Airfare is most likely going to be your top single expense for a big trip. You want to minimize costs as much as possible yet also have flexibility.
There are lots of misconceptions about airfare for a trip like this. Many think there are only two options:
- Buy a RTW Ticket, which includes all flights for your entire trip.
- Or buy one-way flights as you travel
That misconception is wrong. Period. There are many more options than that, and it’s important to learn about all of them before making the decision that is best for you.
Traditionally, when most people think of a RTW Plane Ticket, it meant buying all flights for your entire trip up front, typically from an airline alliance. People who don’t like this option complained about all the rules – like having to travel in one direction, not being able to backtrack, and only having a certain allotment of mileage or stops. All these rules are describing a RTW Ticket from one of the airline alliances – One World, Star, and SkyTeam.
For some reason, this type of RTW Ticket gets mentioned as the only option other than just buying one-way flights as your trip unfolds.
The difference between RTW and Multi-stop
Indie, BootsnAll’s multi-stop flight booking engine, is newer and offers all the same options as the companies above. It is also the only one of its kind that allows travelers to search, price, and book trips over 6 legs completely online.
The main difference between most of these companies and the airline alliances is that the rules aren’t the same.
- You don’t have to book your entire trip up front if you don’t want to.
- Most of these companies allow you to book a few legs at a time, book different combinations of flights for different continents, fly into one city and out of the other, and pretty much customize your trip how you want.
The point is that it’s not as black and white as some make it out to be. Read about all options in depth below to learn more.
Cost vs. flexibility
Some say that buying as you go will automatically be more expensive. That’s true in some cases, but it all depends on your trip. Each trip is completely different and can be manipulated in order to get the best price.
All you need to know about RTW tickets
For those of you in the very initial planning stages, you may be wondering what the hell a RTW (often called multi-stop) ticket even is. Most people don’t even know they exist before they start thinking about doing a long-term trip.
Traditionally, a round the world ticket is a plane ticket you buy from a company that can encompass all the flights of your trip.
As stated above, there are many different options for this though – from the airline alliances (good for those who have miles with a particular airline, but heavily restrictive) to many companies around the world who specialize in this kind of ticket.
Most reputable companies who sell this type of ticket have search functions on their sites to get you started, but you need to contact a customer service rep to get a price. There is usually a good deal of back and forth to see their options and get an idea of price.
Note: You can also use Indie for budgeting purposes when you are in the initial planning stages since there’s no wait time to get a bookable price.
With AirTreks, you enter your destinations and dates into their trip planner, get a pricing estimate, then submit that route to their team of flight experts. You will then be assigned a personal travel consultant who will schedule a call to talk about your trip, your budget, and your wishes, then put together the flights that make the most sense for you.
Why book a multi-stop flight?
There are good reasons to buy a round the world plane ticket, no matter which company you choose to use.
If you have miles with one of the airlines alliances, you may want to look into what they offer.
When we were working on Indie, we wanted to build a platform that benefited both those who wanted to be able to plan their trip up front and those who want more flexibility and spontaneity. With Indie, we offer “no rules” and “instant pricing.” Fly from anywhere, to anywhere.
“You can actually spend your time traveling instead of sitting in an internet cafe looking for flights.”
If you want or need some assistance, we also have experts on the ready to help you out with your route and get the best price or routing possible. We’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years, so take advantage of our knowledge. If you know your route, find a good price, and are ready to buy, you can do that all online, too.
Indie is constantly adding new features to help you find the flights that are best for you. Check out some of the newest.
AirTreks, who has been helping long-term travelers for over 25 years, also has a team of specialists – each person who submits a route through their trip planner will be assigned a personal trip consultant who will help you build the best route for you!
The biggest advantage to buying all your flights up front is that your plans will be made and you won’t have to spend any time checking airfare while on the road. You can actually spend your time traveling instead of sitting in an internet cafe looking for flights.
If you go with all one-way tickets, the flexibility is nice, but if you’re on a tight budget, you will spend considerable time on the internet trying to find the best deal. And while everyone thinks they will want to change their mind once on the road, we have found that very few actually change their tickets once they have bought them.
If you’re traveling as a family, a RTW ticket may be the best option. It’s typically more difficult for families traveling with children to find the downtime on their trips to plan their next stops, so doing all the legwork in advance might just be easier.
Read our free, downloadable Round the World Ticket Report (most recently updated on September 2, 2014) to read the comparisons between many companies who sell RTW tickets and buying one-ways.
All you need to know about buy as you go tickets
The logistics of it are pretty simple, really – you just buy your tickets as you are traveling. Find that very first one way flight out of your hometown and take it from there. You can literally book one ticket at a time and leave the rest up to spontaneity.
This flexibility is by far the biggest advantage of buying as you go.
Why buy as you go?
The advantages of buying as you go begin and end at the mind-blowing and absolute freedom you have to wander the globe at your own pace and on your own terms. You can go where you want, when you want, and it opens up a world of possibilities (pun intended).
You can keep your itinerary as open or as planned as you want. You can buy a flight here, a flight there, and take advantage of deals and sales when they come around. Basically, you can really give in to spontaneity and let your whims choose where you go next. For many people, this is the largest single appeal of doing a long-term trip in the first place, so it’s not really a question of either/or, but one of how difficult this is to actually pull off.
As you may already know, “walk-up fares” are outrageously expensive in most cases. You might encounter some fixed fares that are the same price no matter when you buy them, but most of the time walk-up fares will be much more than if you bought a ticket a week before (and those would most likely be more expensive than if you bought months in advance). It sounds very romantic to just head to each airport on a whim, but if you do it that way, you’ll be broke by the time you’re half-way around the world.
