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All RTW fares are not created equal.  Even if the initial fare prices look similar, there are vast differences in what you can do and where you can go.

This information will help you compare different RTW fares and decide which is best suited for you.

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Round 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 seems.

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 travel plans.

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



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 Routes?

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 travels progress.

Changing Routing

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 itinerary.

Changing Flights

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.

In 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 be the 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 pricing scale.

'Would you mind checking availability on a few flights for me so I can start to plan my travel?'
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 from.

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?'.

And, if 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 series

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 part two.

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Originally published 14 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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