The pre TR report - the trials and tribulations of booking a RTW

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Keith009, Aug 27, 2007.

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  1. Keith009

    Keith009 Established Member

    Mar 6, 2005
    Brisbane / Sydney
    [report posted on a few different forums (and facebook!), apologies for the tendency to ramble on like a kid in a candy store as I explain the more technical details]

    My first oneworld explorer – the pre-trip report report on the trials and tribulations of booking an offshore-origin RTW ticket

    Round the world (RTW) fares, primarily offered by the 3 major airline alliances these days, are a good way to travel around the world at a relatively bargain-basement cost. As someone on Flyertalk puts it, the First and Business Class RTW fares which originate from ‘cheap’ locations such as Stockholm, Tokyo, Mauritius, Colombo and Karachi – brought premium travel to the unwashed middle class.

    Having avidly followed the exploits of RTWers on Flyertalk/SQTalk for a bit, I thought that such a ticket would be most suitable for my Next Big Trip, which would take in bits of Asia (to see Mum and Dad), Europe, North America, and some weekend trips in Australia/NZ. I then decided on the oneworld explorer after finding nothing really appealing in Star Alliance after abandoning Singapore Airlines due to their heinous ‘enhancements’ to the PPS Club. I did enjoy Lufthansa and SWISS in First, but I’m also realistic in thinking that it’d be a one off event for my wallet. A oneworld round the world also had no mileage limitation like the Star Alliance version, only segment limitation.

    Now I wasn’t going to fly 56 000 odd miles in Economy. Why subject myself to bruises and bumps, and terrible jetlag when a Business Class ticket from one of the abovementioned exotic locations cost just that little bit more. Sure, I’d have to burn some hard earned miles to get to the starting point in the first place – but do back to back RTWs a few times in a row and I’d have more than made up the cost of the redemption award. Besides, I’d also be adding a modicum of mileage and tier bonuses to my AAdvantage account and hit Executive Platinum/oneworld emerald status in no time. New Marc Newson-designed Qantas First Class lounge here I come… but first – the planning.

    First – the origin. It has to be relatively easy to get to. Sri Lanka appeared to offer one of the lowest oneworld explorer business class fare in Asia, shaving almost $4000 off the ex-Australia fare. Despite some political volatility in Sri Lanka, there’d also been some moves towards peace in recent times which made it relatively safe for mileage runners to get cheap(ish) tickets from. For someone based in Australia, Colombo was not too hard to get to. I’d booked an award ticket with my AAdvantage miles, flying Qantas to Singapore and connecting to a Cathay Pacific flight to Colombo with an overnight stop in Singapore. Just as that occurred, the truce in Colombo that existed between the government and the rebels evaporated and Colombo had descended into civil war once again. In addition, because Cathay Pacific had insurance concerns, all Cathay flights to Colombo were suspended ‘until further notice.’ This effectively meant that Colombo was left without a major oneworld airline. The only other oneworld carrier servicing Colombo was Royal Jordanian who only flew to Colombo twice weekly.

    So the musical chairs of finding another cheap location started again. The fare out of Pakistan was not much more expensive than Sri Lanka, but this time I knew better than to chance it on an origin with ongoing stability concerns. The next cheapest location, partly due to an undervalued currency, was Tokyo, which was surprising because I’d normally associated cheap air tickets with more ‘exotic’ locations like Bangkok and Mauritius. Despite being a little more expensive than Pakistan or Sri Lanka, a oneworld explorer out of Japan offered more contingencies than the former 2 locations – 1) Tokyo is serviced with daily flights from a wide variety of oneworld carriers (Cathay/Qantas/BA/American amongsts others); 2) No safety concerns; 3) It’s easier to get to Tokyo than it is to Colombo due to the more flexible flight schedules. So verily I canceled my award booking to Colombo, and replaced it with a more straightforward routing to Tokyo: Qantas to Hong Kong, connecting to Cathay Pacific to Tokyo with a 3 hour layover in Honkers. The fact that Tokyo is somewhere on my ‘favourite cities in the world’ list also helped.

    Next – who to deal with. As round the world fares are identical whether booking with an airline or a travel agent, there was little advantage booking via a travel agent. And as these tickets are deemed high maintenance by many travel agents who know their stuff, you’d likely be hit with a service fee if engaging the service of a travel agent. I was also not familiar with any travel agent based in Tokyo.

    In theory, a oneworld explorer can be issued by any oneworld carrier, even one that doesn’t participate in the itinerary at all. I soon found out that the level of RTW competence varied a lot from carrier to carrier. The Qantas agent I spoke to was almost clueless as to booking a OWE and insisted that I traveled on ‘simpler’ routings to prevent potential conflicts with fare rules (he didn’t know he was dealing with a flying buff), British Airways took forever to return a fare quote, and the agent I spoke to at the Cathay Pacific office in Tokyo insisted that I ought to contact the first carrier on my itinerary (Japan Airlines, a new oneworld member – and hence unpolished and untested when it comes to oneworld products).

