Cheapest RTW flight itineraries reveal some shocking bargains

Currently on my second round-the-world (RTW) trip, I am always on the lookout for the cheapest (and/or best) way to get from one place to another. This trip is very slow so the hops have been quite small, but it left me wondering what is the cheapest possible itinerary for a round-the-world trip?

With all the recent news of fuel surcharges and new taxes I expected that a trip of at least 3 stops that crossed the international dateline exactly once would be astronomically expensive at the moment, but it turns out to be the exact opposite. Thanks to newer low-cost airlines and some current fare sales, a person could actually go around the world for under US$1,500, with up to 5 worthwhile stops.

Mission: Find the cheapest possible RTW itinerary

The experiments below are about strategies and airfare markets rather than actual suggested itineraries. You’d have to be insane, or a trying to win a bet, to actually choose your RTW itinerary by the absolute lowest possible cost. Still, it’s interesting information in the end, and it helps figure out techniques for maximizing your travel budget.

This whole website – Price of Travel – is dedicated to helping people figure out where the value is at the moment, based on exchange rates and other factors. Anyone who is considering a RTW trip should find value in the information because it includes not only price ranges of important things like accommodation, transportation, attractions, and food, but also estimates of what the weather and hotel rates will be like during any given month of the year. See our Amsterdam prices page as an example.

Cheapest possible 3-stop itinerary during April, 2011

  1. US$612 – New York City to Shanghai on China Eastern Air
  2. US$422 – Shanghai to Moscow on Aeroflot
  3. US$386 – Moscow to New York City on Transaero

Total: US$1,420 including all taxes and fees

Cheapest possible 4-stop itinerary during April, 2011

  1. US$612 – New York City to Shanghai on China Eastern Air
  2. US$422 – Shanghai to Moscow on Aeroflot
  3. US$168 – Moscow to London on Aerosvit Airlines
  4. US$287 – London to New York City on Iceland Express

Total: US$1,489 including all taxes and fees

Notes

  • For about US$15 more you can (wisely) substitute Beijing for Shanghai in either of these itineraries, as long as you don’t mind changing planes in Shanghai anyway.
  • The London to New York City on Iceland Express flight stops in Reykjavik on the way, and for a small extra fee you can add a stopover there, making it a 5-stop itinerary.

Interesting lessons learned during the research

When I began checking every combination I could imagine, concentrating mostly on the busiest airports and those with long-haul low-cost carriers, I expected the total to be far more expensive, and probably include totally different sets of cities.

Moscow is a particularly strange case since it currently has incredibly cheap fares in every direction. Those traveling one way (rather than return) could actually save money on a variety of far-flung routes by changing planes in Moscow (although visa restrictions might make the difficult if you don’t plan ahead).

Then there’s those bizarre examples where the cheapest fare between New York City and Tokyo was on Air Canada, with a stop in Toronto. Yet, the exact same Air Canada flight starting in Toronto instead was several hundred dollars more expensive.

If you are unsure of exactly where you want to go it turns out there are still some great bargains out there if you are open minded and perhaps a bit creative in how you get there.

Buying individual tickets vs. a complete RTW ticket?

Previous experiments on this exact topic have usually shown that buying one ticket through a site like airtreks.com or through one of the airline alliances will save you money over buying individual tickets. However, in this case the quotes I got were around US$500 more for each itinerary, and there might have been additional taxes and fees had I gotten to the credit-card screen.

Anyone who is going around the world and sticking with major cities that are all served by major airlines should at least get a price quote of a complete ticket, but it seems with more low-cost carriers appearing all the time, buying a la carte is getting cheaper and cheaper, not to mention the added flexibility.

Do you know of any cheaper RTW routes than those mentioned above? We’ll continue to explore this topic plus other ways of maximizing travel budgets by being creative in the months ahead.



16 Responses to “Cheapest RTW flight itineraries reveal some shocking bargains”

eileen says:

My main frustration with planning a RTW ticket seems to be that the further you get from the equator, the more expensive your ticket is (“they” say). And since I start in Santiago, and it seems you’re supposed to go around the world at it’s waist, not over it’s shoulder, it seems I’m always penalized when I try to figure it out (and then I never end up buying it).

But this was informative, so thanks for posting it. I’ll look into both options (RTW and a la carte), and won’t assume RTW is always cheaper.

Hope Pokhara is treating you well!

 
Nick says:

You may pay a little more to use a RTW service but it certainly does take a lot of the headache out of trying to book everything yourself. I can’t speak for everyone but I’ve got better things to do than spend 15 painful hours on the internet comparing fares for a few measly flights. Just sayin.

 
Ryan del Mundo says:

I was just pricing out a RTW ticket as well. I hadn’t gotten to the Pan-Asian leg yet but found a few deals, tho they involve a bit of overlanding:

– There were only two reasonable one-way cross-Atlantic flights I could find. It seems the airlines “collude” to require a R/T purchase. Except for two. Air Berlin flies one-way from Fort Lauderdale. And Air Lingus permits one-way tickets, so any market served by Air Lingus, which typically flies to Dublin, has one ways. NYC-Dub or BOS-Dub was $300’ish O/W. Then you’re using $20 RyanAir flights!

– Air Dubai has some insane cheap flights. Get from the Middle East (typically Istanbul) to somewhere in India for under $200.

That’s half-way around the world in under $500

– Once in India you’re in Air Asia territory, get anywhere for around $200. Including the $100 Bali-Australia flight, you can even get to Oz.

