Traveling around the world was once a feat reserved for fiction — and it took a whopping 80 days.

But circling the globe isn't the impossible undertaking it once was. It's within reach of nearly everyone, providing you have enough money to buy your ticket. And if a modern version of the Jules Verne classic “Around the World in 80 Days” was published, it would probably be called “Around the World in 80 Hours.” It's that fast and easy.

Phileas FoggIn the book, Phileas Fogg attempts to circumnavigate the earth on a bet, planning to get home in 80 days or fewer while traveling by train and steamboat. Here's how you can become a real-life Phileas Fogg and start circling the globe by air.

Special ticket prices

Airlines encourage around-the-world travel by offering special tickets. These might seem expensive at first glance, but they are actually dirt-cheap when you consider that a single round-trip overseas flight can easily top $1,000. Round-the-world fares (often referred to online as “RTW tickets”) generally start at around $2,000, with variables like number of stops and total mileage traveled figuring into the overall price tag.

If you are traveling from, say, New York City to Sydney, you may be able to find a RTW fare for a price that is comparable to a round-trip ticket between these two hubs. With a couple hundred extra dollars and an additional week or two, you could keep going west after your stay in Australia, stopping in Singapore, Johannesburg and London before heading back home.

These special travel packages are offered by the three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam. It’s also possible to take a DIY approach to RTW trips. Though most travel agents will simply refer you to an airline alliance, some specialists with access to discounted or bulk tickets can help you create your own package. With the prevalence of low-cost carriers, you could also hop around the world on no-frills flights, buying tickets as you go.

Personalized itineraries

Despite a reputation for being somewhat inflexible, major carriers that are a part of the airline alliances give fliers a lot of options for creating a personalized globe-circling itinerary. Star Alliance, whose members include United, Lufthansa, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines, bases its fares on mileage traveled and number of stops. Each hub city has a list of options for the next leg of the trip. As long as you don’t pass the mileage threshold or add extra legs, you can choose any option for the same price. A ticket for the max distance of 26,000 miles can include five stops. Star Alliance RTW fares can have between three and 15 stops, with the highest maximum distance set at 39,000 miles.

Oneworld bases its fares on the number of continents that you visit. Called Oneworld Explorer Fares, these packages can cover three to six continents. The alliance, home to American Airlines, British Airways, JAL and Qantas, among others, also offers a more expensive but more flexible option called the Global Explorer. These packages are based on mileage traveled (26,000 to 39,000) and number of stops.

SkyTeam (20 members including Delta, Air France/KLM and Aeroflot) has a similar mileage-plus-number-of-stops plan for RTW tickets. Prices for all three alliances are basically comparable, though the best policy is often to go with the alliance to which your home airline belongs. 

The time frame for trips varies, but most tickets can last up to one year. This means you have 12 months from your first takeoff to complete all the legs of your trip. 

Most would-be round-the-worlders opt for economy class packages without a second thought. However, the lap of luxury is closer than you think. Business class RTW prices are usually about double those of economy class packages. When you consider the standard price for round-trip premium class tickets, these double-price fares seem like an extremely good value. Even Phileas traveled in comfort for some legs of his 80-day adventure. 

SkyTeam plane flying

SkyTeam is one of three alliances to offer round-the-world tickets. (Photo: Angelo DeSantis/flickr)

Other types of fares

Perhaps you are a jaded traveler who thinks that round-the-world tickets are only for people who want to cross something off their bucket list or who want to have something to brag about at parties. Maybe you think it is silly to have to book a trip around the world when you are really only interested in visiting one area or exploring one continent. 

Airline alliances and some individual airlines offer “circle fares.” These are designed with the same concept as RTW tickets, but they have a narrower focus. During promotional periods, circle fares can be almost the same as a round-trip ticket between two cities. For example, you could fly from Chicago to Hong Kong, or you could purchase a circle fare and add stops in Melbourne and Bangkok for almost the same price (if you can find a promotional discount). 

Star Alliance and Oneworld have these types of circle tickets for different continents and regions. SkyTeam’s regional ticket packages are structured differently, with fliers required to buy a round-trip ticket first, then add additional flights at a discounted rate.

Companies like AirTreks offer non-alliances RTW tickets and circle fares. They claim that they can beat the best alliance prices. Whether or not you believe this, it is worth checking into. These companies often work directly with ticket consolidators who buy bulk tickets from airlines at a discounted rate and then turn around and sell them, often leaving part of the discount intact for buyers. Another advantage of RTW specialists is that they can help you tweak your plans to get the maximum travel for the minimum price. This can include covering some legs over land. In Europe, where train travel is often as convenient as air travel, you can easily shave dollars off your overall ticket price.

The most Fogg-like method for traveling around the world is probably to rely solely on low-cost carriers. Your options will be limited when it comes to the two trans-ocean flights, but savvy travelers who are familiar with the likes of JetBlue, AirAsia, Spirit and easyjet can score cheap flights for all of the other legs of their journey. Iceland’s WOW air and Norwegian Air Shuttle both offer U.S.-Europe service, while India’s Jet Airways flies out of New York and San Francisco. This kind of travel can up the adventure quotient of your RTW trip, especially if you book as you go instead of planning everything out in advance.

Visiting all the places that you've always wanted to go is an attractive and romantic idea. If you are willing to do a little research and find a good RTW ticket, this kind of world tour can actually be quite reasonable.

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Fogg photo: Leo Boudreau/flickr
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