We did lots of research before buying our flights. It quickly became apparent that broadly speaking, there is a choice to be made between buying an “off the shelf” round the world flight from a travel agent such as STA or Trailfinders or simply booking your own single tickets online. There are also flight alliances such as “One World” and “Star Alliance” but in our experience that was an expensive option.
RTW flight ticket through a travel agent.
STA and Trailfinders were our starting point and both agents were very helpful. We had a general idea where we wanted to go. It was either South America or North America and then some but not all of Australasia, South East Asia, India and Nepal. Travel agents have a range of “off the shelf” tickets but none of them precisely matched our general itinerary. To take advantage we would have to sacrifice some of our planned destinations in favour of others that we had not considered but were included in the “off the shelf ticket”. Before we begun our flight search we set a budget. My friend had traveled extensively on a RTW flight ticket some ten years ago. His ticket costs about £2,000 GBP. We reckoned that allowing for inflation and the fact that we planned on visiting less places for a shorter overall duration, £3,000 GBP would be our bottom line budget for flights around the world.
I found that the problem with visiting travel agents is that you lose control. The agents were all very helpful but a trip to STA or Trailfinders goes something like this:
1. You meet the agent set out your broad plans but you need an idea of a departure date to enable the agent to search for flights. You also give the agent your e-mail address so they can record you history of contact with them (that part becomes problematic later).
2. The agent writes down your plans and then begins to research on the computer.
3. Voila! – 20/30 minutes later the agent gives you a suggested itinerary and a price.
4 You thank the agent leave the shop and walk off down the street discussing the pros and cons. (I can’t believe many people book at that point).
5. You get home after having sorted out the cons and resolve to visit the agent again to see if the cons can be ironed out. What if we amended leg 1, would it be any cheaper? What if we departed from a different airport?
6. In our experience steps 1-5 above are repeated about five times before you start to become concerned that you are wasting the agent’s time. (see step 1 – your history of contact with the agent’s is recorded).
In my experience the loss of control through visiting a travel agency is frustrating. I felt that if I had a access to their databases I could have, perhaps, found a better deal. The agents were all helpful but you can only take so much of their time and if it takes 30 minutes to get a quote on a complex itinerary there are only so many times you can ask for an alternative. I wanted to take control. I felt that If I could sit in STA for a couple of full days researching the best flights and itineraries I might find an ideal trip at a good cost but of course you can’t book two days of an agent’s time. We even discussed blagging a different e-mail address and approaching the same companies under a pseudonym because we were embarrassed to keep asking for better deals. By the time we exhausted the agents the best deal we had been quoted was around £2,400 GBP each for the following flights, UK to Lima overland to Santiago then back to the UK. The second leg of the journey would leave the UK to Istabul then on to Delhi then overground to Nepal overland to Singapore (or more likely a separate flight not included in the quote) then Singapore back to the UK. The price was right but we didn’t fancy our RTW trip being two legged with a visit back to the UK, the cost would have increased through getting from Nepal to Singapore and it wouldn’t have been a true circumnavigation of the globe.
Booking single flight tickets independently
In January 2014 I decided to begin my own online research to see if I could find a better itinerary for at least a comparable cost. Taking advantage of the January sales I took a day off work and sat relentlessly at my lap top searching for flights with different airlines. I had already discounted a RTW ticket with a flight alliance. One World and Star Alliance seemed to come in close to £3,000 GBP and in some cases more for the route that we hoped to follow. Instead I searched the world’s major airlines individually. I learnt that costs can be cut dramatically depending on the country that you depart from. the UK seems to have particularly higher airport taxes. I also read about the world’s budget airlines such as Air Asia. My day of research was enlightening, by the end of the day I had priced an itinerary for around £1,600 GBP which included flights from Manchester to Paris – Paris to Lima – Santiago to Auckland – Christchurch to Singapore. I also found that it was often cheaper to book return flights rather than a single. A quick bit of further research confirmed that its ok to book a return leg to save cost and then simply not use it. A further advantage of booking our own flights online was that you can choose the flight and carrier. For a very similar price we had the choice of flying to Lima on either LAN from Madrid or Air France from Paris. Even more research found that the Air France flight could included a flight from Manchester to Paris for a little extra cost and full baggage allowance whereas the Madrid LAN flight would have meant a connecting flight to get us to Madrid via Easyjet from Liverpool at extra cost and further cost for excess baggage. In short booking your own flights gives you the control that felt we had lost through the agents and that control enables you to save cost, fly with better airlines in more comfort at better times of the day, for us the advantages were endless, It made sense to book our RTW flights ourselves online.
Our exact itinerary and the costs of our flights is set out below. Before we booked we would admit there was a moment of nervous reflection. Were we missing a trick by booking this alone? Wouldn’t it just be “safer” to book a ticket with STA or Trailfinders? We spent many moments debating the pros and cons and eventually I sought the advice of that most trusted forum for neurotic travelers, the Thorn Tree Forum on Lonely Planet’s website. I pondered the question, we were about to book a series of flights around the world without the aid of an agent was that a sensible thing to do or were we missing a trick? I received only one response, here it is:
Book it yourself.
Travel agents are not charities,,they are making a (considerable) profit on everything they sell.
Off the back of that response we booked it.
What our flights costs per person (booked between January and March 2014):
Manchester (England) to Lima (Peru) via Paris with Air France – £640.40 (we paid extra for legroom).
Santiago (Chile) to Auckland (New Zealand) with Qantas operated by Latin American Airlines – £799.00
Christchurch (New Zealand) to Sydney (Australia) with Qantas £105.24
Sydney (Australia) to Bali (Indonesia) with Virgin Australia £193.60
Total Flight Cost ** £1746.81 (inclusive of booking fees)
** We purposefully didn’t book a flight back to the UK as we wanted the flexibility to see how long our budget lasts and we hope to travel overland up through SE Asia then get the Trans Siberian Railway back towards home. (We reserved £1,000 with that in mind).