All Around the World
July 12, 2004 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Any of you guys have experience with RTW (round the world) air travel tickets? Any particular ones to recommend? I have been looking into STA off and on, and several other options have been uncovered. But it seems all the data I can find is depressingly out of date. I tried futzing around on this webboard, but, not knowing much at all about airports, pro-level flying, and the like, I was incredibly intimidated to the point of "not knowing where to start."

One of the few things I have discovered, though, is that it might pay for me to leave from the UK (I am American), since RTW tickets from the UK run on the average a bit cheaper than from the US. Any info you guys can give me, particularly experiential info, would be greatly appreciated.

For info, in case anyone cares or if it makes a difference, I am embarking on a year-long trip including NZ, Australia, China, (perhaps) Mongolia, Nepal, Tibet, and India. Trips to N. Africa (Egypt, Morocco) are a bonus, if I can fit it into my budget.
posted by oog to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is the type of thing, where even in this Expedia age, you really need to get a travel agent involved.

JustFares always quotes cheap prices, but I have never done any business with them and so cannot reccommend them.
posted by falconred at 8:09 PM on July 12, 2004

I've never used them personally, but many friends and travellers that I've encountered have had splendid experiences with Air Treks. They are the outfit that Lonely Planet uses. That reminds me that the Thorn Tree -- a traveller's mecca for online bulletin boards grouped by activity or area of the world -- houses lots of helpful regulars and moderators that might be able to point you in another direction. There is already a forum on RTW travel there - it's a great resource to search through for other questions on any kind of budget travelling.
posted by fionab at 8:14 PM on July 12, 2004

I used AirTreks myself; worked well. Their estimate was accurate, their quote was exact, and the tickets were all reasonable.

...mind, travelling with a giant stack of paper tickets that must be protected at all costs was a bit of a pain (e-tickets rule!) but overall my experience was highly positive. This was, FYI, about two years ago. YMMV, but I think the flexibility of AirTreks ticketing is far superior to traditional RTW tickets.

Also, I loved playing with their online routing program.
posted by aramaic at 8:23 PM on July 12, 2004

In most cases, you spend less money overall if you buy tickets one at a time, oog, from one place to the next. This doesn't include 2-week vacations or Western Europe. Safe, reliable air travel in Thialand, for example, is for some reason extremely cheap. If you were to buy the tickets from the US, you'd pay a lot more.

Also, getting the tickets as you go gives you more freedom, which changes the experience you have of places.
posted by squirrel at 10:50 PM on July 12, 2004

Particularly if you are a budget traveller and look it, many countries will not allow you in if you do not have an onward ticket to show them (and/or a great wad of cash). Take squirrel's advice with a grain of salt, or be very careful to do your research on this matter, or you may end up with nasty surprises en route.

That said, I spent more than a decade doing it seat-of-the-pants, and never had a problem that wasn't solveable with onward tickets, although there were a few tight situations.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:24 PM on July 12, 2004

with onward tickets

Sorry, I meant to say 'with or without onward tickets'
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:05 AM on July 13, 2004

I've not long completed a London-Singapore-Colombo (Sri Lanka)-Singapore-Bangkok-Singapore-Bali-Singapore-Perth (Oz)-[*]-Sydney-Auckland (NZ)-Cook Islands-LA-[*]-NYC-London. Cost GBP 1250 and I was allowed to change all dates except for the first departure (subject to availability) which was very handy. Sound expensive? A return to Sydney alone costs nearly GBP 800 in January.

[*] These journeys (with Virgin Blue in Oz & Jet Blue in the US) were seperate from the RTW ticket as mine didn't include internal flights and the local cut-price airlines were better value.

So why did I end up in Singapore so many times?
RTW tickets take advantage of the various alliances formed by international airlines. In my case I was with the Star Alliance (Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand etc. If an alliance partner is affiliated with an airline outside the alliance then you can use the affiliate too as in the case of Virgin) and used Singapore Airlines for the Asia legs of my trip. Surprisingly, SA's main hub is Singapore and if you can't get a direct flight with the alliance (eg Colombo-Bangkok) you have to take 2 flights in & out of a hub airport.

