Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How We Will Be Traveling.

When we first decided to take this trip, it seemed that the obvious thing to do was to purchase some kind of Round The World ticket. Each of the major airline groups, Star Alliance, Sky Team, and One World, offers a Round The World ticket option, as do some of the carriers themselves. The options offered by the carriers were very cheap, but were not well suited to our plans. For example, Singapore Airlines will sell you a Round The World ticket for as little as $2,266. The routing options, however, are very limited. Almost all their flights have Singapore as one side of their route. Of all the European flights they offer, there are two that do not go straight to Singapore: Frankfort to New York and Moscow to Houston. If you want to go from New York to Frankfort to Singapore to Tokyo to Los Angeles, it's great.

The Star Alliance and the One World websites offer really wonderful planning tools, with the whole world laid out and the destinations from each city made clear, and you can figure out your whole route and then you can get yourself a price. The Sky Team, though, seems to be a bit reluctant to get in on the fun. They tell you to call you local Sky Team airline, and plan it that way. This is a frustrating experience, as you are asked for your prospective itinerary, when you don't really have one set yet, and makes the whole process much more demanding. For those who were not going to use a computer anyway, I suppose it's fine, but for me, it made even tentatively coming up with a Sky Team itinerary unfeasibly difficult.

The way the itineraries work is that you can change your dates of travel, but not your cities. Star Alliance allows you to change your dates for free, up to a day before you are scheduled to travel. The One World group charge you to change ticket dates. I played around with Star Alliance planning site for a long, long time. Days, weeks, months. The costs varied according to where the trip began, and which cities were selected. Children 11 and under are charged 75 percent of the adult price. It was winding up to be somewhere between $13,000 and $16,000, depending on variations, for the three of us.

Then I began to look into buying individual tickets. I had expected that the costs would quickly add up to and surpass the costs of the package ticket. I was surprised to find out that it did not. Most tickets I have purchased in the past have offered stiff penalties for one-way travel, charging the same or more money than for a round trip ticket. For the routes we were looking at, though, this was not the case. The rise of low-cost carriers in many parts of the world have also made the purchase of the Round The World ticket, which is only a choice on the major carriers, less cost effective. With the collapse of the quality of air travel on the major carriers, they have also given up the edge in comfort they once offered over the discount airlines. The first leg of our trip will be from Madrid to Marrakech. Right now a ticket on Ryanair, direct, costs $9. Easyjet is $14. The price on a major airline? Iberia charges $98. Buying our tickets as we go, letting our journey be our guide and inspiration, not only fits better into the spirit we would like to have, but also winds up being significantly cheaper. This, then, will be a trip where the destinations are not known in advance.


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