Why are round the world tickets so complicated??
August 24, 2011 8:04 PM   Subscribe

How do you plan a round the world ticket for one year of travel? And what the heck counts as a "segment"?

I've done some initial research into One World and Star Alliance RTW tickets and it might be just me, but do they make this stuff super complicated on purpose?

Would appreciate any insight/comments/shared experiences on your RTW experience and/or the following:

1. What exactly counts as a segment? The definition include "land" segments which does not make any sense to me. How can they dock you for land travel or for flights you buy outside the RTW ticket?
2. What has been your experience on the whole "one direction" requirement? How strict is this no-backtracking rule? What about moving north and south?
3. Some people say it may be cheaper to start your ticket in a different country. I'm starting out from Vancouver, B.C. There also seems to be some special loophole that if you buy your ticket from Canada, you get the cheapest price? This sounds strange. Any comments would be appreciated.
4. What tips/advice would you have on booking the ticket portion of a long trip like this? Could it really be cheaper to book all individual tickets? I'm looking to hit about 18 countries in all continents except Australia and Antarctica.
5. Can I depart from Vancouver, but fly back to a different city in Canada?

If you have links to any other sites with info, that would be wicked too. Thanks everyone.
posted by grak88 to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken to a travel agent? They'd be very familiar with all these questions, and sometimes have access to special prices that you can't get on your own. Doing it yourself can end up cheaper, but it can't hurt to talk to someone who does this professionally.

Also, check out the thorntree forums, which can be helpful for anything travel related. This is their 'round the world' forum.
posted by twirlypen at 8:26 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out Practical Nomad.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:29 PM on August 24, 2011

In my experience with multi-stop tickets, travel agents are the way to go. Prices on my A-B-C-A ticket were better by several hundred dollars through a travel agent (I shopped around and chose a student-oriented agent). Maybe my search skills are not as good as yours, but I still recommend at least checking with a travel agent.
posted by equivocator at 9:11 PM on August 24, 2011

You might like this Wikitravel article. It goes into the details of the process.
posted by reductiondesign at 9:25 PM on August 24, 2011

It helps to find the full rules for whatever ticket you're considering as found in the airlines' computer systems. These are often posted to travel forums, such as the FlyerTalk Global Airline Alliances forums, where there are FAQs posted on the various subjects, and helpful and knowledgeable fellow travelers.

What exactly counts as a segment? The definition include "land" segments which does not make any sense to me.

Probably any travel involving a single flight number. So a connection JFK-DFW-LAX with two different flight numbers counts as two segments, but a one-stop "direct" flight JFK-LAX with one flight number that happens to stop in DFW counts as one. Or ARNK segments.

How can they dock you for land travel or for flights you buy outside the RTW ticket?

Because it's in the rules for buying these tickets.
posted by grouse at 9:41 PM on August 24, 2011

Bootsnall.com is a great resource for this, including links to RTW travel planners and reservation systems.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:11 PM on August 24, 2011

In 1997 when I was looking, RTW tickets included only 6-7 stops and the directional aspect was based on changing longitude not latitude, ie the north/south part didn't matter. However, you have been sent much more concrete and comprehensive links above.
posted by bquarters at 11:55 PM on August 24, 2011

Oh hai I work as a contractor at an airline named Air [Country]. Part of my job is creating test tickets to make sure the various interacting airline systems process things like RTW trips correctly.

A segment is, when you boil it down to the bare essentials, one flight number (like grouse's example). To give a different example from the JFK-LAX single flight number that stops in DFW and would be one segment (one flight number), if you want to travel, say, from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Portland, Oregon (PDX) on the same airline with just a change of flights in Amsterdam (AMS), that is nonetheless a change of flights, and so it will be two segments.
CDG-AMS on DL8400
AMS-PDX on DL179
(just looked those up on our system as an example)

For the rest, yes, I highly recommend speaking with a travel agent. They really do save you money, even as compared to online discount sites. They know their stuff and enjoy helping people (only ever had an iffy experience once, and it was many years ago - in short, they should be happy to help, if they're not, find someone else).
posted by fraula at 1:27 AM on August 25, 2011

Long answer pertaining to 4.

