Gap Year Flights

Unless you’re planning on inter-railing around Europe, it’s likely you’ll need to book at least one flight for your gap year trip.

Check out the different types of ticket available, and tips on where to buy them so you get the best deal possible!

What types of flight ticket are available?

1. Direct

This type of flight will get you from one place to another without the plane stopping, although if you are on a long haul flight, for example London to New Zealand, the plane will have to land at some point to refuel.

This is the best option if you have just one main destination you are going to, and are also generally cheaper and more widely available than other types of ticket.

An open-ended flight ticket, where you choose your departure date but use your return ticket whenever you wish, is not really an option for the budget-savvy traveller because these tickets are nearly always very expensive.

2. Stopover

These have the added benefit of letting you get off the plane on the way and explore a destination in another country. It’s a great way of squeezing in some more travelling for little extra cost.

You will want to factor in how expensive it will be to commute from the airport to the area you are interested in visiting, and check how much the jet lag involved may affect you!

If this is an appealing option, then investigate stopover flights when you start looking to purchase your tickets.

3. Round The World

If your travelling plans involve several or more destinations, and you have a set route and schedule in mind, then a round the world ticket is a great option!

This lets you fly wherever you wish, limited by either number of destinations or mileage.

For the money savvy individual, this is the most economical way to see the world, with tickets costing on average around £1300.

It also means you can be flexible with your plans, by being able to change your flight destinations and departure dates and times for no or little cost later on. You also save a heap of money compared to buying all your tickets separately.

Since no individual airline offers a completely global service, round the world tickets are usually provided by an airline alliance, allowing you to travel with any airline that is part of the alliance.

The major alliances offering round the world tickets are:

1. Star Alliance Round The World Fare – has 26 airline members, covering 193 countries and 916 destinations. This is the best alliance in terms of number of destinations and ease of planning your route.

You are permitted a maximum of 15 stopovers (a stay of 24 hours or more in one place), and can buy one of 4 different mileages levels – 26,000 (Special Economy only), 29,000, 34,000 or 39,000 miles. The Star Alliance provides good airline coverage for most areas of the world, except Latin and Central America, Russia and Australia.

2. One World Alliance – the 13 member OneWorld Alliance offers 3 types of RTW ticket:

  • OneWorld Explorer – this is based on the number of continents visited (between 3 and 6) and has no maximum mileage limit. You can book up to 16 flights, rather than stopovers, in any class of service and can change the dates on your ticket at no extra charge. However, you are limited to only two stopovers in the continent of origin.
  • Global Explorer – this is OneWorld’s conventional mileage-based RTW ticket. You can choose a ticket from one of 4 tiers: 26,000 miles (tier 1), 29,000 miles (tier 2), 34,000 miles (tier 3), and 39,000 miles (tier 4).
  • OneWorld Circle Pacific - this is a multi-continent ticket that allows you to visit different continents without actually flying all the way around the world.

Be aware though that only tier 3 is offered across all service classes (first, business and economy), and all other tiers are only available in economy class. OneWorld Alliance has good coverage for most areas of the world except intra-Africa, Russia, India and the South Pacific.

3. Air New Zealand - this is the only airline offering its own RTW ticket. This allows you to see Asia, North America and the Pacific Islands en-route to Australia and New Zealand.

Choose from:

  • Six Asia stopover points (Denpasar (Bali), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei or Tokyo)
  • Five USA stopover points (Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu*)
  • One Canada stopover point (Vancouver)

New Zealand Airlines offer some example itineraries on their website to help you with your travel plans, as well as a dedicated international multistop booking tool to start building your dream trip.

Alternative options

If your itinerary is a long, circular one that doesn’t quite go all the way round the globe, there are a number of alternative tickets that may cover the areas you wish to visit

  • OneWorld Circle Pacific – this lets you cover 22,000 to 29,000 miles around the Pacific Rim, taking in Asia, Oceania, North America and South America.
  • Star Alliance Circle Pacific – this also allows you to travel round the Pacific Rim for up to 26,000 miles, and has great coverage of Asia in particular.

Where should I buy my gap year flight tickets?

1. Internet

These days, looking on the internet is the best way to find a good deal on tickets, particularly if you want a direct flight.

Try to find a website where you can check for seat availability using a live system, such as Flightstats.

You may see a cheap flight advertised, but this doesn’t mean a seat is available. Therefore, you could end up paying a higher fare on a plane that still has free seats, compared to the other low cost deals you saw.

Most importantly when you are looking for cheap deals on the internet, you should look for any restrictions.

For example, it may be non-refundable if you miss the flight, or you will be charged a penalty fee if you decide to change your travel arrangements after you’ve booked it.

Restrictions on tickets should be displayed alongside the price of the ticket, and generally the higher the price, the fewer restrictions there are.

So read these carefully before completing the booking process – it might not turn out to be the best deal for your plans after all!

If you have any doubts about whether you can definitely fly on a particular day, go for a ticket that has less restrictions so you can be more flexible if you need to.

It’s also worth checking the airline website to look for any monthly special offers, and seeing if prices are any cheaper a week or two before and/or after your intended departure date (if you can be flexible, of course).

Try not to go at expensive times, such as Christmas, Easter, New Year, bank holidays and school summer holidays.

Booking your flight as early as you can may not guarantee you the cheapest deal , as the ticket could be put on offer a while later - although make sure not to leave it too late either, otherwise you might not get the flights you want!

Make a note of when you will be sent your tickets, and whether you will receive printed paper or electronic ones.

An electronic or E-ticket is a virtual ticket sent to you by email or post, where the reservation only exists as a digital record on the airline computers.

You can then check-in easily at the airport by presenting your e-ticket along with some photographic ID (passport, driving licence, etc) at the check-in counter.

Paper tickets have been almost totally phased out by airlines now, although you can still request them if you would prefer, at a little extra cost.

2. Travel agent

If you’re not happy with finding your ticket on your own using the internet, it’s probably best to fork out a bit more money for some peace of mind by going to see a travel agent.

Companies such as Flight Centre, Travel Nation and Trailfinders can help you organise the trip you want, though don’t feel pressured into booking with them there and then.

Most agents will give you quotes, so you can go away and think about it or do some more research at other travel agents.

It’s worth visiting at least a few agencies to compare prices and see which one offers the best service in terms of information and advice.

You can search for your flights online first, print out the cheapest deals, then take them to the travel agent and challenge them to find something cheaper.

You may come away with saving more money than if you had bought over the internet!

If you feel the agent isn’t making the effort to find you the best deal, try going to a different branch or go back a few days later and speak to a different person.

Booking with a travel agent is also a good idea if you are organising a complicated trip involving several or more destinations requiring quite a few flights, though don’t let those who go for the hard-sell force you into buying an expensive holiday instead!

3. Other ways to buy

You can of course also buy tickets directly at the airport, phone the airline reservation number, or book through the airline’s website, though we recommend an online or real-life travel agent to make sure you secure the best deal and save some of those valuable pennies!

Gap year flight booking tips

  • If you can, try to book flights in the morning, as planes obviously arrive later at their destination the longer the duration of the flight. This should then hopefully give you at least some daylight to travel from the airport to your accommodation and get your bearings.
  • Flying mid-week is likely to mean the plane will be less full, and you will appreciate room to stretch out for long flights.
  • Try to obtain your exact seat assignments when booking your tickets, as this can mean all the difference between a cramped and comfortable journey!
  • Avoid bulkhead seats and those rows at the back nearest to the toilet.
  • Remember that the back row will not allow you to recline your seat, so definitely do not book seats in this row if possible.

Further information

For more tips and advice on planning your gap year travels, please see: