Travel Tip Tuesday – How do Round-the-world (RTW) plane tickets work and are they worth it?

Each of the major airline alliances (Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam) offer round-the-world (RTW) flight options.  Generally the tickets are either mileage or segment based, meaning you receive a maximum number of miles allowed to travel or a maximum number of flight segments. Mileage-based tickets typically allow for ~20,000-30,000 miles and segment-based are typically ~14-18 segments (all connecting flights count the segment total).  There are limitations regarding changes to itineraries and which route(s) you can move around the world.  Costs are in the $5,000-$8,000 range (price depends on a lot of factors, generally more expensive if starting in the US), the flights can only be used on partner airlines (e.g. if you buy through Star Alliance, you can only fly on Star Alliance partner airlines), and must be used within a 12 month period.  It’s a ton of fun to play around with itineraries and daydream of far-off places.  This option can make a lot of sense for some travelers, particularly those who have a pre-determined schedule that will not likely change.  However, RTW tickets are not cheap, can cause logistics issues, and are relatively inflexible.  Ultimately, we decided not to buy these in order to maintain more flexibility of where we go and when and to avoid dealing w/ the logistics nightmare when we inevitably change our plans every month.

We also discovered this phenomenon known in travel circles as travel hacking (don’t we sound so cool and like we know what we’re talking about!?).  Travel hacking is basically just industry lingo for figuring out ways to lower flight costs.  Instead of re-writing the book, check out The Points Guy, Flyer Talk, and Nomadic Matt.  These guys know what they are doing and served as our resources for navigating all this jibber jabber.  We’re no experts but did realize we can save money by using these methods instead of buying a RTW ticket.  In just 6-8 months of making regular purchases we’ve accumulated the following:

  1. Close to 200,000 miles through airline credit card rewards and signup bonuses.
  2. $800 of cash back bonuses for travel from signing up for the Barclay Card Arrival World Mastercard.  We both got these and are using them as our operating credit cards as they have no foreign transaction fees and 2% cash back on all purchases.
  3. $800 of United flight vouchers, $250 of which was put toward free flights from Puerto Rico to Cincinnati.

This travel hacking frenzy isn’t just for nomad hippies – I’d highly recommend everyone check this stuff out.  If you fly at all you can probably save a few thousand dollars a year (or to put toward your next trip!) with minimal effort and next to no impact on your credit score.

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4 thoughts on “Travel Tip Tuesday – How do Round-the-world (RTW) plane tickets work and are they worth it?

  1. I have tried to make it work 100 times and it never does. You have 1 year and can only move in 1 direction around world. So always eastward. They always turn out to not be very cheap and too complicated. I wouldn’t spend too much time working on it but maybe take a quick glance at oneworld if you are curious and looks good for you

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