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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.

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Fact checked

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$1,249Sydney – Hong Kong – London – New York City – Sydney
  • 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$1,392Sydney – Hong Kong – London – New York, Los Angeles – Sydney
  • Both Pacific and Atlantic Oceans must be crossed
  • 3–20 stopovers allowed
  • Backtracking is permitted under certain circumstances (e.g. 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$1,689Perth - Hong Kong - Los Angeles
  • 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 tickets compare to 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 – Hong Kong – London – New York City – Sydney for $1,249 if you're a student or under 30 years old.

Here's what we've come up with:

  • Sydney to Hong Kong

20 July 2019: $243 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 $72 for that.

Running total: $315

  • Hong Kong to London

3 August 2019: $656 on Aeroflot. After a couple of weeks exploring Hong Kong, you'll be ready to jet off to London. Aeroflot has flights throughout August for as little as $656. The catch? You'll have to transfer in Moscow but the transfer times can be as little as 2.5 hours so it's not too bad. Baggage (23kg) is included in this leg.

Running total: $971

  • London to New York City

23 August 2019: $382 on Norwegian Air. Here's where things get fun. After spending three weeks in Europe you're probably ready to head for your North American adventure. The lowest fare in August is €239.34 or $382. A check-in bag (20kg) for this leg is an extra $128.

Running total: $1,481

  • New York City to Sydney

6 September 2019: $853 on American Airlines. After two weeks in the city that never sleeps, you're probably ready to head home. If you're willing to deal with some lengthy stopovers then you can save yourself a few hundred dollars by flying via Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines. Prices are closer to $690 but you're adding on at least 10 hours to a 24-hour flight time. 2 checked bags (23kg) are included for this leg so you don't have to stress about all those souvenirs you've been collecting.

Final cost: $2,334

Approximate saving with RTW: $1,085

Verdict: Is it cheaper to DIY? In this case, no. While you're likely to pay more if you're not a student or under 30, it's tough to compete with a fare that's cheaper than a return flight to New York on its own (trust us, we checked). Throw in the convenience and flexibility of a RTW ticket and in this instance, the RTW is a clear winner.

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So are round-the-world tickets worth it?

In this example, you're looking at a saving of $1,085. In some cases, if you're a traveller who's counting every cent and has the time to jump on any bargain fares that pop up, 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 it 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 followin

  • 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 airline such as 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 towards 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 DIY-ing 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 £10 or $17.

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