I got the idea for a round-the-world trip by looking at my summer schedule. In July, I’m scheduled to be in central Europe at a conference. Two weeks later, another meeting is in Vancouver. After teaching summer school, I’m open from roughly July 1 to August 15. Since I have friends who teach and work in China, Korea, and Austrlia, I thought about taking the long route. I thought I’d share the round-the-world information I gathered. As a statistician, I can make it through the tedium of data entry. I was watching gridiron football all day and wanted something to do. Since I’m a young professor, that makes me primarily a budget traveler, though I also included higher fare information.
For people in a hurry, here’s the summary on trips from the USA:
- Buying a ticket is not cheap. Except for special restricted fares, expect to pay US$4000 to 5000 in economy, and about $10,000 in business class. You’re getting a lot of travel for this, of course.
- The cheapest options almost never begin in the USA. A “positioning” flight to start the circuit will cost little to nothing, sometimes even saving you money, plus can give you a bonus visit to your starting city.
- If you want to visit Great Britain, South Africa or southeast Asia, and Oceania, there are special tickets out of London.
- SkyTeam has limited southern hemisphere coverage and the worst booking class, making it somewhat less effective. London is the best starting place, though you need a local agent.
- oneworld has the Continent pass xONEx, which gives you more flexibility within continents. It’s especially good in South America. For South American journeys, start there; otherwise positioning may or may not help. You need either a local agent or a Canadian agent.
- Star Alliance has the largest number of partners, no local agent requirement, and great worldwide coverage except South America. From the US, your best positioning options are the middle east, northern Africa, and South Africa.
Here’s the list of choices, from lowest ticket price to highest. Costs I provide were found in late November 2009, for tickets beginning in July 2010. I list US dollar estimated total cost, base cost plus a non-trivial amount of taxes, fees, and “fuel surcharges”. Why fuel is not a normal part of the ticket is beyond my pay grade. A spreadsheet of cost by country is also available.
- Restricted Economy ($2500 + 900 US positioning): There are a couple single carrier options, like Singapore Air. Then there are small alliances, particularly for trips beginning from London that include Australia or New Zealand. See, for example, the Great Escapade and World Walkabout Plus. Though restricted in airlines, for a trip with London, Oceania, and either South Africa or Asia, this is likely cheapest. One gets 29,000 travel miles, plus a free bonus trip to London. I’ll explain more below.
- Special Economy ($4000): Star Alliance, Skyteam, and Oneworld offer a 26,000 mile option, with between 3 and 5 stopovers. By sticking to major cities with nonstop service, there are plenty of good options. For example, Louisville-Rome-Istanbul-Beijing-Sydney-Vancouver-Louisville works on Star Alliance. Smaller cities, however, have to be added through separate round trips from a permitted stopover, or a longer ticket.
- Economy Mileage ($4500 to 6000): The major alliances also offer 29,000, 34,000, and 39,000 mile options, with up to 16 flight segments and thus 15 stopovers. For Skyteam and Star Alliance, from the US, flying a positioning flight to somewhere else (London for Skyteam, Mideast or South America or South Africa for Star Alliance) will get you an extra trip at almost no extra cost.
- Continent Based ($4500 to 7000): Oneworld offers the explorer ticket xONEx that restricts the number of continents, not miles. If you want to travel between multiple places on three or four continents, this is the best option. Positioning will help with Southern Hemisphere trips, and in some other cases.
- Business ($8500+) and First ($13000+): At this level, I suspect that alliance preference will be most important. In all cases, positioning can help. If you’re in the US or Euro Zone, and are willing to take a economy class flight to a different start point, that flight will cost negative dollars. Star Alliance Business class is substantially cheaper from Japan or the Middle East. Skyteam is cheaper from India. On oneworld, the Middle East is cheaper.
Positioning: The cost of any round-the-world ticket is based on the country where the trip begins, and sometimes on the country where the ticket is booked. Some differences are sizable. For instance, YRWSTAR1 (Star alliance, 29,000 miles, Economy class) is $4861 beginning in Canada, but $2684 beginning in South Africa. You could pay separately for a ticket to South Africa, start the circumnavigation there, and then fly back, all for less money.
With positioning, you can also create an extra trip. Round the world tickets generally have a 12 month window. Good booking gives you a second trip to the positioning city, several months after the main trip. Here’s an example. In July, I start in the US and position to London. Then I circle around to the US, then stop. In December, I complete the round-the-world booking to London. Then, after an extra holiday, I return on the second half of the positioning flight.
