the World Airfares part 3
Factors to consider when evaluating
different RTW fare alternatives
The world is your
oyster when you buy a round the world ticket, or so it
But these fares have
lots of 'fine print' and you need to know the questions to
ask to best understand how to fit them to your personal
Part 3 of a multi-part series. Click for
Choosing the best RTW fare for
your travels is a difficult 'chicken and egg' type problem.
The airlines would prefer you to give them a formal itinerary
and then quote you the total price to travel to those places,
but many leisure travelers want to know what the cost
implications are of everywhere they might possibly want to go,
so they can balance the places they wish to visit with the cost
implications of each potential destination.
And two RTW fares that might
seem similar in terms of costs and routings allowed can have
some lurking major differences, especially when it comes to
issues such as how easy it is to get the flights you want, when
you want them.
The more information you can
glean up front, the better your travel planning can be.
Hopefully this information will better equip you as you proceed
through your planning process.
Confirmed or Open Flights and
Some people want to use a
RTW ticket simply because it is the cheapest way of traveling to
the places they want to visit. They already have a
definite itinerary in mind. These people will of course
book all their flights before leaving home, and need not concern
themselves with this section.
But if you're using a RTW
ticket as a way to give yourself an open flexible way to explore
around the world, on a less planned basis, and seek the
opportunity to change their plans as their trip unfolds, then
you need to focus on what the rules of the RTW fare will allow
you to do, and how practical it may be to make changes as your
Will you be able to change
the places you fly to? If so, how much advance notice
might you need to give to make a change, and will there be any
change fees or other restrictions, costs, and 'fine print' that
make this difficult.
Some RTW fares don't allow
you to change the sequence of cities you fly to at all, others
might allow you to do this for a fee.
Here's a tip that can
sometimes save you money if you're on a RTW fare that doesn't
readily allow you to change your routing once you've started
your travels. Write your ticket up for as many stops as
possible. For example, instead of flying from Los Angeles
to Sydney on a single ticket coupon, perhaps consider an
itinerary that goes Los Angeles - Honolulu - Fiji - Auckland -
Christchurch - Melbourne - Sydney.
Usually the airlines will
allow you to combine flights without charge, so if you decide
you just want to fly to Sydney, you can probably book a nonstop
flight and hand them all six tickets to make that one flight.
However, if you decide you do want to go to New Zealand after
all on your way to Australia, then it is already shown in your
ticket and so there's no problem with now including it in your
Maybe you don't wish to
change the places you visit, but wish to change the dates you
travel between cities. Can you do this? The answer
is usually yes, but often at a cost, and sometimes with a
requirement that you make changes a certain minimum number of
days in advance.
addition to the questions that also apply to changing your route
(such as advance notice, costs and restrictions), there's
another very important question to clearly understand :
Booking Class of Service
In what class of service is
the RTW ticket booked? Is it in an open unrestricted class
of service that means as long as there is any available seat
remaining on the flight you want, you can take that seat, or is
it in the most restricted class of service that is allocated for
such impossible things as frequent flier award tickets?
Although the chances are, if
you're this sort of traveler, you won't be too upset if you have
to shift your dates one or two or three days either side of the
date you most want to travel, there's also a danger,
particularly on a flight that is only infrequently operated
between two cities, that you might end up having to wait a week
or more to get a flight, and/or might need to end up buying an
expensive one way ticket because there's just no availability at
all in the time period you need to travel.
This can be a very big
issue, so if you're wanting to have some flexibility in your
ticket, you must know how truly flexible the ticket is and how
practical it will be to change your travel dates.
Typically an airline will
have anywhere from four to fourteen different levels of
availability for coach class travel, and fewer but still many
different levels of availability for business and first class
travel. You need to understand whether the class of
service the RTW ticket needs to be booked in is one of the more
or less restricted classes. Here's how to do it.
