Category : Tricks of the Trade
I’ve been searching internet booking sites, travel agents, airline websites and forums for months trying to build and price a round the world airfare for my wedding and honeymoon trip. The best airfare that I could find was going to set us back about $9,500 for the both of us. However last night, I started a process that is set to save us about $4,000 by booking a series of separate tickets instead of one round the world ticket. The purpose of this article is to share how I managed to save a few thousand dollars by thinking a little bit out of the general round the world mindset.
The first thing I should mention is that by saving the money, we aren’t going all the way around the world, but we are still going to where we want to go. This is an important point, as knowing where you want to go is a crucial first step in the planning process! Although round the world tickets sound extremely flexible and exciting, when discussing them with the airline or travel agent, you can easily be persuaded to change your plans just because an airline doesn’t fly there. Sometimes these changes can give you new ideas and you need to be flexible within reason, but if you wanted to go to Norway, and they land you in Finland, you need to start looking for other options, which is what I have done.
So before you start to even think about booking a ticket, you need to work out where you want to go. That doesn’t mean this is stuck in stone, but I found it was easier to plan a rough schedule first, then look for the flights that match. Our first part of the trip is however set in stone, it’s our wedding day and surprisingly, that isn’t changing for any airline alliance. Thus our trip will start of from Melbourne, Australia with our first destination being Banff, Canada (although we will be landing into Calgary as Banff doesn’t have a commercial airport; see I can be flexible). After a week for the wedding we plan to head to Europe for about 3 weeks, followed by a week in the UK, we also want to visit New York city for a day or 2. So that’s our plan.
Before I tell you how I did it, I’ll have a look at a few hurdles that eventually steered me away from the round the world ticket option. The first hurdle can be seen as either a hassle or a benefit, and that is the airline alliances (through which most RTW tickets can be purchased). Global alliances such as OneWorld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance are groups of airlines that work together to make it possible to share each other’s route networks, earn frequent flyer points and, at least in theory, travel around the world on the one ticket. Although this sounds great, it can mean that all the routes that you want aren’t served by the alliance that you might want to book through.
Most major destinations are served by most of the alliances, however if you want to go a little bit off the regular routings, this is where you’ll find it difficult. As most of the alliance are made up of legacy ‘hub and spoke’ airlines, you’ll find that if you stick to going from hub to hub, you wont need to do much backtracking and the RTW ticket will work great. Unfortunately for us, our wedding destination, and our plans for Europe were not part of any one alliances network of hubs, thus I decided to see if I could build my own route using multiple return tickets. I have deliberately said return tickets, as many carriers still charge a massive premium for a one way international ticket (for example, Melbourne to Los Angeles one way costs $2068 yet return is $2571, only about $500 more!).
In order to get around the negative side of the round the world ticket, and buy your own set of return tickets, you need to do a fair bit of research, and be prepared to go through a notebook or 2 as you copy down the cheapest flight segments you can find. The best way to do this is online at places like Expedia, Kayak, Zuji, Orbit and other online travel search engines. One day I’ll review each of these sites and let you know how they all work, but for now, all you need to know is what to look for, and that’s the bargains and sale airfares.
So what did I end up doing? I broke up the travel into 3 sections. First, the Australia to the USA return segment followed by the North American movements (e.g. to Canada), and finally the North America to Europe and back to USA. I then researched each section to find the cheapest way to get where I wanted to go. Sometimes this creates some opportunity to change your travel plans. For us, it was the ability to add Iceland to our itinerary. As Iceland wasn’t served by any of the alliances, we had written it off, but during the research I found a cheaper Atlantic crossing to be with Iceland Air (with a stopover in Iceland!) so we added it to our plans.
Once you know when and where you want to go, monitor those routes regularly. The easiest way to do that is to subscribe to airline specials mailing lists and be prepared to take advantage of a sale airfare when it comes up (oh and be prepared to get a lot of airline emails). This is exactly what I did, and fortunately for us a Qantas sale appeared launching their new non stop route from Sydney to Dallas, Texas. Although originally we had planned to go via Los Angeles, the price difference between the two was about $3000. Add to that LAX airport is a horrible place to spend any time connecting flights, so the change to Dallas was welcomed. The added benefit of Dallas was, being an American Airlines hub, it was now cheaper and easier to connect to Calgary.
The first stage of our airfare is now booked on the Melbourne – Sydney – Dallas outbound sector followed by Dallas – Brisbane – Melbourne return (there isn’t quite enough juice in the aircraft tanks to make it all the way back to Sydney on the return leg). The next stage to book is the internal flights within North America, which we plan to book using the OneWorld Visit North America Pass although you could just as easily book each sector individually using one of the online travel search sites. The main reason we aren’t, is that we can get it cheaper using the pass prices (which are based on distance) than the cheapest fares currently available. The pass is available as we will have landed into North America on a OneWorld carrier (Qantas). However we are waiting a few weeks to buy the pass anyway, so if cheaper tickets do come up, I’ll happily save a few extra dollars.
The final ticket that will need to be booked is the Atlantic crossing, which so far seems to be cheaper with Iceland Air than other carriers at this stage. Again, just like the North American tickets, we are waiting to purchase this one, and if a good sale comes up, we will take advantage of it. If I can give any advice (not that I’m really qualified to do so) it would be that if there is a good sale price available – take the gamble and book it. There is always that risk that there might be a better sale at some point in the future, but there’s probably a greater chance that there won’t be. There is a saying about counting your eggs before they hatch, or one in the bag is worth 2 on the shelf or something that probably goes well with this advice. The satisfaction of booking the flight (and at least saving some money) feels great and also means you don’t need to continue watching every airline every few days.
So after all this research and planning, the total cost for the entire trip is now estimated at about $5,500 for two adults as compared to $9,500 for a true round the world ticket (I say estimated, as I’ve currently only booked one sector of the trip). Now I know that we are not going all the way around the world, and that it’s going to be one very, very long return trip from Europe to Australia via North America, but for a $4,000 saving I think it’s worth it. Only time will tell whether it all pays off and works out to be worth the saving, but that’s for later blog posts and trip reports, all of which will of course, be available right here.
For those interested in when this massive journey is set to begin, check out the countdown timer on the front page of www.carlousmoochous.com which is gradually counting down the days before we fly off on what is set to be an amazing wedding and honeymoon adventure.