My experience dates from 2006-07. I found that it made sense, financially and logistically, to buy a minimal RTW ticket in order to get myself to the countries I wanted to visit - it cost me less than two one-way intercontinental flights - and then use local cheap carriers to explore those countries more widely. In Japan I had a JR rail pass, in Australia I flew around mostly with Virgin Blue, in NZ I took the bus, and so on. In most cases I made sure my local wanderings brought me back to my point of arrival, so that I departed from the same airport, which made complying with the RTW terms easier.

A side benefit of this tactic was that it left me with a lot of flexibility in my plans; I was booking my travel and hotels no more than about a week in advance, deciding my route as I went along. Exceptions were Japan, where the Rail Pass has to be bought outside the country, and the US, where I erred on the side of caution and booked everything before I arrived (probably just as well, because the immigration officer really did *not* like my RTW ticket).

I planned it out myself, using the Star Alliance planning tool (which I can't find right now because I'm browsing on a device that doesn't support Flash), but my trip was much simpler than yours sounds; with 18 countries on your list, I agree with everyone else that you should talk to a travel agent.

The Star Alliance terms and conditions do read rather like a logic problem, don't they?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:14 AM on August 25, 2011

I used, and rather liked, AirTreks. If the universe blesses me with additional travel opportunities, I would use them again. Despite their trip planner being in Flash (and, as of this exact second, seemingly down due to technical problems so they punt you to a simplified web form. Check back later to see if it's running).

One thing I particularly liked was the way they made it easy to break trips with overland segments (eg: arrive in Singapore, then two months later catch a flight to Bangladesh out of Hanoi). They also had useful suggestions for things like the fastest way to complete your listed itinerary, the cheapest way to complete your itinerary, and an alternate itinerary that cost a bit more but resulted in you seeing a bunch more places you were gonna fly over anyway.

Note, however, that you end up with a stack of tickets from a zillion different airlines as they stitch your itinerary together from whoever is cheapest from point A to point B. This means you can fly to all manner of destinations, but if you're not OK with being on less-famous airlines (eg: Biman Bangladesh) then you probably want to steer clear.

For me, though, it was FAR easier than screwing around with an alliance RTW ticket. Far far easier. Note also that a stack of one-way tickets may mean some time spent confirming & reconfirming flights as you go (if you travel for a long time, it's easily possible that schedules change). I tended to confirm outbound flights when I arrived somewhere, since I was already at the airport. Perhaps as a result, I only got burned by one schedule change when Emirates fiddled with their Australian schedules and stranded me in Melbourne for an extra day, which wasn't really a problem.
posted by aramaic at 6:50 AM on August 25, 2011

I can't say for sure with Star Alliance, but oneworld only considers a flight backtracking if you're flying between continents backwards. It's within the fare rules for me to, for example, fly DFW-LHR-FRA-CDG and on eastward. DFW-LHR-JFK-CDG, on the other hand, would be verboten, even if you had bought enough travel miles in your RTW ticket.

(DFW-JFK-GRU-CDG would be OK, though, if all the necessary flights existed, you just can't cross oceans backwards)

Note that I am assuming an eastbound RTW.

When I was looking into it, I was doing award travel. It was around 30,000 miles "cheaper" compared to just doing a regular award to get from the US to the Maldives, and the RTW comes with more free stopovers. Never did go, sadly. :(
posted by wierdo at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2011

Seconding AirTreks, although it's been over three years since I used 'em.
posted by Rash at 9:01 PM on August 25, 2011

There are a lot of very specific questions here that will require research on each carrier/ticket for the current rules. I looked into all options and ended up booking a one-way ticket to Asia and traveling overland/booking one-ways along the way. This worked out for my two RTW trips but if you're planning on just hitting the usual airline hubs then a RTW ticket might work out better for you. I liked the flexibility to visit remote areas and change my path at any time. LSend me a message if you have any questions about going that route.

Air Treks is a good option but, in the end, for my trip it was cheaper for my itinerary to book as I went. They are very knowledgeable though!
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:20 PM on August 29, 2011

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