How to Buy a Round-the-World Plane Ticket (That Kicks Ass)

(Photo: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center)

Chris Guillebeau travels the world and writes for a small army of remarkable people at The Art of Non-Conformity blog. He is a master of clever air travel (among other things), and this is a guest post on perfecting one of the rare gems that can truly change your life: Round-the-World (RTW) tickets.

Enter Chris…

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To outsiders, buying a Round-the-World plane ticket is a mysterious process. How does it work? Where can you go? How much does it cost? Unlike buying a simple one-way or round-trip ticket, you don’t just go to Kayak and click the “Everywhere” tab. (You don’t have to look – there is no such thing.)

Over the past three years I’ve spent at least 60 hours, probably more by now, learning the ins and outs of Round-the-World travel. In this post, I’ll explain a) why Round-the-World tickets can be an excellent value even if you’re not trying to visit every country in the world like I am, b) how to plan your trip, c) how much it costs, d) 7 bonus tips on optimization.

The Time Investment

Planning and shopping for a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket is a labor-intensive process. If you don’t enjoy planning a short trip, you’ll find it much more difficult to plan a complicated RTW itinerary. Personally, I enjoy the process, but then again, I also like airports and flying.

Also, before you can actually buy a Round-the-World ticket, you need to be willing to do all these things:

– Spend a couple of hours of initial reading

– Spend at least a couple of hours planning and optimizing

– Place an initial phone call (usually at least 30 minutes) setting up the trip

– Place a secondary phone call a few days later after the ticket has been validated

– Make any adjustments due to lack of availability or invalid routings

– Arrange to pay for the ticket with a local office in the originating country (this step may be optional, depending on how you structure the trip)

Those are the minimum “time costs” for getting a Round-the-World trip set up well. Keep in mind that you can use a RTW ticket for up to a full year, so taking the time to do it well is important. The value I receive from my tickets well exceeds the planning time it requires, but as noted, the practice is not for everyone.

Good Reasons to Use Round-the-World Tickets

If you’re willing and able to invest your time, the benefits you’ll receive from using these kinds of tickets are significant.

– Tremendous Value. RTW tickets are not especially cheap (see below for a cost outline), but a well-optimized ticket can provide value far beyond what it would cost to otherwise buy a series of one-way tickets.

– Freedom and Flexibility. I change my flights all the time, and with RTW tickets, it’s easy. Date and time changes are free, and you can make changes anytime — from far in advance all the way up to the day of departure. For a fee, you can even reroute the entire ticket after you’ve begun the trip.

– One Full Year. You get an entire year to use the ticket, which means that you can have up to 365 days of going from place to place, or you can get even more creative like I do and spread out the ticket into a series of shorter trips by finding a way to come home in the middle.

– Miles and Elite Status. I carry the highest-level elite status in two airlines thanks to my RTW travel. I also earned more than 200,000 Frequent Flyer miles with American Airlines in 2009, thanks to double-mileage bonuses and a lot of time in the air. With the status, I’m now first on the upgrade list, can hang out in nice airline lounges around the world, and don’t have to wait on hold when I call the airline.

– Creative Opportunities to Travel. You can get to a lot of places in the world with simple round-trip tickets, but because RTW tickets are priced by mileage or by segment, you can visit destinations that are otherwise cost-prohibitive when using regular tickets.

What to Do First

If you know this is what you want to do, or even if you’re just curious and want to create a sample itinerary, start by downloading these two free tools:

Star Alliance Mileage Calculator

OneWorld Timetable and Itinerary Planner

Spend some time getting to understand how they work. You’ll also want to check out the OneWorld interactive route map and the Star Alliance Downloadable Timetables to better understand where you can go.

WARNING: This software can be hazardous to your productivity. Many a workday has been lost at World Domination HQ because of the attraction of these tools. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Next, you need to answer a few questions: where do you want to go? What’s the goal of your trip? How much time do you have?

Star Alliance versus OneWorld

Each airline alliance has its own rules for how the ticket works. The one from Star Alliance is mileage based, meaning you’ll have a limit of 26,000, 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles on your ticket. The trick here is to optimize your route to where you are just below one of the tiers, getting the best possible value without spending more money than necessary. (A friend of mine got his itinerary to 33,998 miles, which I thought was pretty good.)

The OneWorld product is segment-based, meaning that a flight from Hong Kong to New York (11 hours) is the same as a flight from Chicago to Dallas (less than 2 hours). You can have up to 16 segments on the trip, and naturally, you’ll want to optimize for flights that would be fairly expensive when purchasing a standard ticket.

I get even more creative with my plans, involving overland trips, return journeys to my home base in Portland, Oregon, and having multiple tickets open at one time. You don’t have to be that imaginative; I’ve been doing this for a while. Even a fairly basic RTW ticket can yield significant benefits and travel opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have.

How Much Does it Cost?

The cost for either product mentioned above varies from $3,000 to $10,000 – largely dependent on travel class, mileage tier (Star Alliance only) and where you begin the trip from. My tickets over the past few years have been almost exactly $5,000 each. I purchased two of them last year, and I’m trying to set up a new one for early 2011.

$3,000+ is a lot of money, of course, but when you consider all the flights you can take, the price per segment goes way down. My price-per-segment is about $300 (now $400), and this includes many long-haul flights that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars.

