Travel Notes

How to Find Cheap Round the World Flights

September 27, 2015

As I mentioned last week, I’m getting ready to head off on a round the world adventure! So today I’m sharing my itinerary, how much I paid for my flights, and most importantly – my tips for how to find cheap round the world flights. I hope I can show you that travel is not always as expensive as you’d imagine and help inspire you to plan your own adventure – whatever your budget!

For a good chunk of my twenties, I worked as a travel agent and the one part of the job I absolutely loved was creating complex flight itineraries. Fun fact about me – I’m a creative thinker and I create complicated solutions to simple problems, which turns out to be a handy skill when planning flights.

Airfares don’t always make sense; the cheapest way to get from A to B might involve going from A -> D -> F -> B! But if your end goal is to go on an amazing adventure, more twists and turns just mean more awesome, right? So if you’re planning a big adventure (or maybe just wondering what might be possible in the future) please read on!

My tips for finding cheap round the world flights (plus my itinerary + what I paid for my flights!)

First things first – I bet you’re pretty curious to find out where I’m going on my own trip and what I paid for my flights! So here are the nitty gritty details of my itinerary, price paid, and which airline.

Keep in mind these prices are in Australian dollars (and unfortunately it is pretty weak against all major currencies at the moment. A few years ago many of these flights would have cost about 15% less.)

(Please note this post includes some affiliate links, which means I make a small commission on any purchases at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my writing!)


MY ITINERARY + WHAT I PAID FOR FLIGHTS


Flight Price Airline
Gold Coast, Australia – Phuket, Thailand $72 Air Asia
Phuket, Thailand – Chiang Mai, Thailand $35 Air Asia
Chiang Rai, Thailand – Bangkok, Thailand $18 Air Asia
Bangkok, Thailand – Malaga, Spain $341 Norwegian
Barcelona, Spain – London, England $44 Ryanair
London, England – Fez, Morocco $156 Ryanair
Marrakesh, Morocco – London, England $176 Ryanair
London, England – Dublin, Ireland $30* TBD
Dublin, Ireland – Oslo, Norway $38 Ryanair
Oslo, Norway – New York, USA $187 Norwegian
Baltimore, USA – Las Vegas, USA $150* TBD
Las Vegas, USA – Cancun, Mexico $37 + 25,000 frequent flyer points Qantas (American Airlines)
Cancun, Mexico – Lima, Peru – Cancun, Mexico $390 Copa Airlines
Mexico City, Mexico – Honolulu, USA $94 + 30,000 frequent flyer points Qantas (American Airlines)
Honolulu, USA – Brisbane, Australia $600* TBD probably Jetstar

* I haven’t booked these flights yet but these prices are conservative estimates based on research. I’m hoping to get lucky and pay less (especially for the last flight) but I’m going to have to wait and see.


TOTAL PRICE PAID FOR A 5 CONTINENT ROUND THE WORLD TICKET:
$2368 PER PERSON + 55,000 FREQUENT FLYER POINTS


This is currently less than $1700 US Dollars or £1250 British Pounds. It’s a pretty good price for this itinerary if I do say so myself!

I definitely could have brought the price down a bit more by changing my itinerary and going from Spain to Morocco and then direct to London, but we wanted to be in London for Christmas and therefore paid a premium!

If you’re planning a trip but your budget is a bit tighter, there are a lot of different ways you could vary your itinerary and still plan an amazing trip for a lot of less.

RELATED POST: How I Afford to Travel

How to find cheap round the world flights - tips from a former travel agent.

POINT TO POINT TICKETS VS ‘ROUND THE WORLD’ TICKET

Before I share my tips, let me start by explaining that there are ‘Round the World’ flights and then there are flights that go around the world – and they aren’t always the same thing.

‘Round the World’ flights are special tickets sold by airline alliances. They’re complicated and I won’t explain all the details because if you want to book one you are usually best speaking to a travel agent.

An alternative is to piece together a series of point to point, one way flights around the world, which is what I’ve done. In most cases this is a cheaper option, but it might not be the best option for you.

