Globetrotting really kicked off when airlines began to offer these babies. If you like things mapped out in advance and don’t want to worry about how you’ll get home if you run out of money, they can be very convenient.
RTW tickets are primarily offered by large alliances of airlines, namely Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. No airline can go everywhere, but because they pool together their routes, you can book through one airline and access the routes of all the others in the alliance.
All three alliances offer price increases based on the miles you cover (usually 26,000, 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000). Oneworld also offers one based on how many continents you visit (and how many individual flight segments there are).
The number of stops is limited (usually between five and 15) and the basic deal doesn’t allow backtracking over oceans.
The tickets are usually valid for a year, and you need to start and finish in the same country (though not necessarily in the same city). You can make unlimited changes to the dates of your flights without penalty, but changing a destination attracts a fee, usually A$170.
Some agencies offer the option to travel ‘surface’, meaning you’ll fly into one destination in a country (say, Los Angeles) and fly out of another destination in the same country (such as New York). This gives you a good chance to see a country by travelling overland, but the mileage covered on the ground still counts towards your total.
A travel agent can bundle a train or bus ticket with your ticket, but it’s no problem to sort out an overland trip for yourself once you get to a country.
Most travel agents will look at you like you’re a plane-spotting freak if you ask for one of these, but circle fares are a lot like RTW tickets.
Circle fares let you explore a region with several stops, flying between continents in a circular direction, before returning to your point of departure. They’re useful for long-haul trips in countries such as Australia and the US, or in regions such as the Pacific and Europe.
These tickets are offered by the same alliances that offer RTW tickets.
The popular Circle Pacific fare (taking in much of Asia, the Americas and the Pacific) is a good example of the kind of ticket you can get. It allows you to start in a major city such as Sydney and loop around to Perth, Hong Kong, then New York and Santiago (Chile) before returning to the point of departure in Sydney.
This kind of ticket can be a great way to explore a few continents but does have to follow the circle-route path.
With this ticket, you fly into one destination and out of another. Like the surface-sector option of the RTW ticket, you can enjoy a solid road trip between your two destinations, such as from Cape Town to Cairo.
In Asia, you could fly into Bangkok and out of Singapore, allowing you to loop through Cambodia, Vietnam and travel down the southern gulf of Thailand and into Malaysia before flying out of Singapore.
Open-jaw tickets are rarely more expensive than standard return fares. They are also an excellent way of seeing a lot of Europe (fly into London and out of St Petersburg to see most of the continent) or North America (in through Canada, out through Mexico), particularly when using budget airlines to zip around other parts of a continent.
Another secret of the travel industry, air passes can be helpful if you’re exploring a large country (such as Brazil or India) or a region (e.g. Europe or North America) in depth and need some flexibility with timings.
Travel agents are usually in the know, though you can check airline alliances and with individual airlines. The catch with air passes is that they’re often not available from within a country, which means you have to buy them before you go. And with the increase in budget airlines, they don’t offer the value they used to.
An air pass works much like a Eurail ticket, with various packages available based on how many flights you’d like over a certain period of time. The more flights and the longer you want to explore, the higher the price.
Depending on where you go there will be a system of zones based on the length of each flight. For instance, Zone 1 in North America for the Oneworld alliance is any flight up to 310 miles (499 kilometres), while Zone 6 is anything over 2000 miles (3220 kilometres).
For its Europe pass the maximum distance for a Zone 1 flight is reduced to 199 miles (318 kilometres), while Zone 6 is unchanged. Its Australia and New Zealand pass is broken into four zones, starting with Zone A (up to 480 miles/773 kilometres) and finishing with Zone D (1011-1650 miles/1626-2655 kilometres).
A basic North American itinerary could run Los Angeles-Boston-Washington, DC-Orlando-New York-San Francisco and cost about A$800, while a European route could run London-Vienna-Budapest- Rome-Madrid-Paris-London and cost about A$560.
However, using Google Flights to create the same itineraries with one-way fares on various airlines (using set dates well in advance), the US flights could be bought for as little as A$650 combined, with the European legs totalling about A$350.
The advantage of passes is generally the flexibility in timing, as you’ll only need to set the first destination date, leaving the others open. But you’ll need to know exactly where you want to go as you must lock in the route when you book your ticket.
Be careful, however, as some airlines set their air pass price based on you being able to set the date of each journey 90 days in advance, and the cost can triple if you want to be have the flexibility of booking each leg on the day of travel (or double to book a week in advance).
Extracted from The Big Trip, Lonely Planet’s Essential Guide to Gap Years, Sabbaticals And Overseas Adventures, RRP $29.99
and reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet © 2019; lonelyplanet.com