For example, here is an itinerary I used for my first OneWorld RTW ticket:

NRT-HKG-LAX-SJO-LAX-ORD-SEA-JFK-SCL-IPC-SCL-EZE-ORD-AMM-TUN-AMM-FCO-HKG-NRT

This 18-segment itinerary, purchased before the limit dropped to 16, included:

– A trip to Easter Island, usually quite pricey since there’s only one easy way to get there (through South America on LAN Chile or LAN Peru)

– A visit to North Africa and the Middle East, another pricey region

– A quick trip down to Costa Rica, which provided more miles than most U.S. flights would have offered

– A return to Seattle (in between Asia and South America) where I could stop and break up the trip for a while

– Base mileage of 54,894 miles, which when added to a number of bonuses I received, came up to nearly 100,000 total award miles

– When combined with overland trips on location (to Uruguay from Argentina, to San Marino from Rome, etc.) the chance to visit 10 countries from this one ticket

Geographic Advantage

You can get the best deal on Round-the-World tickets by departing from (and eventually returning to) a few specific countries where the price is much lower than leaving from North America or Europe. Which countries? Well, they change from time to time, but as of the time I’m writing this (October 2010), the best places are South Korea, South Africa, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Yes, it takes some work to get there. If those are too far, Japan is also a decent choice, where I began that first RTW trip. And of course, you don’t have to begin from a faraway place. If you don’t mind paying a fair amount more (usually $2000-4000), you can begin from North America or wherever you live. To get the estimate cost for your trip based on travel class, number of miles (Star Alliance only) and departing country, complete a mock itinerary on either of the two online fare calculators. You can then switch the departing country around to see how it compares with other options.

Reservations

Finally, when you actually get ready to buy your ticket, you’ll need to do two steps that may or may not be easy:

1. Create your itinerary. Until very recently, RTW itineraries usually had to be phoned in to an airline desk to set up manually. Thankfully, you can now set up a RTW itinerary online most of the time. In some cases there may be quirks in the itinerary that are allowed but not recognized by the online system, in which case you’ll need to phone it in. To at least get started online, use these links:

Star Alliance

OneWorld

If phoning it in, plan for the process to take at least half an hour once you get someone on the phone. It is much easier with OneWorld, since they have a dedicated RTW desk operated by American Airlines. With Star Alliance airlines, you may need to talk to several people before you find someone who knows how to create the itinerary in their system.

2. Find a way to pay for the ticket. I don’t mean, “Save the money,” although that of course is important too. I mean, “Find out how to physically pay for the ticket.” This is easy if you are buying online or are already in the country you are departing from. If you live in the U.S. and want to depart from the U.S., for example, then you can pay for the ticket after it is “rated” by the airline desk. In this case, you wait a few days after first phoning in the itinerary, and then call back to pay with your credit card.

If you’re beginning the trip in another country, it’s a bit more complicated. In some cases, you’ll need to phone the airline’s office in the country. I used Skype to do this last year with AA Japan. Some airline reps in overseas locations are more helpful than others, and of course there can be a language barrier as well. A certain amount of persistence may be required, but you can also get lucky and have it done in 20 minutes with the right rep on the right day.

7 Tips to Help Plan Your Trip

1. If using OneWorld, here is a very helpful validator that can help check your itinerary before going to book. It can also suggest alternative cities for more mileage.

2. Due to a quirk in airline rules, some countries in North Africa are defined as being in Europe for the purposes of ticket validation. You can visit Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, or even Sudan as part of the “European” portion of your trip.

3. Similarly, “North America” includes the Caribbean and parts of Central America. You can visit Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and several other stops during the North America portion.

4. If you don’t know how you’ll use certain segments, you can book them as “open” (so that the ticket can be issued) and add the dates later. You won’t have to pay a change fee when you add the dates.

5. London’s Heathrow (LHR) airport has very high taxes. If you can avoid it, or use it for transit only (less than 24 hours), you’ll save quite a bit.

6. Most of the time, you won’t want to use Frequent Flyer miles for a Round-the-World trip. Instead, you can get better value by redeeming miles for two round-trip tickets between continents. You’ll then effectively have two RTWs for the price of one.

7. People often ask which airline program is best for them. It all depends on where you travel and what your goals are, but if forced to make a recommendation I usually send people to the AAdvantage program from American Airlines. Even if you don’t live in the U.S., AA’s program can help you. If you prefer Star Alliance, then most programs are equal.

8. Use at least part of your RTW ticket to visit destinations that are otherwise prohibitively expensive to purchase. Among others, I’ve gone to Kurdistan (Iraq), Pakistan, Burma, and Uganda as part of my RTW tickets. Each of these places is fairly expensive to travel to on a simpler ticket.

What to Watch Out for

I spent a couple hours writing out this information because I frequently get questions about booking RTW tickets, and while I try to respond to each request individually, I also like to send people to an online resource for more reading. When I went to look for more resources on Google, the majority of the first-page results for “Round-the-World plane ticket” and related terms contained inaccurate information from a biased source. How do you know the sources are biased? Because many of them lead visitors to book through an online travel agency where they receive commission.

When it comes to Round-the-World tickets, this is one time when it’s actually better to buy from the airlines instead of a travel agent or other reseller. Since these tickets aren’t usually commissionable (the travel agent doesn’t get paid much to issue them), some agents will play dumb or try to steer you towards an alternative kind of ticket.

If that’s what you want, of course, there’s nothing unethical about it. There are some situations when a DIY trip will be better, but in many other situations the alliance tickets are the best bet. I tend to think most people want the best kind of ticket for the lowest possible price, and once you understand how the process works, the OneWorld and Star Alliance products can be great options.

I hope to see you somewhere on a future Round-the-World stop. I’ll be in the lounge with my MacBook, probably responding to emails or planning a future trip.

###

If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”

I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Follow Chris’ live updates from every country in the world on Twitter. Be sure to also check out his new book, The Art of Non-Conformity, for which he’s currently visiting 50 states and 10 provinces. And I thought I traveled a lot!

Afterword: Some additional comments from Chris in the comments:

@Matt, yes, you have to go in one rough direction (East–>West or vice versa). However, the rule is based on regions, not strict geography – so you can bounce around in any given region before moving on.

@Muir, in addition to RTW tickets I also do a lot of Frequent Flyer (award) tickets. So in my case, often I’ll travel on a RTW ticket for a while, then go home to Seattle/Portland for a few weeks on a different ticket. I then return to the last point in the RTW trip and keep going. I’ve also done this with two separate RTW tickets, but that can get complicated.

@Enzo, being based in the UK (or anywhere else) shouldn’t affect much with RTW planning. The process is similar no matter where you are.

@Boris, you’re right – HKG-JFK should be 15 hours. My fault.

QOD: What is the greatest travel deal (airfare, housing, recreation, or otherwise) that you ever chanced into or made happen?

