How much does it cost to fly around the world?

If you’re considering a round-the-world adventure you’ve probably heard about round-the-world plane tickets. These are tickets bought as part of a package from a certain airline or group of airlines. A lot of people think that these tickets are cheap and convenient.

A little scratching under the surface will show you that you are much better off relying on your own creativity and bargain hunting skills to create a round-the-world itinerary on the fly.

We just finished our year-long around the world trip including 12 flights connecting South East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. We covered a total of total of 38,000 miles at the bargain price of $3,256 per person. That’s only 9 cents per mile—cheaper than driving! I have yet to find one round-the-world airfare quote for the same itinerary that can beat that price.

The Downsides to Round-the-World Tickets

A lot of people feel more comfortable with the security of a pre-bought ticket that they know will bring them home again. If you factor in the higher cost and restrictive conditions, however, round-the-world tickets start to look less desirable very quickly.

Most round the world tickets limit your travel time to 12 months. In our case this was an immediate deal breaker. We knew we may be gone for over 12 months. Even if you are planning a shorter trip, you never know what might happen.

You might take a job at a bar on the Mekong and linger in Laos for a few months or discover your new-found love for ice climbing in Norway and want to stay through the winter. The point is that with extended travel, flexibility is key.

The other main downside to round-the-world tickets is that by and large they require you to pick an itinerary including dates and destinations in advance. Having that kind of structure can only hurt a traveler’s journey.

With too much commitment up front you may find yourself unable to explore great places you hear about from locals or other travelers along the way. Furthermore, changing your set itinerary can be met with heavy fines. Before we left home we had never heard of half of the places we went to on our trip. I can’t even imagine how our experience might have changed had we stuck to a pre-set schedule.

Our Independent Round-the-World Itinerary

We booked this itinerary using only one-way airfares found by searching the web. While we racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles on the way we paid for all of these trips out of pocket. On average we bought the tickets we used about 2-3 months in advance for long haul flights and up to the very last minute for shorter flights. When we left home in February 2010 we only had a one way ticket to Bangkok and a few vague ideas about where the journey would take us.

The table below shows a summary of our flights. The mileages listed include the stopovers as indicated.

airfaretable

All said and done we took 12 flights and visited 4 continents. A little over half of these flights (7 of 12) were on budget carriers and were short distances. All of our long haul flights were on standard carriers. Our most expensive flight on a cost per mile basis was our flight from Bucharest to Kos, Greece. This was probably due to two factors: one, we booked the flight evening before it left; and two, the leg from Athens to the island of Kos was on a tiny prop plane.

Looking back on it we flew a lot and some of the time it wasn’t necessary. Had we wanted to save a little money we could have easily gone overland throughout South East Asia (skipping the Bangkok-Krabi and Bangkok-Phnom Penh-Bangkok flights and the flight within Indonesia from Denpasar to Yogyakarta). Had we skipped these flights we would have saved $245 on airfare.

Tips for Keeping on Budget

The best thing you can do to stay on budget is to be flexible. Flexibility in time and precise destination will go further and save you more money than any number of hours of searching the web for the cheapest fare.

One possible pitfall to booking independently is the trend towards egregious markups with long haul one-way fares. We found this was the biggest problem with flights between the US and Europe. You can usually find a way around it if you keep looking. Sometimes if you buy a refundable round trip ticket with plans to refund the second leg you can save some money.

Here are some of our favorite airfare search websites at the moment.

· Flight Network.com

· Vayama.com

· Momondo.com

· SkyScanner.com

· ITA Software.com

Note that the top search sites come and go very rapidly. While we found these to be among the best on our trip, more sites are likely to appear tomorrow and blow these out of the water. Always keep your eyes and ears open for suggestions and please let us know what your favorite search engine is in the comments, we’re already plotting our next adventures.

11 Responses to “How much does it cost to fly around the world?”

  1. Kent schoberle said:

    that is fantastic!… and good information. i would *love* to embark on such a journey. now i have an idea of what it might take travel budget wise. thanks very much!


