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Modern Round the World Fares are not nearly as beneficial as they used to be in the 'good old days'.

Indeed, some times, you'll be able to travel for less money on regular tickets.

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Round the World Airfares

Sometimes great value, sometimes not, and always complex and confusing

The magic lure of an airport - a Departures Board beckoning you to any one of dozens of exotic destinations.

The ability to 'go anywhere' is implied by a Round the World ticket, but for most intents and purposes, this is illusionary rather than real.

Part 1 of a multi-part series.  Click for part 2, part 3, part 4.



Just as the airlines are cutting back with their services and adding to their fees every possible way, so too have they reduced some of the benefits and savings in the Round the World fares they offer.

These days it is very difficult to accurately understand how RTW fares operate, what they cost, and where you can go.

Many times, you can travel for less money if you just buy normal tickets.  But sometimes you'll find a 'sweet spot' where you can save enormously, or enjoy other major benefits, by choosing a Round the World Fare.

The information in this multi-part series will help you understand more about these often misunderstood fares so you can decide if it is something that will be of value to you with your next travels.

The Evolving Concept of Round the World Fares

Initially, a Round the World (RTW) fare allowed you to travel completely around the world, with only a few restrictions associated with where you went.  The best of these fares had several different airlines banding together in partnership, allowing you a choice of different carriers, making it easier to get the places you wanted to go.  Some simple restrictions, such as generally always traveling west or east, along with some generous exceptions (sometimes allowing a bit of backtracking) and a flexible ticket at a massively discounted price that could be changed and which was good for perhaps a full year made these types of fares ideal for globe trotters and people on extensive vacations.

An interesting anomaly also existed, whereby RTW fares in business and first class, for an entire around the world journey, were sometimes cheaper than a simple roundtrip ticket that in total might have you traveling less than half the total distance allowed on a RTW fare.  A few smart business travelers would use a RTW fare - not only did they save money, but some extra hours on planes got them considerably more frequent flier mileage too, often helping boost them into a higher category of frequent flier membership.

Note that RTW fares almost never will allow you to go everywhere in the world.  They have an abundance of restrictions, and part of the challenge in choosing an RTW fare and itinerary is mixing and matching the places you want to visit with the places the various RTW fares will allow you to go.  Invariably, it seems that each different RTW fare, from each different airline group, will include a differing mix of places you can and can't visit.

How Much Does an Around the World Fare Cost

Okay, for those of you who want to quickly skip to the bottom line, here's a fast answer to this question.

You can get a Round the World fare for as little as about $1300 (all fares quotes are plus taxes), depending on the countries/cities you fly to.

A $1300 fare is very limited and allows you to consider only four or five specific cities on your itinerary.

Fully flexible RTW fares start from about $4000 in coach class, $7500 in business class, and $11,000 in first class.

For a more detailed understanding of the issues and options, you should now continue reading down this and the other pages in this complete article series.

Different Types of RTW Fares

There are a number of different Round the World type fares that the airlines offer, based primarily on the underlying rules and restrictions.  No airline offers an unlimited unrestricted 'fly anywhere you want, anytime you want' type RTW fare.  All have various restrictions to limit the amount of travel you get, and to charge you extra when you exceed these limits.

A RTW fare might combine elements of some or even all these different types.

Directional Fares

Fares that require you to keep moving in a westerly or easterly direction, perhaps with one or two exceptions either allowed or free or which can be purchased at extra cost

Northern/Southern Hemisphere Fares

Fares that restrict your travel to predominantly northern hemisphere or southern hemisphere destinations.  And, again, it is sometimes possible to spend more to buy exceptions to this rule.

Circular Route Fares

These are not true RTW fares, but instead have you going in a generally clockwise or anti-clockwise direction around a specific region.  The best known of these is the Circle Pacific fare (often abbreviated as CP), which basically allows you to travel more or less around the Pacific rim.

Because you're not able to fly all around the world on these fares, they are typically less expensive than a full RTW fare.  For many people, a combination of a roundtrip to Europe, travel within Europe by train, and a separate Circle Pacific type fare represents one of the best ways of seeing much/most of the world.

Regional Pass Type Fares

These fares may often combine a simple return ticket from the US (or any other country) to a far away destination, and then allow for so many stops around the region where the airline is based.

In the case of Australia - 'the island continent' - a pass program allows you to travel to destinations within Australia.  In the case of Asia, pass programs with Asian based carriers such as Cathay Pacific allow you to fly to, eg, any four of 24 different cities in Asia for a single flat price, and allows you to add on more stops in another 26 Asian cities at extra cost.

Mileage Based Fares

You pay for your ticket based on how many miles you travel in total.  These fares don't have you paying for every mile, one at a time, but instead sell you chunks of some thousands of mile increments over and above a base fare and mileage allowance.

Pseudo RTW fares

This is a special and important category not to be overlooked.  If you know more or less where you want to travel, it can be helpful to cost out your travels - probably with the help of a RTW fare specialist travel agency - both by using a RTW fare and by building the itinerary, more or less flight by flight, using the cheapest possible ticket and fare for each part of the journey.