Not sure the cheapest flight back across the Pacific, but if ya can get it for around $300, you’re looking at an awfully cheap RTW ticket, and it might involve places with easier and cheaper visas than China and Russia….

 
    admin says:

    Ryan, those are some really good prices as well. I’m a big fan of Air Asia and it is amazing how far you can get for so little if you book in advance on that one. I used Flydubai instead of Air Dubai, but they don’t go as far. – Roger

     
    Scott says:

    ATLANTIC CROSSING
    Norweigian Airlines do a very cheap Atlantic crossing. Departing either Oslo or Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale for only 160 euro.

    PAN ASIAN CROSSING:
    From Australia, the cheapest hubs to get to Europe are Bangkok and Singapore. Scoot airlines from Sydney to Bangkok with 1 night layover in Singapore is about $300. Then from From Bangkok to Frankfurt is about $300 with Air India.
    Total $600 from Australia to Germany is crazy cheap.. More money to spend socialising on arrival 🙂

     
J says:

IcelandExpress also do some good one-way prices from mainland Europe to North America, although their routes are extremely seasonal and you have to go via Iceland.

I can’t find any trace of this ‘Air Dubai’ you’re talking about, can you provide a link? Cheers – flydubai is a great tip.

Regarding the Pacific, you’re looking at around USD1000 for a o/w to LAX. At the right time it could conceivably be cheaper to fly all the way back to Asia with AirAsia from CHC then get a China Eastern (or similar) to the States. For instance I picked up a promo return KUL-CHC for USD200 all inclusive (!)

 
Bernadette Layton says:

Myself and my husband would like to go on a round the world trip starting this coming December. Can you help us or know of any companies that could advise us on an itenary.

Regards
Bernadette

 

    Bernadette,

    I might be able to help you at least get started planning a RTW trip, having completed two of them and currently planning my third. Do you think you are more interested in choosing from fixed itineraries and buying all of your flights before you leave, or are you more in the mood to plan a basic route and then buy plane tickets as you go, perhaps changing plans along the way? If you are looking for set itineraries, or at least lists of popular cities in an efficient order, then airtreks.com is probably the best place to start. But if you want more of a custom DIY experience, I can help with some suggestions if you tell me your starting point and at least a few places that you want to visit. -Roger

     
Jeff says:

I’ve been researching this as well, not a lot of information out there other than mainstream like, Oneworld, Star Alliance, airtrek… etc. I’m more of a DIY person, and I came up with my own Itinerary for about $1200 dollars + Avios miles. Would love to hear your thoughts on my 10-11 day RTW idea. what is catch?

AUS-FLL-OSL-DBX-SIN-HGK-LAX-AUS

 

    Jeff,

    That looks like an amazing price for all of those stops, at least if your goal is to do a RTW trip and you don’t care too much about what you see along the way. I recently took one of those Norwegian Air flights from NYC to Oslo and it was a great deal, although Oslo itself is absurdly expensive and not all that interesting. I like Dubai and Singapore, but neither is really authentically Asian, and Hong Kong is kind of a weird stop as well. Are you thinking about doing this trip, or just trying to find the cheapest way around the globe? -Roger

     
      Barbara says:

      Dear Roger,
      me and my friend would like to start our rtw trip anyhere from Europe in Feb 2015. Still have’t decided whether to choose east or west direction, but as we would like to visit Easter Island which is really expensive to get there, we were considering buying a rtw ticket instead of one by one. Would you recommend us any budget friendly ticket which allows you to be totally flexible? (all of them I’ve read about are based on fixed dates and fees apply to any changes).
      Our preffered countries are India, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, NZ, Easter Island, Chille, Bolivia, Peru.

      Thank you
      Barbara

       

        Barbara,

        I don’t believe that any of the fixed RTW tickets also allow the kind of flexibility that you are looking for. I think they are good deals for many people who have, say, 2 months and a solid itinerary. But for people drifting around the planet on an uncertain timescale, I think you are best off buying tickets as you go.

        Especially in this era of low-cost airlines, you can often get great deals with short notice. In many cases you’ll have to choose a flight that leaves at 6am or 9pm to get a cheap fare, but they are sometimes still available just a few days before departure. The tricky one will be going from New Zealand to South America. For that one, buying as early as possible is wise. Let me know if you have any other questions about this, as I’ve been researching all of it for many years. -Roger

         
          Barbara says:

          Dear Roger,
          thank you very much for your comment, based on your recommendation we decided go for buying tickets one by one.

          Also we reviewed our plan a bit and decided to start from latin america, thus the biggest issue for us at the moment is how to get across the pacific ocean to new zealand with stopover on Easter Island.
          Somehow it looks like there are not even flights to NZ from Easter Island which makes it ridiculously expensive. Would be very grateful for any tips how to plan this,

          thank you!
          Barbara

           
Maxine says:

I have two children at school and holidays in term time are no longer allowed. I wish to travel around the world in 2016 leaving from the UK. I want to visit Dubai,Delhi,Colombo, Bangkok and Sydney. On the way home I am seeking a stop in America.

 
Lynda says:

Might be wise to check out the safety record of some of the really cheap Airlines in Asia and Africa, also Central Asia. I worked with good airlines for many years but would not touch some of the lesser known airlines with a barge pole. It pays to be money savvy but not at the risk of safety.

 

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