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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205 Replies to “How to Buy a Round-the-World Plane Ticket (That Kicks Ass)”

  1. I really love travelling and its a helpful factor to know some tips and information on safety and affordable travelling.

  2. Hey Tim

    It’s so great that you published Chris’s post. He continues to inspire me and I’m super honoured to be his friend. In fact I’m publishing an interview with him this week on my site about his latest book – the Art of Non Conformity.

    It’s thanks to Chris’s love of travel that I got to first meet him in Vancouver as he always has many segments to a trip and sometimes volcanoes in Iceland are a good thing – as that’s how I got to meet him with a delayed stop over.

    Btw Tim I’d love to pick your brain about my move to Buenos Aires where I’m enroute to early December to live this time – not just visit.

    Natalie

  3. Chris, I have bee looking at tickets for a while and I will mostly go around Asia, once I’ll get there from Europe over SFO with Fiji being on top of my list. However, it seems like all these segments (with star alliance) are killing the trip and absorb all options quickly. Would you recommend to book addtl. tickets to fly intra Asia?

  4. And if you’re looking for low to moderate cost lodging that doesn’t involve sleeping on some stranger’s couch, check out http://www.airbnb.com/home/about

    They list bookings in 8,000 cities in 160 countries, so you can find some really nifty places to stay with knowledgeable locals as your host.

    I learned about this from dear friends who recently returned from a 2-day stay in an artist’s studio apartment in Back Bay Boston and was thoroughly thrilled. She also knows someone who rents her London flat through this service and she, too, has had a great experience working with them.

    PS: I am not compensated in any way for giving your this info, i.e., I’m not an affiliate…though I should probably check that out!!! ^_^

  5. In my opinion, when doing an RTW it’s important to keep most of your itinerary open… allows maximum flexibility. However, there are some things that are important to pre-book.. eg. Inca Trail (permits sell out months before), safaris, unique / special lodging, like eco camps and boutique hotels. For these types of bookings, I used a company here in San Diego called Global Basecamps … they we’re extremely helpful and have a commitment to sustainable travel.

  6. I saw the QOD ad wasn’t sure if this was the right place to comment but this is the greatest travel deal I have ever seen.

    I have a Jetblue American Express credit card and the offer was for every person I got to sign up for their own Jetblue American Express card I would earn 10,000 Jetblue miles. In less than 30 days, I earned 610,000 Jetblue miles by sharing this offer with my friends and family. I fell short of my one million mile goal, however I am expecting the offer to return and I will get my 1,000,000 miles!

    Thanks, G TROSSET

  7. It really gives me ideas about RTW. Those tips and steps are very helpful especially to those who don’t have any experiences of RTW just like me. I can use these tips and steps soon. Thanks a lot!

  8. WOW! You’ve shed a light on what RTW is! I am so curious about it as I have heard about this from some of my friends. And being a person who loves to travel, it made me more giddy on the RTW thing! If given enough budget and time, I’d love to book an RTW ticket to see all the beautiful shopping and tourist spots all over the world!

  9. What a powerful post Chris. This is going to be perfect for my upcoming mini retirement with my wife (starting in Italy) mid next year.

    To the adventure!

    Scott

  10. Last year I got a round trip flight from NYC to Madrid for $212 via a Travelzoo special offer that quickly sold out. Also the Jetblue AYCJ pass has been a killer deal both years.

  11. wow! a very helpful post!

    i googled something about trips/vacations and gladly after not very long

    i stumbled upon your blog!

    and it helped me a lot(saved me a lot of trouble, lol),

    now i’ve got good perspective of what to prepare just incase

    i’ll have that extra dough to fulfill this life long dream to just wander

    around the world.

    hey i’m not rich but now I know how to take that 1st step to achieve that dream.

    thanx a bunch!

  12. Really great post!!

    I have some questions,

    you said “the best places are South Korea, South Africa, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.” well I am from Indonesia (currently in US studying), is it still cheaper if I start in Indonesia?

    Do you work? I mean how do you travel all year round and leave everything behind? I was wondering because I am an undergrad, and I really wish to take this RTW adventure but can’t figure out when!

    Cheers!

  13. I purchased one of these tickets many years ago. It was amazing how flexible and accommodating the airlines were in regard to changing travel dates, etc. The places I was most excited about weren’t always my favorite. For example, I only stayed in Hong Kong for a few days (I had anticipated staying much longer, but was just not enjoying myself there). I stayed in India for 6 months because I loved it so much. I saved money by flying into Nepal from Thailand, then traveling by bus into India, and had the next leg of my journey planned as Bombay to Cairo. If it is an affordable destination, you can always travel pretty cheaply by bus, boat, or train the other countries in close vicinity. I plan to do the trip again one day when my son is a little older. It was the best experience of my life. It is a remarkably affordable thing to do. I was gone for a year. The $3,000 ticket does not seem expensive when you add up the expense of insurance, gas and maintenance on a car for a year.

  14. wow, this post is wonderful! I’ve just started to look into RTW fares seriously after hearing about it briefly years ago.

    I am a girl from Hong Kong who just quit my job in September, and have been traveling on a shoestring (by buying cheap tickets and staying with friends) I’ve visited Cambodia and South Korea so far.

    I am planning a trip to Europe next spring. Initially I just wanted to buy round-trip tickets to a certain city like paris or London, then start traveling from there.

    But the idea of RTW tickets has tempted me to change my plan! Would you mind if I ask you a question? If my itinerary mainly consists of destinations in Europe plus a few others in SE Asia, Middle East or Northern Africa, is it still worth getting the RTW fares? I am not sure if I should just take budget airlines instead if I am mainly traveling in Europe.

    Or I should put my question this way: how many continents I should at least visit to justify the cost of the ticket? And how many cities in each continent I should visit in order to optimise?

    I hope I make myself misunderstood..Thank you so much!

    Katie

    1. Hi Katie, I think given the destinations you have listed a RTW ticket might not be the best option for you. If you wanted to include North or South American destinations then a RTW may be a better option.