There are a couple caveats. For oneworld and SkyTeam, you will need someone in the other country to book the ticket, else you pay home country fare, though Star Alliance and special fares do not have this requirement. Though I have no recommendation, you should be able to find a reputable agent. To be safe, you might also book the positioning flight on another alliance, because add-ons and end-to-end combinations are generally not permitted. Now, for notes by program.
- Great Escapade: Unlike large alliance programs, the fare depends on the time of year. Economy fare is usually under $2000, plus fees; Upper class fare is $8376, not a discount. There aren’t many airlines, just Virgin Atlantic VS, Air New Zealand NZ, Singapore Airlines SQ, and Silkair MI. For mileage junkies, Singapore and Air NZ are part of Star Alliance; the other two are mostly avoidable.
For the base 29,000 miles, you can include South Africa or Asia along with Oceania, but going to both is difficult. Extra miles are available at about $200 per 1500 miles, up to 4500, if you want that. Also note that Delhi is almost exactly on the route from London to Singapore. It costs 5 extra miles. Really, that’s a single digit, making it hard to pass up.
I believe this ticket is best for someone who wants to see London, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. This fare does not need a British booking agent. (The World Walkabout Fare from Qantas is cheaper but more restrictive.) A booking like London-Delhi-Singapore-Bangkok-Singapore-Hong Kong-Sydney-Auckland-Los Angeles (stop) London even has room for a flight within New Zealand.
- SkyTeam: Flying from London is cheap on SkyTeam, cheaper than almost everywhere else. OK, Pakistan is less. From the US or Europe, starting from London is the only way to make economy fares competitive. India and London are the options for business class. You will need a local agent.
SkyTeam tickets have weaknesses. One is a relative lack of connections in South America and Oceania. The other, perhaps more troubling, is a low booking class. Economy fares are listed as class L and business fares as class I. These are fairly heavily discounted on SkyTeam, thus tougher to find than on Star Alliance and oneworld. Overall, I believe this ticket only makes sense for primary SkyTeam customers.
- oneworld: In business class, the Global Explorer offers 34,000 miles at the same price as other 29,000 mile products. That said, the continent Explorer passes are more interesting; the oneworld website routes them. Availability is better than SkyTeam because booking class L is less restricted. Also, because of the lack of mileage limits, hopping around continents is easy. For instance, Buenos Aires-Madrid-Rome-Helsinki-Stockholm-London-Beijing-Tokyo-Bangkok-Sydney-Auckland-Santiago-Easter Island-Buenos Aires is legal, at 4 continents and almost 40000 miles.
People in Europe do not have to travel to London, as the fare difference is small. People in the US who want to visit South America should start there. I suggest Buenos Aires, which also has nonstop flights to Europe. Then you can see South America, Europe, Africa or Asia, and Oceania on a 4 continent pass. The key flights involved are Sydney-Buenos Aires and Auckland-Santiago.
Otherwise, a US positioning flight will depend on the cost of the extra flight and the route desired. Auckland, New Zealand, can be attractive. According to the sales restrictions, you will need a booking agent in the starting country, otherwise you will pay your home fare if higher, except if you book in Canada OR you book in the European Common Aviation Area and start there. Really. I don’t make these things up. Overall, I believe oneworld is great for trips involving Oceania and South America. It’s the only option for Easter Island. Around the rest of the world, except Africa, oneworld has a solid network.
- Star Alliance: With the most airlines, this network is largest, and except for South America has great coverage. This leads to relatively few mileage-sapping detours. From the US, the Star special economy YRWSPCL gives 26,000 miles and 5 stopovers, for under $4000 including fees. The booking class is moderate. For more destinations within a region, Star Alliance offers a regional pass add-on. For a simple non-positional circumnavigation, it’s the best deal.
Above that, the booking class is a fairly unrestricted M. Unfortunately, prices out of the USA and Canada are high. A positioning trip not only adds an extra stopover, it saves money. For instance, the US 29,000 mile fare is $4775. A trip to Casablanca, plus a 29,000 mile circuit, totals about $4200, and includes a second trip to Morocco. From reading the Sales Restrictions of the YRWSTAR1 fare, Star Alliance tickets do not need a local agent.
For positioning, you can bring out the usual suspects, such as Israel, Jordan, and Dubai, plus Casablanca. South Africa costs more to get there, but you can arrange an additional stopover in transit. For business class, Tokyo’s rates are attractive.
I hope this information is helpful. All in all, despite the frustrations and tiny seats, airline travel is a marvelous gift. Have fun!