The mother of all airplane trips
October 11, 2010 8:10 PM   Subscribe

How to Buy a Round-the-World Plane Ticket (That Kicks Ass). Chris Guillebeau: "....Each airline alliance has its own rules for how the ticket works. The one from Star Alliance is mileage based, meaning you’ll have a limit of 26,000, 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles on your ticket. The trick here is to optimize your route to...below one of the tiers, (A friend of mine got his itinerary to 33,998 miles, which I thought was pretty good.)". This, and reserving, paying for and planning the mother of all plane trips (along with Things to Watch out for).
posted by storybored (34 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally cool! If I could afford it, I would totally do it!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:31 PM on October 11, 2010

Is plane technology at the point yet where one could actually arrange real around-the-world flights, without layovers or stops to refuel? I could see someone making money selling that as a luxury cruise.

Alternately, bring back airships.
posted by kafziel at 8:33 PM on October 11, 2010

Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager embody the very spirit and character of the word "pioneers." In December 1986, they became the first people to circumnavigate the world, nonstop, without refueling their plane, the Voyager. That said, aside from breaking records, why would you want to?
posted by crunchland at 8:37 PM on October 11, 2010

This sounds like the only logical sequel to cortex's little adventure last year.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on October 11, 2010

Pretty much any plane ticket I buy kicks my ass.
I pay so much money for such an unpleasant experience. At least I usually end up where I wanted to be.
posted by mannequito at 8:40 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I could see someone making money selling that as a luxury cruise.

Luxury? Have you ever flown anywhere before?
posted by axiom at 8:43 PM on October 11, 2010 [15 favorites]

Is plane technology at the point yet where one could actually arrange real around-the-world flights, without layovers or stops to refuel? I could see someone making money selling that as a luxury cruise.

Except for the luxury part. Who exactly would buy this? If a 787 somehow had the fuel it could do it in about fifty-odd hours for a true circumnavigation. Based on currrent long-haul prices, the cheapest ticket would probably run you upwards of $5,000. That is a lot to pay to sit in a chair for two days and change and wind up back at the same gate you departed from.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:44 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is plane technology at the point yet where one could actually arrange real around-the-world flights, without layovers or stops to refuel?

For a grand I'll strip-search you, then lock you in a metal tube for three days with a dessicated atmosphere and your knees mashed into the seat in front and, feed you cold tv-dinners and make you queue for the toilet.

For another five hundred, I can furnish a screaming child who will kick you in the back.
posted by pompomtom at 8:47 PM on October 11, 2010 [24 favorites]

I investigated rtw tickets 3 years ago and it was far less than these but much more restricted (you had to touch all of 8 zones with a certain amount a time of the last one (month? - something like that). I ended up not doing it.

$4k may look amazing but in the end I ended up going to over a dozen cities on 3 continents (aus, us, eu) just by getting one-way tickets and playing up miles and scrounging for deals over the course of 20 months. If your time is flexible (my job was to admin/maintain a website so it didn't matter where in world I was) you can find some pretty great prices esp. off season (SF->Boston $130, Boston->Dublin $300, LA->Hawaii $250, HI->Sydney free (w/miles), etc.). Yea, I was in Holland in November, and yea, it was cold, but I loved having no commitments to any timeline or zone map.
posted by victors at 9:11 PM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I would totally do this. Anyone care to babysit? He's a year old, he's super-cute, and I'll be back in December.
posted by incessant at 9:20 PM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Buying the ticket is considerably less challenging than figuring out how to be away from the office for 4 months straight.

having said that the guy who sits next to me is off on a SFO-PIT-LON-NRT trip for work purposes, so maybe I just need his job.
posted by GuyZero at 9:24 PM on October 11, 2010

"Is plane technology at the point yet where one could actually arrange real around-the-world flights, without layovers or stops to refuel?"

Depends on your definition of "around-the-world". The closer you get to the Poles..
posted by vidur at 9:37 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

b1tr0t: "For $2500 extra, I'll set up a 19" LCD at your elbow with an endless loop of little fluffy clouds scrolling by."

Can I play Lag Tetris on it too?
posted by roll truck roll at 10:08 PM on October 11, 2010

Depends on your definition of "around-the-world". The closer you get to the Poles..

Yes, they are an attractive people.
posted by codswallop at 10:23 PM on October 11, 2010 [11 favorites]

I really love playing with the Oneworld trip planner and wishing I had the time and money to do this. I love that you can leave from different places than you landed, so you can tie it all together with trainrides or a rental car or hitchhiking or whatever else you dream up. Some day!
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:09 PM on October 11, 2010

We did this back in 1983 - two of us and our 8-month old daughter. I took a three-month LOA from work and around we went ... It was some kind of code share between United and British Airways, and we could go anywhere on their networks. The only ticket restriction that I remember was that once you set out (westbound or eastbound, your choice), you weren't allowed to ever move back in the opposite direction. We paid (I believe) about $900 each adult.
posted by woodblock100 at 12:03 AM on October 12, 2010

Heard about these years ago, and the way I understood them was that you could only fly east (or west - but whichever direction had to be maintained). Thus, it truly had to be around the world.

