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Round-the-world part two: playing the system

Once you’re thinking about a round-the-world (RTW) trip, you aren’t locked in to the airlines’ asking prices, as detailed in [% 1259243 | | Part 1 %]. Instead, before you buy, consider possible discount sources, and think about exactly what sort of trip you want.

Discount RTW deals

Discount agencies can usually undercut the airlines’ asking prices for RTW tickets by quite a bit. Four agencies that specialize in RTW itineraries quote a few simple economy-class trips starting at under $1,400; move up to $2,000 or so and you can enjoy more complicated itineraries. Airtreks provides a clever interactive map that makes it easy to plot out a route and get an immediate fare quote. Air Brokers International, Cheap Travel Network, Join Us Travel, and World Travelers’ Club prefer to have you set your itinerary and email it, which they then price and return to you. All five websites provide sample fares for a range of current trips.

Those agencies can also arrange discounted RTW trips in business class, but the reduction from the list price is not as spectacular as in economy. Air Brokers, for example, posts a simple business-class RTW ticket example at $5,000.

Whether in economy or business, RTW tickets arranged through one of these discount agencies are typically less flexible than the list-price tickets. They may be totally nonrefundable; they may lock you into your initial itinerary without changes; they may not award frequent flyer miles. Each trip is different; tell the agent what you need at the time you inquire.

Back-to-back RTW?

If you’re truly into RTW travel—and enjoy flying in the ultimate luxury of business class—your best bet is to buy a series of annual RTW tickets in a country where the price is a lot lower than in the U.S. As far as I know, the best places to buy RTW tickets are in Asia. Currently, in Bangkok, a Star Alliance or SkyTeam 29,000-mile ticket in business class goes for around $4,500. Prices for other mileages are comparably less than the U.S. prices. One Bangkok agency—Travel Tech—also lists a more limited two-line RTW partnership ticket with no backtracking, in business class on United and Emirates, for $2,790. Another Bangkok agency to check is Chawla Travel.

These Bangkok prices are the official list-price fares, converted from local Thai currency, not discount deals, and they provide full list-price flexibility and service. Airlines routinely price tickets originating in less developed countries at well below prices for the same trips posted in the U.S. or Western Europe including RTW tickets. Other countries with low RTW prices include India and Sri Lanka.

Of course, those offshore prices apply only to trips that start and end in the country where you buy your ticket. That means you have to get to Bangkok (or wherever) to start your RTW trip. But if you opt for a yearly RTW trip, you have to do that only once. Before you finish up your first RTW ticket, back in Asia, you arrange another RTW ticket and start the cycle over again, varying your itinerary as you choose.

Beyond just cutting your costs, buying offshore opens up an intriguing opportunity for travel within the U.S. If you buy a Star Alliance ticket and start your trip in Asia, for example, you can stop off at up to five cities in North America, with backtracking—but not repeat stopovers—allowed within the total mileage limit. If you don’t use up too much mileage outside the U.S., you can include two long round-trips within the U.S. and Canada as part of the RTW price. And on a business-class RTW ticket, flights inside the U.S. or Canada are in first class except on a relatively rare three-class flight.

As an example, let’s take a trip I might plan: a 29,000-mile RTW ticket starting at Bangkok and visiting Mumbai (Bombay), Rome, London, my home airport in Oregon, Osaka, Hong Kong, and back to Bangkok. Those legs take up just under 20,000 of the ticket’s 29,000 miles, leaving 9,000 miles for travel in North America. So instead of a straight through London-Medford-Osaka routing, I would book London-Medford-New York-Eugene, Oregon-Chicago-Redding, California-Osaka. By stopping off at two other airports within a few hours’ drive of Medford, I can take separate round-trips from my home to New York and Chicago while still enjoying three extended stays at home.

If you live on the East Coast—in Philadelphia, say—you could do your two extra “home” stops in New York and Baltimore; if you live in Dallas, use Austin and Waco. You cannot, however, stop off at different airports within the same metro area, such as LaGuardia, JFK, Newark, and White Plains; San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland; or Los Angeles, Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario, and Santa Ana.

Planning the trip

With all the possibilities, I can’t even begin to recommend specific RTW itineraries. However, I can provide a few guidelines based on my own three RTW trips:

  • 1. Allow enough stops—and enough time at each stop—to let your body adjust to the drastic time changes. As a minimum, I’d suggest five stops over three weeks.
  • 2. When you plan your itinerary—and have your ticket issued—err on the side of too many rather than too few stops. If you decide to skip one of them, you can arrange your schedule to go right through or even overfly it at no extra cost, while adding a stop could be expensive.
  • 3. Travel eastbound if you like to “save” hotel expenses by flying overnight, since a typical eastbound RTW flight involves three overnight flights.
  • 4. Travel westbound if you hate sitting up all night on an airplane as much as I do, since you can do some westbound RTW itineraries without any overnight flights.

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