One of the biggest expenses for any RTW trip is airfare - no surprise there. Also no surprise is that doesn't seem to be an "easy" answer to the question of "what is the best RTW airfare ticket for me?" Depending on your itinerary, duration of trip, flexibility, and frequent flyer miles, you'll need to do some research to find the best fit for your needs. Luckily, there are a number of sites that have done a lot of the legwork for you. Since we just went through this entire process for ourselves, I can also share the outcome of our decision.
Short answer is that we went through AirTreks for our tickets. This is a company based out of San Francisco, that focuses primarily on RTW travel. They were recommended to me from someone I met a while back from one of the Meet Plan Go! get-togethers (I wish I could remember who - but thank you!).
I initially reached out to the AirTreks team over a year ago, just to understand what services they provide, and had a great conversation with a consultant, during which I learned a couple of important items:
- we were way to far ahead of the airfare booking window (typically 11 months) for any sort of fare estimates,
- we might not have to book the whole trip at the start (and, for a trip duration of over 12 months like ours, it might not be possible),
- Daniel (my consultant) had personally been to many of the places that we are planning on going to, and had some excellent itinerary insight that went above & beyond simply getting the best deal on airfare.
During this same time, I was researching other options via some great sites - I started with an article by Tim Ferriss, which pointed me to Chris Guillebeau (who also runs the Travel Hacking site). I considered joining the Travel Hacking Cartel, but (since I'm a geek) decided to try it on my own. I also looked at the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums, since they are typically useful for all sorts of travel info and advice.
From there I did some poking around with the airline alliance sites, before I stumbled on BootsnAll. Through the BootsnAll sister site Round The World Tickets and Meet Plan Go, I realized that I had a good solution with AirTreks.
Note: what works for me/us may not work for you. We are a family of four, with some flexibility in terms of destinations and timing, but also some hard targets that we wanted to hit. We did not have a lot of FF miles to work with, nor were we comfortable with doing point-to-point airfares on the fly as we needed (we didn't want to get split up on multiple flights out of a given location - however this might be more attractive to single or pairs of travellers). For those of you with gobs of FF miles, even across multiple airlines, playing the FF miles game to consolidate these and using an airfare consortium to book a true RTW ticket. The FlyerTalk forums is a good place for this research.
Flash forward to Jan 2012, and Daniel and I reconnect for serious discussions on our initial itinerary (from the US to Peru through Chile to New Zealand via Rapa Nui and Tahiti, and ending in Sydney for New Years). Daniel was a great guy to work with - listened to what we were interested in doing, answered our (dumb) questions, gave us info from his personal experience that we would not have gotten otherwise, and helped us come up with a solid itinerary (places and dates). Daniel then took that info away and came back a week later with flight recommendations and cost estimates. Anne and I got on the phone with Daniel for an hour review session, revising and tweaking the dates and destinations (Daniel came prepared with options), and, at the end, we pulled the trigger and booked the airfare for our family.
AirTreks offers trip insurance as well - basic insurance is included with every airfare purchased (for US and Canada residents), which is a great deal. We opted to do the Full Monty and purchased the additional exclusive insurance, which includes double medical coverage, trip cancellation insurance, and double emergency evacuation coverage. Hope we never need it, but just in case something bad happens before or during the trip, we are guaranteed to get our money back. Since we're going to be on the road for such a long time (with kids) we felt this was an important item to have. Again, ymmv based on who you are and your risk profile.
End result is that we have the flights that we wanted, on the days that we wanted, with solid insurance behind it. I don't feel like we paid a premium to get it either. Sure, maybe in this age of the Internet we could have done it a bit cheaper if we did it all ourselves online, but based on the customer service from AirTreks, the personal guidance from Daniel, and the fact that we can always contact AirTreks for help on the way (like a real travel agent), we're very comfortable with this outcome.
One final note, with any big purchase comes the inevitable "buyer's remorse". Sure, it got our adrenaline flowing and the butterflies in the stomach flying around when it came time to give our credit card digits for the purchase, but this is certainly tempered by knowing that you have a partner in the purchase - that's the way we feel with AirTreks. If you want more info, please leave a comment!
(full disclosure: links to AirTreks are referrals on this page. This does not change our opinion of the service or products that AirTreks provides).