      You might consider using one of the Middle East based carriers such as Emirates or Etihad or Qatar Airways. You should be able to combine a Middle East stopover in both directions and use that as a base to take regional flights into North Africa and other parts of the Middle East. Emirates have an Arabian airpass that includes 12 destinations including Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Tehran, check out their website for details or there are regional low cost carriers operating as well. Also you should be able to ‘open jaw’ in Europe, meaning fly into Paris and out of Rome for example.

      I should think you would be able to get very good S E Asian deals out of Hong Kong on Tiger Airways or Air Asia.

      Hope this is helpful.

      For people wanting to book a RTW fare on Star Alliance (those are what I have experience with) check the Terms and Conditions under Round The World fare first as it gives a pretty thorough overview.

      As a former reservations consultant with an airline, I would suggest they are great value and if you can stretch to business class, do it! You would be likely to save tens of thousands of dollars than if the flights were individually purchased. Lounge access, better baggage allowance and the difference in comfort on a long haul flight makes the experience so much better.

      1. Thanks much for your advice. I think I’ll save the RTW trip for later when I travel to the Middle East, America, South America and Africa. I’ll just concentrate on Europe next spring, no frills, no fuss. And you’re right about Asia, it’s easy to get cheap deals here so I don’t need to include the area for a RTW itinerary.

        Happy travels!

  15. I wish I had this info when I was planning my 2.5 year RTW. I used OneWorld (5 continents) and it was amazing. Definitely cost efficient and got me to places I would never have been able to afford.

    Tim, love your book 4HWW! I’m working towards another round the world

    trip 🙂

  16. Thanks for the great article. Let me add my suggestion. As the low cost airlines spread across the world, it is now possible to make the whole journey using only those. I wrote about it on WhichAirline. With a bit of effort, it is possible to plan such a journey for under $1,000.

  17. Great post, thanks for all the great information. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and though a lot of this info was already on my radar there was a number of details and insights that were super helpful.

    I wanted to see if Chris (or Tim) or anyone else had any experience with the website BootsnAll? They seem to offer great service setting up custom RTW trips. Thoughts?

    http://www.bootsnall.com/

    Thanks!

  18. I love vacations…I love going to different places…I love to explore things out… and with this blog, it was very helpful to know the do’s and don’ts of travelling.

    I have learned about RTW and the points that the writer discussed it was a boom, a great one especially to those who have a hard time to schedule there travels.The advantages was clearly discussed. Lastly, reading this blog I learned a lot and surely I would try this in my future plans. 🙂

  19. This is a great, really inspirational post. Chris is right in saying that you can book Star Alliance and One World tickets here in the UK, but we also have other options that may not be available elsewhere. I have a post here on Qantas and Air New Zealand tickets which I think might be quite relevent to Enzo’s questions. I hope it is ok for me to include a link Tim?

    http://www.headingthere.co.uk/getting+around/flights/round+the+world+tickets/

  20. Thank you so very much for this. I am planning a RTW year long sabbatical when I turn 40 in few months. Never thought I would be doing this, and did not even know how to get started on this with ticketing side.

    Your article was very helpful and good reference point to return to once I start the planning and booking within a month.

  21. Some helpful hints on how the process works for those on an RTW agenda. $3,000-5,000 is a lot, but the cool thing is this can be paid for in advance when you are at home saving for the trip.

  22. Great tips, although I don’t have plans to travel around the world for financial reasons, but those who can, this is definitely what they need to do.

  23. Excellent info, I used this info to get started and explored the One World Star Alliance, skyteam thing but stumbled accross this:

    Around the World Airline Ticket

    The big shots have been mentioned (Star Alliance, One World and Skyteam) so far, however the small operators should also be considered for those who are a little more budget concious and do not wish to travel to south america may want to consider the following operators also:

    The Great Escapade

    World Walkabout

    Four Corners

    This coupled with some low cost flights that you can book on the go, may be a cost effective option for some. I just thought I’d add to this awsome blog my 2 pence / cents worth. Also other round the world specialist such as airtreks I would mention include (in the UK at least):

    Travel Nation

    StaTravel

    Kilroy Travels

    Those of you from Austrailia will know also know about the Flight Centre.

  24. Hey, Tim thx for sharing this article. I’ve used it as a guide for planning RTW itineraries, but I hit snags trying different start point or directions and other alternatives. Of course there were those ones that did work, but seemed to be poor value.

    Since you and Chris are the expert on this topic, do you mind commenting on this RTW plan, please?

    I’m going on a 13-month trip starting this September in Nairobi to Joburg. I considered going east from here but my itinerary doesn’t seem to work one way or another when factoring the weather for some destinations in the itinerary, so I thought I’d head to Central America then on to South America then from there head to Asia (Japan, India). There’s a small issue in that I live in Vancouver, Canada so it seems that it works best if I were to buy a separate ticket to say Europe. The best combination worked out to about $7G, and I thought it could be lower.

    Is this direction of travel feasible or simply a terrible way to organize a trip? I found that there was really no considerable benefit traveling the opposite direction, but I have to admit I’m more inclined to travel westward from Africa, so I might be biased.

    Thanks, I’d appreciate any input at all!

    elaine

  25. I hope you are well.

    I would like to book an RTW starting from New Zealand where I currently live.

    Here is my finalised route. Please can you have a look at final route, schedule and pricing (including taxes). I am looking for the very, very best deal.

    10th Feb Auckland to Santiago

    11th Feb Santiago to Rio de Janeiro

    1st July Rio de Janeiro to London

    29th July London to Singapore/Hong Kong/KL

    8th August Singapore/Hong Kong/KL to Auckland

    Also, please can you recommend a budget. I’ll be staying mainly in backpackers and eating my own food from supermarkets. However, I won’t be wanting to miss out on things.

