Figuring out ‘How to book a Round the World Flight’ might be the most important part of planning your round the world trip.
Not only will it be a sizable portion of your overall travel budget, but once you press ‘book now’ your trip becomes REAL for the first time. All those hours spent daydreaming about waking up in a new country transform into something tangible when you see your name in all caps on an airline ticket.
There are a number of different options that you can use to book a round the world (RTW) flight, but we are going to focus on the 3 we considered:
- Airline Alliance
- Air Treks
- Do It Yourself
There are advantages and shortcomings associated with each of them. Read below for our candid reviews on:
How to book a round the world flight
The major airline alliances are StarAlliance (United, Lufthansa, Air Canada), SkyTeam (Delta, Air France, Korean Air) and OneWorld (American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas).
All of them have global reach and have Round the World (RTW) tickets on offer. We focused our search on the alliance that Michael and I already had the most Frequent Flier status with: OneWorld.
OneWorld primarily offers two options for RTW tickets: OneWorld Explorer and Global Explorer. You can read more about each here (link above), but an Explorer ticket is based on the number of continents you plan on traveling through and a Global ticket is based on the distance (in miles) that you are planning to travel.
- Ticket flexibility: if you are really loving Argentina but are booked on a flight departing in a couple days, you are permitted to change your booked flights without change fees. Similarly, let’s say you hate India and want to leave early. No problem.
- Upgrades: When you book directly with the airlines, it is much easier to upgrade your cabin (with either points, cash or due to accrued status) than when purchasing from a travel operator or agency.
- Frequent Flier Miles: You are sure to get 100% of the segments/miles flown credited to your account towards higher status. Some of the travel operator/agency flights are only coded to give 50% of miles
- Route Efficiency: The airline alliances fly you through to their international hubs whenever possible. This can create extremely long travel between locations or force you to buy additional flights on other carriers to bypass that stop altogether.
For example: We wanted to get from Kathmandhu, Nepal to Mumbai, India. OneWorld didn’t have a codeshare partner that flew directly from Nepal to India so they wanted us to fly through Qatar and then on to India direct from there. All in–an 11 hour travel day. The other option is to skip that stop on your RTW ticket and buy a direct flight (Air India flies direct between the two in under 2 hours). You then pick up your itinerary from India.
- Route Flexibility: Generally, the airline alliances RTW tickets have you fly directionally (east to west or west to east) with no backtracking. In many cases, this isn’t an issue. After all, it makes sense to keep going in the direction of travel to minimize flight times between stops. However, due to the availability of hubs (see above) you may find yourself being routed through someplace like Doha, Qatar en route to both Africa and Asia. The problem is that you are not allowed to cross back into the same continent more than twice. So you either have to amend your itinerary or you may find yourself buying additional flights from other carriers to stay on track.
- Cost: We found that our RTW quote from the airline carriers ranged between 60-80% higher than both the travel operators/agency and a DIY pricing approach.
The verdict: This approach is great if you are going on an open-ended trip and you want the flexibility of changing your flights without penalty, you are trying to gain elite status with a particular alliance, and cost is not a driving factor.
Do It Yourself
After getting the price quote from OneWorld, Michael and I started wondering if we had the budget to really pull this trip off. Since we already knew where we wanted to go and had pretty fixed dates in mind, Michael started putting together our own itinerary (complete with airline, flight number, duration, and price) to see how the prices compared.
He primarily used SkyScanner and Hipmunk to locate deals on the same flights. For example, we found our initial Chicago to London flight being marketed through Finnair for $525 whereas the same flight through British Airways was nearly $900.
- Cost: Whether you utilize an airline carrier or a travel operator, you are paying for the service. Going it alone will definitely save you money. In our case, it was roughly $500 cheaper per person to Do It Yourself.
- Flexibility: If you have an open ended trip and access to Wi-fi, you can plot your next stop pretty easily from the web. Taking advantage of deals (and paying in local currency) can be worthwhile. Be careful, though, about not having a continuing ticket. Many countries won’t let you into the country without either a return or continuing ticket.