It was about $3k then, and I thought that sounded like a perfectly wonderful honeymoon idea. "Where are you two going for your honeymoon?" "West!"
posted by IAmBroom at 12:05 AM on October 12, 2010

We bought a cheap RTW ticket about 10 years ago to go Sydney-San Fran-NY-London-Rome-Bangkok-Sydney.
It was a bit more expensive that a Sydney-London round trip, but not outrageous, but had a limited number of stops, so it wasn't like you could bounce around as long as you kept heading eastward like the ones in the FPP.
Well worth it if you can afford a month or two off.
Sadly, kids make it hard to repeat any time soon.
posted by bystander at 12:32 AM on October 12, 2010

We did Sydney > Bangkok > Zurich > Frankfurt > Paris > Washington DC > Mexico City > home with lots of land travel in between flights ('yay, we're in...oh, Baltimore'). That was for six weeks. Stretching one of these out for a year would be fantastic.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:46 AM on October 12, 2010

D'oh, forgot LA!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:47 AM on October 12, 2010

I did London > Singapore > Sri Lanka > Singapore > Bangkok > Singapore > Bali > Singapore > Perth > Sydney > Auckland > Cook Islands > LAX > NYC > London on a Star Alliance ticket in 6 months, 7 years ago. The cross Australia leg was with Virgin Blue & the cross USA with Jet Blue.

Wasn't so worried about the cost, more the locations as we had people to see. Having Singapore as the main Asian hub put us in another tier due to mileage. Getting to Perth from Bali via Singapore felt stupid.

Not so sure I want to be racking up too many flyer miles these days. I'm looking at trains & boats for future trips.
posted by i_cola at 2:20 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hey, cool.. Let's go carbon footprint kerraaazy!
(OK, I have done this myself, but I'm not proud.)
posted by dickasso at 2:25 AM on October 12, 2010

I dunno, seems like it might be easier to just let these guys (Flash warning) arrange all the ticketing for you. They arrange multiple low-end airlines, so it's very flexible.
posted by aramaic at 5:48 AM on October 12, 2010

Cool post! Excellent research and tips. Thanks.

Did the rtw thing couple of times in 1984 and '85, for work (clothing biz). New Delhi-London-New York-San Francisco-Hong Kong-Singapore-Bali-Bangkok-New Delhi.

I adore flying, don't care about being cramped, don't mind the food or inconveniences, love the excitement of taking off, the miracle of being in the air, it never gets stale for me. Didn't like the 19 hour San Francisco-Hong Kong leg of the trip though. That's just no fun sitting for 19 hours. 12 hours is do-able, 19 is tiresome.

It was a British company that offered the tickets, a couple of thou, one could only go one way, no back tracking. The people in Singapore were unexpectedly delightful.

Adding this post about the europe-cities cheap hotels site into the mix.
posted by nickyskye at 7:32 AM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

My wife and I used AirTreks (linked to by aramaic) in 1998 for a 12 month long trip visiting and volunteering with humanitarian aid workers and missionaries.

Chicago > Greece > Egypt > Zimbabwe > Kenya > India > Thailand > Hong Kong> Thailand > Indonesia > Japan > Hawaii > Los Angeles: total cost of flights about $2,300 for both of us.

Main legs of trip were air, but we did heaps of local travel in each location as well via bus, train, tuk-tuk and camel. We shopped on the spot and saved quite a bit over shopping in advance from the US.

While we regret the environmental cost of travel, it is a reality here to stay, so we do what we can to make our trip count by local ground travel as much as possible, and serving as volunteers as the main focus of our travels. If we can ever afford it, we do hope to take a similar trip with our two children in their early teen years.
posted by metacurious at 7:51 AM on October 12, 2010

It looks like the longest-range commercial jet, the 777ER, can go about 13,000 miles, which is just about enough to circle the world at the 60th parallel. You could leave from St. Petersburg and hit up Oslo, Helsinki, parts of Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, unpopulated bits of Canada, Anchorage, and Siberia, all without stopping or using any special fuel supply. I actually bet you could sell that as an around-the-world tour for the super rich.
posted by miyabo at 9:04 AM on October 12, 2010

I'm not the drug taking type, but if they airlines offered a knockout cocktail that I could take right after boarding and then would be timed to wear off just before landing,

For many people that drug is Ambien. I was on a flight from NY to Paris with a middle aged couple sitting nearby. During the early part of the trip the gentleman was about to take a sip of wine from his glass, when he froze, holding the glass halfway to his mouth, eyes open. He remained frozen in this position (they took the glass from his hand, but it stayed in that position for a long time before they could force it down.) The doctors on board were worried about a stroke, and had ambulances waiting. Just before landing he snapped out of it, with, "Huh what? Why are all these people clustering around me?"

His wife told him what had happened, and he sheepishly admitted to taking an Ambien.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:34 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

The only problem there is that long distance flights travel on a curved path.
Sorta! Flights follow great circles. Fortunately latitude lines are great circles.

I was just looking for interesting round-trip routes within the 13,000 mile commercial jet range.
Here's one that does Europe-US-North Pole-Russia. Here's a Eurasian route that would probably be a more interesting ride.
posted by miyabo at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2010

Lines of longitude are great circles. The only line of latitude that's a great circle is the equator.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:38 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

In 1991, I flew from San Francisco to London to Amsterdam to Brussels to Bangkok to Taipei to Japan to San Francisco in six days. Because of the time changes, I lost two nights sleep and flew for about 40 hours. It was not fun. I'm convinced my boss sent me on this trip just because he wanted to enjoy the power of being able to make an employee do such a ridiculous thing.
posted by Game7 at 6:06 PM on October 12, 2010

How much for San Francisco > New Orleans > Rio De Janeiro > Rome > Kinshasa > Karachi > Bangkok > Peking ?

For business.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:57 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am now thinking about how to manage to take one of these mind-bending global benders, plus taking a year away from work to do it--the optimal way of course is to have someone pay for my "work" while traveling.

I don't play the lottery, I'm pretty broke &/or in debt, but I can see a grant in this somewhere....geez, maybe Matt Lesko could hope me.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2010

Hmmm, missing just one think, the other huge ammount of money and time you need to get visas if you happen not to be from a rich country.
posted by zouhair at 9:14 PM on October 17, 2010

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