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
Cheapest possible 4-stop itinerary during April, 2011
- US$612 – New York City to Shanghai on China Eastern Air
- US$422 – Shanghai to Moscow on Aeroflot
- US$168 – Moscow to London on Aerosvit Airlines
- US$287 – London to New York City on Iceland Express
Total: US$1,489 including all taxes and fees
- 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.