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May 30, 2012

Round-the-World vs. Point-to-Point Tickets

By BootsnAll

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Airplane travel-86482754(Thinkstock Images)
(Thinkstock Images)

Anyone who's in the early stages of around-the-world travel planning will testify that it can feel a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. You can go from barely knowing the popular acronym "RTW" to learning the pros and cons of traveling East-West vs. West-East in no time at all—which means you'll hit information overload quickly. But one critical topic worth some extra attention is whether it's better to book round-the-world tickets or book point-to-point tickets as you travel.

For most simple round-trip flights, booking point-to-point is more expensive, so it's not an option most travelers are familiar with until they start learning about RTW travel. When it comes to multi-stop international trips, however, it can be cheaper—often by quite a bit—if you don't book official-sounding "round-the-world tickets" and just book one-way flights from city to city.

Here are three reasons why a round-the-world ticket may not be a great idea, and why you'd want to look at point-to-point tickets instead.

Round-the-World Tickets are Sold by Airline Alliances
The vendors who sell true "round-the-world tickets" are most often airline alliances, which means that every flight must be on one of the airlines in that alliance. Because of this, the larger alliances will have more options, but no alliance covers the entire globe. That means you might find the alliance with which you've got the most frequent flyer miles doesn't overlap well enough with your desired RTW route.

Booking point-to-point tickets gives you the flexibility to buy the ticket that's the best deal or the best schedule for your particular needs, regardless of what alliance the airline belongs to. Yes, you sacrifice a bit here in terms of building up miles with one alliance for future use, but that's often a good trade-off anyway.

Plans Change
When you're planning a trip that will span several weeks or months, plans are bound to change along the way. Maybe hurricane season is going on a bit longer than usual and you want to avoid bad weather. Maybe you just found out about an annual music festival that your favorite band is headlining. Maybe you just change your mind midway through your trip and decide to stay longer in each place. Whatever the reason, it would be nice to be able to be flexible rather than feeling hemmed in by a route you planned months ago.

RTW tickets purchased through an airline alliance will sometimes let you change travel dates without charging a fee, but changing your route often comes at a price. Tickets you purchase through RTW companies like AirTreks must have dates associated with each flight, and changes to any of those tickets will mean incurring the change fees of whatever airline that flight is with. Booking tickets as you go means you can change your plans along the way—because you're not buying an entire trip's worth of tickets in one go.

No Backtracking Allowed
When you're planning a long-term trip, you might not plan to travel from New York to London to Miami to Paris, because that kind of back-and-forth seems silly. But you might not think anything of flying from New York to Rome to Istanbul to Cairo—except that route involves a little bit of backtracking, which is a no-no with most RTW tickets. Once you begin moving in one direction, these tickets often require that you keep going in the same direction. You couldn't even book a multi-stop trip from New York that included cities in Europe and Africa and then brought you back to New York, because that's backtracking, too.

Point-to-point tickets obviously have no restrictions on the direction you travel—the airlines you're flying aren't even going to know where you've come from or where you're headed. This gives you infinitely more flexibility when planning your route.

Of Note: Not All RTW Tickets are Created Equally
Unfortunately, the term "round-the-world ticket" is pretty all-encompassing and is used to describe tickets you'd buy through an airline alliance as well as tickets you'd get from a company like AirTreks. The tickets themselves are quite different, however. When you're doing your RTW ticket comparison, be sure to pay special attention to potential rules about traveling in one direction and restrictions on the number of flights allowed or the amount of time you can travel.

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