Flights are one of the top three expenses a nomad will encounter in their journeys.  Flights can be especially expensive if they are frequent or overseas.  Continent-hopping can also be expensive if not handled with some thought.  Of course there are ways to save.  RTW, round the world, tickets are one of the more popular methods for many world travelers.  But do they really save or are they more of an airline gimmick?

An RTW ticket is actually an annual pass that allows the traveler to fly to multiple destination on a journey around the world for one set cost which is usually lower than if the traveler booked the individual flights separately.  Sounds perfect for a nomad, right?  Like most “deals”, the devil is in the detail.  RTW tickets are not all the same and each program has a multitude of rules that can not only be a real pain in the ass, but also limit your journey.

When you book a normal airline ticket you have two basic options; standard or discount.  A standard ticket allows you to change the ticket, but is much more expensive that a discount ticket.  Discount tickets either do not allow changes or allow changes with substantial penalties.  Many times the penalties are the same or more than buying a new ticket.  So, travelers that  constantly changes plans usually buy standard fair tickets knowing that these types of tickets cost more, but probably save money in the long run.  This is a very expensive way to travel the world and can decimate a nomad’s budget. 

But what if you used an RTW ticket?  All RTW programs require that you book all your flight segments at the time you purchase your ticket.  However, most programs allow you to change those segments as you travel as long as you stay within the program’s rules.  So, if you like to change your plans and still want to save money, RTW might be a good way to go.

Let’s say you plan to fly from New York to London, then Berlin and onward.  You fly to London where you meet a fellow traveler that raves about Barcelona, Spain.  You gotta go, right?  That additional flight and change would probably be allowed by most RTW programs as long as you don’t exceed the total number of segments or miles allowed by your program.  But what if your new destination was Madrid instead of Barcelona?  No can do.  Why?  Because most RTW tickets require that you keep moving in the same direction, in this case, east.  Like I said, “The devil in in the detail.”  If you are going to use RTW programs you really need to read and understand the rules. 

Before booking any RTW program, do a price comparison between the various RTW programs and an international flight specialist like airtreks.com.  I used Airtreks on my first world tour.  Airtreks uses discount and regional airlines to build low cost round the world itineraries for their clients.  I have found that an Airtreks’ world tour is usually cheaper than all the RTW programs.  While they are a great company for international travel, their tickets still lack the flexibility of standard fare tickets or even RTW programs.  If you can live with the restrictions and potential penalties then Airtreks is probably the cheapest way to book a world tour.

The more experience you gain as a nomad the better you will be able to plan your journey and the more money you will be able to save.  I do not use RTW programs in my travels.  I find them too confining and therefore they don’t really save me money.  Instead, I buy discount airline tickets that I find online using fare alerts on travel website aggregators like Kayak.com.  I book my overseas flights 90 days in advance which is the cheapest time to book an overseas flight.  I wait until 30 days before my travel date to book my regional flights or I stick to trains and buses which I can usually book last minute without to much of a problem.  I accept that fact that there will be times when I have to eat the cost of a pre-booked airline ticket because I change my plans.  Experience has taught me that my discount-ticket-strategy is cheaper and more flexible than either standard fare tickets or RTW programs.