Call the airline and ask
them 'What class of service does the RTW ticket have to be
booked in?'. They'll tell you the class, which is
typically a single letter (for example, full unrestricted coach class fares often
have 'Y' and are the most open class of availability, 'B' might
next most open, and then an alphabet soup of other letters for
successively more restrictive classes of availability).
Let's say, for this example, that you are told the RTW ticket
needs to be booked in 'H' class.
Now, as you can tell from
the information above, there's no way you can guess, from the
letter designator they tell you, if it is an easy or a difficult
class of service to find space in. So you'll have to
carefully ask a few more questions to get that information - I
say carefully because many times you might find the airline
representative is a bit reluctant to divulge too many details.
Sometimes it is helpful to
call the airline back several times, asking the same or similar
questions to each person, and building up a growing store of
knowledge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but
sometimes it seems airline phone reps either deliberately
lie or just simply give out imaginary answers without bothering
to go to the hassle of carefully checking the information before
passing it on to you. Or, to paraphrase this in a more
kindly manner, sometimes they answer the question without giving
you all the related necessary knowledge to understand and
interpret their answer.
Here are some questions to
help you understand if it is a good or bad availability class :
'On your availability
display, does H class appear closer to the full unrestricted
fare class, or is it closer to the most restricted fare class?'
This information will at least give you a broad brush feeling
about where in the spectrum your fare category lies, and is an
easy question for most airline reps to answer.
'To give me a feeling for
what this actually means, if I was to book a (two/three) week
advance purchase fare, would that be booked in the same H class,
or in a more restricted class, or in a less restricted class?'
Before you ask this question, you need to research what other
fares the airline offers for simple roundtrips and then ask this
question about a fare type that is sort of in the middle of the
'Would you mind checking
availability on a few flights for me so I can start to plan my
And then ask for some flights, asking for travel
dates maybe a week or so in the future from when you're having
the discussion, and ask for flights on 'difficult' routes - ie,
routes where there aren't a lot of flights each day to choose
As a follow up, if they tell you there is no
availability on a given flight, ask 'Do you have availability in
your full fare coach category for that flight?'.
you've a cooperative agent at the other end of the phone, if the
answer to that question is yes, then say 'And how about for the
next fare category down from that?'. That way you can
start to get a feeling for how easy or hard it will be to get
the seats you want, when you want them.
Note that you'll have to
repeat this exercise with each participating airline that you
might travel on as part of your RTW ticket. Each airline
may use different availability letters and have differing levels
of availability on their flights.
If the worst comes to the
worst, will you be allowed to fly standby? In other words,
can you go to the airport with no confirmed booking for the
flight, and wait anxiously, hoping that there will be some
no-shows and you can get on the plane?
A cautionary note about
unconfirmed travel plans
Some countries require you
to have a visa issued to you before you are able to visit them.
Russia and some of the other former Soviet Union countries are a
good example of this.
Typically these visas can be
quite restrictive about the dates they apply for. While
you can usually enter later than the start date of the visa
validity period, you can't enter earlier, and while you can also
leave before the visa validity period expires, sometimes you
can't stay longer.
So if you're visiting one of
these countries, you need to be sure you have a confirmed flight
on out of that country, for fear of otherwise having your visa
expire before you can leave.
You might also wish to have
your flight into that country confirmed too, so as not to end up
with a delayed arrival into the country and too little time to
see and do the things you wanted to see and do before needing to
fly on again.
Some countries also may
require you to present a confirmed ticket for travel on out of
that country as part of your eligibility to visit. Usually
the simple fact that you have an open undated ticket will be
enough to satisfy that requirement, but if you're going to a
more restrictive country, or if you are, yourself, traveling on
a passport from a 'less desirable' country and likely to be
subject to more stringent examination when entering some
countries, it sometimes may be necessary to have an actual
confirmed flight out of the country prior to your arrival.
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 here to move to
part four, or here to move back to
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14 Mar 2008, last update
21 Jul 2020
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