Another major advantage of buying as you go is that you can travel as long as you want with no restrictions. Find a place that you love and feel like staying a month or two? No upcoming flights to worry about canceling or rescheduling. Find a job and want to stay somewhere for a year? You can do that, too. The possibilities are endless.
Most travelers assume that buying point to point tickets are going to be more expensive. Sometimes stringing together a series of international flights is going to cost more than if you buy a RTW ticket, but like we said earlier, it depends on the actual trip.
Because of the infinite possibilities that exist for putting together a long-term trip, you can’t definitively state that one method of airfare will be cheaper than another.
Some people just like to have their travel ducks in a row, and we can’t blame them. If you are traveling on a tight budget or have kids in tow, it can become a hassle having to constantly keep your eye on the price of flights. Travel planning (researching prices, tickets, etc) while on the road can range from a few hours a month to setting aside a day or so to plan out your next destination. Decision-making, especially if you’re traveling with another person or a family, becomes more and more annoying, and sometimes it’s simply easier to have it all planned out.
In the Fall 2012 version of the Around the World Airfare Report, we tested the DIY approach. Most DIY travelers, ourselves included, do NOT buy all the tickets at once in advance like a RTW ticket because it negates the point of having that freedom. So the actual cost is different. We learned that unless you book all your DIY point to point tickets well in advance, it is not cheaper than buying an multi-stop ticket. On average, the closer the departure date gets, the more expensive that fight becomes.
Can you have the best of both worlds?
The short answer is yes.
What if you don’t know your itinerary yet? Or what if you have an idea of your first few stops but then want to wing it? What are your options?
If you plan on traveling for a year or longer, you won’t be able to book your entire ticket regardless of which company you go with. Airlines only release fight prices 11 months in advance, which is why you see length restrictions on multi-stop tickets.
With companies who specialize in multi-stop airfare (i.e., not the alliances), you can just book those first few legs then come back and book the next few while you’re on the road. No need to set your entire trip in advance if that’s not what you want to do. You can do a combination of a round the world ticket and one-ways if that’s what works for you.
“I had seen the RTW ticket option but didn’t browse tickets until we decided to purchase one for our trip home. I was hooked and probably tried 75 different trip / country combos over a month before purchasing.” – Jessica Thompson
Jessica Thompson, who had been traveling around the world with her husband using one-way tickets, booked the last few legs of her trip on Indie, saying, “I had seen the RTW ticket option but didn’t browse tickets until we decided to purchase one for our trip home. I was hooked and probably tried 75 different trip / country combos over a month before purchasing.”
And in case you were curious, you can incorporate overland travel into that RTW ticket. In the above scenario, you can book a flight to Bogota, Colombia, travel overland through South American all the way down to Santiago, then fly from Santiago to New Zealand. With Indie, searching your next leg or two after that is a cinch, as all you have to do is log on, enter your trip and dates, and get a price. It’s simple to keep an eye on your options and prices while you’re on the road. Or if you’re working with a rep from a company like AirTreks, you can work with the agent on splitting your trip up into different segments, booking some flights before leaving and others while you’re on the road, leaving time to change your mind once you’re on the road.
Read The Stopover Secret: How to Get More From Any Trip to learn more about maximizing your flights.
What should you do?
Everyone is different and has different needs when traveling, so you need to do what’s best for you and who you’re traveling with. Here are some questions to ask yourself and suggestions based on our experience helping people plan trips and talking to others about their trips after they’re over.
There’s a lot of hindsight once you actually do a trip like this, so it’s important to ask the right questions and do the right research.
Where are you at in your route planning? Do you have your pillars, or must-see destinations outlined? How do those look when you map them out?
- If many of your must-see destinations are in one region (like Central/South America) and you don’t get hives when thinking about not having a plan, then buying a one-way to that region may be your best bet.
- Are your pillars scattered about the world? Maybe you have one in S. America. One in Africa. One in Australia. One in SE Asia. One in Europe. Then it definitely pays to at least research how much a multi-stop ticket costs. Then price one-ways and compare.
- Do you get annoyed by spending time in front of a computer researching things like flights? This is something that first-time planners don’t really think of when making their decision. It’s easy to say, “I want ultimate flexibility, so I’m booking one-ways.” But there’s so much more to it than that, particularly if you have a tight budget. Once you’re ready to move on to that next destination, you’re going to have to spend some time finding your next flight. What if you find out the cost is double what you thought? Then you have to re-assess and either get a different plan together, which involves more research, or just buck up and spend more than you wanted. BootsnAll editor Adam Seper and his wife bought all one-ways for their RTW, and he says, “We spent an inordinate amount of time – multiple days when you add it all up over the course of the year we were gone – in front of a computer screen planning that next step and trying to find the cheapest flight possible.”
- Do you have miles with a particular airline? If so, see what airline alliance it is a part of and what round the world ticketing options they offer. You may be able to get all or part of your ticket for free if you have enough miles built up. Just be aware you’ll have to abide by their rules and regulations.
- Are you traveling as a family? Many families want to have their route all figured out so they only have to worry about traveling and keeping an eye on the kids. Having to think about, discuss, plan, search, and book that next leg can get time-consuming and frustrating when you have other people to worry about.
Your flights are going to be the top single expense of this trip, so don’t take this decision lightly. Do the research and really think long and hard about what it’s going to be like on the road. There is no perfect solution as there are pros and cons to each option, so weigh them out and decide what’s best for you and your trip.