Around The World Tickets: Everything You Need To Know

*This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to purchase anything through those links we receive a small commission at no extra charge, and you’ll be supporting Zero To Travel. Thanks!

If you literally want to see the world—the whole thing—an Around The World ticket (also known as an RTW ticket, for “Round the World”) may be the perfect way to travel. Around The World plane tickets are arguably one of the best ways to cross a lot of places off your travel bucket list all in one trip—especially if you have the time to travel for weeks, months, or even years at a time.

But around the world trip planning isn’t your ordinary Google Flights search for a few sweet deals. This is a whole different way to travel.

Stringing together multiple flights across several continents requires strategic planning, skillful budgeting, a lot of knowledge about international travel, and hours and hours of research. It’s a daunting task, but almost every RTW trip starts by answering one simple question:

Should you buy an Around The World ticket or book each leg of the trip as you go?

The answer to this question will impact your budget, timeline, destinations, and even how you travel. Booking an RTW ticket (or not booking one!) is a big deal, and honestly, RTW trips aren’t for everyone.

So let’s dig into the pros and cons of Around The World tickets with a look at the average price for one, common rules and restrictions, how to make changes and cancellations to RTW flights, and a few pro tips to help you add more stops, score free layovers, and get the best bang for your buck on your RTW ticket.

Around the World Ticket FAQs

What is an Around The World Ticket and How Does It Work?
How Much Does an Around The World Ticket Cost?
What is an Air Alliance and How Do They Work?
What’s the Difference Between Booking with Airline Alliances and Travel Agents or Booking Sites?
What are the Rules and Restrictions of an Around The World Ticket?
Can You Change Dates or Destinations While Traveling on an RTW Ticket?
How Long is an Around The World Ticket Good For?
How Many Stops Can You Book on an Around The World Ticket?
Do You Always Have to Start and End in the Same City on an RTW Ticket?
Why Can’t You Backtrack with an RTW Ticket?
Can You Use Budget Airlines in an RTW Ticket?
Can You Redeem Points or Miles for Around The World Tickets?
Tips, Tricks, & Travel Hacks for Around The World Tickets
When is the Best Time to Book an Around The World Ticket?
The Pros and Cons of Around The World tickets
Podcast Episode Show Notes

Listen to the full Zero to Travel podcast episode featuring Dale Vaughn from AirTreks as he shares his tips and advice for booking an Around The World ticket. Click here for the episode show notes!

What is an Around The World Ticket and How Does It Work?

An RTW ticket is an around the world one-way ticket with a bunch of stops along the way. You can tailor your trip to however many destinations and continents you like, but there are (generally) only three rules for an RTW ticket:

    1. You have to book every stop and destination in advance
    2. You always have to fly in the same direction (always flying east to west, for example)
    3. RTW tickets are good for up to 11 months from start to finish

The specific rules and restrictions of your Around The World ticket can vary based on if you book with an airline alliance vs. a third-party travel company like AirTreks or STA Travel.

We’ll get into all the pricing, red tape, and RTW travel hacks down below, but that’s the nuts and bolts of an RTW ticket. Or as AirTreks Marketing Director, Dale Vaughn puts it:

“An around the world ticket is exactly what it sounds like. You go in one direction around the world—circumnavigating it—with a handful of stops along the way.”

So if Around The World tickets are just a string of flights on different airlines, what’s the advantage of buying an RTW ticket upfront vs booking each leg of travel separately as you travel?

The answer is simple—it costs a lot less when you buy everything in advance. And the reason why has to do with what happens when you buy multiple flights at once and the weird world of airline alliances.

How Much Does an Around the World Ticket Cost?

Obviously, it’s impossible to give an average price for an Around The World ticket. Every RTW ticket varies based on your starting city, the number of stops, when you fly, the duration of your trip, and flights and airlines you choose.

Different around the world tickets from AirTreks, of varying costs

“It all depends on where you are and where you want to go,” argues Vaughn from AirTreks. “But, it would be very easy to plan an around the world trip with four or five stops for around $2000 or less,” he continues. “We have a travel planner, named Nicola, who lives in London. She planned an RTW trip from London > Chicago > LA > New Zealand > Bangkok > London for less than $2000.”

Again, that price is just one example of a common RTW route. Don’t be surprised if your dream Round The World trip costs closer to $5000—or even more. And that difference is largely based on who you book your RTW ticket through (an alliance vs a travel agent or booking site) and how the three big airline alliances work when you buy an Around The World ticket.

What is an Airline Alliance?

Almost all Around The World tickets are air alliance flight passes. That means that you’re basically buying a “pass” to use multiple airlines within a single alliance. And almost every major airline belongs to one of three airline alliances:

  • Star Alliance – 27 members including United, Air Canada, and Lufthansa
  • Oneworld – 13 members including American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas
  • Sky Team – 20 members including Air France, Delta, and KLM

Airline alliances were started in the late 90’s to make international travel easier, and more affordable by leveraging larger networks for better connections, more destinations, and competitive prices. So it’s no surprise that the three major alliances have dominated RTW ticketing for the past 15 years.

