Why do people buy them?
- They think theyâ€™ll save money.
- Theyâ€™ve always planned out their vacations.
Saving money – Do you really?
If you are trying to achieve goals that require travel, RTW tickets can be cheaper.Â However, most RTW enthusiasts are trying to take a break from a lifetime of achieving goals, meeting deadlines, and having responsibilities demand every second of their attention.Â Is this you?Â Keep reading!
Is planning this â€œvacationâ€ the right thing to do?
RTW hopefuls tend to see this quote â€“ â€œA traveler sees what they see. Â A tourist sees what they have come to see.â€ â€“ and imagine themselves as the traveler.Â Just going out there, facing the void of the unknown, and absorbing all the rich experiences.
If you treat an entire year of your life as if itâ€™s two weeks in Italy or ten days in Hawaii, your experiences will tend toward “tourist.” Â Not a bad thing, but not the vibrant encounters of a traveler wanted by most people thinkingÂ aboutÂ RTW tickets.
The Costs You Didnâ€™t Consider
Money isnâ€™t the only cost of a RTW ticket.
Many new travelers donâ€™t realize the enormous opportunity costsâ€¦ until itâ€™s too late.
Buying a RTW ticket is like marrying someone based onÂ photos and an online profile.Â If youâ€™re the type whoâ€™d want to try living togetherÂ before tying the knot, donâ€™t get a RTW ticket.Â The uncertainty involved can be stressful, but itâ€™s worth it.
Have the courage not to settle for the trip-equivalent of a mail-order-bride.Â
If youâ€™re going to travel around the world to take a break from life, hereâ€™s what an RTW ticket can cost you:
- Freedom of trip length
- Extra, pointless planning time
- Freedom of location
- An entire flight leg
- Route freedom
- Additional cash
1. Freedom of Trip Length
From behind your work desk, a mere month seems like a century of pleasure.Â Thatâ€™s why most RTW hopefuls donâ€™t bat an eye at the year-long time restriction required by RTW tickets.Â A year?Â Thatâ€™s heaps!
In reality, you will leave nearly every destination wishing you could stay longer. Â A year is an arbitrary length of time. Â Only one of my three RTW trips fit within that limit, and I didn’t plan on it being so short.Â The others wereÂ 23 months and 16 months.
Ironically, if you pony up the cost of a RTW ticket, youâ€™ll probably want to come home much sooner than a year.Â Why?Â The ticket becomes your boss, telling you what to do and when to do it, forcing you into just the kind of externally dictated, exhausting schedule most RTW hopefuls are trying to escape.
Bottom line: Â When it comes to RTW travel, one size does not fit all. Â Committing to a long term travel schedule when you have zero experience traveling long term seems a bit bananas to me.Â Which leads us to cost #2â€¦
Experienced travelers often regard flexibility as the holy grail.
I think RTW tickets give you a false sense of control in exchange for precious flexibility. Â Hundreds of variables on your trip will nudge you in unforeseen directions. Â Having your routeÂ set in stone will either cost you money or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
â€œBut at least the dates are changeable!â€ you say.
Yeah, kind of. Â Alliances allowÂ changes, but date availability is limited. Â Tickets booked with third-party agentsÂ are subject to the same hefty date change fees you’d pay with self-booked flights.
The financial and mental factors involved with RTW tickets nudge you in the direction of sticking with original plans, cool new opportunities be damned.
Bottom line: once you start traveling, flexibility â€“ not security â€“ will be the new gold standard. Â Booking your tickets just a few weeks or months in advance as you travel around the world gives you a balance of security and flexibility.
3. Extra, Pointless Planning Time Â
In addition to losing flexibility, if you fork over the cost of a RTW ticket, you will also waste planning time. Â How?
While youÂ should absolutely research details of places and things you have your heart set on seeing, you could spend a lifetime researching possibilities. Â Making plans that are a comfort in the present, but have a 90% likelihood of needing re-researched later, are a waste of precious time.
You are likely incapable of predicting what youâ€™ll want eightÂ months from now in the middle of a developingÂ country where you just finished a ten-day adventure.Â Especially if you have zero long-term travel experience.
Typhoons, falling in love, new travel buddies, fantastic work exchanges, and opportunities-of-a-lifetime can, and likely will,Â nullifyÂ effort spent readingÂ hostel reviews for yourÂ eleventhÂ country seven months from now.
Bottom line: Our free time is really so gobsmackingly limited. Â Researching and committing to a travel schedule feels great before your trip, but most report it doesnâ€™t feel great on the trip.Â Spend a bit ofÂ time learning about yourÂ top ten experiences or destinations, and spend the rest of your time learning about what long term travel life is like.
4. Freedom of Location
Alliance RTW tickets only give you access to destinations and routes served by airlines within that alliance. Â You can end up having to settle for anÂ airport hundreds of kilometersÂ from your dream destination.Â You canÂ also end up spending extra hours on planes and at connecting airports when your alliance doesnâ€™t own the direct flights between your point A and B.
