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Round-the-World Airfares: More Options than Ever
October 1, 1995 -- The romantic notion of traveling around the world gets a practical boost on December 14, when United Airlines is scheduled to launch round-the-world flights.

Symbolically designated United Flight 1 (for westbound itineraries) and United Flight 2 (for eastbound jaunts), the service will offer travelers the first opportunity in years to fly one airline around the globe.

Yet United's singular feat obscures several crucial facts. Travelers can already purchase round-the-world itineraries from other airlines working as partners. They won't save money or fly more comfortably if they buy United's service. And while United is the first U.S. carrier since Pan Am, in 1982, to traverse the globe with its own jets, its one-airline itinerary lacks the globetrotting flexibility offered by other round-the-world services.

ONE AIRLINE, TWO ROUTES
Whether you wish to go around the world in eight days or 80, United offers only two options: eastbound from Los Angeles, with mandatory stops in New York, London, New Delhi, and Hong Kong, and westbound from Los Angeles, making those same stops in reverse order. Round-the-world fares begin at $2,570 (coach) and cost $3,618, for business class and $5,019 for first class.

SAME PRICES, MORE CHOICES
For prices similar to United's, however, you can visit more cities if you book a round-the-world itinerary using two or more partner airlines. Japan Airlines, for example, offers its round-the-world service with Air Canada or TWA. Travelers flying the JAL/TWA combination can make an unlimited number of stops as they trot the globe, they have a choice of side trips from Tokyo and they can visit as many as three cities in the United States. Many other major U.S. airlines--including USAir, Northwest, Delta and Continental--also team up with one or more international carriers to offer equally flexible round-the-world itineraries.

PLOTTING AN ITINERARY
With the exception of United Airlines, most round-the-world services permit travelers to choose either a North Pacific or a South Pacific routing. Travelers who book jointly operated round-the-world services also are comparatively free to choose which destinations they visit and how many stops they can make along the way. In fact, if you can plot the itinerary on the globe, there's a reasonable chance your travel agent can find a combination of airplane partners to make your round-the-world dream come true.

Naturally, however, there are going to be some restrictions. You must fly in either an eastbound or a westbound direction until you return to your starting point. Geographic backtracking is not usually allowed, although side trips are sometimes permitted. There are also time restrictions: Round-the-world trips must be scheduled to fit within both minimum (from eight to 14 days) and maximum (usually 180 days or 365 days) travel windows. Tickets must be purchased in advance (at least 14 to as many as 30 days is standard) and many carriers require that you book your complete itinerary before departure.

THE BEST ADVICE
Unless you are willing to settle for United's rigid service, plan your round-the-world itinerary with the assistance of a travel agent. He or she can help you choose a logical routing, determine the best combination of carriers to suit your needs, find the best fare and negotiate the maze of rules and restrictions.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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