    Thanks for all your help. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,

    Leo Ingleson

  26. So me and a friend of mine are thinking of planning a round the world trip, we went to your one world trip planner that you recommended. It was a very nice and helpful site, but what i can’t understand is their strange routing. We were trying to go from Berlin to Vienna and they would route us from Berlin to Helsinki (Finland) to Vienna. Is there a way we could avoud Helsinki, because we do not want to waste a stop on that. Thank you

  27. Just read your book Tim – I found there to be some great advice!

    I just got done traveling for 18 months myself. I’m hoping to hit the road again sometime in the not too distance future – just need to find a way to get some income streaming into my account.

    As far as air travel, I went a different route for my trip. I just booked things as I went – didn’t have to lock in destinations without a penalty and I really wanted to stay flexible. Particularly if one is traveling a bit in Asia and Europe, airlines like AirAsia and all the budget European airlines really make paying as you go comparable to a RTW ticket. In fact, I spent quite a bit less compared to booking a RTW ticket from the US.

    Some of the budget airlines can be hard to find on-line – but pretty obvious once you are there on the ground (in S America I made the mistake of booking a flight through LAN not knowing about Sky – who’s prices were about 1/3 of LAN’s).

    RTW programs I believe do allow you to accumulate air miles – most budget airlines only have their own programs (if any at all). Though another advantage of booking as you go is that I found RTW programs don’t service off the beaten path places (try flying into Laos for example). So you not only have the RTW ticket, but must supplement with other tickets to get to where you really want to go.

    Anyways, just something else for folks to consider.

  28. Great post! Every time I read something like this it makes me want to plan a great, big trip. I will never be cured of this so-called ‘travel bug.’

    Back in college I was the type of person who traded in hours I could’ve spent partying it up at the bars or with friends on a Saturday night (Friday night sufficed) and instead I was online routing countless RTW routes online.

    My investment paid off when I was able to route a RTW trip leaving from Denver and allowed me to visit 11 countries for ~ $1,650.

    65 countries later, the thrill of reading a blog like this and imagining the possibilities comes right back to me! Thanks for the inspiration.

  29. My family and I are starting an around the world tour to support my husband’s music career, and we flew to Hawaii and are cruising to Auckland – cheapest way w/ 3 teenage boys and all-you-can buffets. I am wondering where we should buy our RTW tickets…we plan on heading to Australia and Indonesia after NZ and from there make our way to Europe and South America. Our budget is TIGHT. Is Indonesia still one of the best places to buy from?

    Also, I am wondering if you have any suggestions of Web Advertising to use as we will be blogging our adventures and the appeal will range in ages from 13-55, sports, food, teen stuff, parenting, mid-life issues etc.

  30. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I have been looking at purchasing a RTW ticket, and it is daunting! This definitely helped!

  31. There’s actually another subtlety that wasn’t mentioned. In Canada you can purchase a ticket and it’ll be priced base on where the first flight leaves from. So even though you’re in Canada, if you leave from South Africa, you can get the South African price. True, you still have to do a return ticket to South Africa as well (or Japan, or wherever you start from), but it often can result in a savings as well.

    From WikiTravel:

    “The famous Canadian exception means that RTWs sold in Canada cost the same as at the point where the trip begins. For example, that means you can buy a ticket in Canada for an RTW beginning in Thailand and pay the much cheaper Thai price. Of course, you have to get to Thailand in order to start the RTW but the extra ticket you need will probably cost less than the difference in the RTW fares; in other words, you still save money”

  32. Hi Tim, thank you very much for all the information. It is so usefull for my around the world trip I am begining next month!

    I would like to understand something you said. You wrote “Freedom and Flexibility. I change my flights all the time, and with RTW tickets, it’s easy. Date and time changes are free, and you can make changes anytime — from far in advance all the way up to the day of departure”.

    What I researched is that for Star Alliance and One World you have to set your destinations and dates when you buy the ticket. And if you change something after this you have to pay an extra charge. Could you explain if I misunderstood you, or there is something I don t know yet?

    Than you very much!

  33. Hi there – I bought a Pan Am/Quantas around the world ticket in 1987 — cost $1500! I flew from NYC to Limerick,Heathrow to Bankok, Singapore to Darwin, Sydney to Honolulu, Honolulu to LA, LA to NYC. I did a lot of ground transportation on my own for obvious reasons — the ticket was valuable and invaluable because of the amazing experience — plus I earned mileage as I traveled that bought even more air flights. I worked twice during that year – once on a cattle station in Queensland, Australia — and once as a nanny in Edinborough, Scotland. By the time I got to Hawaii, I was completely out of money. (I had $25 Australian dollars but at the airport, they told me there was a $25 departure tax — yikes! At least I had it!) This was tricky. The way I solved it was that once I got to Hawaii, I asked someone to share their cab with me into the city (Honolulu). My goal was to find a YWCA. Howver, the Y they dropped me off at was for men only, but there they told me about a temp agency that hires/pays by the day. Not true, unfortunately! However, as luck would have it (and if there’s anything I learned on the road those years was to have faith and not freak out — if you approach these things KNOWING something will work out, everyone helps you. Start freaking out and they all run away fast. Anyway, as luck would have it, another woman waiting to talk to the temp agency that day turned out to be the night manager of the local YWCA! She lent me a $1 to take the bus to the Y at Punahoe and Wilder in Honolulu. There, the manager listened to my sotry and said she hears them all the time — but for some reason she believed that I would find a job within days and be able to pay the bill soon enough. So, she gave me a shared room that included 2 meals a day, $10 for bus fare in my mailbox and within two days I was working as a temp at a local law firm. What a lesson in life (and luck) this all was. Are you thinking about doing this kind of thing, too? Do it! I was a 35-year old woman with lots of fears and not that much confidence — but apparently I have ben more Irish wanderlust to counteract all that. Voila! My dream came true and now 2012 is the 25th anniversary of my trip. I’m not quite ready to go again financially (I’m facing retirement in a very few years) but sometime between now and the 30th anniversary of my trip — I’m seriously thinking of doing it again. It will cost a lot more, and I will take it more slowly in some ways, but the world is much more than the little trench I dig every day from home to work and the houses of my best friends. Happy travels to you. If I can do it – so can you. Diane

    1. That was very inspiring! I am about to turn 32, recently out of a job, single, and living with my mother (short-term). This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but always find myself giving up and re-joining the rat race. When my last contract ended a few weeks ago, I began thinking about it again. Seems like the perfect time, because let’s be honest…if you constantly worry about when the perfect time will be, it’ll never come. I believe my fear is what keeps me from doing it, so it was refreshing to hear your story, and know that it is possible to do and others do this every day. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you get to go on your next trip again very soon!

