it became clear that there are really only two RTW options worth using: Star Alliance or OneWorld Alliance. There were other broker companies but they weren’t able to book our flights 6 months in advance, which was important to us.
Offers 27 airlines flying to 1,167 airport destinations in 181 countries
Offers comprehensive travel around the Asia and Pacific regions with more than 200 destinations and 17 countries on one ticket.
Including: Circle Asia Fare, Circle North Asia Fare, Circle Pacific Fare
One World Alliance
Offers a network of almost 700 destinations in nearly 150 countries
Is based on the number of OneWorld continents you visit or pass through (including your continent of origin) and the class you fly in
You can choose from four tiers that determine your fare, based on total distance flown
Including: Circle Atlantic, Circle Pacific, Circle Trip Explorer, Circle Asia & South West Pacific
Including: Visit Africa, Visit Asia, Visit Japan, Visit Australia and New Zealand, Visit Europe, Visit North America, Visit Mexico and Central America, Visit South America
What did we do?
We selected the OneWorld Alliance and chose the OneWorld Explorer ticket. We flew out of Miami and returned back to Seattle. It made more sense for us to fly in and out of the United States because it was cheaper and it worked well with our itinerary.
Most of the airlines within the alliance are major carriers and most offer complimentary food and free alcohol, even domestic flights in some cases (a refreshing change to North American airlines!).
At the time of purchase, our program gave us 20 segments (flights or land crossings). We selected major international hubs for our RTW ticket destinations, then purchased additional cheap domestic flights once we arrived to the region.
Tips when booking your RTW tickets
1. Book your RTW ticket directly from the source
There are literally hundreds of travel sites, all offering RTW options. The reality is that many of these travel brokers use the same airlines. Though they may have last minute deals, we recommend you go right to the source (STAR Alliance or OneWorld Alliance) to limit your risk in the event that something goes wrong while overseas. It happened to us and we were glad we a global network on our side – most airlines within the alliances have good reputations.
2. Get free flights!
The best part about both alliances is that you earn points while traveling. We ended up with multiple free flights by the end of our trip. By using the large alliances, all points are basically transferable within the alliance.
3. Sign up with an Air Miles program prior to leaving
Preferably with an airline in your home country (ie. American Airlines with OneWorld). This way you can also use the points after the trip is completed. Have these air mile numbers in a convenient location when making reservations, it can be a nightmare trying to collect points AFTER the flight.
4. Make reservations for the ENTIRE trip BEFORE leaving
Our RTW ticket required us to solidify our destinations at the time of purchase; however, it cost us nothing to change the dates and times. We made reservations for our first 10 flights but left the other segments “OPEN”. It is wise to reserve each segment ahead of time, that way you don’t run into seat availability issues. Worst case scenario, you stick to the original plan.
We had some issues when we got to Asia and the Middle East because many alliance partners have different reservation systems and some cancelled our reservations without us knowing. Everything ended up working out fine, but there were some tense moments that could have been avoided. Keep in mind, you can change dates and times as you go.
5. Record your Reservation codes
Although it is an alliance, every airline has its own reservation systems. Sometimes they give you different reservation numbers. Keep these numbers handy! If you are making changes or confirming flights you will be required to have these numbers.
6. Check to see what airport departure taxes are included
We had a bit of a shock when we realised how many departure taxes there were, especially in South America. Some airport taxes are included already, so make sure you don’t pay twice. Visit each airline directly to confirm.
7. Use the interactive maps
Not all airports will have flights that connect to your next location. Each alliance has an interactive map that shows all destinations and flights from each airport. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you can fly where ever you want, whenever you want.
8. Use long haul flights on your RTW ticket
Asia and Europe have several cheap discount carriers – sometimes as cheap as $20 taxes included! Try to burn your RTW segments on long haul flights like North America to Europe/Asia or South America to Australia, which are much more expensive.
If you’re booking a RTW adventure from the United Kingdom using a popular travel agent such as First Choice or Thomas Cook, make sure you hunt around online to get your hands on a great money saving coupon code. There are plenty out there and could help you save that little bit extra.
Do you have any tips when it comes to booking RTW flights?
Feel free to share your feedback below!
It’s a shame you didn’t hear about Airtreks.com before. They book exactly the kind of ticket you’re talking about and for less money than Star Alliance charges for the same ticket.
The reason I say it is because i was going to book Star Alliance tickets and found them thankfully before I did. They have a great staff that helps out a lot with the process and the price they gave me for my RTW was about $1200 less than Star Alliance’s quote!
Take a look at them…
Traveling Canucks says
Thanks for the tip Manys. That option wasn’t attractive to us back in May 2008, BUT, the industry is always changing and evolving!
Hi Manys. When we were looking, we contacted airtreks but we couldn’t purchase the ticket until 6 months in advance. We wanted to firm up all the details before then, so it just didn’t work out.
Great to hear you got such a great deal. We definitely found the RTW ticket to be the cheapest option for multiple flights.
Don Nadeau says
Great point about considering the value of free tickets when deciding whether or not to use alliance RTW fares. These can really add up!
Also, many people simply do not consider the disadvantages when using bucket shop (consolidator) tickets. I’ve used them and will do so again in order to save, but know that these tickets increase the risk of something going wrong. After all, a ticket marked “non endorsable” (because you haven’t paid the published fare) means that you are not going to be rebooked on another airline if your flight is cancelled. And, that’s just one negative.
Don Nadeau says
Forgot to mention that some of your flights may have been cancelled because you did not follow the “72-hour prior reconfirmation” rule that some international airlines still require.
It’s a good idea to reconfirm anyway, more than once if booked way ahead, as airline schedules seem less stable than ever.
Traveling Canucks says
Great points Don. It really depends on the length of time away. I agree, I’ll continue to purchase cheap consolidator tickets for independant travel – hey, if I can save a buck I will. But when going overseas for over 6 months, it pays to have that piece of mind knowing that you can make adjustments without any headaches.
Thanks for your feedback!
Thanks for sharing your trips and other tips for a RTW. I am from Vancouver too! I have money saved but I am just doing the research part of it. I haven’t decided if it’s better for me to buy a RTW ticket through an alliance of airlines or one way tickets along the way. I think the nervous wreck in me would want to buy them ahead of time and have the flexibility to change. Will you be posting further info about these tickets (your post said part one of a series)? I was wondering if you were able to book layovers in particular cities and stayed over night so you can explore in those places. Also in your future posts could you possibly share more info about traveling within a particular country and overland? Thanks from a fellow Canuck. And I am really happy you went to the Philippines. Checking out all these RTW blogs, barely anyone seems to go. I was born there but moved to Canada as a baby, so it’s definitely in my plans (Can’t hate on free accommodation with friends and relatives).
Thanks – there are so many programs out there. Researching really helps you save some money instead of just aimlessly purchasing tickets to the locations you want to go to. Saving money there means having more money for the fun stuff!
Traveling Canucks says
Indeed it certainly does! Glad you found the post helpful 😉
Chrystal McKay says
For your RTW – which flights did you finally select. What was your actual RTW Flight Itinerary?
Thanks for the details.