The Cheapest Round-the-World Plane Tickets

Want to fly around the world, but you don’t want to wing it as you go? With a round-the world ticket (or around the world ticket if you’re covering all the bases when Googling), you can set up your main airport stops in advance. When you’re ready to book it, your flight plan is set. Write one check or input your credit card once and you’re off and running for a year.

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve done any research on this though, the prices are all over the map—because the choices are all over the map. So which routes are the cheapest? And which would cost you your whole travel savings for the year?

To get an answer to these questions, I posed them to someone I know at Airtreks, one of the best-known and longest-established companies selling round-the-world tickets. Nico Crisafulli handles public relations for the agency, so I asked him for some insider tips.

The Cheapest Round-the-World Tickets

“We do well with getting from the U.S. to Asia, Asia to Europe, U.S. to Europe (and vice versa), and locating killer combination fares throughout those continents. We find big discounts by stringing together two or three one-way tickets. We also have deals across the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

around the world

On their site this week, for instance, is a good RTW combo for hitting a good number of inexpensive destinations, from $2,400 to $3,000 depending on season:

New York – Hong Kong – Singapore – surface – Kuala Lumpur – Cochin / Kochi – surface – Bombay / Mumbai – Cairo – Istanbul – surface – Athens – Vienna – surface – Paris – Reykjavik – New York

There’s another that hits Munich and Rome near the end instead, for about the same price.

Here’s another route, similar price:

New York – Vancouver – Shanghai – surface – Kunming – Chiang Mai – surface – Kuala Lumpur – Cochin / Kochi – surface – Goa – Delhi – London – New York

And one more for the west coasters:

Los Angeles – Tokyo – Singapore – Kathmandu – surface – Delhi – Istanbul – London – surface – Paris – Los Angeles

RTW flights

Seeing a pattern here? Major world capitals and competitive big airports continually show up on the lowest-priced itineraries. See if where you want to go most is near one of those.

Shorter Routes to Consider

If you don’t have your heart set on actually circling the globe, you can often hit more destinations with a “circle the Pacific,” “circle the Atlantic” or “tour the Americas” option that makes a loop. This route, for example, can come in under $2K if you time it right:

Miami – Sao Paulo – Buenos Aires – Santiago – La Paz – Lima – Bogota – Miami

Shave it down to as low as $1,200 with this shorter route:

Miami – Guatemala City – San Jose (Costa Rica) – Lima – Bogota – Miami

This one skirting the Atlantic starts at $1,849:

New York – Bogota – Rio de Janeiro – Paris – Madrid – New York

The Most Expensive Round-the-World Tickets

First of all, the way to blow the most on these tickets is to buy them through one of the airline alliances. You’ll invariably pay more, have fewer choices, and have more restrictions. Unless you can pay for it with miles, it’s a raw deal for all but the simplest routes, and only then if you can get mileage that will bump you up to elite status. (That in itself is worth a lot.)

Otherwise, the southern hemisphere can really sock it to you. “I think the most unexpected costs are when people try to travel across the South Pacific—Australia/New Zealand to South America and vice versa—especially when stopping over in remote places such as Easter Island and Tahiti. A dearth of airlines serve those spots,” says Nico.

For this route, the price goes up to a range of $3,724 to $4,350:

Los Angeles – London – Nairobi – surface – Dar Es Salaam – Johannesburg – surface – Cape Town – Kuala Lumpur – Sydney – Nadi (Fiji) – Los Angeles

“Strangely, stopping in Hawaii on a trans-Pacific journey gets pricey, as does island hopping in Micronesia and that area.

Trans-Africa flights are notoriously expensive (i.e., flights between countries in sub-Saharan Africa). Try to do more than a few and you’ve got a major case of sticker shock. People tend also to think they can add Africa for a song, but it’s not really true. Northern Africa is better and also Kenya, but things get more complicated trying to do more than one or two African cities. Getting down to South Africa and its region will always spike a ticket price, as will Victoria Falls. We’ve actually got good prices to get to Maldives and Seychelles on Emirates though.

