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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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7 Mar 2008, last update
30 May 2021
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