Airline alliances are why your last trip to Europe probably started on a United flight out of New York or LA and ended with a Lufthansa connection in Germany. You didn’t book with Lufthansa, but both Lufthansa and United are part of the Star Alliance network. So United works with them to get you to your final destination instead of going through the hassle of creating their own flight to a city they don’t service regularly. This is essentially how alliances book RTW tickets. But things are changing.

What’s the Difference Between Booking with Airline Alliances & Travel Agents or Booking Sites?

When you book an Around The World ticket through an alliance you only get access to the airlines in that alliance.

When you book through a third-party travel company they can mix and match flights and destinations to tailor your dream trip to your ideal budget. It’s just a larger pool to draw from.

“You can book an RTW ticket from London > Chicago > LA > New Zealand > Bangkok > London for less than $2000”

Remember that an Around The World ticket is really just one booking for multiple flights from different airlines. You can’t book your entire RTW trip through American or Delta because they won’t go to all the places you want to visit.

Instead, you create an Around The World ticket by choosing flights and destinations from within an alliance network and the end result is that your ticket is a little cheaper and the trip easier than booking every single flight on your own. At least that’s the goal.

However, the benefits of airline alliances don’t always go to the customers, and alliance RTW tickets can come with a lot of rules and restrictions.

A Guide to the Most Common Round The World Ticket Rules & Restrictions

According to Vaughn, Around The World tickets through an alliance usually come with a fair bit of red tape:

“The alliances are basically a partnership between airlines that give each other better rates, although you don’t typically see the benefits of these better rates,” explains Vaughn. “When you book an RTW ticket through an alliance or try to book the entire trip yourself you’re typically restricted to major hub cities and major airlines.”

Vaughn argues that alliance RTW tickets usually aren’t as flexible as something from a professional travel service like AirTreks. And for most people, flexibility is kind of the whole point of booking an Around The World trip.

Here are some answers to the most common questions concerning rules and restrictions on Around The World tickets.

Can You Change Dates or Destinations While Traveling on an RTW Ticket?

When you change your ticket (if that’s possible through your RTW provider), you’ll almost always have to pay a change fee. Altering your Around The World ticket is like changing any other flight. You’ll usually have to pay the difference between your old flight and your new flight and you’ll likely pay some kind of admin fee.

The same goes for changing dates and pushing back a connection. “It all depends on the airline,” explains Vaughn.

Change fees can add up regardless of who you use. So while it’s nice to have some flexibility built into your RTW ticket through a travel agency or booking site like AirTreks, you should really put some time and thought into your timing and destinations. Or, as Vaughn cautions, it pays to work with a person instead of a booking site:

“When you plan a trip and you know that you’re gonna be creative on the ground, it helps to be involved with a person instead of a search algorithm because algorithms can’t help you with that kind of flexible creative travel planning.”

Pro Tip: Budget for short roundtrip flights or bus trips from select hubs instead of adding stops or making major reroutes to your Around The World ticket.

How Long is an Around The World Ticket Good For?

Most RTW tickets have a time restriction of 11 months to complete your trip. But that’s changing. AirTreks offers RTW trips that can last for years. According to Vaughn, the timeline is up to you:

“If you want to break the Guinness World Record and see all 197 countries in less than two years, you’d contact us. We’ve helped multiple people break the record, and that takes two, three years for people to do.”

But the catch is that AirTreks (and almost every airline search engine in the world) can only book flights up to one year at a time because flights just aren’t released that far in advance, let alone pricing. That’s the main reason that Around The World tickets typically “expire” within 11 months—you can’t book tickets more than a year in advance.

How Many Stops Can You Book on an Around The World Ticket?

The short answer is: as many as you want. The whole point of an Around The World ticket is to take you around the world. That can include as few as three stops or more than 20. It’s your call. The only difference is the price.

An RTW ticket with only three destinations can cost as little as $1500 while a more extravagant RTW ticket with a dozen destinations can be upwards of $10,000. It’s all about customizing your ticket to your ideal trip and finding the budget that works for you.

Do You Always Have to Start and End in the Same City on an RTW Ticket?

Yup. You can book all kinds of trips and all kinds of combo flights, but if you book an RTW with an alliance or a third-party vendor you have to start and end in the same city.

airetreks around the world tickets

Image Credit: AirTreks

Why Can’t You Backtrack with an Around The World Ticket?

One of the core restrictions for most Around The World tickets is the rule against “backtracking” or traveling in more than one direction (i.e. always east to west). For whatever reason, it’s just cheaper to fly in the same direction for all your flights. It’s just one of those things, even among airline alliances. That’s the main reason Around The World booking agents don’t typically allow switching directions—it just costs them more.

