When first booking our little adventure, we did some research on whether it made sense for us to buy the round-the-world (RTW) ticket or if it made more sense for us to pay as you go. The answer is . . . there is no right answer; it’s whatever YOU are comfortable with and the type of travel that you want to do.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The RTW ticket is actually an alliance pass; the most popular ones are OneWorld Alliance and Star Alliance. You buy the ticket from one airline and the ticket can be used with that airline and all of their partners. For example, if you were to book with United, your ticket would only be good with United and the partners within that alliance (there are many partners).
TERMS AND CONDITIONS:
The RTW tickets come with a ton of conditions (we didn’t get to read them all as it was beyond overwhelming). Generally speaking, a ticket is valid for 1 year from the start date of travel and requires you to end in the same country that you start in (for some, not all).
One of the examples that we researched was Star Alliance and the way it works is it is based on how many miles you travel. Each pass is allowed up to 15 stopovers (a stopover is considered 24 hours in one destination). The more miles you want on your ticket, the more places you can visit, but this means paying more money, of course.
Star Alliance also requires passengers to start and end in the same country, but not in the same city (unless so desired). You can also backtrack over continents but not over oceans. When you cross oceans, you would have to keep moving in your original direction or you lose miles. If you do need to backtrack, you end up losing a bunch of your purchased miles.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
The RTW tickets prices range between $3,000–$10,000, depending on your mileage, route, and the number of stops. There are simpler options with just a few stops which may cost less.
On all tickets, you can change the dates and times at no extra charge as long as you don’t change the destinations. For example, if you have a Bangkok to San Francisco flight that you wish to modify, you can change the date and time without a fee. However, if you decide to fly from Bangkok to Los Angeles instead then you have to pay a fee of $125.
IS IT WORTH IT?
That’s completely up to you and the type of travel that you want to do! If you know exactly where you are going and when you want to go, then you should look into booking the RTW ticket. However, if you are unsure of where you will go and within what time frame or if you wish for more spontaneity, then booking flights as you go will likely be the right path for you. You also have to remember that great budget airlines like RyanAir or AirAsia are not within any alliance which may cause you to miss out on some very cheap independent flights.
WHAT DID WE DO?
At the end of the day, we decided that the most important thing for us was travel flexibility, so we decided to forego the RTW ticket and booked flights as we traveled (this was a lot cheaper in Asia than in South America).
We saved up many United air miles over the years and opened up a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card each which allowed us an extra 50,000 points/person (which we then could convert to miles). The credit cards that we opened allowed us to have no international fees and for every travel related purchase (dining, hotels, etc.) we earned double the points per dollar spent. There are now gazillion of cards out there with probably even better deals, but at the time, this is what worked for us.
In total, we took 29 flights (not counting the layovers) – the list below does not include overland or oversea travel.
- San Francisco, California USA to Lima, Peru
- Cuzco, Peru to Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Santiago, Chile to Punta Arenas, Chile
- El Calafate, Argentina to Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Montevideo, Uruguay to Iguazu, Argentina
- Iguazu, Argentina to Salta, Argentina
- Uyuni, Bolivia to La Paz, Bolivia
- La Paz, Bolivia to Baltra Galapagos, Ecuador
- Baltra Galapagos, Ecuador to Bogota, Colombia
- Bogota, Colombia to Salento, Colombia
- Salento, Colombia to Cartagena, Colombia
- Cartagena, Colombia to Bogota, Colombia
- Bogota, Colombia to Bangkok, Thailand
- Bangkok, Thailand to Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos
- Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam
- Hanoi, Vietnam to Hoi An, Vietnam
- Hoi An, Vietnam to Saigon, Vietnam
- Saigon, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Siem Reap, Cambodia to Yangon, Myanmar
- Yangon, Myanmar to Koh Phangan, Thailand (included a bus and a boat ride to the island)
- Koh Phangan, Thailand to Bangkok, Thailand
- Bangkok, Thailand to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
- Arusha, Tanzania to Zanzibar, Tanzania
- Zanzibar, Tanzania to Dublin, Ireland
- Shannon, Ireland to London, England
- London, England to Shannon, Ireland
- Shannon, Ireland to Portland, Maine USA
WHAT DID IT COST US:
Our life long accumulated miles, oh and a few bucks! To be exact, we spent a total of $9,590.07 for two people or $4,795.00 per person for 10 months of travel to date.
If you have specific places that you would like to visit in mind within certain dates, then I think exploring the RTW ticket is probably worth your time. If you want to pick up and go as you please and you have no idea which country or continent you may end up in next, then buy as you go!