A friend told me she was about to buy an airline ticket that fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams. She had saved enough money and vacation time to visit Africa. She would be taking six weeks to make the trip and would fly from Chicago to Nairobi, with a change of planes in New York.
She was buying an advance purchase excursion (APEX) ticket. Pan Am's APEX round-trip ticket to Africa had a number of restrictions: She needed to buy the ticket at least one month in advance and no stopovers were permitted en route. The fare was $1,455.
More of the World
I told her not to buy the ticket. For an additional $500 she could still fly to Africa, but then she could continue around the world, stopping in dozens of cities before returning to Chicago. I asked her to check with her travel agent.
The next day my friend claimed to be a close personal friend of Phileas Fogg. She was headed around the world with a stop, of course, in Nairobi. Six weeks later, she reported back.
For $1,999 she had flown to London, Paris, Rome, Cairo, Nairobi, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Honolulu. And next year, with a different itinerary, she'll fly around the world again.
Relatively few travelers know of this option, and few airlines aggressively market these tickets.
Round-the-world (RTW) tickets have been sold since 1978 when Pan American offered its "Round the World in 80 Days" fare. Initially, the highly promoted fare angered the world's airlines, because the price of the RTW ticket was less than half the cost of a regular economy fare to circle the globe.
Eight years ago Pan Am had routes around the world, so the fare made sense to the airline, and to its customers wishing to combine business with pleasure trips, or for those passengers who simply had the extra time to extend their vacations beyond one or two foreign destinations.
Pan Am no longer flies an around-the-world route structure. And, for that matter, neither does any other airline. But with few exceptions, almost every international airline offers a RTW ticket, usually in conjunction with one or two other airlines.
The fares are nothing less than terrific when compared with regular coach, and other discount routings to foreign destinations.
Airlines Team Up
Singapore Airlines teamed with TWA, Air Canada joined with Japan Air Lines, and British Airways paired with United to offer RTW bargains. And that was only the beginning. Other airlines soon joined the competition.
American Airlines has joined Korean Air and Alia Royal Jordanian Airlines to offer a RTW fare with unlimited stopovers.
"And even though Pan Am no longer flies around the world," said spokesman James Arey, "we offer a terrific fare, too. It is truly a wonderful value." Pan Am offers its RTW tickets in conjunction with Cathay Pacific Airways.
For savvy travelers, the sheer economy of an RTW ticket may explain why, with very little promotion or advertising, a growing number of passengers are buying them. And now, at least some airlines are changing their marketing strategies to accommodate the demand.
"We've decided to advertise the RTW ticket strongly," said Ted Shetzen of CP Air (Canadian Pacific) marketing and planning. "A lot of airlines just look at these as promotional fares that are put into play because airlines need to fill seats. And that's true. But a growing number of people have the time to take these trips, and even if they only make a few stops on their trip around the world, they are excited by the prospect."
Canadian Pacific, for example, offers six specialized RTW routings, with airline pairings ranging from Swissair and Singapore Airlines to Alitalia. In fact, under the different North and South Pacific routings, Canadian Pacific can rightfully claim that no other North American carrier flies to as many continents.
A typical RTW routing, using Canadian Pacific Air in conjunction with Cathay Pacific Airways, would include 11 possible stops in North America, 7 in the South Pacific, 14 destination choices in Asia, 3 in the Middle East, 7 in Europe and 3 stopovers in South America.
Another RTW routing, with CP Air and Alitalia, offers more emphasis on European stopovers. But the best news is the price: The fares, in economy, range from $1,999 (CP Air and Alitalia, and CP Air and Philippine Airlines North Pacific routings) to $2,599 on CP Air and South African Airways South Pacific around-the-world routings.
Bargain in Canada
And, for U.S. passengers reasonably close to any Canadian Pacific Air ticket office in Canada, there can be substantial saving on the U.S.-Canadian dollar exchange rate when buying their tickets.
For example, a passenger in Seattle, by going to Canada and buying the RTW ticket (departing from Vancouver) in Canadian dollars converted at local bank rates, will save substantially compared to other airlines' published RTW fares departing from U.S. cities.