  34. I received a free trip to Ireland when I gave up my seat on an overbooked plane to a Mormon missionary! It was almost Thanksgiving, and the staff were begging for volunteers but everyone wanted to get home. I thought, “This will only delay me by 12 hours and I’ll still get home in time for turkey. Why not?” So I hopped off and scored a free hotel room, an upgrade to first class on my flight home the next day, and enough airline credits to book a free round-trip flight to Ireland three months later 🙂

  35. Hi there. I’ve just booked London-HongKong-Shanghai-Auckland-Rarotonga-LosAngeles-London for less than $2000, on an Air New Zealand international multi-stop ticket. The exact same itinerary booked as a Star Alliance round-the-world fare would cost $3500. I’m glad I took the time to shop around a bit, and I’d like other people to know about this great deal too. Best regards, Phil

  36. Hey,

    Thanks for the useful info, i’m just in the process of trying to figure out how to go about planning a trip 🙂

    Please can someone help.. my biggest problem so far is this:

    I want to search RWT options now (June 2012) to start the trip in Dec 2012 and end roughly Dec 2013. The airlines don’t let you search more than a year ahead so, i can search the flights up until June 2013, which is great but then i can’t search any later which means that the proposed itinery is saying ‘invalid’ as it isn’t closed or completed (doesn’t end in starting place).

    How do you get around this? I guess i’m missing something but i can’t see how anyone could complete the itinery and book the trip, unless they are leaving the very next day on the years trip.. which i doubt is rarely ever the case!

    Please help…. This is driving me crazy!

  37. Hi!!

    i just made the decision to do my first long term trip around Asia… super excited but also super stressed and confused in organizing… so after looking around online I found you blog- it was of great help! but… after trying out my intererary, there are certain things that dont match up. for example im looking on star alliance and there is no flight from beijing to shanghai?? or bangkok to koh samui?? what am i doing wrong?

    im planning on doing the following:

    milan, tokyo, osaka (beacause I want to go to kyoto via train), beijing, shanghai, hong kong, bangkok 9to go to cambogia via bus), koh samui (koh panghan), singapore and back to milan…

    i just cant seam to get it right…

    i tried on Indie as well.. how is that??

    can you give me any advice?

    thanks in advance for all your help..!!

    c

    1. Hi Carolina

      Maybe you’re not doing anything wrong – I also began planning my trip using the Star Alliance, and was frustrated that it couldn’t get me everywhere that I wanted. In the end I saved a lot of money by sticking to the flights of just one of the Star Alliance airlines, and dropped Beijing from my itinerary. By the way, if you’re going to Angkor Wat, it’s amazing, but you’ll be passing through this place: http://wikitravel.org/en/Poipet

      So be prepared for some challenges while in Cambodia!

      1. thanks for your reply!

        i’ve been trying to look at more ticket options since I need to apply for a chinese visa as well before going over there…

        i think One world seams to be the best option since i will only be travelling in Asia..

        i have dates pretty much set, and doubt that i will need to change them unless something happens..

        what do you think is my best option?

        when you say you stuck with one airline that means all flights with AA for example?

        regarding Piopet- i was planning on just taking a tour bus and going through directly to the border.. i did not realize that it was suck a hassle…

        ive been spending quite some time looking into all this and the more i look the more it gets confusing and with so many diffrent options!

        i wish there was some agency that i could call and just tell them where i want to go and when and they do it all for me 🙂

        thanks again!

        c

      2. Glad to help! My adventure begins next month, and you can find the details of the flights I booked on this website, just two posts above yours. I found it was cheapest to book the main journey with just a single airline, and then add on additional destinations using local airlines. There are some real bargains out there – for example my flight from Hong Kong to Cebu cost just $25! So in your case, I’d consider flying with Alitalia from Milan to Tokyo and back again, and booking everything in between using local airlines:

        http://wikitravel.org/en/Discount_airlines_in_Asia

        Doing things this way does mean booking everything piecemeal, which takes some effort, but it can save you a lot of money and give you much more flexibility too.

        As for Cambodia, a little bit of hassle is essential to any great adventure, but just be aware that it’s a lot less developed than the other places you’re going to. People are very poor there – I remember being chased around Angkor Wat by a lot of children selling and begging, and because the hotels were purely for foreign tourists, they were more expensive than the ones in Thailand, even though their quality was much lower. But at least they’ve now paved the road from Poipet to Siem Reap – it was 8 hours of pot-holed hell when I did it a few years ago… 😉

  38. Thanks for the advices Tim,

    I would like to use your experience on this, if possible..

    I have planned my RTW with Star Alliance and this is my route:

    Milan – Athens – Istanbul – Dubai – Bombay / Mumbai – Madras / Chennai – Bangkok – Beijing – Auckland – Sydney – Honolulu, HI – Los Angeles, CA – New York, NY – Prague – Milan.

    I have submitted the plan and then i have got an email from airtrecks.com.

    telling me that i have to book the all thing not before 6 months to be able to have a better discount…., this is the price at the moment…US$4277.

    Is airtrecks a partner?

    Can i go for it? ( i am waiting a few weeks as i want to depart in March and it is still early x the bookings..)

    Can you give any other advices on the trip at all?

    What do you think about the destinations?

    Thank you very much

    Alex

  39. I was wondering if there is some way to combine a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway with a round the world ticket. Any suggestions ? I figure that if I did a round-trip on the railway that would work, but I’m not sure I want to do that both ways, although I could go from Vladivostok to Moscow and then Moscow to Beijing, and then find my way back by land to Vladivostok ?? Hmm.. that might not be so easy.

