Pack to Backpack

Backpacking around the world!

How to book a round the world ticket

Many people asked me a lot of questions about my round the world plane ticket. How much does it costs, how many flights can you take, what airlines, etc. There is not a lot of information online and many people don’t even know that this kind of tickets exist.

What is a round the world flight ticket?

Each provider has its own rules, but basically a round the world ticket (RTW) is a combined flexible ticket that allows you to fly around the world for a good price. You start in one city, you travel eastwards or westwards, and you have to finish in the same city. For some providers, you need to know your destinations and flights in advance, when you book your ticket, because this is how the fare is calculated. However, all the RTW tickets are created with flexibility in mind and most of the times you can change the dates of your flights for free as many times as you want. For a small fee you can even change your itinerary.

Round the world ticket with OneWorld

For the places I wanted to see, OneWorld RTW was the best option for me. The rules for OneWorld round the world ticket are simple:

• You have to start and end in the same place, travelling always in the same direction

• You have maximum 16 segments (not flights)

• You can fly within one year

• The price is based on the number of continents you go

• Changing the dates for the flights is free

• The airline that manages your ticket is the one that you fly first

What do I mean by segments? There might be sections on your itinerary where you want to go by land, not fly. For example, if you fly to Hanoi, traverse Vietnam by motorcycle and fly out from Ho Chi Minh, then Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh counts as a segment. Your itinerary should be all connected segments, no matter if you fly or not. Also if you want to go from A to B, but there is no direct flight, the number of flights needed will be the number of segments used. It is very important to plan this carefully to take advantage of the ticket. OneWorld has great coverage around the world and you can find direct flights almost everywhere. British Airways, Cathay, Qantas, Latam and American Airlines are some of the biggest airlines in the world and they are part of OneWorld.

How to plan your itinerary

As I said earlier, it is very important to optimize your itinerary. 16 segments is not enough to cover the entire world, but there are some tricks that you can use to get the most out of your money.

Tip 1: Choose a good starting point

Your starting point is also your finish point. Choosing a big city with good connections to both east and west is very important. My starting and ending point is Madrid, because I have found direct flights to China and back from Mexico. If I was flying from London or Bucharest, I was wasting one segment for the transfer in Madrid.

Tip 2: Don’t include short distance or cheap flights

The main idea when planning your itinerary is to have your most expensive flights covered and then you pay extra for the cheap flights. There is no point in wasting one segment on a flight that is very cheap. The more expensive flights you have covered, the better. For example, in Asia flights are very cheap. The best thing to do is to include a big city in your itinerary, like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, and then flight out from there a few months later. During those months you can visit many countries in the area. In my case, I had a flight into Myanmar at the beginning of December and my next flight was from Bali to Australia in February. In these 3 months I could go where I wanted in Asia and book my own tickets there. This offered much more flexibility and segment optimisation for my itinerary.

South America is also an area where you don’t need to book many flights. There are so many countries to be seen and you can easily travel and cross borders by land. My last open segment is from Santiago de Chile to Mexico City, before I fly back to Europe.

Tip 3: Use a good flights search tool

A good tool to find direct flights and destinations is Google Flights. You can filter by OneWorld and direct flights, choose your departure and see where you can fly directly from there. The tool from OneWorld it’s slow and does not always gives you the best route.

Tip 4: Book with a good airline

The first airline you fly with is the one that manages your booking. All the changes you have to do, will go through them. If you have the choice on the first airline, go for the one with good customer support. Initially, my first flight was with Iberia from Madrid to Shanghai and I had to book my ticket with them. After more than a week of trying to book and pay for my ticket, I gave up and went for an alternative route. Iberia has probably the worst customer support ever. They were not able to book my flights and take my money for various reasons. Just stupid. I have found a flight from Madrid to Hong Kong with Cathay and the reservation process was very smooth. Cathay is great in all aspects and I recommend it.

Tip 5: Become a member and collect airmiles

If you are a member of one of an alliance that offers RTW tickets, it might be worth booking with them. Other than collecting Airmiles or Avios, after a few flights you might gain access to airport lounges or priority check in. It is really nice to have free food and drinks before your flight when you are a poor backpacker.

My itinerary

My RTW ticket started in Madrid, covers 4 continents, it has 13 flights and 3 open segments. I booked it with Cathay and I paid 3100 GBP (4100 USD). You can find all the stops here:

Madrid, SpainHong KongCebu, Philippines – Yangon, Myanmar (via Hong Kong) – open segment 1 – Bali, Indonesia – Brisbane, Australia (via Sydney) – open segment 2 – Cairns, Australia – Sydney, Australia – Auckland, New Zealand – Buenos Aires, Argentina (via Santiago de Chile) – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Santiago de Chile – open segment 3 – Mexico City, Mexico – Madrid, Spain

Other RTW tickets

SkyTeamEmirates and StarAlliance also offer RTW tickets. Their rules are a bit different than OneWorld, but not too much. I can not tell anything about the price because these don’t offer a price estimation tool. STA travel also offers flexible RTW tickets, but the price I got from them was higher than OneWorld.

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