When York and I first decided to go on our epic round the world trip in 2016, our travel had to be carefully planned as we had to be in certain countries on certain dates. This determined our route and duration of stay in each continent. Below is a guideline of how we ended up booking our Round the World (RTW) flights.
Step 1: Select Destinations
A method to start picking destinations is to ask yourself “Where have you always wanted to go?” “Where have you looked into, came across in your studies and wanted to see it in real life?” List those places out! locate it on a map and start connecting the dots.
For me, my dream is to visit South America and visit Machu Picchu in Peru, Easter Island in Chile and Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Since flights to South America are expensive, it makes sense to visit them all at one go. Additionally, I will have to arrive in UK in August 2016 as my best friend is getting married there. I will have to finish South America and make my way to Europe before then. Lastly, I had celebrated Chinese New Years in Taiwan with my grandparents every year of my life, so I plan to make it back to Taiwan before February 2017. Having these “destinations” and time frame listed out, I have quite a good idea on how to plan my big trip.
Step 2: Decide on which way to book Round The World (RTW) Flights
Once you have decided on your route, you can now look into which Round The World Flights suits you the best. Your option depends on your time-frame, budget and flexibility.
Option 1: The Airline Alliances
Airline Alliances RTW tickets is usually what comes to people’s minds when choosing their round the world tickets.
Reasons to purchase RTW tickets:
- Earning Elite Status and Miles at partner airlines to gain access to airline lounges & perks during your travels.
- Able to visit destinations that are usually expensive on a regular ticket as RTW tickets are priced by mileage or segments (eg. Maldives, Easter Island etc.)
- Get one full year to use the ticket. This may seem like sufficient time for some, however for long-term travellers, this actually reduces their flexibility.
- Some people can get quite creative with route planning, such as an American starting their RTW ticket in Japan instead of America, that way they can visit home half way during the trip (since you can only travel in one direction around the world).
Reasons NOT to purchase RTW tickets:
- They are expensive upfront. They range around AUD$3300+ to AUD$7000+ depending on your route (how many continents) & number of stops & the mileage you travel.
- Less flexibility due to requirement of pre-booking destinations and have to finish the ticket in one year. When I read up on-line resources, it says that the airline does not charge you for date & time change fee, however they do charge you administration fees even you have departed your flight (When called Qantas they quoted me AUD$80 per change). This can be a hassle when airline tickets doesn’t come up until 11 months in advance and you trying to book a one year trip. That means changes along the way in mandatory.
- Can only fly to places where alliance services directly. This may not be a hassle of many people, however if I have to go back to Taiwan for Chinese New Years, that means the only connection for One World RTW is to fly from Hong Kong. That means I will waste one segment flying a cheap route.
Star Alliance Round The World Flights
- There are 22 airlines who are part of Star Alliance
- Require to travel in one continuous direction and can make 3 to 15 stops depending on the total mileage (26,000 – 39,000 miles). This will then determine the price of the ticket.
- Have to cross Atlantic Ocean & Pacific ocean during your Round the World Trip
- Read more at Star Alliance for the terms & conditions & FAQs for fares
- Interactive Star Alliance trip planner for planning, however I liked OneWorld one better.
In my opinion, this ticket is best suited for travellers crossing continents and will be travelling inland via budget airline or ground transport in each continent.
I didn’t consider Star Alliance as most of South American airlines are serviced by LAN, who is part of OneWorld. In order for me to get to Galapagos Island & Easter Island, I have to fly with LAN regardless. Hence I didn’t look into Star Alliance RTW Flights much further.
Sky Team Round The World Flights
There are 20 airlines who are part of Sky Team, including China Airlines who directly flies between Taipei to Brisbane & Sydney. Similar rules to Star Alliances, the fares are calculated via mileages and number of stops. Only one continuous direction can be made.
However Sky Team RTW flights wasn’t even one of my options since Aerolineas Argentinas doesn’t fly from Australia to Buenos Aires any more.
More info can be found on Sky Team Round The World Flight page.
OneWorld Round The World Flights
OneWorld RTW tickets are one of the most popular option for travellers due to the large number of destinations they serve despite of only having 11 airline alliances. The two types of fares are “Global Explorer“- which is calculated by mileage or “OneWorld Explorer“- which is calculated by segment and continents. “Global Explorer” is pretty much the same as Sky Team RTW & Star Alliance RTW flights, just with different airlines and destinations.
- What I studied extensively was the “OneWorld Explorer“. I have spent countless hours planning my trip based on their Round The World Itinerary planner, which was very addictive, but rewarding. The ticket allows you to fly up to 16 segments and the base fare depends on the number of continents you travelling to. However you can only take maximum of 4 flights in each continent. This is a waste in continents that has many budget airlines (Asia & Europe).
OneWorld Explorer was my number 1 choice as they have extensive networks within South America. LAN Airlines being part of OneWorld is the only airline that services Easter Island which can then connect to Tahiti.
- Since OneWorld is segment-based, that means a flight directly from Sydney to Santiago is the same as a flight from Adelaide to Sydney. That’s why it is important you optimize the segment for an expensive long haul flights, rather than a cheap segment where you can purchase through budget airlines. I love using “Where We Fly” interactive page on OneWorld website to figure out the best direct route to get to places. Can definitely surprise you!
