Savvy travellers are cottoning onto a new way of booking flights that are saving them thousands. Travel agents specialising in booking around-the-world airfares are seeing a boom as high airfares make their nifty services more valuable than ever.
Around-the-world fares involve going across multiple continents rather than just to one region and back, and surprisingly, this is often proving the cheaper way to do it.
Mark Trim, Director of RoundAbout Travel says his demand for his agency, which specialises in round-the-world airfares, is up 50% on pre-COVID levels and the size of the business has tripled over the last year.
Mr Trim attributes this not just to rising flight prices, but also to rising travel appetites.
“These fares continue to provide the best in market value and have been a popular choice for savvy travellers for some time. However, the increase in return ticket pricing has only heightened the value differential.
“On top of that, people are looking to make up for lost time from the pandemic and if they can cover off a couple of extra cities and get a great fare they are very keen to do that.”
Mr Trim had one client who wanted to travel to Dallas for a conference and was staring down the barrel of $19,000 return business class fares. However, after consulting with Mr Trim that business class fare dropped down to less than $8000, with the client now returning from Dallas via Europe, with the possibility of further exploration possible.
Gus McNeil, one of the owners of AirFare Geeks said even just a quick look at airfares available shows the opportunity for massive savings.
“As an example, I just checked and Qantas is about $16500 for return business class, Sydney to New York out on the 10th of December and back on the 10th of January. If we then add in a weekend in London, from the 15th to the 18th of December but still use the same Qantas flights to and from New York, it reduces the cost of that airfare to about $7000.”
But the savings don’t just apply to business class.
Mother of three Amanda Burgess told The Daily Telegraph she saved $7000 on airfares after booking her flights via Flight Centre’s around-the-world expert team. Ms Burgess ended up spending $14,000 to fly herself, her husband, and three children around the world in economy.
Ms Burgess said: “I had a budget, thinking I would spend over $20,000 on flights for five people based on what I could find online but it was nearly half that.
“When I got the price I was like ‘oh my god this is so good’.”
Why book around-the-world flights?
Mr Trim says while direct monetary savings are possible, and common, there are many benefits to around-the-world fares that extend beyond just savings.
“The one thing you can bank on is that a round-the-world airfare is always better value than a return fare to Europe or North America alone. Whether it’s cheaper or not, depends.
“Often it is at the moment, but we would always encourage our clients to see it as a ‘bang for your buck’ airfare, whereby the cost per stopover or cost per continent is significantly lower. So if you can get a three continent/round the world ticket for a little less/similar or even a little more compared to a return fare, you’re getting incredible value to see another destination and have another experience on your trip.”
“Sure it’s sometimes used as a means to an end to save a bit of money, but to truly realise the potential and value of the fares seeing the benefit of that longer or more involved routing is best.”
Mr Trim also says it can be particularly useful for those looking to travel to one continent, but also visit family in another.
“For example, you could take a cruise in Canada or Alaska and then extend on to Europe to see family in London or on the continent, all whilst typically paying less than what a return to Canada costs. At the front of the plane, which is often booked by those who are cruising, you can realise significant savings.”
Mr McNeil explains how round-the-world flights can open up whole new possibilities for travellers.
“The biggest challenge these days is finding availability. There are far fewer planes in the sky than prior to Covid and demand is through the roof for international travel. This means that while there are still well-priced airfares to Europe, seats in the better-priced fare classes are often very challenging to get a hold of.
“What round-the-world itineraries allow us to do for clients is to cast a wider net in order to find those better-priced fare classes. So, for example, if on a given day/week/month, the availability through Asia and the Middle East is booked all the way up to the most expensive classes, we can then search through the USA, Canada, South America, South Africa and so on, giving us more options to look at in order to find the best options.”
How much can you save?
Using the example of flying to Barcelona or Venice for a cruise, Mr Trim says you could shave 20-30% off your fare with around-the-world fares.
“In short, if this is easiest, in economy class you may save a few hundred dollars. In premium economy, perhaps several hundred or a thousand at times. But in business class and first class, you can be saving thousands, and that’s about 70% of our overall sales given the huge differentials and the appetite for a well-priced business class airfare.”
While savings are possible across all categories, Mr Trim emphasises that the premium parts of the plane are where the hugely significant savings are right now.
“Where you can definitely save money at the moment is in premium cabins, especially compared to return North American airfares which have increased significantly post-Covid. Rates are around twice what they were before Covid, yet on a round-the-world ticket you can pay similar to what you were paying pre-Covid and see both North America and Europe, potentially with an Asian stop or transit as well.
