If you thought booking a flight online can be a harrowing experience, then just consider the rigors of securing round-the-world tickets.
BootsnAll has just completed a study of the different means of buying RTW tickets and one of the key takeaways is -- don't use the major airline alliances if you are looking to save a buck, pound or euro.
That is, of course, unless you have a bunch of airline/alliance miles at your disposal.
"Obtaining a quote and booking a ticket with SkyTeam is the most difficult and time-consuming out of all options," according to the Around the World Airfare Report.
The report says it is next to impossible to find an alliance or member airline customer service representative to explain the RTW flight rules, which are "complicated and sometimes contradictory," and suggests using a travel agent instead of consulting directly with the alliances.
In fact, for RTW tickets involving nine flights plus overland itineraries, "all three alliances were unable to provide pricing for this route from any of the three [departure] cities we searched," the study says.
BootsnAll tested out RTW tickets of three varieties -- Simple Routes (four stops in major airline hubs), More Complicated Routes (nine flights plus an overland component) and Extremely Complex Routes (13 flights and an overland component).
Entities or modes examined for all or some of the options included Do It Yourself (the study used Kayak metasearch for this type), STA Travel, AirTreks, Round the World Flights, Round About Travel, Flight Centre, Sky Team Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and Star Alliance.
Here are the high -- or low -- points of BootsnAll's findings:
- For the four-stop Simple Routes departing from New York City or London, the study found that Kayak provided the lowest-priced choice when buying one-way, point to point tickets -- New York-London-Delhi-Bangkok-New York (Kayak $1,678) and London-Delhi-Bangkok-New York-London (Kayak $1,743). In contrast, for the New York starting point, the Star Alliance was the highest priced ($4,968) and Sky Team was the most expensive ($4569) for the London departure.
- STA Travel provided the lowest fares ($5,200) departing from New York City on Complicated RTW routes (New York-London-overland-Rome-Bombay-overland-Varanasi-Bangkok-overland-Saigon-Perth-Sydney-Easter Island-Santiago-overland-Lima-Bogota-New York). The Star Alliance was the costliest ($9,100). Departing from London, Round the World Flights produced the cheapest fare ($5049) and STA Travel was the most expensive ($6,253), although all three airline alliances couldn't accommodate the queries. Departing from Sydney, Round About Travel provided the most frugal fare ($6,090) while Kayak was the costliest ($6,516), although all three alliances, STA Travel and Flight Centre didn't provide fares or respond to inquiries, the study says.
- For Extremely Complex Routes (18 legs, 13 flights and five overland components), STA Travel provided the lowest fares leaving from New York City ($5,660) and Sydney ($5,167) while Kayak was the cheapest ($4,938) departing from London. The most expensive providers (only three companies could even provide options from each starting point) were Kayak ($6,600) from New York, Round the World Flights ($6,854) from London, and Round About Travel ($6,600) from Sydney. The Extremely Complex Routes, for example, included New York-Mexico City-overland-San Jose-Lima-overland-Buenos Aires-Cape Town-overland-Johannesburg-Nairobi-Mumbai-overland-Delhi-Bangkok-overland-Singapore-Perth-Melbourne-overland-Sydney-Auckland-Fiji-Cook Islands-New York.
How were these fares determined? BootsnAll says it began using each company's online trip planners, but when they didn't produce a fare, BootsnAll supplemented the fare searches with emails, an online request forms, phone calls and/or online chat.
Apart from the pricing, the study crowned AirTreks as the king of online trip planners, while Australia's Flight Centre didn't respond to inquiries, the study says.
Meanwhile, Round the World Flights disputed some of the findings which characterized Kayak as a cheaper option than itself and ran its own tests with divergent results.
Despite BootsnAll's findings that the three major airline alliance either provided the most expensive RTW options or couldn't handle them at all, the company recommends using a travel agency if you want to get the best alliance option.
And, as a matter of fact, when booking complex travel, The New York Times wonders -- Is the Best Travel Search Engine Around the Corner?