Recently a friend of mine decided to take a five-week vacation to Asia. He told me his trip would be from New York to Bangkok via Tokyo.
He was buying an advance purchase excursion (APEX) ticket. The APEX ticket to Asia, on United, had some restrictions. He needed to buy the ticket in advance, and no additional stopovers were permitted en route. The fare was $1,599.
I told him not to buy the ticket. For an additional $500 he could still fly to Asia, but then he could continue around the world, stopping in dozens of cities before returning to the United States. I asked him to check with his travel agent.
Six weeks later he reported back. For $2,099 he had flown to Japan and Bangkok all right, but had also added Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore, Delhi, Nairobi, Cairo, Rome, Paris and London.
And next year, with a completely different itinerary, he'll fly around the world again.
Relatively few travelers know of this option, and even fewer airlines aggressively market these tickets.
But just about every airline--from Pan Am and United to Qantas and Royal Jordanian--offer inexpensive around-the-world tickets.
Picking a Partner
The tickets are always offered in conjunction with at least one other airline. TWA, for example, offers its ticket with a choice of airline partners--Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Singapore, Air New Zealand or Korean Airlines.
The reason is that no one carrier flies around the world anymore. Pan Am canceled its legendary flights 1 and 2 (the westbound and eastbound around-the-world flights) years ago.
But the airline combinations can offer you tremendous itinerary options. Last year my mother flew around the world on TWA and Singapore Airlines for $1,999. Her itinerary: New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, London and New York.
For only a few hundred dollars more she could have flown business class. And most first-class around-the-world tickets are priced under $4,000. For example, a first-class ticket on TWA and Cathay Pacific costs $3,999. If that seems like a lot of money, consider this: A round-trip first-class ticket between Los Angeles and London goes for a whopping $5,781!
Surprisingly, restrictions are few. The $3,999 TWA and Cathay Pacific around-the-world ticket gives you up to a year to complete your trip. You have to get your ticket at least 14 days before your departure date. And, once you settle on a direction (either east or west), you must continue in that direction.
The ticket is a positive space ticket (no, you won't be stranded in Delhi or Jakarta), and there are even circumstances that allow you to do some backtracking. On a westbound itinerary, for example, you could fly from Frankfurt to Copenhagen without incurring an additional charge.
Another provision is that with the around-the-world ticket you can take no more than 12 flights within the United States. Using TWA as an example again, you'd be hard-pressed to take 12 TWA flights in the same direction between New York and Los Angeles, or between New York and San Francisco, before running out of geography.
Two more restrictions are worth noting. After departure you can make as many changes as you want on your flight dates and times without penalties, as long as it doesn't require the airline to reissue your tickets. If you do make a destination change after you've started using your ticket, you'll be assessed a $25 charge to rewrite the ticket.
Perhaps the best deal about around-the-world tickets: Depending upon which airline you choose, you will earn mileage points for flights flown on that airline, as well as receive applicable bonus miles for flying business or first-class, or for flying special routes the airline may happen to be promoting during your trip. With enough planning on some airlines (including Northwest, TWA, United and, with some itineraries, even American Airlines) you can fly around the world and earn enough mileage to qualify for a free ticket for U.S. travel.
Some Other Bargains
But what if you only want to travel to a particular country in Scandinavia, southern Europe or South America? There are other bargains as well. Each summer SAS offers a $200 "Visit Scandinavia" ticket, valid for five trips within Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Travel must be completed in a month.
Iberia offers a "Visit Spain" ticket. It allows unlimited travel for 60 days within the country for only $199. A small catch: At least one portion of your transatlantic flight must be on Iberia to qualify for the ticket.
In South America some airlines (including Avianca and Varig) offer special air passes within the continent or specific countries. Varig offers two special tickets. One, for $330, gives you unlimited travel within Brazil for 21 days; a second ticket, for $250, gives you 14 days of travel within Brazil and up to four cities.