  40. Hi – I am looking to book a One World RTW ticket that starts in Europe but I live in the US. I am not 100% clear on how to book this – do I call then US number to do an initial booking and then have to contact a local airline in Europe to process the payment? If anyone has done this I would love to hear more as the Europe fare is around $2000 cheaper than starting in the US!

  41. hey chris/tim, thanks for all the great info, really big help. my question is, can you say fly into London then travel by train to Rome and then continue your RTW ticket from there?

  42. Do you have any advice about getting the best deal on a business class RTW ticket? Are we better off just using it for the long haul flights ( since the short flights do not usually have bus. class, but you are charged for the higher class anyway)?

  43. Hey thanks for the tips and helpful advice. I really appreciate your writing on how to buy a round the world plane tickets. Getting air tickets at cheapest price is really a tough job. I am sure your article will help other visitors also who are looking for information on same topic. 🙂

  44. Its very good for World Tour.But now I can’t plan .I am retired 63 years old.I WILL TRY IT IN MY NEXT BIRTH. GOD HELP ME.

  45. Hi Tim first of all thank you for this very precise article

    it s exatly what i neede to see clearer.

    I m trying to organise a word tour ticket ( i live in australia, perth but i can start my travel in indonesia if cheaper ) but i cannot find anny wotch goes to mongolia and nepal do you know why ?

    thank you

  46. ps : best trvel deal

    that was in yangshuo ( in china near GUILIN)

    i could get 5 nigths in a 3 beds hotel room with heating and bathroom

    for 50 yuans (7 euros ) per nigth

    the hotel was clean pretty in the center of the town

    and its true it is called “no name guest house ” they have two building in the same strre one much better than the other

    always ask to see differnts room before to book it they can be same price same hotel but so differnt

  47. Chris,

    What is the advantage or disadvantage of purchasing an RTW ticket from a single airline that flies to many destinations?

    Regards,

    Mark

  48. Hey everyone!

    I just found this site. It’s April 2013, and i’ve been traveling for 5 yrs. I would love to do the RTW ticket now. I’m in thailand and i’ll be heading to toronto, israel, europe (anywhere is good, any suggestions of cheap places to travel?), russia, ukraine, and South America… any recommendations of some itineraries with these countries?

    thanks for this site btw,,,

    Doris

    1. maybe it wouldn’t fit in your current itinerary, but Iran is a must-see and considering the recent nose dive of the national currency, everything is ridiculously cheap for you (not for Iranians though!)

  49. Hey Thank you for all the information you have made available ! I’m currently looking at the Star alliance book and fly map and it seems it is both by segments and mileage?

    Is that correct or is it just an issue with the program?

    because I still have over 10,000 miles left to use but still limited to 16 segments…

  50. Hi Tim, inspiring article, since my son is thinking of leaving on a RWT soon.

    I’ve started checking out fares, yet it seems to nme that all deals leave from the UK. Now we live in French Polynesia, and he’d like to start off from NZ, work there a couple of months then on to Australia Bali South Africa, Europe, South America. Tickets from Tahiti ti Europe are veeery expensive. How can I work that out? Thanks for any help or advise you can giveon that one. Bye Kika

  51. What do you think a rough estimate of the ammount of money you should bring with you after spending the money on the ticket? (for expenses, hotels, food whatever)

  52. I am hoping to utilize this information. We have already been researching to see if we have the means to do this trip. Thank you for taking the time to write out all this great advice.

  53. If you need an entry on Sky Team RTW tix let me know; I spent most of February dissecting and pricing out their system.

    1. I’m in Northern California (near Oregon border) just thought I’d add that Northwest connection feel 🙂 Thanks for this super informative blog. Awesome.

  54. I know it’s been a few years since Tim published CG’s post on round the world plane tickets here, and thanks Tim – I’m glad to hear you’ve had a good experience with BootsnAll:

    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/10/08/round-the-world-plane-ticket/#comment-84932

    As the years go by, I still see this post referenced on the site and around the web. Since this post was written – we at BootsnAll have released (Jan 2013) the 1st non-alliance, instant pricing and online booking tool for Around the World Tickets at http://indie.bootsnall.com

    If you go to our friends at Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak etc – you can’t book more than 5 stops. You can book on Alliance sites, but of course are limited to airlines, directions and rules.

    Hope this is helpful and if you are thinking of doing this sort of trip, DO IT! 🙂 Best way to learn, stretch yourself, and figure out how you want to design your lifestyle! 🙂

  55. Hello,

    I came across your article when I was trying to find some insight online as to how to plan my trip. I am hoping you can help me in that…

    Me and my husband live in Germany and wish to visit Brazil and Peru in Dec/Jan. We can only take 3 weeks off and therefore we thought around 13 days in Brazil and 8 in Peru should be good.

    Do you know if there is a clever way to get cheap flights? Any multi-stop option on most websites suggest costs which are at least 2800 dollars… Is this reasonable? can it be cheaper somehow?

    Another question… if you had 3-weeks time, where would you go? knowing that I come from the middle east region (therefore not so keen on going there), and my husband from Germany (so Europe’s out of the question) and we have visited India already…

    Can’t thank you enough in advance, your help will be much appreciated!

    1. According to http://www.kayak.com, a return flight from Frankfurt to Sao Paulo shouldn’t cost you more than $1300, and might cost only $900 through American Airlines. You can then book a separate return flight from Sao Paulo to Lima with LAN Peru, for around $500 to $600. And here’s one other option to check out – TAM connects Frankfurt with both Sao Paulo and Lima, so they might be able to arrange the whole thing for you at a good price. Call them on 0800 000 1165.

  56. I am travelling around the world using the Oneworld Explorer Pass. I have five stops planned in the Mediterranean, and can access all of them overland (train, bus, ferry, etc.). What I want to know is, will it make a difference in my Oneworld ticket price if I travel overland as opposed to flying from place to place in the Mediterranean. i.e. will my ticket be cheaper if I fly into Spain, take buses, trains, etc. to Sardinia, Italy, Croatia, etc. and fly out of Greece, as opposed to flying to all of these places?

