You've probably heard about round the world tickets, a one-stop shop approach to cross-continental flying. But let's be real: it's never been easier to book flight tickets yourself, and round the world tickets are pricey. So why do people book round the world tickets, and are they actually worth the cost?
The quick answer is, it depends. If you're pressed for time, have a seriously fixed itinerary with many international stops to make, it can be cost-wise. However, if you have a whimsical, budget-conscious trip in mind, or are focusing on just one part of the world, there are cheaper options out there that you should know about (like finding fares yourself on Skyscanner on Kiwi.com).
So, here's everything you need to know about round the world tickets, followed by our DIY approach that could save you even more money!
- 1 How do Round The World tickets work?
- 2 What are the restrictions?
- 3 How to book a round the world ticket
- 4 The alternative: book separate flights yourself
- 5 How to book your own round the world trip with regular airline tickets
- 6 So, what's the cheapest option?
- 7 A Thrifty Case Study: A Round the World Trip from New York City
- 8 What are the alternatives?
- 9 So, is a round the world ticket worth it?
How do Round The World tickets work?
Round the world (RTW) tickets are flight packages that let you visit a number of destinations around the world for one price. These tickets are offered by airline alliances like SkyTeam, Oneworld, and Star Alliance, and all the flights in your itinerary must be served by airlines within the chosen alliance.
Round the world tickets require you to select your destinations and departure dates in advance. This means you prepay for the pass, and book all of your flights before your trip.
- Ease of booking all flights at once in advance at a discounted price
- Booking with the same airline partners means greater accumulation of frequent flyer miles
- Pay with frequent flyer miles from 1 points program for partner airlines (meaning the trip could be free or reduced if you have points saved up)
- Many restrictions on number of flights, direction of travel, etc. (more on this later)
- You may have to take obscure routes with more stopovers in order to fly with an airline in the alliance you've chosen
- Often more expensive than booking tickets yourself
- Low-cost/budget airlines are not included and are often cheaper than a RTW ticket
- If you miss a flight in your itinerary, the rest of your flights could get cancelled, even if they are days or weeks away
- Changes to your itinerary will incur additional costs
What are the restrictions?
Every round the world ticket is different, and may be subject to restrictions, including:
- A minimum number of flights to book (typically at least three), as well as a maximum
- All flights must be within the same airline alliance
- Restrictions on the direction of travel (e.g. East to West only) and/or requiring you to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at least once
- All your flights must end in the city you started from and connect from city-to-city (i.e. you can't fly into London, then take a train to fly out of Paris)
- A minimum number of stopovers
- Additional surcharges for certain destinations
Whew! Though there are many restrictions, you don't need to think about most of them. Simply use the round the world ticket planners provided by each alliance, put in your desired destinations, and the options and costs will be presented to you automatically.
How to book a round the world ticket
Round the world tickets can be purchased directly with airline alliances or via travel agents.
Each alliance offers an online trip planner that allows you to put in every stop of your itinerary and get a price quote. It also makes it easy to work around the restrictions of round the world tickets, warning you when your planned route doesn't meet the requirements. All alliances offer online booking, or you can call one of the participating alliance airlines directly.
- AirTreks (U.S.)
- STA Travel (U.S.)
- Flight Center (U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia)
- RoundAbout Travel (Australia)
- Student Flights (Australia)
- A travel agent local to you
Travel agents can save a lot of time and money by not only booking your flights, but planning your itinerary as per your wants and needs, and tweaking your itinerary to get the price. There are many sample routes to choose from, and travel agents can get discounted prices not available to the public. Round the world tickets still aren't very mainstream, so always choose an agency that specializes in round the world tickets so they can work around the restrictions and get you the best price.
The alternative: book separate flights yourself
The value of a round the world ticket depends on the route you're taking and the flexibility you need. More often than not, you'll find it's cheaper, easier, and more flexible to book your own round the world trip online across several bookings using multi-destination flight search engines like Kiwi.com and Skyscanner.
