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Frequent flyer: Round-the-world tickets

The world can become easier to navigate, with the chance to see more for less with round-the-world tickets, but just how easy are they to book?

Frequent flyer: Round-the-world tickets
Image: Getty

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So, what’s this modern day Phileas Fogg thing?

Round-the-world flight tickets can be something of a misnomer — many of those sold under the banner don’t complete anything like a circumnavigation. Indeed, the cheapest are effectively returns to Australia or New Zealand with a couple of stopovers built in where you’d be changing planes anyway.

On the flipside, however, some of the more complicated itineraries end up stopping all over the place, with numerous legs where you make your own way overland rather than fly.

How do I book them, then?

Anything this complex will frankly break the flight comparison sites you usually book a straight return with. The three main airline alliances (SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star Alliance) offer distance-based pass tickets, with common limitations being that you have to complete your journey within 12 months, and have to go in one direction. The more miles you fly, the more you end up paying. The bad news is that the DIY booking tools on the alliance and airline websites are horrible to use, and generally end up being quite expensive.

You’re better off picking up the phone and dealing with an agent, such as Trailfinders, Roundtheworldflights.com or STA Travel. These agencies have the advantage of knowing which flight legs and routes are cheaper on each day — the flexibility of lopping a day off Dubai and adding it to Singapore, or similar, can end up saving serious money.

How do I keep the price down?

The key is understanding which airlines work together. Virgin Atlantic, for example, teams up with Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand — keep your destinations to places where one of those three fly, and it’ll stop you having to add random extra cost legs in with other airlines. Emirates and Qantas codeshare too, and British Airways’ partners include American Airlines, Iberia, LATAM in South America and Cathay Pacific. To use the Virgin example, picking Hong Kong rather than Bangkok as a first stop is likely to work out cheaper, as none of the three fly direct from the UK to Thailand. The airlines all have route maps (often fiddly and badly designed ones, mind) on their websites. But Wikipedia’s airline and airport pages are surprisingly helpful.

When should I set off?
Time of year counts for a lot. Generally speaking, the cheapest deals are for departures between mid-April and mid-June, or October and November. Try to avoid flying around Christmas and New Year as availability is low and prices shoot up. Similarly, peak business traveller times on Fridays and Mondays are worth avoiding if you can.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)