Last Updated on August 15, 2019 by Michael
RTW plane tickets are an option for anyone considering a trip around the globe. These “round the world” (RTW) tickets are usually purchased before you leave on your trip and typically provide a series of flights in one continuous direction, eventually getting you back to where you started.
There are different versions of RTW plane tickets, each having advantages and drawbacks. The key is to evaluate your own personal travel style, objectives and budget to choose an RTW plane ticket that’s right for you.
First, familiarize yourself with the different RTW plane ticket options:
Booking an RTW ticket through an airline alliance gives you electronic tickets, mileage benefits, a single point of contact and a certain degree of flexibility.
Customized RTW tickets, booked through a specialty travel agent, are essentially a series of one-way tickets based on your itinerary. They can be much cheaper than alliance RTWs, but are usually paper tickets with no change options, often involving indirect flights.
Booking plane tickets as you go means you have to do all the work, and may not always get the cheapest fares. The flip side is you have maximum flexibility. Technically this isn’t an RTW plane ticket, but you will have traveled around the world by the time you are done.
Once you understand your choices, check them based on your own travel needs. Here are some points to consider:
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How long will you be gone? RTW plane tickets through an airline alliance are good for one year. Although this may be plenty of time for most people, if you’re planning to travel longer than that an air alliance RTW won’t work for you.
If you are customizing your own RTW itinerary, you’ll have to return within one year (since airlines won’t book more than one year in advance)—or pay change fees to have the dates extended.
Set vs. Open Travel Dates
Are your dates fixed? RTW plane tickets require you to plan out your ticket segments in advance. For example, this can be a great option if you know that you want to spend a month each in Thailand, Australia and Germany. You select your travel dates, and plan activities in each destination around those dates.
However, if you’d like the flexibility to extend a stay somewhere or leave a bit earlier, make sure you know the terms of your ticket. An airline alliance will usually let you change dates within the itinerary, but customized RTW ticket might not allow for changes of dates without significant fees.
Direction of Journey
Will you continuously be traveling in the same direction? While every flight doesn’t have to head due east or due west, airline alliance RTWs allow for a single overall visit within any given continent or region. This means you can fly to Europe and bounce around within that continent, but once you touch down in the Middle East or Africa or any other region you cannot go back to Europe on that RTW plane ticket. Be sure you know what makes up a “region” for an airline alliance so you don’t accidently plan a flight “out of bounds.”
Flights vs. Overland Travel
Are you flying from point to point? Airline alliance RTWs work on a “segment” system, where each segment is the travel from one destination to another. The fine print will tell you going overland from point to point counts as a segment as well—yikes!
If you don’t want to waste a segment, make sure you always leave from the same airport where you arrived, or at the very least, don’t plan a lot of overland journeys between stops. This is a case where either a customized RTW or simply booking as you go may work better.
Fixed vs. Flexible Destinations
Do you want flexibility? If you decide along the way you must go Budapest or Hanoi but it’s not on your RTW ticket you’ll have to think again. Airline alliance RTWs require you to fix your destinations when you buy your ticket. Dates can be changed, but altering destinations is not so easy—and can get expensive.
Customized RTWs are usually booked on non-refundable fares, meaning a change in itinerary would mean eating the cost of the ticket. If you’re a more spontaneous sort, booking as you go may be the best option.
For our recent RTW we wanted maximum flexibility so we booked tickets as we went. For our analysis of RTW plane tickets for our own trip, check out our RTW update.
This is one of many decisions you’ll make when planning your trip, but remember: you’re going to travel around the world! Pick the best RTW plane ticket option for you. . . and start packing 🙂