Should You Buy a RTW Ticket or Book as You Go?

The RTW ticket question is really a tough call to make, and I think it really depends on how set you are on a route before you leave on your trip, as well as how long you plan to travel, and where your round the world trip will take you. My RTW travel planning tips page covers each of these questions, but let’s just look at the ticket debate.

I traveled for a full year on a moderately set itinerary, but very few set in stone dates that I would have to adhere to once I was on the road. For that reason, among others, I booked tickets as I went. If I hadn’t done it this way though, I would have likely used the newly (launched in 2013) launched Indie, a multi-stop search engine from BootsnAll. I love this site in general, and though I have not purchased a flight on the site, I love the interface and it’s flexibility. And from a travel-hacking perspective on flights, if you’re keen to use airline miles and that sort of thing, Chris Guillibeau shared his RTW ticket buying strategies and Travel Hacking Cartel.

With that in mind, read on for my take on the situation, and then see what the others have to say.

The RTW Ticket Debate – Pros and Cons

There are two sides to every debate and this one doesn’t have to be too hard. Read through my suggestions and considerations and then go with your instinct on which is best for you. No matter which option you choose, you’ll still be traveling the world either way so there’s no wrong answer here! :)

Travel Flexibility

Flexibility is, hands-down, the biggest reason to consider buying flights as you travel. You never know who you will meet on the road, or which country, city, culture you may fall in love with on your travels and if you have an open-ended ticket, with flexibility you can spend time in places that jive with you, and move on all the sooner from countries that excite you less.

Even flexible RTW tickets lock you into a set itinerary (with flexibility on the dates, but you still have to fly your planned route) and when you have more than six months at your disposal, it’s difficult to pick the precise route – what if you have the sudden urge to veer off route for that amazing trek in a nearby country that passing backpacker shared with you?

A lot of travelers I have met along the way who bought the RTW tickets ended up changing around their dates; once they were on the road they realized they wanted more time in some places, less time in others.

Put simply, you just never know what inspiration may strike your fancy and an open route is the ultimate way to keep your travel dreams wide open.

The Type of Flights

There really are advantages to both. If you book as you go you can take advantage of the smaller discount local airlines in each region. Flights on AirAsia.com for example are wicked cheap and can get you from place to place, but they are not a big airline and not included in many RTW ticket searches, so knowing the right airlines that are not included most Airline Alliance programs can lower costsA RTW Ticket will often book you within a single Airline Alliance (good for wracking up airline miles as well).

Planning Stress: On the Road or at Home?

When planning how to book your RTW ticket, also weigh in the stress factor. Buying a RTW ticket means you have that stress done with at the beginning of your trip – before you even set foot off your continent. Booking prior to your trip means you’ve paid the fees upfront and know exactly how much that takes out of your RTW trip budget.

Booking flights on the road, as you travel is a whole other ball game. That means getting internet access on the road and spending time researching flights while you could be out exploring some temples. Also, some counties require proof of onward travel before they’ll let you in, so a RTW ticket easily alleviates that concern.

A Cost Comparison

This is the biggie question for many round the world travelers. Which one costs more? Booking tickets as I traveled was slightly more in total than a RTW ticket would have cost me I think … but I didn’t price it out. BootsnAll put together a free downloadable comparison guide for RTW tickets, and it has a sample of the different prices all the various alliances would charge on sample routes—it’s a very useful read!

But I was okay with that because I was able to take suggestions from travelers on the road and adapt my RTW Itinerary to suit my evolving goals as I traveled (which really embraced slow travel at the end).

Final Thoughts on Booking RTW Trip Tickets

Do what makes you feel comfortable. To be honest, I didn’t have the money to spring for a ticket up front, and in the end was grateful not to have to align myself with the rules and requirements and strict timetable of a RTW ticket, but some travelers rave about it.

If you do buy a RTW ticket, I suggest starting your search with Indie; the BootsnAll crew is very responsive and helpful and the search tool is very intuitive. Other popular options include AirtreksStar Alliance, and OneWorld.)

If you go independently, I like these traditional flight search engines:

  • Kayak: I usually start here for all my flight searches to get a baseline on the costs, then I move on to the search engine that pull in some of the low-cost carriers.
  • Skyscanner: Use this as your first source for booking flights to or within Asia; the search engine pulls in a lot of the low-cost airlines too and can offer up some great fares you won’t find on the other aggregators.
  • Orbitz: I have been surprised by some of the great flights I find on here leaving from the US, particularly if you book in advance and have some of the major hub cities as stopping points.
  • Vayama: A great spot to start your searches and you can find great deals.

Last piece of advice: Plan just enough of your trip to stave off the panic attacks and then leave the rest until you head out. Book a hostel/hotel for the first week you land at the first stop on your RTW itinerary and then I swear the rest will work out. You don’t have to plan out the sites, the transport, the nitty-gritty details. That will all happen organically once you land and start talking to other travelers. Once I was actually on the road I was amazed by how much I had over-stressed in the weeks leading up to my RTW.

Quick Tips: Links from This Post

Other opinions on RTW Tickets
RTW ticket travel hacking strategies by Chris Guillebeau on the 4HWW site.
Comparative costs research for RTW tickets from BootsnAll.

Round the World Ticket Companies
Indie from BootsnAll
Airtreks
Star Alliance
OneWorld

Happy planning! :)

~Shannon