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High Mileage – Low Cost? Round-the-world with (mostly) budget airlines

I wrote a piece about this last year in happier financial times, but since then various airlines have gone bust

Nick Carr

I wrote a piece about this last year in happier financial times, but since then various airlines have gone bust which rather screwed up my hypothetical budget round-the-world adventure.

Consequently, I wanted to see if it were still possible, and if the cost of flights had increased notably given many airlines decided to hedge their fuel prices when oil was selling at its peak last year, and had not anticipated it now being virtually free.

Skyscanner provided all the information I needed, and so I set off around the planet once again for a six month trip leaving in March 2009:

The Journey
Flight 1: London, Stansted – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
This comes courtesy of Air Asia and I can fly this route for £202 .
Distance: 6553 miles.

Flight 2: Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok, Thailand.
Air Asia provide this one too for the bargain price of £48.00.
Distance: 736 miles.

Flight 3: Bangkok – Perth, Western Australia.
Tiger Airways come up with the goods this time with a price of £121.
Distance: 3313 miles.

Flight 4: Perth – Sydney, Australia
A combination of Tiger Airways and Virgin Blue offer a flight for £56 – remarkable given the distance.
Distance: 2045 miles.

So far I have “travelled” a distance of 12,647 miles, been to 4 cities in 3 countries, only used low-cost airlines and spent just over £400.

Flight 5: Sydney – Auckland, New Zealand.
Virgin Blue again and this time the price is £86.
Distance: 1338 miles.

Flight 6: Auckland – Brisbane (Australia).
I backtrack here which often you cannot do with a standard round-the-world ticket. Once again Virgin Blue is the carrier and charge £99.
Distance: 1421 miles.

Flight 7: Brisbane – Los Angeles, USA.
Ouch! This one puts a bit of a dent in the wallet and I can’t find a budget way of getting across the Pacific unless I plan another Kon-Tiki expedition. Air Pacific is the carrier and the cost is £601.
Distance: 7189 miles

Flight 8: Los Angeles – Toronto, Canada.
Another departure from the budget carriers; United Airlines go to Canada for £150.
Distance: 2173 miles

Flight 9: Toronto – London, Gatwick.
The final flight and happily it is with another low-cost carrier. Flyglobespan can ferry me back to the UK for £222.
Distance: 3550 miles.

The total cost of flights for this 28,300 mile trip is £1585, and represents a £200 increase on last year’s trip (which also included a couple of extra destinations).

What about the alliance tickets?
I called a travel agent and asked for a quote for a similar journey and she came back with the following proposal:

London – Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok – Perth – overland to Sydney (not included in the price) – Christchurch – Auckland – Los Angeles – overland to Chicago (again not includd) – London. The price was £1500 including taxes which seemed pretty good. However, those two overland costs could mount up and if one flew I think £250 is the minimum one might pay.

Some drawbacks though
There are some disadvantages to my low-cost idea: firstly, the budget airlines can often be less flexible with changes of flight, and altering your plans could see you being charged a substantial excess. Additionally, you don’t have the security of an airline “alliance” behind you, so if connecting flights are delayed, you might not get much sympathy from another carrier. Also, you are unlikely to be offered the same levels of comfort you might expect from the likes of Singapore Airlines or Virgin Atlantic. Finally, credit card booking fees and checked-in baggage could really ramp up the costs since let’s be honest, if you are off for six months, then your bag is not going to fit in the overhead lockers.

So what’s the best idea?
I think the solution to this round-the-world issue is, as with so many things in life, a compromise. I reckon, the cheapest way of seeing a lot of places is to mix and match between budget airlines and one of the alliance packages. Air New Zealand offer a London – Hong Kong – Auckland – Los Angeles – London ticket for about £700 which covers all the long haul bits of the trip. From there, you can add on some budget flights out of the cities: pop over to Sydney or Brisbane from Auckland or a trip to Fiji perhaps. There are numerous low-cost airlines going out of Hong Kong and Los Angeles International is hardly small. A good friend of mine in the travel industry (and probably the most well-travelled person I know) swears by this plan, and if it’s good enough for him, then that’s good enough for me.

Read Nick’s article "Around the World in Thrifty Ways"