    Prior to all this, I also did not realize that different carriers had different policies in relation to fuel surcharges (really an euphemism for ‘fuel fines.’). And that American Airlines charged the least fuel fines – limited only to its own flights, and only transatlantic/transpacific segments at that! Upon contacting AA, I was also pleasantly surprised that they had a dedicated Around the World desk, consisting of reservation agents trained specifically to handle oneworld products. Besides dealing with the time difference between Melbourne and Dallas, Texas, the ATW desk provided a one stop shop for all my bookings and enquiries, with a team of the most customer-oriented AAgents I’ve ever spoken to who also knew the rules of the fare almost perfectly. I knew I’d found the Holy Grail in the world of oneworld reservations offices. I’d only need to contact the issuing location (AA in Tokyo) to discuss payment, a process mandated by the fare rules – which state that the fare charged will be the higher of that of the country of purchase vs country of origin.

    I had decided on a 4 continent fare in business, aka DONE4 (ONE = oneworld explorer, D = business, 4 = 4 continents). The fare allowed a generous 20 flown segments, and a per continent limit of 4, with the exception of North America where one is allowed 6 flown segments. And several annoying bits and pieces to prevent loss of revenue to opportunistic customers like myself, such as a limit on 2 segments between the UK and the Middle East (so you couldn’t do more than LHR-DXB-LHR) and several other routes to Eastern Europe and Russia that were considered long routes. Surprisingly Turkey isn’t included in this limitation. Unlimited stopovers, except in the continent of origin where only 2 was allowed. My itinerary included Asia (continent of origin), Europe/Middle East (yep the Middle East is considered Europe according to oneworld which worked out on many levels as I could then plan the ultimate mileage runner – London to Dubai and back), North America, and the South West Pacific.

    Now the next wrinkle amidst all the planning – fare and rule changes. In July, the rules concerning segment allowance were ‘enhanced’ to include surface segments in the segment count. Prior to this, I could cherry pick and include only the longest segments on my fare and buy the short flights out of my own pocket as they can be cheaply acquired. For example, one could simply fly London to Los Angeles, make their own way to San Francisco, and pick up the RTW from there with a flight across to New York. Under the new rules, the open jaw or surface segment between LA and San Francisco would count towards the limit of 20, thus meaning one had less flown segments. Whether or not airport changes (changing from, say London Heathrow to London Gatwick airports do incur a ‘slot’ in the ticket and are technically ‘surface segments’) are included in the definition of ‘surface segment’ for the purpose of this new ruling remains to be seen, with different interpretations of the rule from the different carriers (I knew there’s a good reason for that ‘manyworlds’ moniker!). I did what I could to rework the itinerary around in Europe, but the parents were with me in the US and being the good son that I am ;) I couldn’t possibly force them to fly San Francisco to New York via LA with me, or put them on a separate plane while I turn back to LA myself. So I was left with 19 flights and 1 surface segments – could’ve been worse.

    The other major wrinkle was the fact that AA Tokyo would not issue a paper ticket unless I’m physically standing in front of their ticket counter in Tokyo. This is in contrast to AA’s General Sales Agents in Colombo and Cairo who have been adept at issuing such tickets for people from all over the world by then, who had a proper procedure to handle such tickets (whether forwarding tickets by post or keeping them in a giant safe). Most airline computer systems could only handle etickets of up to 16 segments including surface segments (think of them as ‘slots’ in the ticket); AA’s extremely arcane systems forced their poor reservations staff to handwrite any paper ticket that was more than 16 segments, or issue any tickets with open dated coupons as paper tickets. This would not be a problem, except that with the tendency of these products to change their rules and fares, leaving ticketing till the last minute would leave one exposed to the new rules/fare. Fare rules/prices are only locked in at the point where the ticket has been issued, ie when ticket numbers are generated.

  2. lovetravellingoz

    lovetravellingoz Senior Member

    Jul 13, 2006
    A question if I may on this....
    What is country of purchase defined as? Is this where the ticket is ticketed or??
    And country of origin? ie is this where it departs from???

    ie what needs to be done to achieve the lowest fare.

    Also if it is nota private question...what was the total cost of the fare?

    Thank you.
  3. NM


    Aug 27, 2004
    Flight Map:
    View my flight map
    It is the country where the ticket is issued and payment processed. For for ex-NRT, you need to find an airline or TA that will issue the ticket in Japan and that will mean the payment is processed in Yen in Japan.
  4. Keith009

    Keith009 Established Member

    Mar 6, 2005
    Brisbane / Sydney
    Unfortunately I can't seem to post the next bit of my write-up even after trying everything admin and others have told me to try. So for those interested, the full report can be read here:
    The pre TR report - booking my first DONE4 - FlyerTalk Forums

    I guess I wanted to share the experience while it was still fresh in my head, rather than waiting till I've embarked on the actual trip 4 months later as I'd be bound to forget stuff by then. Consider this a summary of the DONE4 planning related threads I created all over the place, and a tribute to the remarkable xONEx gurus, you know who you are, who've so patiently assisted me through the whole thing. Also my way of giving back what I've learnt.

    These things are a hell lot of fun to plan. :D
    Pity the first flight is not till Jan...*taps feet impatiently*
  5. sparoy

    sparoy Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Very nicely summed up QF009. I wish I had this info summary when I was planning my first DONE4, would've made the planning a lot more smoother.
    I was also able to steal the candy at the same time :D
  6. Keith009

    Keith009 Established Member

    Mar 6, 2005
    Brisbane / Sydney
    Congrats. :D
    Where's your TR btw? ;)
  7. sparoy

    sparoy Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    About the TR... hmm...we'll see. I'm sure I'll get around to do it one day ;)
    I'm having a long break in between my DONE4 now

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