Trip Planning Part 2: The Round-the-World Ticket Dilemma

Upon sharing the news that I plan to travel for 10+ months next year, a question I get a lot is, “are you doing one of those round-the-world plane tickets?”

I won’t bury the lede: the answer is no. But this was one of the toughest calls to make while planning our travel adventure (besides choosing where to go). Even after a ton of research, we still felt pretty ambivalent (needless to say, when you’re dropping thousands of dollars on anything you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible).

There are a lot of benefits to buying a RTW ticket:

  • They can be substantially cheaper, depending on your flight route;
  • They are more flexible than buying a bunch of one-way tickets. If you change your plans, most RTW tickets allow you to change the date and time of your flights (but changes to your general flight plan typically result in a substantial fee); and
  • By choosing a single airline alliance, you can accumulate TONS of frequent flier miles (this was definitely one of the biggest pluses for me).

But there are definitely some drawbacks to consider:

  • RTW tickets are based on either flight mileage or segments, but pretty muchall of them require you to travel in one continuous direction (i.e. eastbound or westbound);
  • You have to pay up-front, which is just painful. From what I saw, RTW tickets range from $3,000 (on the low, low end) to upwards of $10,000; and
  • While most airline alliances fly virtually everywhere, they like to redirect you through “hubs” which can make the flight path illogical and the travel time LONG.

Two of our biggest ideological priorities for this trip are flexibility and ground coverage. In other words, we want to have the freedom to be spontaneous: if we find out that something awesome is happening in Lisbon even though we didn’t have plans to go to Portugal, we want to be able to pick up and go (without having to worry about how to get back to our previously ordained RTW ticket departure city).

The other thing is that we have so many countries on our itinerary; even if we bought the Rolls Royce of RTW tickets, we’d have to make sacrifices. Taking 10+ months off to travel the world is kind of an “all in” thing…I don’t want to miss out on experiences or otherwise feel encumbered by a limited flight plan.

So after all this exhaustive research and deliberation, we ultimately chose the “pay as you go” route: we’ll buy each of our one-way tickets a couple months out and keep our fingers crossed. This approach will allow us to take advantage of non-alliance budget airlines (helloooo AirAsia and easyJet!) and make it less complicated when we come back to the States mid-trip.


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