Round the world travel is within the reach of more people. So if you’re ready to take the time off, how can you keep the find the cheapest RTW ticket?
If you’ve ever dreamed of travelling around the world it’s likely you’ve felt equal parts inspired by the adventure and daunted by the cost. It’s true, the world’s a big place, and round-the-world tickets are not cheap. So, can it be done on a budget? Well, if you’re willing to be flexible, think outside the box and do a bit of research; yes.
An official ‘round-the-world’ (RTW) ticket is issued in accordance with a very specific set of rules. Generally speaking the itinerary has to be on airlines that are partnered with each other under a certain alliance (i.e. Star Alliance or OneWorld), the itinerary must keep moving in a forward direction and never backtrack (it is literally going ‘around’ the world), a specific fare-type must be available and the price is either calculated based on the number of continents visited or number of miles travelled.
These tickets typically start at GB£1200 and there is no way to get these specific ticket types down in price. So, if you want to get prices down for your very own round-the-world adventure, you’ll have to steer away from the actual round-the-world tickets and get creative.
Starting from the UK, you can find RTW tickets off the shelf with popular high street travel agents from around GB£800 (approx US$1000). These will tend to be simple routes with few stops, for example:
London – Hong Kong – Sydney – Los Angeles – London
As a starting point, this isn’t a bad itinerary and theres nothing to stop you jumping on a few budget airlines in Asia or North America to maximise your RTW experience.
Book a Multi-city Ticket with One Airline
If your anticipated itinerary is straightforward, as in you want to go to mostly major hubs and popular cities, one of the big airlines might cover the whole ticket for you. This is layover travel, and is a good way to maximise the use of one return ticket. Take the following example:
On the Emirates website you can book a straight return ticket from London to Sydney, from 8th Sep – 20th Oct, for 926 GBP. But between London and Sydney, Emirates fly to a whole range of places. Using their route map you can view the full network of cities they fly to, and from that you can choose some other cities to drop into your itinerary. You need to keep it fairly simple, i.e. choose destinations close to or along the way between London and Sydney, but that still gives you a wide range of options.
Using the ‘Advanced Search’ option on the Emirates website you can tailor-make your itinerary to include up to ten destinations from their route map. Instead of just London to Sydney on the dates mentioned above, you can do something like the following itinerary for 1142 GBP:
8th Sep – London to Dubai
12th Sep – Dubai to Hong Kong
20th Sep – Singapore to Melbourne
8th Oct – Sydney to Bangkok
20th Oct – Bangkok to London (with a brief transit in Dubai)
Between Hong Kong and Singapore, and Melbourne and Sydney, you can buy separate tickets for pocket money with a low cost carrier, or travel other modes of transport. But ultimately, instead of doubling the price for a round-the-world ticket, for just another couple of hundred pounds you’ve gone from one destination to six.
Visit a Travel Agent
If one airline can’t cover everything you want it is worth visiting a travel agent. Beyond round-the-world tickets, travel agents have access to a large range of ticket types that are not accessible online. Among these there are ‘constructive fares’, ‘air-passes’, ‘add-ons’ and ‘sector fares’. Similar to round-the-world tickets these fares adhere to strict sets of rules and are usually sold in conjunction with multiple airlines, this is why they are not readily available online.
The short of it is, airlines recognise that people want to fly to multiple destinations that are not necessarily on their own network. It’s more cost-effective for airlines to partner with other airlines on certain routes rather than fly that route themselves. They stipulate a certain set of rules for these tickets and publish them with travel agencies, who can then manually build complex itineraries for prices much lower than round-the-world tickets. Examples of this include:
- Flying to Australia on Cathay Pacific from the UK, Cathay allows you to add on multiple destinations within Australia on the Qantas network, all on the one ticket for a much lower price than if you book them separately.
- Latam partners with a number of LAN and TAM airlines local to South America to issue the South America Regional pass. This allows you to visit multiple countries within South America, and can be added to international tickets on the same airlines, flying from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and USA.
- Lufthansa and Swiss airlines each have a vast network of partnerships with airlines around the world, which transcends the common alliances (Star Alliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam). This makes them quite flexible and able to include many worldwide destinations, again for half the price of a round-the-world ticket. These fares are known as ‘constructive fares’ and a good travel agent will be able to manually piece together a complex itinerary using their networks.
Hot Tip: When you are after these kinds of quotes it’s worth shopping around. Because these tickets aren’t available online travel agents are able to bump up the commission on the tickets without you knowing. Don’t get me wrong, these tickets can be hard work and your travel agent will have put hours into it, so commission is definitely in order. But what you want is to eliminate those agents who blatantly take advantage of your ignorance, and avoid paying hundreds more than you should.
Book One-way Tickets
Generally speaking it is cheaper to book return tickets internationally than one-ways. A one-way ticket is typically two-thirds the price of a return ticket. The airlines do this to incentivise you to book returns with them, so they have a more even distribution of travellers going back and forth on their networks, rather than being full on flights one-way and empty on flights back. That said, when your itinerary is more complex one airline might not cover what you’re after, nor might all the air-passes, regional tickets and add-ons in the world. This is when it’s time for one-way tickets.
On my most recent trip I had to fly Sydney to Zimbabwe, Namibia to Paris then London back to Sydney, and no official, fancy, complex ticket-type could cover it. So I resorted to one ways and ultimately it cost about 1400 GBP. Granted, this is not as cheap as a ticket all with one airline, or on an official air-pass, but these destinations are either not on a typical tourist route or not commonly paired with the other destinations on the itinerary.
Think about it like market supply and demand; the more people there are travelling to destinations, the more airlines, the more fierce the competition that drives prices down. If you want to go off-the-beaten track you might have to pay a little extra than more popular routes, but in most cases booking one-ways still offers a way to do it on a tighter budget.
Hot tip: If you are booking one-way tickets make sure you either have the right to stay in your destination indefinitely (under a visa or the passport you hold), or you have booked ongoing transportation that proves you’ll be leaving your destination before you arrive in it. Airlines and immigration reserve the right to ask for either and can deny your boarding or entry if you fail to show it.
Other tips to keep the costs down when travelling Round the World
Here at GoneTravelling we’ve been around the world a few times, so we’ve got plenty of tips to help you keep the costs down.
And also, check out Amanda’s insider advice for booking your travel.
If you ready to search for flights, check out our hand search widget below. And, if you have your own budget round the world travel tips, drop them in the comments!