Also, alliance tickets require you to start and end in the same spot, which could cost youâ€¦
5. An Entire Flight Leg
An opportunity cost of a RTW ticket is being forced to finish where you started.Â On the surface, it doesnâ€™t seem like something to balk about.Â We all want to go home eventually, right?
But letâ€™s say you arrive in Thailand on the eleventh month of your trip.Â You meet some awesome people from New Zealand. Â YouÂ realize going there onÂ a Working Holiday VisaÂ is the perfect solution to your low cash reserves and high desire to keep traveling.
Now about that Bangkok –> __home__ flight that was supposed to be the last one of your trip.Â An Alliance RTW ticket wonâ€™t allow you to end your itinerary in New Zealand. Â A third-party agent itinerary requiresÂ hefty change fees sometimes equivalent to just buying a new flight.
Bottom line: when you travel long term, your plans change, and change, and change again. Â Both myself and others I know forfeited flights we’dÂ already paid for because ourÂ plans changed and the fees weren’t worth it.
6. Route Freedom
The most common RTW tickets (with alliances) require you to keep traveling in the same direction.Â So you canâ€™t, for instance, go to Japan in the springtime, Europe in the summer, and then head for India when temps there become friendlier.
Most people like to have a general idea of where theyâ€™ll go on their trip.Â Thatâ€™s great.Â You definitely have to start somewhere!Â However, most people also come to see their original idea as insanely over-scheduled and full of rookie errors.Â Having this realization, but knowing youâ€™re already locked in to a schedule and route, is a huge bummer.
Bottom line: again with the changing plans and flexibility being a gold standard â€“ donâ€™t give up your route freedom for a few hundred bucks.Â Youâ€™ll probably end up spending that savings on flight change fees anyway, or worse youâ€™ll ignore once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because theyâ€™re outside what youâ€™ve already planned.
7. Additional Cash
Many scenarios with RTW tickets end up costing you additional money.
Ironically, some people are drawn to RTW tickets because they know they wonâ€™t run out of get-home-money on their trip.Â If thatâ€™s a concern of yours, consider grabbing your financial habits by the balls.
Then, realize that an RTW ticket doesnâ€™t save you in a run-out-of-cashÂ situation.Â Letâ€™s say you ignored my advice to get your money habits under control.Â You were supposed to go to India, Thailand, and the Philippines, but you had a few too many weeks out at the bars in Europe.Â Â You still have to find a way to pay for accommodation and food as you make your way via your pre-set route back home, even if it’s sped up as fast as alliance seat availability allows.Â Or you have to pay route change fees (alliance RTW tickets). Â Or you have to forfeit legs and pay for a ticket change (with third party bookers).
Bottom line: often a RTW ticket costs you more than just buying flights as you go. Â If your priority is stretching your dollars as you travel around the world, getting good with money will save you heaps on your trip and the rest of your life.
Why the RTW Ticket Cost Isnâ€™t Worth It
If youâ€™re still not convinced that the opportunity cost of a RTW ticket is waaaaay too high for most who want to travel around the world, get a load of this –
Airlines stand to benefit more than you from the RTW ticket concept.Â Itâ€™s their game, and you can â€œwinâ€ only if you spend a long time learning the rules and then abide by them.Â Here how alliance RTW tickets stack the deck in their favor:
- You donâ€™t get what you pay for – Tickets are sold in blocks of miles or segments.Â If you donâ€™t use a segment, or your total route comes in short of the miles you purchasedâ€¦ too bad!
- Miles outside of planes count, tooÂ â€“ Excuse me, what?!Â When you buy a set number of miles, even if you take a bus between New York and Los Angeles, the NY to LA flight miles are still deducted from your total.Â Cray cray.
- You pay double, even when they pick for you – If you buy segments instead of miles, you can become a victim of routes you donâ€™t control. If your alliance doesnâ€™t have a direct flight between your point A and B, it will cost you two segments even though you didnâ€™t askÂ for a Mumbai layover.
- Miles game is changing â€“ the cost of a RTW ticket used to be partly justified by all the miles you racked up running around the globe. By the end of the trip, youâ€™d basically earned another two or three flights.Â Cha-ching! Â ButÂ airlines have been moving away from mileage based â€œmilesâ€ to cost based â€œmiles.â€Â Â Basically they got rid of weak points in their armor by just giving you miles based on what you pay.Â Game over.
Are RTW ticket savings still tempting you?
Flight Costs for My Three RTW Trips will show youÂ what you might spend on your own.
And if you subscribe, you get a PDF detailing the Costs of 2 Years of RTW Travel!
Still want allÂ your flights organized in advance?Â Read:
When the Cost of a RTW Ticket is Worth It.
Are you budgeting forÂ a RTW trip? Â Read:
What Does it Cost to Travel the World?
Sick of reading about RTW flights? Maybe thinkÂ about:
Considering a RTW flight to save money? Â These travel hacks are better:
- Free Flights
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- How to Get a Free Backstage Cultural Pass
- How to Become a House Sitter
- 24 Jobs To Do While Traveling the World
Happy Travelling!Â ♣
Am I too emphaticÂ for you? Â Shannon at A Little Adrift generally agrees with me about RTW tickets,Â but discusses the RTW ticket conundrum with more equanimity.