ONE AIRLINE: Air New Zealand is the only line that can actually do a complete RTW circuit entirely on its own, but the only available itinerary is so limited that most of you wouldn't even consider it as real RTW. That line can fly you Los Angeles to Cook Islands to Auckland to Hong Kong to London and back to Los Angeles, or the reverse, but you can't stop anywhere else. The fare in economy class is $3,199.
All three alliances post online "RTW planner" engines that allow you to establish an itinerary and schedule flights. The Oneworld and Star Alliance websites allow you to price and buy tickets online, but SkyTeam only saves your itinerary and requires that you call a local line to price and buy.
RTW SPECIALIST AGENCIES: A handful of U.S.-based online agencies specialize in RTW tickets, including Air Brokers International, 800-883-3273), Airtreks (www.airtreks.com, 877-247-8735), Join Us Travel (www.joinustravel.com, 888-741-7300), and World Travellers' Club Inc. (www.around-the-world.com, 800-693-0411); all based in San Francisco. Student travel specialist STA (www.statravel.com, 800-781-4040) also does RTW. They build RTW itineraries to order, one segment at a time, by assembling a series of discounted point-to-point tickets, including some they buy offshore. Representative trip costs start under $2,000 for a simple trip. BootsnAll also found that a specialist agency could generally undercut the alliance prices substantially for simple trips, they're usually better for intermediate trips, and the only way to go for complex trips of more than 16 segments.
DO IT YOURSELF: For the simplest RTW trips, BootsnAll found that your best bet is just to log onto Kayak (or some other aggregator or OTA) and search individual flight segments.
I've done a few RTW trips and have developed some basic guidelines:
-- Allow enough time -- three weeks at a bare minimum, better four weeks or more. Any less and your experience will consist mainly of continuous jet lag.
-- If you hate sitting up all night in an economy seat, travel westbound -- you can build complete RTW itineraries without any overnight red-eye flights.
-- If you like to minimize hotel costs by using overnight flights for long hauls, travel eastbound -- you can arrange three or four nights on planes (feh!).
-- Even if you're frugal, consider doing RTW in business class -- flying 25,000 miles confined to a sardine-can economy cabin can be daunting.
GET THE GUIDE: Obviously, RTW is impractical for many of you because of the time and the cost involved. But if you can swing it, RTW could be the trip of a lifetime. If you're interested, be sure to download the BootsnAll guide.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com