For your next big trip, what if you could take advantage of a single airline ticket to check several destinations off your travel wish list for a fraction of the time and expense of seeing them one at a time?
I recently talked with Jenny McIver, a Round-the-World (RTW) travel pro to get the lowdown on this interesting travel strategy. To begin, let's define what a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket is. It's simply a multi-stop airline ticket traveling east or west and crossing over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. You can travel for as little as a week or as long as a year. All of the major airlines offer RTW tickets, but many people aren't even aware they exist. Why? Because they were originally created for international executives making multi-stop business trips. The airlines don't market this option to consumers, but anyone can buy one and if they've been saving up frequent flier miles, there's no greater redemption value. If you don't have the miles, the best fares can often be found with a RTW ticket specialist like BootsnAll or AirTreks.
If your vacation time is limited to the traditional two weeks, RTW can be the perfect way to see more of the world in less time. Let's take a look at what's possible with two weeks and a RTW ticket. For our sample RTW itinerary, we'll include some of the world's most popular destinations like the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall. To break up the flights a little, let's add stopovers in Paris and Honolulu. Here's what the trip looks like if we start in New York:
New York - Paris - Cairo - New Delhi - Beijing - Honolulu - New York
Now, pick your favorite airline booking site (we used Kayak.com) to estimate the cost of individual round-trip flights to each destination. Then, price the same itinerary using a RTW ticket specialist (we used BootsnAll.com) for a single RTW ticket. Here are the results:
Kayak.com (Roundtrip) | Price | Total Flight Time
Lowest Price................. | $4,852 | 191 hours
Shortest Flight Time*.. | $8,725 | 115 hours
*All nonstop flights
BootsnAll.com (RTW).... | Price |Total Flight Time
Lowest Price*................ | $2,973 | 78 hours
Shortest Flight Time.... | $6,007 | 53 hours
*Two nonstop flights, four with one stop
The cost savings of nearly $2,000 is obvious and substantial -- but it's the time savings that is truly staggering. Consider that with the higher priced roundtrip flights you'll also spend 113 more hours in the air than with the RTW ticket. That's almost three entire work weeks! I don't know about you, but I'd rather spend those three weeks seeing the world, not the inside of an airplane.
For road warriors who covet frequent flier miles, a trip around the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put all those miles to extraordinary use.
Unlike paid RTW tickets, award tickets are an entirely different and often confusing ballgame. However, if you have enough miles to book one (especially in business or first class), it is undeniably worth the Herculean effort it may take to get through the process. Unfortunately, the onus will be on you to understand the convoluted rules and work them to your advantage.
The most important thing to remember with award RTW tickets is that like any award ticket, the flights you want must have award availability, often at the lowest award level. This means doing research on your own before calling your airline to book your trip. If you've ever been frustrated while trying to book a regular award ticket, tack 15 more segments onto that experience and you get the idea.
All three of the major airline alliances offer RTW award tickets though none can be booked directly with the alliance. Instead you'll need to book through the airline where you've earned the miles you want to redeem. Most RTW award tickets have similar options and rules. Here are a few universal words of advice for booking:
1) Try to book at least six months in advance. The earlier you book, the better luck you'll have.
2) Before you call, do your homework. Use the alliance website to search routings and note flight numbers. ExpertFlyer.com is a great tool for researching award availability in your cabin of choice. Never rely solely on the agent to find the flights you need. Have your ideal itinerary mapped out (including flight numbers), but flexibility is key so have back-up dates and destinations ready for each stop.
3) When you call, if you can get at least 50 percent of what you want, ask them to hold it. Then wait 24 hours and try again. Availability changes daily, but even more likely, you'll get a different agent who can find alternate routings.
4) Remember that your award ticket is not entirely free. You will still be responsible for applicable taxes, fees and surcharges.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.