Where will your gap year take you?
When planning a gap year adventure, the biggest expense is without a doubt going to be the airfare. There are all types of options out there - from simply buying one-way tickets to make your way around the world to a dizzying array of round the world ticketing options.
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to round the world tickets, among them:
- They are cheaper than buying point-to-point.
- You can only travel for one year.
- You can only travel in one direction.
While there is some truth to all three of those statements, it's not such a black and white topic; there are definitely shades of gray when it comes to making your decision.
The travel website Bootsnall has published two free downloadable Around the World Airfare Reports over the past 6 months addressing this very topic. These reports searched multiple routes from different round the world carriers along with pricing those same routes as one-way tickets through Kayak. You may be surprised at what we found out.
The thing about different round the world tickets options vs. buying point to point is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all option. Each trip is different, and each traveler is different, so what each traveler needs will be different than the next. After you read the report, you may be thinking, "Wow, well if point to point tickets come out just as cheap if not cheaper than most round the world options, then it's a no-brainer."
That's not necessarily the case. It depends on a variety of factors - largely your particular route and what you want to get out of your trip. While our report found out that the alliances weren't good for those routes we searched, if you have a simpler route that only flies in and out of large, hub cities, or if you want to travel to many different continents and have several long-haul flights, going with one of the alliances might be your best bet.
There are so many factors that go into this, it's almost like putting together a puzzle, and while I know you wish there was a quick fix and you probably want me to just tell you the best option, that's simply not possible.
Let's check out some basic pros and cons for each option.
Booking a round the world flight
Most people automatically think that buying a round the world flight is going to be cheaper. That may be the case, but again, it's all dependent on your particular route. What I'd like to do is give you some things to think about.
It's a big world out there - see it for yourself.
- Buying a round the world ticket means you have to be fairly set with your route before departure.
- Depending on which company you go with, you may have to book all your flights when you pay for your ticket, or you may only have to book your initial flight out of the country. Regardless, you have to have your basic route pretty well set.
- Changing dates may or may not cost money, and the fee varies. I know this is of little help, but when you see "free date changes" being advertised, just know that even though the company may not charge you to change the date, the airline may. It's all rather complicated, but it's important to know that very few companies actually offer legitimate free date changes.
- Changing your route will cost money. Period. Just like changing a regular one-way or round-trip flight, you'll be charged a fee (sometimes from the company you bought your ticket from, sometimes the airline, sometimes both) and possibly a fare increase if applicable.
- Buying a round the world ticket means you will have to do very little research when you're actually traveling and can focus on the actual act of traveling (more on this in the point-to-point section).
- You won't have the flexibility that comes with buying point-to-point tickets.
- If you use the alliances, you will have to follow their rules and restrictions (mileage restrictions, directional restrictions, etc.), but if your particular routes fits within their guidelines, or if you have miles or want to build miles with a particular alliance, then this is the way to go.
Companies like BootsnAll sell multi-stop tickets that allow you to go from anywhere to anywhere with no restrictions. However, airlines only release prices 11 months in advance, hence the "12-month rule" you often see associated with round the world tickets. Many companies can break your ticket into two sections though if you want to travel for longer than a year.
Booking point to point tickets
When travelers think that want to just buy one-way flights all the way around the world, they do so because they want the flexibility to go where they want, when they want. Here are some things to think about when it comes to buying point to point tickets for your gap year trip.
Choosing an option really comes to each particular person. Some like to have their ducks in a row and have things planned out. A trip like a gap year is perfect for being spontaneous, which is why many people argue for the point to point option. But even if you go with a round the world ticket, there's still plenty of time for spontaneity. You can fly into Lima, Peru for instance and fly out of Buenos Aires three months later. That still gives you three months of ground travel and spontaneity.
My wife and I went the point to point route on our round the world trip, and while it was nice to have that flexibility, we were on a rather tight budget, so we were constantly keeping an eye on airfare for our next leg. Don't underestimate how much time you will spend checking flight prices on the road. I don't regret our decision by any means, but next time I'm certainly going to consider a round the world ticket more seriously.
Which method do you plan to employ for your big trip? Comment below to share your thoughts.