Before you decide to book, it’s important to understand the risks and benefits of both:


Book a ‘Round the World’ ticket from a travel agent if:

  • You have very specific destinations you want to travel to and you don’t want to be flexible, especially if you going to parts of the world that aren’t serviced by low cost carriers.
  • You are going to have a lot of luggage and/or need flexibility to change your plans.
  • You are uncomfortable with dealing with travel emergencies (like missed flights) by yourself.

When you book a ‘Round the World’ ticket from an airline, you have one ticket for your trip and the airline is responsible for your entire journey.


Book a series of one way tickets around the world if:

  • Your priority is getting the absolute best price on flights and you are flexible with dates and destinations.
  • You will be travelling light and are comfortable travelling with low cost carriers (which often means no entertainment, no meals, or no checked baggage – unless you pay extra.)
  • You are okay knowing it will likely be expensive, if not impossible, to change your flights.
  • You are comfortable being ‘on your own’ with the airlines and dealing with delayed flights, visa questions, etc, without support.

When you book a series of one way tickets around the world, the different airlines do not care about your other tickets.


What is the better option? It depends on your situation and what you’re comfortable with. However, if you’re strongly motivated by price, then point to point, one way tickets are usually your best option. This is the method I’ll be explaining in this guide.


HOW TO FIND CHEAP ROUND THE WORLD FLIGHTS


Here are the three key principles I use to find cheap round the world flights:

Be flexible with my destinations and let price guide my itinerary. I create a short list of must visit destinations, but after that I decide on general regions (ie: Southeast Asia vs Bangkok) and let the price of long-haul flights determine where I go.

Experiment with different routes and consider how I can use alternative airports, extra stopovers, and land travel to fill in any gaps. This is where I start adding extra destinations from my wishlist – or I find new destinations I had never considered before!

Use frequent flyer points when there are no other affordable options. In most countries there are ways to earn free frequent flyer points without flying. Take advantage of these programs and use the points to fill in expensive gaps in your itinerary.

Keep reading for more details about each of these principles. It’s not a difficult process, but it does take time (and a good grasp of geography so get out your maps!) Ready to get started?

CREATE TWO LISTS – MUST VISIT + A WISHLIST

The first step is create your ‘must visit’ list; these are the you places absolutely must go to. For us this meant Malaga (Spain), London, and Baltimore (USA) because we are going to visit family. We later added Morocco and Peru to this list as well. (We have friends coming to Morocco and I really, really want to hike the Inca Trail.)

(Update: I ended up hiking the Quarry Trail instead of the Inca trail and it was a great alternative!)

Next create a wish list. Your wishlist should include all the places that you’re really interested in travelling to, but would be willing to miss if it became too difficult or expensive. My list included: Southeast Asia, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, Africa. Remember the world is full of beautiful, amazing places and the more flexible you are, the more money you’ll save.

FIND CHEAP LONG-HAUL FLIGHTS TO FORM THE BACKBONE OF YOUR ITINERARY

One hard truth about planning a cheap trip that you might not want to hear: If you want to get the cheapest flights, you go where the cheapest flights go.

So keep this in mind when you start planning your itinerary. Long-haul flights are the big flights that form the backbone of your itinerary, such as a flight from North America to Europe, or a flight from Europe to Southeast Asia.

If you’re on a budget, it’s important that you get these flights as cheap as possible, because they are generally the most expensive.

There are certain travel lanes around the world that are considerably cheaper than others, namely due to competition and the presence of low cost carriers. Here is a common route that I have used as the backbone of many of my trips.

to Find Cheap Round the World Flights - INFOGRAPHIC

Depending on what is available on your dates, you could get a very basic round the world ticket for around $1500 AUD ($1100 USD/£700 GBP), although you’d probably need to add a few local flights or some overland travel to complete the itinerary.

There are so many ways you could play with this itinerary. For example, you could skip Australia and travel direct from North America to Southeast Asia (I’ve seen flights with Norwegian via Europe from Bangkok to New York for around $500 AUD or flights with China Southern for around $600 AUD!) Coming from the States I think you could build an incredible itinerary to Europe and Southeast Asia for under $800 USD!