“Savings are still there in Business Class and First Class compared to Europe, but perhaps tend to be more like 10-30% cheaper, depending on carrier/dates/route, compared to North America where fares can be more like 30-60% cheaper.”
Alex Zornada, Flight Centre Round the World Expert talks through some of her clients savings.
“We had a couple wanting to go to LA, New York & Barcelona in June which is peak travel period. The customer called up and had done research online, using a series of one-way airfares and had a price expectation of $8k per person.
“They were ready to pay this but wanted a consultant to look after them. Our team were able to put the fare together for under $4k per person. The customer then referred her parents who booked RTW tickets in Premium Economy because of the great value.
“We recently had a customer reach out who wanted to go to the US, Ireland and Germany. It was for 3 people and she had constructed a fare online herself. We were able to use a Lufthansa RTW fare and was able to saved them over $4,000 across the entire booking.”
Flying to your cruise
Mr Trim says these airfares can be extremely beneficial for those flying out of Australia for a cruise, as long as it’s not a repositioning cruise.
“Absolutely, as long as that cruise was within the same continent. You lose the benefit with a repositioning cruise, such as Singapore-Dubai or across the Atlantic.
“Most of the cheaper round-the-world deals don’t allow a gap between continents. There are some solutions and workarounds but you’re often paying 30-50% more on the airfares for itineraries that involve an inter-continental cruise sector.
“The biggest cruising market benefit is probably the Caribbean and Alaska. But you can still get good deals with Nordic, Baltic, or Mediterranean, especially if the client sees the benefit of the extra stops in the Americas.”
Mr McNeil says it depends on what cruise you’re jumping on, but if your interests align, it can also work perfectly for combining multiple cruises.
“It would all depend on the cruise! There are some very clever ways of arranging airfares for transoceanic voyages that can be of amazing value. And certainly, it works for combining multiple cruises. For example a Mediterranean cruise and an Alaskan cruise in one trip!”
Where are the good deals at the moment?
Due to unbalanced demand, going via North America is offering lots of savings at the moment, or if you’re looking ahead to 2024, flying via Asia might be the way to go.
Mr Trim says: “Going via North America in both directions is proving to be a popular option to circumvent limited availability for the upcoming Northern Hemisphere summer. There is more seat supply going across the Atlantic, partly due to the airlines holding out for high return prices to this market which is quite different from Europe.
“For cruise travellers who plan in advance typically, they are likely thinking about 2024 where a more traditional round-the-world routing including Asia will be fine. Those routes had such strong uptake from mid-2022 onwards that now there is very little left for the next 4-6 months at attractive price points so the best workaround is to double down on the US and Canada.”
If you do want to travel this year and gain some extra value by going via North America, there’s no shortage of destinations to choose from.
“Clients can stop in LA one way and San Fran the other, or throw in Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, Miami, Washington, Dallas, and so on. You can even have 2 stops in each direction so for those who want a workaround to a multi-stop US/Canada trip, this can be a great option. Such as Vancouver and Toronto, London and Paris, NYC and San Francisco, and so on.”
Mr McNeil also says a stop in the Americas is the way to go.
“The availability going through Asia to Europe is the most problematic at the moment, so going via the Americas both ways is often the best bet. But it doesn’t have to be LA or New York, you can visit Cancun, Montreal, Las Vegas, Austin, Brazil, Costa Rica, and so on.”
Do you need an agent for these fares?
Mr Trim says due to the complex nature of these fares, it’s not only a good idea to get a travel agent but to make sure you’re getting a really good one.
“You really need an agent as you can’t piece 95% of these airfares together online, but you need a very good one. An average agent doesn’t have the expertise to maximise these airfares, as they may only book a few each year given they are mainly looking after more general travel requests.”
Mr McNeil echos the sentiment, with there still not being the right facilities in place for the general public to access these fares.
“You generally need an agent. The technology isn’t quite there yet to price most of these fares online (due to the need for pricing modifiers and so on). There are some examples where they will appear online but RTW specialty agents are going to be much better and hunting down the best value options, constructing these sort of itineraries is a very manual exercise.”
Ms Zornada said: “Some of these fares can be booked online and some of them you require the booking systems that a Flight Centre agent has access to. Our travel experts can search seamlessly between flights to see which flights are available in the fare classes required to book the fare.
“That’s impossible to do booking manually online, not only do we know that we have the best available fare for you but we’re able to find it much faster. We also have the added benefit of being able to temporarily save the fares we find for you so we can book accommodation and other elements of your holiday without losing seats, which is something you can’t do online.”