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Are round the world airline tickets cheaper than booking single flights?

We compare round-the-world (RTW) ticket prices with the cost of single flights to see where the real deal is.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a luxury jetsetter or a youthful backpacker, if you want to tick those world highlights off your bucket list in one massive trip, a RTW ticket could be your golden ticket.

The question is: is it really worth it?

For some travellers, this pre-booked, one-way itinerary of flights could be a godsend; for others it could be a hefty price to pay for being too lazy to DIY. Confused which one you are? Don’t be. We’re here to break that RTW down to see if it can save you the big bucks.

A comparison of round-the-world tickets that leave and return to Australia

Here are the major airlines and tour companies offering round-the-world trips and what you can expect to get for your dollars.

RTW ticket IssuerSample PriceSample RouteConditionsAirlines
STA Travel$1,699Sydney - Singapore, Bangkok - London, Oslo - New York City, San Francisco - Sydney (includes make-your-own-way legs)
  • Some itineraries are only available for students or people under 30
Most RTW tickets are with one major airline and its affiliated carriers
RoundAbout Travel$1,797Sydney - Bangkok - Vienna - LA - Sydney
  • Both Pacific and Atlantic oceans must be crossed
  • 3-20 stopovers allowed
  • Backtracking is permitted under certain circumstances (eg, within the same continent)
  • You can elect to make your own way between two points
Virgin, SWISS, Lufthansa, Qantas, Finnair, Air France, KLM, Cathay Pacific, oneworld, Etihad and Star Alliance.
Flight Centre$1845Sydney - Bangkok - Zurich - Los Angeles - Sydney
  • One-way travel only
  • Must return to point of origin
  • Some airlines require a min. of 4 continents and 2 stopovers
Various
SkyTeam (inc. KLM)EUR€2,350 (AUD$3,369)London – Beijing – Osaka – Honolulu – Guatemala – Lima – London
  • 5 to 15 stops allowed
  • Four ticket options are available and are dictated by distance
SkyTeam carriers (20 in total)
Qantas / oneworld$4,492Sydney - Hong Kong - Madrid - Prague - Helsinki - New York - Miami - Los Angeles - Sydney
  • One-way travel only between continental zones
  • Must return to point of origin
  • Min. 4 continents including your departure point
  • Min of 2 stopovers -Max of 16 segments
  • Bookings must be created at least 8 days after first departure
oneworld carriers and their affiliates (28 airlines in total)
Star Alliance (inc. Air New Zealand)$6,867Sydney - Delhi - Beijing - Cancun - Cuzco - Rio de Janeiro - Rome - Sydney
  • One-way travel only between continental zones
  • Must return to point of origin
  • 3-15 stopovers
Star Alliance carriers (28 in total)

How do round-the-world (RTW) tickets compare to do-it-yourself (DIY) flights?

We broke one of the cheaper fares down to see whether you’re saving big or losing out.

Sample fare from STA Travel: Sydney - Singapore, Bangkok - London, Oslo - New York City, San Francisco - Sydney for $1699 if you’re a student or under 30 year old. Note that this fare includes make-your-own-way legs, which we have not included in our comparison.

Here’s what we’ve come up with:

  • Sydney to Singapore

2 February 2017 - $188 on Scoot. We’ve chosen this date as it’s the cheapest in the calendar. You’ll need to book direct with Scoot to secure this price. You’re on a world trip, so you might like to add a check-in bag too (20kg), so let’s tack on an extra $42 for that.

Running total: $230

Bangkok to London

13 February 2017 - $399 (10,555 Thai Baht) on Malaysia Airlines. After 10 days exploring Singapore and getting to Bangkok, you’ll be ready to jet to the next continent: Europe. Malaysia airlines has flights throughout February for as little as $399. The catch? You’ll have to transfer in Kuala Lumpur but the transfer times can be as little as 2.5 hours so it’s not too bad. Baggage (30kg) is included in this leg.

Running total: $629

  • Oslo to New York City

28 February 2017 - $180 on Norwegian Air. Here’s where things get fun. After spending two weeks in Europe you’ll find yourself in Norway’s capital on a super cheap flight to New York. The lowest fare in February is EUR€126.40 or $180. A check-in bag (20kg) for this leg is an extra $50.

Running total: $809

  • Los Angeles to Sydney

20 March 2017 - $674 on a combo Delta and Jetstar flight. If you want a direct flight home, you’re looking to break the RTW ticket price by spending around $1100 to get there. That’s on Qantas, Virgin Australia, Delta or United. The cheapest way back is via Honolulu. Delta can get you there on 20 March for USD$249 or AUD$336 with baggage included. Then, Jetstar can get you home on 21 March for $285 plus $53 for your baggage (20kg).

