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How to book a round-the-world ticket

So, you want a round-the-world ticket, but where the flip do you start? What even is a round-the-world ticket? How does it work? Which places can I go to? Which airline do I use? So many questions!

Well folks, I used to be a travel agent. I got asked about round-the-world tickets fairly often. And boy are they complicated. Most airline websites have no option for booking round-the-world tickets, and therefore most people have absolutely no idea how to go about booking one. And it’s no wonder! With all these complicated rules and airline mumbo-jumbo, even the most seasoned travellers have trouble understanding how they work.

Following are the FAQs I received about round-the-world (RTW) tickets, and how to go about booking one.

How does a round-the-world ticket work?

The is no single airline that offers a RTW ticket. The ticket will always be with an alliance of airlines, the main ones being Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. There is also Virgin – who do RTW tickets on the destinations their partner airlines fly to. You will have to choose one of these alliances for your ticket.

One rule with RTW tickets is that the flight direction can’t vary between continents – you will have to continue travelling in an east or west direction. You may be able to backtrack within a continent, but generally you will have to continue in the same direction.

Most RTW tickets will require a trans-Pacific crossing (eg. Los Angeles – Tokyo) and a trans-Atlantic crossing (eg. London-New York).

Each ticket also has a limit on how many miles can be included in your route, so your ticket may be more expensive if the number of miles is high.

Do I have to follow a standard itinerary?

Absolutely not. The itineraries you might have seen advertised will probably go along the lines of Sydney-Hong Kong-London-New York-Sydney. But if you don’t want to do the advertised itinerary, that’s fine! You might not get exactly the same price as what you’ve seen, but you can create a RTW ticket with many different itineraries.

Which alliance should I use?

First let me explain how airlines work. Every airline has a hub city, or a number of hub cities. For example – Air France’s hub is Paris. Cathay Pacific’s hub is Hong Kong. Emirates hub is Dubai.

Most flights with any airline will be flying in or out of their hub city. So for me to get from Sydney to London with Emirates, I would have to fly Sydney to Dubai, then Dubai to London.

Knowing this, you should be able to consider at least two different airlines for every route you are taking. If you are flying from Sydney to Hong Kong you can consider an airline based in Sydney who flies to Hong Kong (Qantas) or an airline based in Hong Kong who flies to Sydney (Cathay Pacific).

You can also consider an airline that flies to both cities but has a hub somewhere in between. So for the Sydney to Hong Kong flight you could use Singapore Airlines who have their hub in Singapore, by flying from Sydney to Singapore, then Singapore to Hong Kong.

Select your destinations, discover which airlines fly in and out of that destination, and then you can decide which alliance to use. This Wiki article lists the airlines and their airport hubs, and you can also check out which airlines are members of the Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team alliances, or Virgin‘s partner airlines. See if your destinations will fit in with any of these alliances.

WHAT IF MY DESTINATIONS DON’T MATCH ANY ALLIANCE?

It’s still possible to book a RTW ticket, and book separate one-way flights between destinations that aren’t included in the ticket.

You can also book a ticket flying into one destination and out of another. For example, you could be flying into Rome but you don’t necessarily have to depart from Rome as well, you could depart from Paris or London, or a different destination instead.

What if I haven’t chosen my destinations yet?

Unfortunately you can’t really leave destinations open. The best option is probably to forget the RTW ticket and book separate one-way tickets once you know where you’d like to depart from.

how far ahead can i book?

Flight bookings are only available about 11 months in advance, so if any of your flight dates (including your return flight) are outside of that range, you won’t be able to make a booking.

If this is the case, some tickets offer free date changes if your dates are out of range. You can book for a date within the 11 month range, and when your preferred date becomes available, change it without charge. Make sure you check if this is the case before purchasing your ticket.

Some tickets will allow you to have open return dates, which means you can decide on your flight date once you’ve decided that you’re ready to return, however, these kinds of tickets are much less common than they used to be and you may have trouble finding one.

How do I book a ticket?

Go to a travel agent – the more experienced the better. Ask for someone familiar with RTW tickets if possible. Have your flight itinerary ready, with your preferred dates and airports you’d like to fly in and out of.

Be prepared – some parts of your itinerary might have to change a little. Being flexible with destinations and dates will make it easier for both you and your agent.

Be patient – If your agent doesn’t know the answer to some of your questions, they’re usually more than happy to find out the answers by asking someone who does know and getting back to you later. If they’re not happy to do this then find another travel agent who is willing to help you.


I hope this resource helps you in planning your round-the-world trip! If you have any further questions, feel free to post in the comments!

Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

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