These are definitely a few ideas to get you started. However, as I mentioned prices change and new airlines or routes also pop up all the time. So a good way to find these cheap lanes for yourself is to use Which Budget. This website helps you find budget airlines that fly between two cities or even two countries.

For example, I just did a search between the US and the UK and without even hitting search, a few options appear in the box on the far right side of the screen. You can see there are pretty cheap options! $304 AUD from Los Angeles to London is incredible!

How to use whichbudget.com to find cheap round the world flights.

Screenshot from www.whichbudget.com taken 27/9/15 11:00am

I usually search without dates, which gives me the cheapest possible flights, so I know what to aim for. If you’re planning ahead (which is what I recommend) you can try and alter your dates to take advantage of the best deals. Regardless, even if your dates aren’t flexible, this is still a powerful tool because it exposes you to new airlines or new cities to include in your flight searches.

Generally, I start with Which Budget to inspired new ideas and then get detailed flight prices from a better booking engine. Personally, I use kayak.com or Expedia but it is just a personal preference, some people prefer Skyscanner or Google Flights.

EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE AIRPORTS, CITIES + ROUTES

Now you have a good idea of what is available and how to create a cheap, basic round the world flight. However, now you’re looking at your wishlist and wondering how you incorporate a few more destinations on your trip?

This is a good time to get creative. Continue to use Which Budget or Kayak (or whatever your website you choose) to search but try some ‘out of the box’ ideas. Get out your map and look for possible stopover points you may not have considered or alternative airports.

Remember that in many parts of the world, overland travel such as buses or trains are very cheap, so it may save you money if you choose to fly into a different airport, a few hours from your intended destination. (Plus it will mean more places to explore!)

The best way to explain this is with a few examples:

When I decided I wanted to go to South America, I used Which Budget to look at flights between Australia and South America. The cheapest one way flights I could find were over $1300, which was way out of my budget. I didn’t have enough frequent flyer points for the trip, so I started checking flights between almost every airport in North America and South America.

This may sound drastic and time consuming (I won’t lie it took ages) but I found that flights between Cancun and Lima return were under $400 AUD return – half the price of any other set of arrival and departure points in the Americas! I can’t say why, but it was a huge savings and it meant I was able to add South America to my trip (plus I decided to add in Mexico and Guatemala since we were going to be in the area.)

Choosing an airport even a few hours away from your original choice can also save you money. We have friends who are meeting us in Morocco and they are flying in from Italy. They decided to fly out of Pisa instead of Milan and saved over $300!

Another tip is that with many airlines, the Middle East (including Istanbul) is considered a different zone from most of Europe, meaning you can sometimes get really good fares from Turkey to Asia. Pegasus is a great low cost carrier based in Istanbul, so you can sometimes put together some really fantastic fares combining Europe, the Middle East and Asia using this route. (A few years ago I did London > Istanbul > Bali > Perth for about $600.)

Remember that flights prices don’t always ‘make sense’; sometimes longer flights that backtrack actually cost less than shorter more direct routes. For example, if you want to travel from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, it might be cheaper to backtrack through London.

These are just a few ideas, but remember flights and airfares are always changing. The key takeaway is don’t be afraid to think creatively and explore your map!

RELATED POST: How I Afford to Travel

USE FREQUENT FLYER POINTS ON EXPENSIVE ROUTES

Sometimes there is somewhere you really want to go or a flight you really need to complete your itinerary, but for some reason it’s ridiculously expensive. Before you give up and change your itinerary, check if it’s a flight that can be booked with frequent flyer points.

Now, let me step back and talk about frequent flyer points for a moment.

You may be thinking – “I don’t fly that often, so I don’t have frequent flyer points.”

Guess what? Neither do I.

But I earn frequent flyer points through my credit card. Specific deals vary from country to country and from bank to bank, but as a general rule, look for an airline with a big global network (I’m a Qantas frequent flyer, which is part of the One World network) and look for a credit card with low fees.

I earn about 30,000 points year through my normal spending (I put everything on my credit card and then pay it off each month so I don’t pay interest.) I also recently signed up for a new credit card and received a 40,000 point bonus. I don’t do this often but I will do it every few years when I see a great offer.

