Rewards, Travel

The real value of a round-the-world plane ticket

Stephanie Zito

We all love using our credit card award points for free travel, but if you’re flying around the world, you will save a ton if you use your credit card to pay for your plane ticket.

A round-the-world ticket, often referred to as a RTW among the travel savvy, is a single ticket made up of multiple flights that travel one direction across three or more continents, with the purpose of flying the whole way around the globe.

In short, it’s a ticket that covers a lot of travel, and if you think that sounds expensive, you’re right. The secret to these tickets, however, is that their value far exceeds their price.

Calculating the cost of RTW travel
As a budget-conscious traveler (and a bit of a cheapskate), I’d never dished out the cash for a RTW until this year. I preferred to use my points, piecing together long-haul award tickets to circumnavigate the globe as my hacker alternative.

Yet since I’m more curious than I am cheap, I finally decided to try out a RTW ticket myself.  I booked a business class itinerary with the Oneworld alliance that started in Africa, and traveled west across four continents with 16 connections.  The cost, nearly $6,000, I put on my American Express Platinum card.

The purchase gave me sticker shock, but only until I sat down and calculated the actual value of the ticket. Had I purchased each of the 16 one-way segments from their respective airlines, the cost of my full itinerary would tally up to $46,686. By spending $6,000, I had saved more than $40,000! Score!

“There are so many reasons why an around-the-world ticket is an affordable way to travel,” says Sean Keener, founder and CEO of BootsnAll, the world’s largest round-the-world online travel community.

“The cost per air mile flown can be super low, often lower than what you can find searching tickets on your own, you can target countries and regions where your home currency is strong making your ticket more affordable,” Keener says, “and it’s less expensive, more fun and more educational than a college degree!”

A great fare – and more points to boot
Of course, anyone with financial sense knows that spending thousands of dollar isn’t saving money, but with this math, I was convinced – a round-the-world ticket is a traveler’s bargain.

Not only do I get to visit Mozambique, Qatar, Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, South Africa and more this year, I’ll also be earning nearly 75,000 additional miles in my American Airlines account from the segments I fly – enough to qualify for elite status.

Additionally, because I used my American Express Platinum card with its 5x airline category bonus to pay for my ticket, I also earned an extra 30,000 Membership Reward points for purchase. Together these bonuses are more than enough to fly a friend to Asia to meet me on my RTW tour, or to get back home from Africa when my trip finishes its circle!

Want to book your own RTW?
There are a number of ways that you too can fly around the world depending on your budget and points balance.

You can piece together a series of one-way plane tickets paid for with cash or rewards points. You also can use a specialist service such as BootsnAll to curate a budget RTW itinerary for as little as $1,600, or you can book a RTW ticket through a single airline alliance using points or cash.

To purchase a through an alliance, use the site’s planning tools to help you mastermind your global circumnavigation.

  • SkyTeam allows for three-15 stops with travel to be completed within one year.
  • Oneworld allows up to 16 segments with a three-continent minimum and travel is valid over one year.
  • Star Alliance allows you to travel up to 39,000 miles with a range of three-15 stops in one year.

The price of a RTW ticket will be calculated based on the departure point, taxes and fees of the airports you travel through, and ticket variables including number of continents visited, total miles flown, and number of stops.

As far as I’m concerned, whoever said the world is your oyster must have known about round-the-world travel.

Oh, and a strange-but-true story: It was on my RTW flight from Paris to Doha that I made the connection – in the bar aboard an Airbus A380 – that led to my travel-related, card-savvy blog posts for What a great trip, and what a small world!

See related: How couples can pool miles, transfer points for award travel, Finding the best card for travel upgrades

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