Final cost: $1483

Approximate saving: $216

Verdict: Is it cheaper to DIY? In this case, yes. Especially when you consider that the STA flight we compared it to is for students and under 30 year olds, so the cost with STA for this trip could be higher if you don’t fit that criteria.

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So are round-the-world tickets worth it?

In this case, you’re only looking at a saving of $216. If you’re a traveller who’s counting every cent and has the time to research, you could be better off booking things yourself. Otherwise, it might be worth it to delegate all that legwork to someone else. Depending on the ticket issued, round-the-world tickets may be more flexible than a basic point-to-point fare. For long-term travellers, or those who would like the flexibility of changing dates along the way, consider the costs of changing those one-way fares.

Round-the-world tickets might be more worthwhile on certain itineraries. It depends on the following factors:

  • How many destinations you’d like to visit
  • If there are cheaper flight alternatives that aren’t offered to you through your RTW ticket
  • If you want to fly by luxury carrier your whole journey or aren’t picky about being on a budget line
  • How flexible or rigid you want to be as some RTWs include open tickets while others require you to pre-book all your flights
  • How much time you’re willing to invest researching and organising your flights.

At the very least, invest an afternoon researching flight costs then hit up a round-the-world specialist like Flight Centre or STA Travel to see what they can offer


Common questions about round-the-world tickets

What is a round-the-world ticket and how does it work?

Essentially, a RTW ticket is a one-way, long-haul flight with multiple stopovers. Only one ticket is issued, which includes all your flights, and your itinerary can often be tailored to the destinations you want to visit.

RTW tickets often come with conditions and constraints, which can make all the difference in your decision to snap one up. These can include the following:

  • Having to fly in one direction (either east to west or west to east)
  • Having to return to your point of origin
  • Having to stop at a minimum number of destinations or continents (typically three)
  • Having a maximum number of destinations you can include (typically 15)
  • Having to stop at a carrier’s central transport hub (eg, Dubai if you’re flying with Emirates)
  • Having to complete your journey within 12 months, either from the day of validity or following your first flight

As many RTW tickets are issued by airlines or alliances, you’ll be restricted to flying with their airlines and to their destinations. Budget airlines, such as Tigerair and Ryanair, aren’t included in RTW trips since they don’t belong to an alliance.

Alternatively, some RTW tickets are issued by tour agencies such as Flight Centre and RoundAbout Travel, which can open up your options.


Is a multi-stop ticket the same as a round-the-world ticket?

No. While RTW and multi-stop tickets are similar, multi-stop tickets are better when focusing on one part of the world since you don’t have to meet a minimum number of destinations or continents. Like RTW tickets, you can book a predetermined itinerary or create your own.

If you’d only like to visit two destinations, you may consider a stopover instead which could save you even more money. Stopovers are short (at most a couple of days) and are a good way to break up long-haul flights.


How much do round-the-world tickets cost?

The cost of RTW tickets vary depending on your period of travel, the number of stops, distance, the number of continental zones you cross and the class you fly in. Since, more often than not, this is a custom journey, airlines will liaise with you directly to organise your ideal itinerary and will provide you with a custom quote to accommodate your needs.


Which airlines offer round-the-world tickets where I can choose the destinations?

All major airlines and tour operators allow you to choose the destinations that will be in your round-the-world itinerary. Destinations and routes are limited to those which the carrier and its affiliates fly to.


Which airlines offer round-the-world, business class tickets?

All major airlines and tour operators offer round-the-world, business class tickets where available. These include Qantas, Virgin Australia and KLM.


Can I earn frequent flyer points on round-the-world tickets?

Yes. Star Alliance and oneworld, for example, let you earn and redeem points on round-the-world fares.


Tips on how to make round-the-world fares work in your favour

  1. Book peak periods and book them early. As round-the-world fares are fixed in price, it doesn’t matter if you book your trip for low season or high season. You can make your ticket go further by booking a trip during peak season. You’ll have to get in early to cash in on the savings.
  2. Join the alliance. You can receive status credits and frequent flyer points for your trip, if you sign up to its alliance (many are free). This lets you nab loyalty points which you can put toward future trips.
  3. Include make-your-own-way trips. You can put more destinations in your itinerary (airlines generally cap you at 15) and save money by paying for short, budget flights by DIYing your way within continents and only using your RTW tickets for longer haul flights.
  4. Fly where there aren’t very many budget carriers. RTW flights can save you the most when you don’t have budget airline options to cheapen your trip. Examples of these are South America and Canada.
  5. Don’t fly where there are stacks of budget carriers. For example, in Europe, flights can start from as little as GBP10 or $17.

Top round-the-world ticket deals

Stephanie Yip

Stephanie is the travel editor at finder.com.au. On top of being an avid traveller, she's an all-round bargain hunter. If there's a deal or cheap flight available, she'll know about it. And she'll let you know about it, too.

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