Also trying to hop around the USA (depending on the season, of course) makes prices jump. Keeping a U.S. itinerary to no more than three stops helps.”

around the world flight

Hitting every continent–a crazy idea if you only have a year anyway–will really blow the budget. Those options start at $5,344.

If you do want to get to these other regions that add on a lot, consider alternate methods to flying and look at other ideas such as package tours that bundle hotels and flights together (like from London to Morocco). Within Europe you can easily hop a train or take a budget flight booked at the last minute to add another city.

Airtreks’ RTW planning section of the site is a goldmine for anyone pondering a trip around the world. Check it out and save yourself a lot of headaches (and money).

  1. Jeremy

    I did pretty much what’s in that second map shot for under 2 grand by booking it all myself as I went. One more flight than what’s in there actually. (Singapore-Bangkok, Bangkok-Kathmandu). And I didn’t have to reserve dates in advance that way. I know some people want the peace of mind, but there are so many budget airlines in Europe and Asia that you can find almost any busy route on sale when you’re actually in that city.

    • patrick mcginn

      I did a rtw flight in 1988….and i want to go again. PKM

  2. Lyndsay

    As much as how this “Round-the-world Ticket” sounds appealing and the title has a definite marketing sale catcher, it really isn’t smart enough to spend this much for a round the world trip…and I can bet you doing it yourself on the budget airlines in combo with landtrips will cost you way lesser than just the ticket price. It might even cover accommodation, food, and activities for that amount! :)

  3. Carolina

    My husband and I also went with the book-as-you-go method, because a) we were using frequent flier miles for some legs, and b) we wanted to go to southern Africa and Australia, and as you mentioned, it’s pricey to get to both places. But we managed to do it pretty cheaply. We used miles to get to Hawaii, booked a cheap Jetstar flight to Sydney and used budget airlines to get around Southeast Asia and to India. Flights from Delhi to Johannesburg were frequent and not too expensive.

    We saved our other frequent flier miles for the long-haul leg from southern Africa to Spain, where we could get the most bang for our miles. A one-way ticket from Lusaka to Madrid likely would’ve cost us at least $1,500 each in coach; instead, we went business class for 37,500 miles. After that, a flight back home on Aer Lingus, which we found was the only airline that had reasonably one-way fares.

    We had to get a bit creative, but I’m happy we were able to do the itinerary we wanted!

  4. Tim Leffel

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I’m not saying you can’t do it more cheaply on your own some of the time, maybe even most of the time, but there’s the old time is money issue and some people just like knowing up front how much they’re going to have to spend. (Part of the reason cruises and all-inclusive resorts will always be popular.)

    Even if you’re winging it though, this tells you which portions really increase your cost. Carolina’s got the right idea for using mileage: put it to the most productive use by using miles for the longest/most expensive portions.

  5. Magepte

    This is great stuff. I love the comments about also using miles. I am a fanatic on miles collecting so using them to get the cost down is important. You make a great point about time is money. Not every mile collecting scheme is for everyone. There are some simple everyday things you can do to maximize your miles. Thank you for this information. I linked to this article from my summary blog about travel and mile collecting,

  6. Alan

    Great post Tim, like the practical thinking. Another good way to get an idea of the cost of a round the world trip is to use the “multi-city” function on Kayak. You can simply enter a whole itinerary and it will give you options with multiple carriers(
    I have done a quick comparison between the Trip Planner and Kayak and it is quite competitive, it would definitely be worth checking both.

  7. Spies flybilletter

    I think book-as-you-go is the best way to save money on these kinds of trips. I went on this route: Los Angeles – London – Nairobi – Johannesburg – Cape Town – Kuala Lumpur – Sydney – Nadi (Fiji) – Los Angeles and it cost me about $3000 with accommodation at some of the places. Budget airlines might not be the most comfortable way to travel but it is the cheapest.

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