- Customer Service: You might save a few hundred dollars here and there, but you also might have to try to get ahold of multiple companies of varying degrees of helpfulness in the case of emergency. Trying to talk to a small travel company with limited hours and staff rom halfway across the world when you need help rebooking a flight is a recipe for disaster.
- Expertise: It’s easy to compare apples to apples, but the travel operators are experienced in helping you get the best experience you can. Our agent with Air Treks showed us that it would be $250 cheaper to fly from Bangkok to Bali on our way to Sydney than to fly direct to Sydney. We used that savings to book a few nights on a beach in Bali after deciding to stay a whole week!
- Time: Finding the best deals on flights is time consuming. It may be a better use of your time to devote that energy to researching the best places to stay or the coolest experiences to book along the way.
The verdict: This approach is great if you have the time, energy, and confidence to plan it your way. If cost is of the utmost importance and you aren’t concerned about having a safety net to fall back on in the case of emergencies then this might be the way to go.
Air Treks is an online travel operator that specializes in round the world tickets. They work with nearly all the global airlines so you aren’t limited to one alliance or another.
Their very easy-to-use Trip Planner gives you a helpful price range for your itinerary prior to speaking with an actual agent and even lets you know if you can potentially add a destination to your trip for free (based on the route you selected).
- Route Flexibility: Because you are creating a custom itinerary, you aren’t constrained by the direction of travel, the number of continents visited, or the number of miles flown. You can go wherever you want.
- Route Efficiency: Since you aren’t limited to flying a carrier on a specific airline alliance you are able to get the most direct flight to your next stop. No backtracking through hubs.
- Ticket Choice: Once you are ready to book, you go over every segment of your trip to select the airline, the departure time, and the fare class. If you prefer to fly OneWorld carriers whenever possible to get as many frequent flier miles as possible, no problem. If you want to book your long haul flights in business class while opting for economy the rest of the way, no issues. If you want to know the cheapest days to fly between one week and the next when making your selections, no worries. They make it super easy to get the best prices for the flights that you want on the carriers you prefer.
- Cost: In our case, Air Treks was more than 60% cheaper than the same route from OneWorld. They are able to take advantage of fares from smaller carriers, partnerships with all the major airlines, and current promotions on offer to give you the best price.
- Customer Service: Every agent at Air Treks has to have completed at least one RTW trip. They know what they are doing. You are provided with an agent that stays with your reservation from conception to completion. You have their email and direct phone number. If something goes wrong (flight delay, cancellation, missed connection, etc.) you only have to contact one company. They manage all your flights regardless of carrier so you don’t have to worry about tracking down 3 different people from various travel websites or airlines.
- Insurance: The only option that we could find that includes travel insurance with every ticket purchased. Things covered include: lost/delayed baggage, trip delay/interruption, emergency medical, evacuation and repatriation among others.
- Ticket Flexibility: While Air Treks will gladly help you arrange changes to your itinerary, you are subject to the carrier-imposed change fees.
- Upgrades: Locked into economy but interested in bumping up to business class for an upcoming long haul flight? You are at the mercy of the airline. Many of the fares are coded as third-party providers so they don’t have to oblige. Some luck and a good smile are your best bets here.
- Frequent Flier Miles: They will put in your frequent flier miles into all of the flights, but some airlines have different rules governing certain tickets. British Airways may award you 100% of the miles on their flights but only 50% on the fares flown with Qatar Airways.
The verdict: This is the approach that Michael and I chose. It is great if you know where you want to go and when, flying a specific carrier or airline alliance is not of primary concern, price is a large factor in your decision, and you want the peace of mind of dealing with one company in the case of emergencies.
If you are dreaming about a trip like this too, then make sure to pin this image!
As I know this is a stressful part of trip planning so please let me know if you have any questions about how to book a round the world flight.