Eat, pay, eat, vol. 2: Nailing that round-the-world ticket

Man, that was tough. Going from conception to agonizing days of laboring to the delivery.

No, this isn’t about childbirth. It’s about buying a round-the-world ticket. Dreaming it up was easy; making it happen, a lot harder.

I knew that dozens of major airlines are partnered in groups that offer round-the-world tickets. The biggies are Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam. Prices are generally based on mileage, number of continents, or number of destinations. And circling the globe is a great way to rack up lots of frequent flyer miles.

The Star Alliance site, which includes US Airways, Lufthansa and Continental,  has an interactive world map that allows you to chart your course, then choose flights. Since I have a mileage account with USAir, it was my first choice.

From Star Alliance site

I didn’t even get to the flights because my itinerary weighed in at a whopping $7,600 — even after cutting South America from the trip. Only an estimate. But I didn’t feel like sorting through the flights to get the real cost. Time to move on and forfeit the possibility of all those miles.

The oneworld site, home to American and British Airways, also had an interactive map. I was jetting along until I entered my South Africa-to-Maldives segment. Sudden turbulence: none of the carriers flew that route. Time for the escape hatch.

oneworld’s Circle Trip Explorer fare

I also checked out the sites’ “Circle” fares, which span several continents but don’t circle the entire globe. Wouldn’t work.

On to SkyTeam, which counts Delta and Air France among its players. There was no map;  just a limited city list.

Back to square one. To slash costs, I decided to travel the first leg of the trip from the U.S. on frequent flyer miles. Then I Googled like a madwoman, which I was at that point.  Two round-the-world ticket agencies seemed to get the most praise: AirTreks and Air Brokers. They weren’t fly-by-night operations; they apparently had years of experience dealing with challenging itineraries.

First, I got my frequent flyer ticket from New York to Cape Town, South Africa. And then I got quotes from both agencies from Cape Town onward.

I ultimately decided to go with AirTreks. Here’s why:

Air Brokers had no interactive map, but AirTreks did — and it was infinitely more user-friendly than the airlines’ cluttered sites.  I was able to send myself the itinerary and mull it over before booking the flights.

Combining AirTreks and frequent flyer miles

Here’s how it looks on paper, so to speak. The nice, neat solid lines and perfect circles are built into AirTreks’ site. My dotted blue line represents my one-way flight to Cape Town, made possible by my frequent-flyer miles on USAir.

That red blob off the south coast of Australia is the short flight from Melbourne to Hobart, Tasmania, which will also come out of my pocket. I’m not sweating it — it’s a cheap round-trip ticket.

And the yellow dashes from San Diego back to Philadelphia, which is closest to where I live, are another ticket — a freebie given for voluntarily bumping myself off a flight. I knew it would come in handy some day.

Unlike the airline alliances which often have routing restrictions, AirTreks allowed me to seamlessly combine my frequent flyer ticket with its flights, because it allows starting or ending at any point on the globe.

They booked most of the trip for me. I found the service to be much more personal than the regular airlines. The same patient person held my hand all the way through. And even after, when I got a bit jittery about switching planes in Qatar, a part of the Middle East that I, being Jewish, would rather not know from. But it seemed to be the quickest and cheapest way to get from South Africa to the Maldives.

The final cost with AirTreks was just under $3,000 — less than half the Star Alliance fare. That included free medical and trip interruption coverage. AirTreks seemed to be the only outfit offering this perk. I also shelled out $200 more for cancellation coverage, ’cause hey, you never know.

There’s already been one schedule change, and I haven’t even started my trip yet. Let’s hope nothing else happens, because there are hefty cancellation fees if I decide to change anything — including my mind.

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