As I mentioned in my previous post, I just finished taking a round-the-world trip on board eight Star Alliance member airlines. I booked the journey at http://www.staralliance.com/, the Web site of this global airline alliance - the largest of the world's three airline groupings, with more than 20 members. The story of what happened on my 28-day trek is detailed in my last 49 posts.
What I want to do now is tell travelers how they can go about booking trips of their own.
You can book a RTW trip through individual airlines and travel agents, to be sure. But if you are comfortable on the Internet, the entire process can now be done online, a change that Star Alliance effected in July.
My advice to travelers wishing to do this is to, first and foremost, have a reasonably clear idea about where you want to do before signing on. This will speed up the process considerably, as there are pivotal decisions to be made, and you want to keep moving forward. I knew where I wanted to go. I booked the trip, down to dotting the I's and crossing the T's, in just under two hours. Net-smart people can probably do it faster.
So, sign on to staralliance.com and click on 'book and fly' on the lower right of the home age, then click on 'start now,' which brings up the next page.
Here, you can access links to FAQ in boxed text on the right side of the page. When you've done that, click on 'book a RTW journey' and wait a short time for the next page to load.
That brings up the third page, where you enter 'traveler details' - chiefly your country of residence and what class you want to travel in - which will give you a fare estimate in your country's currency. When you've done that, hit 'next' in the lower right.
By now, you'll have the hang of it.
On the fourth page, you start to build an itinerary. You'll be seeing some cool maps that show major hubs and other destinations that Star Alliance members serve, and the regions shown will change as your flight plan advances. Once you've entered your city of original departure in the box provided, you start entering additional places that will take you around the world and back to your original city. Note that you can have up to 16 flight segments and 15 stopovers. You have a year to use whatever ticket you end up booking.
Once you plug-in the sequence of cities and dates, you'll be presented with rosters of flights operated by relevant Star carriers. Some of the flights are code-shares. As you might expect, popular places served by many carriers afford you a lot of choices, and lesser-known destinations offer fewer choices - maybe just one, though that's rare. I try whenever possible not to change planes, but, of course, getting nonstop flights is harder and they are not always available. On some flights, you may be told you have to upgrade or downgrade from your preferred class - and again this most likely to happen with popular destinations: your Romes, your Londons, your New Yorks. Booking far ahead helps, though there's no guarantee, as some cities don't seem to have an off-season.
Once you've gone through the construction process, you can revisit your itinerary before finalizing it. My wife and I built imaginary wish list itineraries so we could test-drive the system. We both selected business class. Once or twice, when my wife wanted to omit a choice, she was sent back to the beginning of the process. This didn't happen to me, though I am the more tech-challenged of the two of us. If you decide to book, you'll be asked your personal details, make your payment with a credit card, and then you will get a confirmation.
In our RTW scenarios, we received estimated pre-booking fares of about $10,000 (hers, for a proposed 29,000-mile journey) and $12,000 (mine, for a 34,000-mile trip), though the site notes that these are best-guess figures. This is cheap for journeys of this magnitude and complexity. Note that you do have to be as flexible as possible about travel dates and cabin classes to get the very best deals. Individual member airlines decide how many designated RTW seats to provide, and on which flights and which dates.
Prior to this past summer, Star allowed prospective passengers to build an itinerary online, but staralliance.com wasn't set up to actually book the trips and handle payments. Now that it is possible, there is an additional useful tool on hand for setting up ambitious airborne trips.