    March 14th, 2011 at 9:54 am

  2. Clayton said:

    Just a general question… I had heard it’s not possible to fly into a country with a one way ticket with no return ticket. How did that work for you? or, how’d you explain to the immigration officials that you’d only be travelling/whatever?


    March 14th, 2011 at 11:55 am

  3. Briana said:

    Hi Clayton,

    Great question. When a country has a specific visa requirement that says you need an onward ticket it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a round trip ticket. We encountered this on our first stop in Thailand. From what we have heard they rarely check and in practice we were never asked for our onward ticket but to be extra careful we booked a cheap flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. It was the cheapest option and at $30 provided good insurance against visa issues. In the end we also took the flight so we didn’t lose any money. My best advice would be to ask people and look at travel forums pertaining to your destination. If you’re worried about it be sure to buy an onward ticket.

    Hope that helps!

    -Briana


    March 14th, 2011 at 5:43 pm

  4. Sabrina said:

    Come to Canada :D


    March 19th, 2011 at 5:19 am

  5. Max said:

    The less adventurous like myself (or if you are on a shorter trip, say “only” a long summer holiday) may also take the following approach: Get one of the cheaper RTW ticket that only touch the big, “boring” hubs (solves the anxiety of ‘not getting home eventually’ as well as the weird pricing of long one way flights across large bodies of water such as the Pacific Ocean). With the oceans sorted out you fly your way around the different regions by budget airlines.

    This approach nets the best of both worlds: RTW tickets only touching the plain vanilla hubs are relatively cheap because of the heavy competition between airlines and a large inventory (a 747 needs to be filled with passengers even in low season…especially if half a dozen airlines fly the same route with their 747s…)

    Travelling around a region (such as Europe) on budget airlines has the advantage of not burning valuable segments and/or miles of your rtw ticket for short hops at often amazing low prices…

    Say your vanilla RTW ticket covers LAX-(JFK)-LHR-BKK-(SYD)-LAX

    From London all of Europe is your oyster with the likes of ryanair, easyjet etc (eventually returning to London tackle the next leg of your RTW ticket), from Bangkok Asia is your friend, do the West coast from LAX and the East Coast based on JFK.

    From the megahubs you got to on your rtw ticket you’ll explore each region based on wherever is cheapest or wherever strikes your fancy by way of budget airlines/buses/trains.

    The only drawback is that if you want to fly extensively around Africa or South America it’s going to be more difficult and this strategy may not be the best for you. But if it’s Europe+Asia+US (+ may be OZ/NZ) this strategy may work for you just fine.


    March 26th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  6. Kyle said:

    That’s great advice for making the most of a round-the-world ticket.


    March 26th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

  7. Kerri said:

    You found a ticket to Bangkok for $500??? My husband & I are planning a trip there and I haven’t found anything less than $900, on a good day. You two are awesome. This is what my husband and I are really hoping to do once we graduate, travel for a year. Thank you for all the info & binge an inspiration!


    March 27th, 2011 at 11:33 am

  8. Kyle said:

    Hi Kerri,

    It was a one way ticket on Air China from California. They have a lot of really good deals. If you sign up for their email alerts you will have a better chance of finding a good deal. Round trip tickets are usually a little less expensive, so if you want to spend a year in South East Asia and fly in and out of Bangkok that would be a good way to stretch your money and spend the least on airfare. Good luck with your trip!


    March 27th, 2011 at 11:40 am

  9. Omeara said:

    I believe that is among the most important information for me. And i’m satisfied studying your article. But want to commentary on few general things, The website taste is wonderful, the articles is actually great : D. Excellent process, cheers


    December 5th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

  10. Angie said:

    Thanks alot for this interesting post. We are also currently are planning our rtw, and as I work for an airline (at least so far), I was surprised how expensive the RTW tickets actually are. Booking individually saves so much money, especially when using LCC like Air Asia or Spicejet. You save money AND still have more flexibility. I can only encourage everyone to sepnd some time on the web looking for airfair bargains. :)


    February 5th, 2012 at 4:18 am

  11. Audrey | That Backpacker said:

    That’s a lot less than I expected. Something to consider… :)


    October 1st, 2012 at 5:30 pm

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