How you use points vary from airline to airline, but in general the number of points you need is related to the number of miles you’re flying; you usually get the best bang for your buck when you use your airline points on long haul flights or expensive routes where there are no cheap alternatives.

Don’t waste your points on short domestic flights or on routes where low cost carriers already fly.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A few final thoughts to help you with your trip planning:

  • Sign up to airline newsletters so you’ll be the first to know when they have sales – this is how I found $72 tickets from Australia to Phuket!
  • When you find a really good deal, don’t hesitate. Special airfares sell out quick!
  • In interest of full disclosure, I’m doing most of my trip carry on only. With so many low cost flights, adding baggage would add a significant cost (I’d estimate a few hundred dollars) to my flights. I like to travel light so it’s not a big deal (Check out this post for details of how I’m travelling around the world with carry-on luggage only.)

Whew, I know that was a big post! But I hope you found some useful advice to help you plan your big adventure! If you have any questions or need help with an itinerary let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help! x

photo credit : unsplash.com // Used with permission

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  • Holy moly Jennifer! This is so inspiring and useful. I’d live to visit the USA and Canada, so I’m definitely on the lookout for a bargain. Thanks for this amazing, comprehensive post!

    • Hi Wendy, thanks for taking the time to comment! I have a nerdy love for airfares, so if you ever need help just drop me a line!

  • This is absolutely amazing! Great job with all this research– some of those deals you listed are nearly unbelievable!!

    • Thank you Daisy! I know it is a huge post, but I had so much information in my head that I wanted to share. There are definitely a lot of good deals out at the moment, every time I search I get tempted to book more flights (but I must resist!) Thank you for stopping by.

  • Sarah Noelle

    Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for sharing all this info. I just went on a trip, so my next one may not be for a while, but when I’m planning it I will definitely use this post as a resource.
    Thanks too for the credit card tip. Are you referring to credit card offers you got in the mail, or credit cards you found through other means? (I get so many offers in the mail that I literally don’t even look at any of them, but if some of them may actually have worthwhile offers for airline miles, that would be good to know! I should start checking them.)
    Thanks again!
    Sarah 🙂

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks for commenting!

      Yes – it definitely pays to plan early when it comes to earning frequent flyer points! To get the most bang for your buck start by deciding what airline will be most useful for you, usually your national carrier is best. If you’re in the States look at American, United or maybe Delta? It helps to think about where you might be going and then check out how many points you would need so you better understand their plans. (Most airlines have points calculators on their websites. Also think about the airlines and what alliances they have – you want a good network!!

      Once you have an airline in mind google the airline name + ‘frequent flyer credit card’. Often the airline has a list on their website. You could also check with your bank to see if they have any offers. Look for a good signing bonus (points you get just for signing up), a good earn rate (ie points earned per dollar spent) and low or no annual fees.

      If you do a bit of research up front it can really pay off!

      A few last tips:

      – I find airline specific plans give better rewards than general ‘reward’ cards that let you convert their reward points to frequent flyer points.
      – Once you pick one, stay committed and put everything through your card (just pay it off obviously so you don’t pay heaps of interest)
      – check the airline websites for special partners – here I earn additional points for my grocery shopping!
      – start early. Later you’ll be kicking yoursel for not doing it! << from personal experience.

      Hope this helps! Cheers Jen

      • Sarah Noelle

        Oh great, thanks for these tips! 🙂

  • Man this is an awesome article considering we plan to travel around the world one of these days.

  • Hi Tawcan – thanks for the comment! Good luck making your trip happen and let me know if you need any help with your itinerary planning!

  • Woop woop! I admit we took the easy route and used STA (they are after all RTW specialists). Hope your trip is going awesomely.

    • Thanks for the comment! I use to work for one of STA’s biggest competitors ? All good – as long as you were happy with your flights and had a great trip, that’s all that matters! I’m having an awesome time thanks so much x

  • Christine Torres

    I am completely geeking out on your blog right now, but this and the Thailand tips are blowing my mind!!! Thank you for inspiring me! <3