However, AirTreks says they don’t have any restrictions on the direction you can travel. “There are some ways to save money by going in the same direction,” argues Vaughn, “but that’s flexible. You can go in any direction, you can go in loops, you can go back and forth.”

Can I Book Budget Airlines in an Around The World Ticket?

You can always book a budget airline like Spirit or RyanAir, but it’s not always worth the savings. Most budget airlines charge extra for checked and carry on bags, have small cramped seating, and don’t provide the same in-flight amenities as other airlines.

Work with your booking company (or price out other options) to see if that Spirit Airlines flight from NYC to Costa Rica is really worth saving $40 (spoiler alert: it isn’t).

Can You Redeem Points or Miles for Around The World Tickets?

You can always book legs of your trip with miles, but not typically through booking sites. You usually have to handle miles and points booking directly with the airline. So that’s an added hassle. Also, many travel agents don’t make any money off of trips or RTW legs booked with miles, so they’ll typically offload that responsibility to you.

If you’re a can-do person, you can use miles and points to book parts (or all!) of your RTW ticket.

AirTreks' around the world trip planner tool

Tips, Tricks & Travel Hacks For Around The World Tickets

When is the Best Time to Book an Around The World Ticket?

You’ve probably heard that the sooner you book your ticket, the better, but that’s just not true.

“The sweet spot for the best prices for flights is typically between four and six months out,” argues Vaughn. “The only exception is the holidays (December).”

And he has the data to prove it: “We measured this over thousands of different trips and we found on average you’re going to save between 30-40% on the price of the ticket when you book 4-6 months ahead of time.”

Look for Free Stopovers

A lot of people don’t know that they can get free stopovers and layovers in multiple destinations with the right carriers. Use the airline booking system to your advantage. As of January 2019, Turkish Airlines does a free hotel stopover in Budapest if you fly with them. So you not only get a free stopover in a fantastic destination, you get a free hotel if you book with them. You don’t even have to add it as a separate destination.

Pro Tip: The AirTreks trip planner will even give you suggestions for free stopovers at certain destinations.

Fly in the Same Direction

Yes, you can backtrack on RTW trips with AirTreks or other travel agents, but it’ll cost you. Fly in one direction and help keep costs down.

Crossing the Equator Costs Money

According to Vaughn, “Crossing the equator adds a couple of hundred dollars to your trip. If you can bunch your southern and northern hemisphere trips together it helps with cost-cutting.” Try to only cross the equator twice.

Get Travel Insurance

C’mon. You’re going around the freaking world. Get travel insurance. We love World Nomads travel insurance.

Tell People You’re Going to Travel the World

“When you say I want to travel the world in your diary, that’s one thing. But when you tell Facebook or your friends, it’s real,” argues Vaughn. “You can’t go back after that,” he adds.

Commit to Yourself

Vaughn adds that saying “yes” to yourself is a huge part of planning a successful RTW trip:

“Have you given yourself permission to take the trip of your life, or are you gonna let this be a dream? After that, it’s just a matter of planning.” AirTreks even offers free tools to help you talk to your boss about your RTW trip. So that’s awesome.

RTW Pros and Cons: Should You Buy an Around The World Ticket?

RTW travel really is for anyone and everyone, but AirTreks has found that many of their trips are popular with certain types of travelers.

Around The World Tickets are great if you’re a:

  • Gap Year Traveler
  • Taking a Career Sabbatical
  • Family Traveler (especially if you’re buying lots of flights for the kids!)
  • Senior & Retiree
  • Solo Traveler & Digital Nomad

And Around The World Tickets are great if you:

  • Like sticking to a schedule
  • Have the budget to pay for changes
  • Want those frequent flier miles
  • Hate budget airlines
  • Plan to go to off the grid destinations

Airtreks has an awesome flight booking tool to help you see if an RTW ticket is right for you.

Podcast Show Notes

Since 1987, AirTreks has been a leader in multi-stop international travel and is the leading expert on RTW plane tickets. You’ll love that their team is made up of experienced independent travelers who truly care about your trip.

In this podcast you’ll learn:

  • Differences of round the world tickets vs. normal plane tickets
  • Advantages and disadvantages of a RTW ticket
  • How to create a blank canvas for travel
  • The general cost of RTW tickets (and how to keep the cost low)
  • How to learn about hidden costs for trips
  • How you can get incentives to hang out in certain cities
  • Specific travelers that benefit from round the world tickets
  • The best way to plan your route
  • And so much more!

Resources:


* Tortuga and Airtreks references contain affiliate links – if you decide to purchase anything through those links I’ll receive a small commission at no extra charge and you’ll be supporting my work. Thanks!

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