This meant that when I flew Bali-Perth, usually a 3 hour journey, it took 8 hours as I had to fly north to SIN & then back south to Perth.

This kind of hopping about ups your mileage which increases the cost of your ticket. RTW tickets can be 'banded' ie you get so many miles for the initial cost of the ticket & then you pay extra if you go over that limit into another mileage band.

You might have trouble going everywhere you want to one one ticket and this is where a good agent comes in. I use Trailfinders because they've always given my great service. Thay have super-knowlegable staff who seem quite happy to sit on the phone all day giving advice. They are based in the UK so you may want to start by using their web-based enquiry form. You'll get a human response via e-mail & you can specify lots of options.

Good agents can offer you ideas & alternatives to get the best out of your route. Your own route looks like it could consist of a few overland rather than air routes. e.g. From Northern India into Nepal & onto Tibet. BTW, keep an eye on travel restrictions to Tibet. You'll need different permits if you enter from Nepal.

Timing - leaving from London is a good move but sometimes you'll have to pay a seasonal rate during the summer & over Xmas. Rates usually go up from the 2nd week of December. 1st Nov to 11 Dec is good for cheaper rates.

North Africa - The problem will be finding an alliance member that covers Morocco & Egypt AND then onto India & China. British Airways will get you the first one & onto Cairo but onto Delhi could be back via London. With Star Alliance, Virgin fly London Delhi

India & China etc: Big places! But then you've got some time. You might want to jump on a plane but train travel in India is one of the great travel experiences altho' you may get tired of it after 2 days ;-) Do you want to chill in Goa, see the Taj Mahal or get stoned in Menali on the way thru the Himalayan foothills to Nepal? Long way between 'em. Ask about internal flights & special deals. Air travel is becoming more common in India these days altho' if you are on a budget...

Singapore Airlines may be a good bet for routes to China...

Oz & NZ: Pretty easy to get to but look into Virgin Blue & JetStar for cheap internal flights & flights between the two. Some great value flights available as the 2 companies are in a bit of a price war. Personally I'd go for N Africa & around India/China over down under but you may feel the need for some western lifestyle along the way.

You can test your route by entering one-way trips into the timetable calculators on the various websites.

One World Alliance and its various ticket options.
Star Alliance and the Star Alliance RTW FAQ
Sky Team RTW

Boots 'n' all trip planner
US-based AirTreks

But best go for an agent. STA or Trailfinders. If you need any more advice or help, my email is on my user page.

Remember - half the fun of travelling is the planning. Then you get overloaded with information & get all pissed off ;-)
posted by i_cola at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2004 [3 favorites]

Long answer.

I worked for STA for 3 years constructing RTW itineraries for clients by phone and email. My specific knowledge is a tad rusty, but here's some general info.

My first tip is, Look at how long you're going. Think what you want to do. Think how long you want to spend in each place doing it. Put all the destinations in a logical flying order (like a join the dots on a globe to create a loop). Find out if there is a product to match what you want, for a price you can afford.

There are a number of different RTW ticket types, but all of them are priced in terms of either numbers of sectors, numbers of "miles" or a combination of both. They will also be "seasonal". There are times of year for travel that are cheap and times that are expensive. The season is dependant on your ex-UK date (the date you fly your first sector out of the UK) if you are buying an RTW from the UK, as you state.

