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Is a Round-the-World Trip Ticket Worthwhile?

Want to circle the globe without spending a small fortune? Consider booking this multi-stop fare option.

U.S. News & World Report

Is a Round-the-World Trip Ticket Worthwhile?

A airplane flies above the clouds.

Travel the globe without breaking the bank.(Getty Images)

If you're looking to score the best rate for a trip around the world, you may be contemplating purchasing a round-the-world plane ticket as a clever hack for an affordable journey. With slashed economy, business and first-class ticket prices and the chance to crisscross the globe while simultaneously knocking world-class destinations off your bucket list, it's easy to see how these fares lure price-sensitive backpackers, leisure jetsetters and road warriors alike. But before you commit to an RTW ticket, you need to know how to leverage value and avoid common booking pitfalls. That's why U.S. News spoke with industry experts to bring you top tips for getting the most out of these ticket options and organizing a cost-effective and stress-free adventure around the globe.

Why Invest in a RTW Ticket?

The top selling point of purchasing RTW tickets is generally getting the best value from one product rather than splitting fares, explains Markus Ruediger, director of media relations for Star Alliance Services, a global airline alliance that includes 28 members. Let's say you want to circumvent the globe starting from New York City. With Star Alliance – and other alliance networks, such as Oneworld and SkyTeam – you can pick from economy, premium economy, business and first-class fare options. Star Alliance, for example, offers a premium economy option for $8,041 (excluding taxes) that includes a maximum of 15 stops and 39,000 miles that's valid for 12 months. The least expensive economy option from Star Alliance costs $3,646 from New York City, includes a maximum of five stops and is valid for six months. During your jaunt, you can hit world-class cities across different continents at your own pace as you travel in a consistent direction, east or west, so long as you cross the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean at least once.

Aside from the chance to travel to multiple destinations on a single ticket, these fares also allow you to rack up frequent flier miles, though rules vary according to the individual travel reward program policy, so it's important to carefully review the fine print. Oneworld and SkyTeam offer similar products, though terms, such as the minimum number of stopovers and maximum number of flight segments vary. "Oftentimes, the best deals can be in premium cabins," says Gary Leff, author of frequent-flier site View from the Wing, cautioning that prices can vary drastically depending on your desired market, mileage and class of service. It's also important to understand that round-the-world awards are limited and less common, with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines eliminating them in recent years. That said, with RTW ticket prices typically ranging from $2,700–$10,000, based on your mileage, route and number of stops (a simple two- or three-stop RTW ticket might cost as little as $1,500), these tickets can yield significant savings, explains Matthew Kepnes, the author behind the budget travel advice site Nomadic Matt.

Map out Your Route

While you have several options to pick from, the best way to optimize value is to organize your itinerary well in advance. "Get a general idea of your route and map out the flights normally to see if you can get a price cheaper than buying an RTW ticket," Kepnes says. "Sometimes you can fly around the world on budget airlines cheaper than you can using an RTW ticket, so long as you don't mind flying budget airlines," he adds. And though RTW tickets can offer an enticing value proposition, the rules tend to be complicated, nuanced and not necessarily convenient if you don't want to put in the legwork to carefully strategize your route to get the best deal, Leff adds, so diligent research is key. Fortunately, alliance networks like Star Alliance offer an easy-to-navigate online tool for planning and booking tickets and building an itinerary where you can easily view member airlines and different distribution channels, he explains.

Consider Relying on Third-Party Sites

If your top priority is securing the best rate, Kepnes recommends turning to major online booking sites, such as STA Travel and Airtreks, rather than booking RTW tickets directly with your preferred airline. "Third-party bookers don't just deal with one alliance – they mix and match from all available airlines, excluding budget airlines, to find the lowest price, which saves you money," he explains. "Moreover, you can fly anywhere and in any direction you want and the over-land mileage doesn't count against your flight because there is no mileage limit," he adds.

Factor in Your Flexibility and Preferred Travel Style

Prior to investing in these tickets, make sure you understand rules and restrictions, and compare the cost of buying components separately before buying an RTW ticket to fully understand the value proposition, Leff says. These tickets involve a lot of planning and are not ideal for spontaneity, he adds.

Kepnes echoes similar sentiments. "RTW tickets are great for people with a set schedule," he says. "If you treat the ticket as an air pass in which you are happy to fly on a rigid schedule, follow the airline rules and not change your dates, a round-the-world ticket will probably save you up to 30 percent off the price of point to point tickets," he says.

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