- Always cheaper than round the world tickets in our own tests
- Mix and match tickets between any airline
- You don't have to book all your flight tickets at once (though it's good to grab a good price when you see one)
- Take advantage of error and sale fares before and even during your trip
- Includes low-cost/budget airlines, which are usually cheaper than major airlines in round the world tickets
- Your flight cities don't have to connect. That means you can fly New York City to London, take a road trip to Berlin, and fly Berlin to Beijing.
- No restrictions on the direction of your travel or number of stops. If it's cheaper to go in a loop between a few continents, or alternate between planes and trains, you are free to do so.
- Requires time and patience. You need to experiment with the order and dates of your flights in order to find the best prices.
- You may end up with frequent flyer miles spread across a variety of programs, without enough miles in any program to use them.
How to book your own round the world trip with regular airline tickets
Kiwi.com and Skyscanner are the two flight search engines we recommend for booking your own tickets for a round the world trip. They both include budget airlines, and they both let you search multi-destination flights, letting you see prices for your entire itinerary at once.
The key difference between the two is that Skyscanner prefers results from partner airlines, while Kiwi.com will always mix and match airlines (including budget airlines) for the cheapest price. Either booking site can be beneficial depending on your trip, so to get the best price, be sure to compare results and follow these tips:
- Experiment with the order of your destinations for the best price. Just because a flight is shorter doesn't mean it will be cheaper.
- Experiment with the dates of each flight. This can be time consuming, but if you're dedicated, you can shave hundreds of dollars off your total cost by simply finding the cheapest dates for each flight.
- Multi-city and return flights are often better value than booking many one-way flights when they can all be fulfilled by the same airline/alliance. For example, Virgin Atlantic has routes from New York to London, London to Shanghai, and Shanghai to New York, so making one multi-city booking with this single airline will be cheaper than several individual bookings with different airlines.
- Skyscanner prefers partner airlines that can fulfill the entire itinerary you submit, which doesn't always get you the best price on complex itineraries. So if you have a lot of destinations, split your searches into 3-4 destinations at a time. For example, instead of submitting New York > London > Paris > Beijing > New York as a single search, try searching New York > London > Paris as one search, and Paris > Prague > Beijing > New York as a second search. You don't have to worry about this on Kiwi.com, which always mixes and matches airlines to get the best results.
So, what's the cheapest option?
In our tests, the DIY approach is always cheaper, but it depends on the kind of trip you're taking. Round the world tickets can cost anywhere from $1,500 USD to $20,000 USD. The price varies greatly, and depends on your departure point, number of flights, distance flown, continents flown to, and flight class.
On the other hand, regular flight ticket prices are all over the map, dependent mostly on supply and demand. Sometimes a flight across continents can be even cheaper than a flight within your own country. Since regular flight tickets include budget airlines, sale and error fares, and you can still take advantage of discounts with partner airlines, booking your own flight tickets has always been cheaper for us.
The only way to know for sure is to compare. Use the links provided in this guide and see what gives you the best result!
A Thrifty Case Study: A Round the World Trip from New York City
As an example, let's find the best price for the following round the world trip: New York City > London > Paris > Prague > Beijing > Hong Kong > New York City. We want to go in April and May, and we are booking now in January. We'll start on Tuesday, April 10, and schedule each consecutive flight for the following Tuesday.
Option 1: A round the world travel agent
This is one of AirTreks' sample itineraries. It is advertised with a price range of $1,499 to $1,999 USD. Keep in mind there are no dates specified, so the exact price for this timeframe could be different.
Option 2: A round the world ticket booked directly with airline alliances
Putting in the same itinerary into each of the airline alliances' round the world trip planner gives us the following totals:
- OneWorld: $3,738.86 USD
- SkyTeam: $3,904.28 USD
- Star Alliance: $4,543.84 USD
Not exactly thrifty, and up to 3x the advertised price of the travel agent! True round the world tickets require strategic planning, so using a travel agent's expertise can save you time and money. But let's take a look at booking regular airline tickets yourself…
Option 3: Book your own tickets using Kiwi.com and Skyscanner
Using the Kiwi.com multicity search feature, we enter our full itinerary, and within minutes, we have a variety of options from $1,390 – $1,434 USD.