A good agency can find little known discount airlines, and use their lower cost fares, to patch together your itinerary, and sometimes for less cost than a regular RTW fare.  The resulting fare and itinerary probably lacks much of the flexibility of a RTW fare, but if you don't need the flexibility, there's no point in paying extra for a normal type RTW fare.

Typical Issues and Answers about RTW Fares

Most Round the World fares are based around several common limiting factors.  The most common of these is a requirement to be proceeding more or less in a continual direction, either east or west, and with limits on the amount of backtracking you can do as part of this itinerary.

Another common limitation is that these fares may have a limit on the total number of miles you can travel - well, typically, in such a case, if you exceed the limit, you simply pay more money for a higher category of RTW fare that has a greater mileage allowance included.

There is usually a minimum amount of time you must be away from home for (commonly ten days) and always a maximum of no more than twelve months.

Some fares require you to have a minimum number of stops (ie three), and most fares also have a limit on the maximum number of stops you can have, too (commonly 15).

Most fares allow you to have open dated tickets between cities, so if you're wanting to be flexible about your travel dates, this is helpful.

Most fares allow you to have 'surface travel' or 'open jaws'

Are RTW Fares always better than 'normal' fares

I'd many times have people coming into my travel agency confidently announcing they needed a Round the World type ticket because they were going to, eg, New Zealand and Japan, or maybe Australia and Germany.  These people assumed that because there'd be less (or, at least, no more) flying, and it was all being done on a single ticket, there'd be some forms of savings inherent in merging their different travel needs into a single RTW fare.

Sometimes that would prove to be the case, but usually it is not.  A RTW fare only starts to become good value when you're 'using' the features of the fare to the fullest - in particular the long validity, the many different stops allowed, and the flexibility to change your travel dates.

But if you're just going to a couple of different places, you're as likely to find that it may be cheaper to buy two separate roundtrip tickets rather than one complete RTW ticket, even if the two separate roundtrips involve considerably more miles of travel.

And even if you do want to see the entire world, maybe a single RTW fare isn't the best way to do it.  Possibly a combination of trips from your home to various regions of the world, combined with local travel within the region (maybe on an Air Pass, maybe by train, or however else is most appropriate) might end up giving you better flights, connections, schedules, and overall cost and flexibility that a single RTW fare.

Another way to do this can be by piggy-backing roundtrip tickets onto each other.  For example, buy a roundtrip ticket from your home to Britain, and then, from Britain, take advantage of some of the extraordinarily low discounted airfares to places throughout Europe on airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet.

Perhaps then buy another discounted airfare from whatever European city you end up in, on whatever are the local special deals, and travel on to Africa and Asia, before heading back, stage by stage, and airline by airline, and eventually returning home again.

Your best approach also depends to an extent if you'd rather take one single massive absence from work and your life back home, or if you'd prefer to break it into a series of shorter journeys.  Or, a possible compromise, coming back and spending a day or two between each roundtrip at home - just long enough to quickly open the mail, pay bills, mow the lawn, and run the car for a quick drive around the block.

So - are RTW fares always best?  No, they aren't always best, and you really need to analyze what you want to do and the cost and convenience issues of how to do it before choosing the method of traveling that best suits your situation.

Sometimes an RTW fare is better than a simple roundtrip ticket

This sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it is cheaper to buy a RTW fare that allows you to make multiple stops, all around the world, than it is to buy a simple roundtrip ticket to take you from home to one destination and straight back home again.

This applies primarily if you are buying business or first class tickets.  For example, it costs somewhere between $5450 and $11,000 to fly business class from Los Angeles to London, and an unthinkable $15,800 - $17,800 to travel from Los Angeles to Sydney (true!).  A RTW business class fare to get you to London can cost as little as $3727 (Virgin and Thai) and one that would allow for Australia is probably no more than $8300 (oneWorld Four continent fare).

Now think about this.  If you're saving anything from $2,000 up to almost $10,000 on your airfare, why not buy the RTW fare and treat yourself to a weekend somewhere exotic as part of your travels to or from your main destination.  You'll save a huge amount of money, you'll have a pleasant bonus experience, and think of all the extra frequent flier miles you'll get, too!

Or, adopting a more serious tone, if you expect you'll need to make several trips to different countries during the year, it can massively benefit you to try and fit as many of these travel requirements into a single RTW fare as possible, rather than paying top dollar for simple business and first class roundtrip tickets.

In an attempt to reduce the number of business people who exploit the disparity in fares, almost all RTW fares currently require a minimum ten day travel period, and three or more stops en route.  But if you can fit within these restrictions, RTW fares can save you massive amounts of money.

Read more in the rest of this series

Click the links in the related article box at the top of this article to visit other parts of this series, or click to move to part two.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 7 Mar 2008, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Round the World Airfares part 1
Round the World Airfares part 2
Round the World Airfares part 3
Round the World Airfares part 4
Table of different RTW Fares

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