- It is also worth noting that some countries in North Africa are counted as Europe, this includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia. Even Sudan can be counted as part of Europe in your trip! Parts of Central America & Caribbean are counted as “North America”, hence you can go Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti and more at the same time during the trip. Therefore despite the fact that I would like to visit Central America together with South America, I found it too expensive to add another continent to my RTW trip if I don’t have time to go visit the rest of North America.
- Previously some travel articles reported that 16 segments = 16 flights, overland segments doesn’t count towards the total segments. I found that it was not true when I was using Round The World Itinerary planner. My overland journey from Sydney to Santiago and Sao Paulo to Milan did count as 3 segments.
- Another point on OneWorld is that in order to fly to Tahiti, you cannot purchase with OneWorld Explorer, has to be with Global Explorer calculated with mileage. Otherwise many people would want to fly from Santiago to Easter Island to Tahiti then continue to Oceania.
Good thing about OneWorld is that you can book directly with the planner and get an estimation of the cost including airport taxes if you put in the dates. In my next article “RTW Flights: A Breakdown of Price Analysis & Itinerary” will give you an example of my OneWorld Itinerary.
Option 2: Using Travel Agents/ Round The World Experts
As you can see that planning Round The World Flights by using airline alliances requires tremendous amount of time and effort. It can be confusing trying to figure out the rules when your flight involves several airlines, especially when it comes to itinerary changes. This is when having one source of contact is good. There are also a lot of Round The World “specialists” who can help you to book your trip of a life time by playing around with different airline combinations (without using one alliance) to get you the cheapest deal.
- BootsNAll: An on-line agent that provides valuable resources on how to plan RTW trips and advices. If you don’t end up using them, it is still worthwhile spending few hours on their site and read through their tips on each places you are planning to go. It uses a multi-stop flight booking engine called “Indie” that allows you to book and search prices over 6 legs online.
- Airtreks: A company specializes in RTW flights based in America. It has an on-line TripPlanner where you can instantly get the quote for your route. As they are not using Airline Alliances, they allow you to backtrack and no rules apply. This is especially beneficial for long term and experienced travellers who needs to go to less popular destinations.
- STA Travel: A travel company that are mostly for younger people. There are many pre-planned RTW flights starting as little as AUD$1699. Since the route has already been planned out for you, you get much less flexibility especially for frequent travellers like us. However I do think it is a good place to start for people who has yet to see what the world has to offer. Most of the stops offered by STA Travels are popular destinations that people want to tick off their list. Also STA Travels have companies in Australia, so you can pay directly in AUD (applies to NZ too).
- Round About Travels: This is the only other “Round the World Specialist” I found in Australia which I ended up booking with. Unlike Airtreks, they only specializes in Round the World, meaning you can only travel in a continuous direction between continents and your travel has to cross both Atlantic & Pacific Oceans. Apparently all you need to do is to work out where you want to go together with proposed dates & durations and they can work out the best RTW fare. Not only they have original Airline Alliance RTW tickets (OneWorld, Star Alliance), they also have individual airline RTW tickets that I couldn’t find else where. I will explain in more detail about my review of using this company in the next article.
- Round the World Flights: Based in UK, same as the others before, however everything was quoted in pounds.
By booking it this way, you actually can’t accumulate miles/ status with one particular alliance as many may not be partners.
Option 3: Book it yourself
After our bad experience with Student Flights for our bookings to Europe last year (they were charging us a change fee of AUD$150 + any price difference for our Emirate flights, when we called Emirates and they said they can change our flights for free as long as there are spaces available and we have already started our trip. We ended up spending over AUD$500 per person cancelling the flights with them just to not to deal with them), York and I sworn never book through these agencies again!
For a travel hacker and control freak like me, booking it myself actually gives me a piece of mind. Not only it provides you the flexibility, you can also control how much to pay and where to go depending on what’s available. That is the fun part for a lot of travellers. If we weren’t going to Easter Island & Galapagos Island and have a wedding to attend in Europe, I would probably buy a one way flight from Australia to Singapore or Malaysia where there are numerous budget airlines serving the area. Then one way flight to Europe, then into America via Icelandair (known for ridiculously cheap flight connecting Europe & North America with a free stop-over in Iceland!). Once you are in America, especially Miami, it is quite cheap to fly into Central America and make your way into South America and fly back!
In my next article I will show you some figures why doing it this way will be cheaper than booking Round The World Flights with Airline Alliances for long-term travellers (excluding the internal flights within South America- as there are no budget carriers unlike Europe or Asia). Doing it this way gives you total control of when and where to go. Obviously it takes a lot of time and is only good for people who actually enjoys it. Otherwise probably go to a travel agent specialist might be easier for you.
There are no right or wrong ways of booking your Round The World Flights. I think it really depends on the amount of time you going to be on the road and also how much time you willing to invest in planning. If my trip was longer than a year, I will probably book the segments myself. For most people who only has 3-4 months to travel, probably will adhere to a fix schedule, then booking with airline alliances would make sense since it saves you time and money if can use up all the segments and travelling to destinations that are worth it. I will explain more details on the difference in price verses different methods in my next article (RTW Flights: A Breakdown of Price Analysis & Itinerary)
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中文版 Chinese Version: 教學: 如何購買 “環球機票”? 到底該不該買呢?