  57. Chris,

    Good stuff, I’m sure a lot to learn…

    At 72, getting back to RTW tickets, third of three extended periods in my life. You may find amusing…

    #1. While working Passenger Service for PAN AM at HNL, late ’60’s. For my own travel, and passengers. Just prior to the intro of PANAMAC, PAN AM’s first online airport system, agents at the ‘counter’ we knew how to rewrite a RTW “on mileage” in under 30′ till boarding.

    A tip sometimes used: “Break the fare”. As you know, it is sometimes less expensive to buy two separate tickets rather than one straight through. A few points on the earth where this was possible (like PAGO PAGO, as I recall).. but I’ve forgotten.

    #2. Living in Western Australia late 90’s to early 2000, I found RTW’s the least expensive, most free way to visit the US or Europe. As I recall, I used to buy RTW’s for $1200-1500. Cheap huh.

    I’m glad to know One World and Star Alliance have trip calculation tools I hope they are as simple to use as the OAG and similar print IATA tools I used to use 45 years ago!

    Thanks!

    Bob

    1. Bob, yes those were the days – my first RTW in 2000 took me from London to Australia via Asia and back through Hawaii and Alaska, and it was cheap! I don’t recall its exact price now, but I do remember that Austravel were offering flights then from London to Perth and back for just £299. Wow – you’d be lucky to get £799 these days…

  58. My destination is Myanmar. I am told to buy a separate ticket in BKK.

    So my destination is actually BKK. I need to visit Madrid on the way back.

    So I am thinking of EWR-SEA-Bkk-BKK-MAD-EWR. Is it cheaper

    to go to AM or elsewhere and do a seperate ticket in and out of

    MAD. MAD seems out of the loop. Thanks! george

    1. Yes linking Myanmar and Madrid isn’t the easiest. But I see from this website that Thai Airways has a partnership with Virgin Atlantic and Continental Airlines:

      http://wikitravel.org/en/Round_the_world_flights

      So maybe give Thai Airways a call to see if they could give you a round-the-world ticket at a good price connecting the USA, UK, and Thailand, which would allow you to then bolt on cheap flights from London to Madrid and from Bangkok to Myanmar. Best of luck 🙂

      Phil

  59. Tried both OneWorld and StarAlliance for next year’s trip and both were much pricier than when I put the flights together myself.

    Only downside, I won’t collect as many miles.

    Within Asia, airasia is super cheap, and my fave search engine is checkfelix.

    For YTO-VIE-SIN-DPS-OOL-HNK-YTO, OneWorld/Staralliance estimated between 3000-5000$, when looking each part up myself, the total was 2500$.

    Happy travels everyone!

    1. Nice itinerary, with a nice price too! The official RTW tickets seem to be generally overpriced these days, so it’s better to DIY. I assume you’re stopping in HNL on the way home, rather than HNK? When you’re in Vienna, maybe take the opportunity to drive the 35 miles to Bratislava – another very different European capital city. Enjoy 🙂

  60. Just a quick question – do you have to fly into and depart from the same city in a country that you land?

    Thanks so much for this post – really informative.

  61. I thought you can just purchase it online, after putting the itinerary and choosing flights. The price is given then and option to pay. So, it’s more complicated than that?:)

  62. Hey Tim, great post! Can you clarify what you mean in the 6th tip? Whats your recommendation if two people do a RTW together?

    “6. Most of the time, you won’t want to use Frequent Flyer miles for a Round-the-World trip. Instead, you can get better value by redeeming miles for two round-trip tickets between continents. You’ll then effectively have two RTWs for the price of one.”

  63. I’ve been looking into an RTW and know that the flights are based on roughly one direction, but you mention several times that you manage to come home for short breaks. How exactly do you pull this off? Very intrigued as that’s my only set back. Thanks for the insight!

    1. I’d assume he means by booking a completely separate ticket. You are free to add your own bolt-on excursions to any point along your RTW itinerary, whether using budget airlines to explore nearby destinations, or standard airlines for longer distances. When you’re done, you then return to your last RTW itinerary point, and proceed with the journey. So if you’re in the middle of travelling the world for a year when something comes up which requires you to come home for a few days, there’s no reason to cut your RTW experience short – do what you have to do by flying home on a separate ticket, and then on with the show!

  64. How are you managin to come home in between trip with the one direction limitations.

    Great insight and thanks!

    1. @Matt, yes, you have to go in one rough direction (East–>West or vice versa). However, the rule is based on regions, not strict geography – so you can bounce around in any given region before moving on.

  65. Great blog and an interesting post. I had fun reading this article. Everything is explained in detailed. The section I found most interesting was “The Time Investment”. The part that explains the expense related to travel was also very useful. I think you tips can be really beneficial so thank you for sharing.

  66. took delta/swiss-air/singapore airlines round the world trip for $2,500 in 1995. 37 cities in 16 countries over 3 and1/2 months. best thing i ever did

    1. I used Tim or http://www.ticketsroundtheworld.com to book a round the world ticket for a 31/2 months trip to 9 countries in North Africa, Asia and Europe, and his quote was by far much cheaper than any other company I requested quotes from. Tim was great at changing around my itinerary more than half a dozen times as I had to make changes to my flight prior to leaving and while on my trip. While there were a few bumps in the road during the trip, Tim was able to fix them in time for departures without a charge. I definitely appreciated this. I will recommend Tim and his company to my friends and family and to anyone looking for affordable round the world tickets. His prices can’t be beat. The only one thing I would say that should be improved is the response time when you send an email or call Tim. Sometimes when you’re planning a trip of this magnitude, time is of the essence and a seamless and fast response time will make the service much better. Even so, I will still choose Tim and RTW for any future travel needs that I may have. Do not hesitate to contact Tim if you’re planning an RTW trip. Chances are his quote will be 30-50% cheaper than other companies like star alliance.

  67. Awesome Post!

    I also like it very much.I think that your article will be helpful for us.Your article has been many information that you share with us.

    Thanks.

  68. Hey Tim,

    I’m planning a RTW trip to surf and play capoeira in different countries.

    Where would you recommend? (Other than Brazil which has both!)