The two main tickets I you'll probably look at are the Great Escapade (Virgin (VS), Singapore Airlines (SQ), Silk Air (MI), Air New Zealand (NZ)) and the World Discovery (One World Partners, excluding American Airways (AA) flight nos and some Cathay (CX)). Others included the Worldwide Journey (mad, mad ticket, flies everywhere, including a five stop island hop through Micronesia) and the beast that are the Global Explorer and the OneWorld Explorer (Oneworld alliance) and the Star Alliance (pretty good, but no VS flights rules out a fair few options)

My next tip is to speak to an expert about your options. Anyone who's really good at constructing RTWs will see your route as a challenge. Anyone who says, straight off "you can't do that" is not someone you want to buy a ticket off. If they say, you can do it, but it will cost you a packet, trust them and ask for an alternative route.

The very bare bones, cheapest level of these tickets allow 29000 miles to traverse the globe. Don't go running off to get your Atlas and a ruler though. There is little direct correlation between the actual and the listed distances between two places. A pretty darn good (and cheap) route around the world on a Global Explorer might include the following:

London > Delhi > (surface) > Kolcata (Calcutta) > Ho Chi Minh City > (surface)* > Bangkok > Singapore > Brisbane > (surface) > Sydney > Auckland > Fiji > Cook Islands > Tahiti > Los Angeles > London

* this means "make your own way between".

This route would cost about GBP930 if leaving the UK before June 30th this year. It's valid for 12 months and should be free to change multiple times with the airline en-route.

To get all of the desinations you list into the itinerary will take it over 29000 miles and involve buying additional tickets to destinations not served by major international passenger routes. The Great Escapade will let you buy up extra miles, at a price.

There are many cheap carriers in Asia, so you could "surface" between two points and get internal flights in between. For example, flights are available to Kathmandu with Jet Airways from Delhi, so you could just buy an separate return or oneway flight.

North Africa is difficult to get on an RTW itinerary from the UK. I'd book that as a separate trip from London if I were you, its probably cheaper. Tibet is (I hate to say) practically impossible to get into route. This will probably need an additional ticket out of Beijing, using a Chinese carrier. Most Chinese airlines have western planes now, but not all. Be wary of this if you book a ticket.

I really could go on and on. But I think that's enough for this post except to say the following:

Stavros' tip up there about onward flight tickets is sound advice. It really is not funny to be refused entry to a country and if it happens, it will cause you immense trouble every time you travel thereafter. Many people will tell you it shouldn't be a problem. Trust me (and him). It can be.

I have a number of friends who still work on the RTW construction team at STA and if you'd like me to put you in touch, I'll gladly do so. My email is in my profile, or you could have a stab at guessing my gmail address. Its fairly obvious.
posted by davehat at 10:19 AM on July 13, 2004 [1 favorite]

Slight update to davehat's supurb answer: You can fly Virgin on Star Alliance. That's how I got back to London from NYC.
posted by i_cola at 12:05 PM on July 13, 2004

i_cola: I've been out the loop for a while, so I just checked about Virgin (VS) on Star Alliance by calling Lufthansa (LH) reservations (a star Alliance RTW ticket issuer). There were roumors a while ago that they would join, what with Singapore Airlines now being major shareholders.

They say that VS are not Star Alliance members, so their flights are not available on a Star Alliance RTW. Neither, for that matter, are Silk Air (MI).

I think that you might have had the Great Escapade ticket I mentioned. Appart from the info about the airlines you used, another clue that makes me think this is your Colombo-Singapore-Bangkok-Singapore-Bali flights.

Thai Airlines (TG) fly direct Colombo-Bangkok-Bali, which cuts out two transfers (and one backtrack, FWIW). Your agent should have looked at this if you were booking a Star Alliance.

Also, the base fare for a 29,000 Star Alliance is about £1249 before taxes and fees (unless, by a miracle, you can get a multi stop RTW to add up to less than 26000 miles, when the price starts at £1099).

Its a great trip you took though, and one I've recommended to a fair few people. How were the Cook Islands? I've never been, but I must have booked hundreds of people there, hardly any of whom had thought of it upon first enquirey.

Star Alliance (basic) info available here.
posted by davehat at 2:14 AM on July 14, 2004

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