As we mentioned, Skyscanner usually just shows results from partner airlines that can fulfill a ticket for the entire route. This route is pretty complex, and it's unlikely one airline alliance could fulfill it all, so let's break it up.
After half an hour of trying different combinations of multi-city and one-way searches, the cheapest combination I could find for these dates was
- New York City > London > Paris > Prague: $390 USD
- Prague > Beijing: $283 USD
- Beijing > Hong Kong: $119 USD
- Hong Kong > New York City: $493 USD
- TOTAL TRIP COST: $1,285 USD
This is the cheapest option, beating Kiwi.com by only $105. What's going on here? In short, trial and error. The first batch of airlines aren't partners, but Skyscanner sometimes lets you mix and match airlines by using Kiwi.com for booking. And although there are partner airlines to fulfill the rest of the route, Hong Kong Airlines is an independent budget airline with competitive pricing, so it ended up being cheaper to book the flights separately in order to include their fares.
You can take this even further by testing different dates in your itinerary, as well as the order of your flights. As you can see, the process can be time consuming, but a little time rewards you with hundreds or thousands of dollars saved!
What are the alternatives?
Regional flight passes
While not a round the world ticket in itself, this type of flight pass might be more sensible for your trip, depending whether you'll be flying a lot in one region versus globally. For instance, if you are planning to take more flights around South America than across continents, then you may be better off investing in one of their regional passes (check our guide here).
Some examples of regional flight passes include:
- OneWorld single-continent passes: available for Africa, Asia, Japan, Australia & New Zealand, Malaysia, South America, Europe, North America, Middle East, South Asian Sub-Continent
- OneWorld multi-continent passes: rather than flying all the way around the world, these passes let you fly in a circle around one smaller area of the world
- SkyTeam regional passes: available for Asia & Southwest Pacific, Africa, Asia, Europe, Greater China, Russia, and USA & Canada
- Independent airline passes in South America: these work within specific South American countries (check our comprehensive list and guide here)
- Air New Zealand Explorer Pass: explore various destinations in New Zealand, Australia, and nine other South Pacific island destinations
- Qantas Explorer pass: a flight pass for exploring Australia
Building your own stopover
A stopover – that is, an extended layover where you can actually leave the airport for 1 or more days or weeks – can be added for cheap or free to any trip, all by yourself. Our how-to guide here explains exactly how to do this.
Essentially, you find a flight fare that includes a layover, but instead of rushing to your connecting flight, you spend days or weeks in the layover destination, visiting 2 destinations for the price of 1. Whether you go round the world or not, it's a great way to squeeze more travel value out of your flight costs.
So, is a round the world ticket worth it?
In short, for most travellers, the answer is probably no. There are a certain set of criteria where it could be more cost-effective, and some travellers may prefer the ease of having all of their tickets booked in one pass anyway. However, the fixed timing, many restrictions, and high price are likely to be unappealing to those who are seeking a thriftier approach, especially when it's so easy to book yourself for less with Kiwi.com and Skyscanner.
The Thrifty Gist
- Round the world tickets are usually pricier than self-booking, but offer peace of mind and a pre-set itinerary
- Round the world tickets can be booked with airline alliances or travel agents, while self-booking regular flight tickets can be booked using the multi-destination features of Skyscanner and Kiwi.com
- Self-booking is usually the cheapest approach to a round the world trip, but can also be more tedious
- Reasons to self-book include the abundance of available error/sale fares, already cheap budget airlines, the ease with which self-booking can be done, and that stopovers can easily be added to any trip
Have you ever used a round the world ticket? Do you think it was worth the cost?
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